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Australian newspapers go black to fight back against crackdown on press freedom

Australia's defamation laws are notoriously complex and among the strictest in the world. And unlike most liberal democracies, Australia does not have a bill of rights or constitutionally enshrined protections for freedom of speech

Protest against government secrecy

Newspapers across Australia ran heavily redacted front pages on Monday in protest against government secrecy and a crackdown on press freedom, a rare show of unity in a fractious media landscape.

(Photograph:AFP)

Front-page news stories blacked out

National and regional mastheads including The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review hit newsstands Monday with most of their front-page news stories blacked out.

(Photograph:Reuters)

'What is the government covering up?'

Advertisements have also been rolled out across the country's television networks, asking viewers to consider the question: "When the government hides the truth from you, what are they covering up?"

(Photograph:Reuters)

What are the demands?

It centres on six demands, including exemptions for journalists from strict national security laws that have created a complex web of provisions critics say too easily ensnare reporters doing their jobs.

The media groups are also calling for enhanced protections for public sector whistleblowers -- who have also faced charges for leaking to the press -- as well as improved freedom of information regime and defamation law reform.

(Picture taken in front of the Saudi Consulate in Neuilly-Sur-Seine, west of Paris on October 1, 2019 shows dummies with press armbands and jacket piled up by Reporters without borders (RSF) members during a protest to mark the one year of the death of Jamal Khashoggi.)

(Photograph:AFP)

'Journalists were not above the law'

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government would "always believe in the freedom of the press", but he also insisted that journalists were not above the law.

"The rule of law has to be applied evenly and fairly in the protection of our broader freedoms, and so I don't think anyone is, I hope, looking for a leave pass on any of those things," he told reporters during an official visit to Jakarta.

A press freedom inquiry is due to report its findings to parliament next year.

(Photograph:AFP)