Media unites to fight fed govt censorship
Politicians have added their voices to a chorus of Australia's media outlets united in a campaign to warn against growing censorship and attacks on press freedom by the federal government.
In the meantime, the Australian Federal Police are reviewing handling of sensitive investigations, following raids on two media organisations.
The nation's major commercial and public media companies, including Nine and News Corp, are warning against creeping laws that allow elected governments to cover up scandals and hide or restrict information.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese used question time in parliament to ask Prime Minister Scott Morrison if he would rule out prosecuting raided ABC journalists and a News Corp journalist for doing their job.
Mr Morrison refused to rule it out, saying no one was above the law.
"I agree that journalism is not a crime, but I agree also ... that people - whatever profession they're in, whether they're politicians, whether they're journalists - there is no-one in this country who is above the law," he told parliament.
He said he didn't believe decisions on who should be prosecuted should be made "on the whim of politicians".
This is despite a new directive from Attorney-General Christian Porter requiring prosecutors to get his approval before charging journalists under national security laws.
The front pages of the major newspapers on Monday replicated illustrations of a heavily redacted government document, alongside an advertising campaign challenging laws that effectively criminalise journalism and whistleblowing.
They warn federal and other governments are pursuing restrictions on news reporting, asking "when government keeps the truth from you, what are they covering up?".
Weeks after the May federal election, federal police officers raided News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst's home over a national security story she had written more than a year earlier.
The next day, police raided ABC offices about another national security story two journalists had written two years earlier.
The raids made international news, but so far none of the journalists involved has been told whether or not they will face jail time for reporting in the public interest.
New AFP head Reece Kershaw wants to examine the processes around unauthorised disclosures, parliamentary privilege, espionage, foreign interference and war crimes.
"Police independence and freedom of the press are both fundamental pillars that coexist in our democracy," he told a Senate committee in Canberra on Monday.
"I strongly believe in these two pillars, and this is the approach I intend to take."
Mr Albanese has said he would back the reforms proposed by the media bosses, including improved freedom of information laws.
However, he supported existing defamation laws as a "good constraint" to ensure accuracy in reporting.
New research reveals 87 per cent of Australians value a free and transparent democracy where the public is kept informed - but 37 per cent believe this is happening in Australia today.
And more than three-quarters believe journalists should be protected from prosecution when reporting in the public interest.
"This secrecy, this overreach from the government is not just an attack from the media or whistleblowers, it's an attack on every Australian," Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.
The media companies want law changes so journalists don't fear imprisonment for doing their jobs and stronger protections for whistleblowers.
© AAP 2019