Why all Aussies should care about journalistic freedom

I think we can all agree that free speech is important, right?

Even if we don’t agree with what the other person has to say, free speech is crucial to a functioning, evolving society.

Which is why the action that Australia’s major newspapers have taken this week is so incredibly important.


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You may have noticed that the front pages of all major papers were unusual on Monday, with half of the information blacked out, or ‘redacted’.

They’ve done this to make the point that government intervention, pressure and even oppression is making it harder for journalists to report the truth.

Case in point: Destination NSW, the state’s tourism and events agency, has spent four years and hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars fighting reporters’ efforts to find out how much it spends on major art exhibitions, musicals and events like Vivid and the Sydney Festival.

If the amount that they have spent is reasonable, and they’re not ashamed of it – then why the need for the big cover-up?

Or there’s the ATO whisteblower, Richard Boyle, who continually questioned his superiors at the tax office about his concerns that the agency was abusing its powers with heavy-handed debt collection practices.

“We were instructed quite clearly and categorically to start issuing standard garnishees on every case,” he revealed. “The motivation appeared to be that we were just collecting revenue before the end of the financial year and it didn’t matter if we hurt members of the community.”

When his questions and concerns went ignored, he went to the media – after which he was raided by the Federal Police and had 66 charges laid against him and faces decades in prison.

According to Your Right to Know, Australian governments have passed more than 70 laws related to secrecy and spying over the last two decades. “Piece by piece, those laws have chipped away at the public’s right to know the truth,” they report.

This kind of abuse of power and these intimidating tactics aren’t limited to the government, which is why it’s so essential that journalists have the ability to freely report on injustices.

After all, corporates are also quite comfortable throwing their weight around: we just have to witness Murdoch University’s extraordinary attempt to silence a whistleblower, who raised concerns that the institute’s international students were failing their courses in higher numbers than usual.

Right now, “we have limited journalists sources shield laws,” says Justin Quill, a media lawyer who acts for News Corp and other members of the Your Right to Know campaign.

“Free speech in Australia is under attack,” he says.

“Australians either allow the slide to secrecy to continue, or we rally and seek strengthened free speech laws.” Learn more here.

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