When governments hide the truth, what are they covering up?
Today media companies from all over Australia unite in an unprecedented action to fight for press freedoms and the public's right to know what's going on in this country.
Australia's Right To Know coalition of more than a dozen of the nation's top media companies and industry organisations is campaigning for change to six critical areas of law that is allowing a veil of secrecy to being thrown over matters important to all Australians.
Since 2002, there have been 75 pieces of federal legislation intended to protect the public from national security threats but that have found new ways from stopping the public's right to know what the Federal Government is doing.
New research reveals that 87 per cent of Australians value a free and transparent democracy where the public is kept informed, but sadly, only 37 per cent believe this is happening in Australia today.
While the government withholds information relating to aged care abuse, proposed new powers to spy on ordinary citizens, and the terms of land sales to foreign companies, Australians believe these are matters they absolutely have a right to know about.
The straw that broke the camel's back were the raids on News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst (who now faces possible criminal charges, ironically because she reported the government was considering new powers to spy on all of us) and an unrelated raid on the ABC headquarters after a report detailing incidents of Australian special forces troops killing men and children in Afghanistan.
"It's unprecedented to see the front page of every single newspaper pointing out the same issue we are challenged with having to deal with, but this is serious. It's serious for all Australians, not just for media, but it's our job to actually serve our communities," News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller said.
"When you see every media organisation lining up together to make this point, we need to see some action."
The six Australia's Right to Know reforms being sought are:
- the right to contest any kind of search warrant on journalists or news organisations before the warrant is issued;
- law change to ensure public sector whistleblowers are adequately protected;
- a new regime that limits which documents can be marked 'secret';
- review of Freedom of Information laws
- that journalists be exempt from national security laws enacted over the past seven years that currently can put them in jail for doing their job; and
- reform to defamation laws.
"Australia is at risk of becoming the world's most secretive democracy," ABC's Managing Director, David Anderson, said. "We've seen the public's right to know slowly erode over the past two decades, with the introduction of laws that make it more difficult for people to speak up when they see wrongdoing and for journalists to report these stories."
Nine Entertainment's CEO Hugh Marks said the issue was not just about raids on media organisations.
"This is much bigger than the media. It's about defending the basic right of every Australian to be properly informed about the important decisions the government is making in their name," he said.