Why newspapers across Australia have redacted their front pages

Australia’s major newspapers have published redacted front pages in a coordinated campaign to highlight government secrecy.

Rival media businesses first teamed up in June after police raided the home of a News Corporation journalist, and the headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, in search of leaked government documents that had formed the basis of news reports that were embarrassing to the government.

A former army lawyer has been charged over the leaks and several journalists could also be charged.

The newspaper front pages ask: “When government keeps the truth from you, what are they covering?”

Examples of secrecy include the government’s refusal to disclose which nursing homes haven been found to abuse and neglect elderly residents.

Front pages of major Australian newspapers show a 'Your right to know" campaign, in Canberra, Australia, October 21, 2019. Australia's biggest newspapers ran front pages on Monday made up to appear heavily redacted to protest against recent legislation that restricts press freedoms, a rare show of unity by the usually tribal media industry
Image: News offices have been raided as part of a search of leaked government documents

The government has also refused to disclose how much agricultural land has been sold to foreign entities.

“Australians should always be suspicious of governments that want to restrict their right to know what’s going on,” said News Corporation Australia’s executive chairman, Michael Miller.

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The campaign began on the day the new Australian Federal Police (AFP) commissioner, Reece Kershaw, testified for the first time in front of a senate committee that is holding an inquiry into police issues.

Mr Kershaw, who has been in charge of the AFP for less than three weeks, said he planned to meet news editors soon to discuss their concerns.

“Police independence and freedom of the press are both fundamental pillars that coexist in our democracy. I strongly believe in these two pillars,” he said.

Police had finalised new guidelines for investigating unauthorised disclosures by government officials that take into account a recent government direction to acknowledge the importance of a free and open press, Mr Kershaw said.

Australian media organisations argue that press freedoms have been eroded by more than 70 counter-terrorism and security laws that have been passed by parliament since the attacks on the US on 9/11.

The government responded by asking a parliamentary committee to hold an inquiry into the impact of Australian law enforcement and intelligence powers on press freedom. That committee will report next month.

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