Aussie papers unite for press freedom

The fiercest competitors in Australia's newspaper market came together to do the unthinkable on Monday - to run the same front page.

The unprecedented display of unity is part of a nationwide campaign against censorship laws entitled "Your Right to Know".

News Corp and Nine Entertainment mastheads, which represent all major capital city newspapers in Australia,. all ran front pages blacked out test besides a common message: "When the Government keeps the truth from you, what are they covering up?"

Television stations will also support the campaign which follows the introduction of controversial national security legislation last year that gave the Government powers to investigate, raid and monitor journalists deemed to have have compromised "national security".  

The subsequent raiding of the offices of the public broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (A.B.C.), and the home of prominent journalist Annika Smethurst, in June this year caused widespread public outcry. 

The A.B.C. had been investigating a story about alleged war crimes by elite Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, which is now the subject of an investigation by a military tribunal but also the Federal Police. Thousands of journalists e-mails and files were seized during the day-long raid.

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Ms. Smethurst had revealed a draft proposal to allow Australian intelligence agencies to secretly access the bank accounts and other details of citizens not accused of a crime. Her home was raided by several Police Officers, who even systematically searched her clothing drawers. 

The Government maintains that national security should be paramount - despite signalling it is open to softening some of the laws' provisions.

"My government will always believe in the freedom of the press," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

"I also believe in the rule of law and that no-one is above it, including me or anyone else, any journalist."

But the laws are under parliamentary challenge as well as being hugely unpopular. 

Two parliamentary inquiries are under way - one into press freedom and whistleblowers, and the other looking at the impact of police and intelligence powers on the freedom of the press. 

A poll of more than 1000 Australians by Colmar Burton found more than three-quarters believe journalists should be protected from prosecution when reporting in the public interest.

Australia is currently ranked the 21st most free media market in the world. But those rankings were compiled in April.

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