Australian papers censor front pages in press freedom campaign

Front pages of major Australian newspapers show a 'Your right to know" campaign, in Canberra, Australia, on October 21, 2019. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch/via REUTERS)
Updated 21 October 2019

Australian papers censor front pages in press freedom campaign

SYDNEY: Newspapers across Australia ran heavily redacted front pages on Monday in protest against government secrecy and a crackdown on press freedom, a rare show of unity in a fractious media landscape.
National and regional mastheads including The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review hit newsstands Monday with most of their front-page news stories blacked out.
Advertisements have also been rolled out across the country’s television networks, asking viewers to consider the question: “When the government hides the truth from you, what are they covering up?“
The campaign by the Right to Know coalition was sparked by federal police raids on the national broadcaster ABC and a News Corp. journalist’s home earlier this year over two stories that had proved embarrassing for the government.
It centers on six demands, including exemptions for journalists from strict national security laws that have created a complex web of provisions critics say too easily ensnare reporters doing their jobs.
“The culture of secrecy that has descended through these legal provisions restricts every Australian’s right to know and goes well beyond the original intent of national security,” Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance union head Paul Murphy said.
“The police raids on the home of News Corp. journalist Annika Smethurst and the headquarters of the ABC in Sydney were direct attacks on media freedom in Australia but they are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Three journalists are facing possible criminal charges in the wake of the raids — Smethurst for revealing the government was considering plans to spy on Australians — and two ABC reporters for exposing alleged war crimes by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.
The media groups are also calling for enhanced protections for public sector whistleblowers — who have also faced charges for leaking to the press — as well as an improved freedom of information regime and defamation law reform.
Australia’s defamation laws are notoriously complex and among the strictest in the world.
And unlike most liberal democracies, Australia does not have a bill of rights or constitutionally enshrined protections for freedom of speech.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government would “always believe in the freedom of the press,” but he also insisted that journalists were not above the law.
“The rule of law has to be applied evenly and fairly in protection of our broader freedoms, and so I don’t think anyone is, I hope, looking for a leave pass on any of those things,” he told reporters during an official visit to Jakarta.
A press freedom inquiry is due to report its findings to parliament next year.


Russia expels Japanese journalist in military espionage row

Updated 28 January 2020

Russia expels Japanese journalist in military espionage row

  • The expelled journalist works for Japan’s Kyodo News agency
  • The reporter was told to leave Russia in 72 hours

MOSCOW/TOKYO: Russia said on Monday it expelled a Japanese journalist last month for trying to obtain secret information related to Russian military capabilities in the Russian Far East, Russia’s RIA news agency reported.
The expelled journalist worked for Japan’s Kyodo News agency, it said on Tuesday, denying the accusation of attempted espionage.
Kyodo did not identify the reporter but said he was detained on Dec. 25 in Vladivostok and released after about five hours of questioning.
The reporter was told to leave Russia in 72 hours, Kyodo said.
“For safety reasons, he left the country the following day. It is our understanding that he was engaged in standard reporting activities,” Kyodo said in an emailed statement.
Russia’s foreign ministry summoned a Japanese embassy official to make an official diplomatic protest over the incident, RIA reported.
Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it could not comment on the matter.
Ties between Japan and Russia have been strained for decades by a territorial dispute over a chain of islands in the Pacific.
Known in Russia as the Southern Kuriles and in Japan as the Northern Territories, the islands were seized by the Soviet army in the waning days of World War Two.
The dispute has prevented Russia and Japan from signing a formal peace treaty and developing their relations.
“The Japanese citizen was detained by Russian law enforcement officers in Vladivostok on Dec. 25, 2019 trying to receive secret materials about Russia’s military potential in the Far East,” RIA quoted the Russian foreign ministry as saying.