REAL AUSTRALIA

Australian Community Media joins all-media campaign to protect press freedom and the public's right to know

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by ACM executive editor James Joyce.

A journalist's job is to ask the questions the average voter or taxpayer or ratepayer rarely has an opportunity to ask people in positions of power and responsibility.

And to then report the answer to those questions truthfully, without fear or favour.

But what if those in positions of authority - those with the power to make decisions that affect your life - simply change the rules so they are not obliged to answer?

That's not right.

And that's why Australian Community Media has joined an unprecedented all-media campaign to defend the growing threat to freedom of the press in Australia.

The front pages of all 14 of ACM's daily newspapers, like other leading newspapers around the country, have been symbolically censored this morning to highlight the need to fight for the public's right to know in the face of increasing attempts by government and government agencies to suppress information, prosecute whistleblowers and criminalise legitimate public interest journalism.

In Your Nation's Capital, the front page of The Canberra Times today features an example of a redacted document and asks the question: "When government keeps the truth from you, what are they covering up?"

The powerful message is repeated on the front pages of the Newcastle Herald, The Border Mail and, in Victoria, The Courier in Ballarat, The Standard in Warrnambool and the Bendigo Advertiser.

Front-page news has also been censored in The Examiner and The Advocate in Tasmania as well as in NSW's Illawarra Mercury, The Northern Daily Leader in Tamworth, The Daily Advertiser in Wagga Wagga, Bathurst's Western Advocate, Dubbo's Daily Liberal and the Central Western Daily in Orange.

The campaign is being led by Australia's Right to Know, a coalition of leading media organisations and industry groups including ACM.

The #righttoknow message will be advertised across print, digital, radio and television, including commercials aired for the first time across all TV channels on Sunday night.

The media coalition has launched a website, yourrighttoknow.com.au, to illustrate the dangers of increasing federal government secrecy, and to urge Australians to stand up for their rights.

The website showcases public interest journalism that has exposed banking malpractice, neglect and abuse in aged-care homes and the Australian Tax Office's power to take money out of people's bank accounts without their knowledge.

And it details the attempts by government and government agencies to silence to questions journalists have asked on behalf of voters and taxpayers.

The campaign launched today follows June's Australian Federal Police raids on the ABC and the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst. Both media organisations are still awaiting confirmation of whether the journalists targeted will face prosecution.

Research commissioned by the media coalition shows that while 87 per cent of Australians value a free and transparent democracy where the public is kept informed, only 37 per cent believe that it's happening.

The October survey of more than 1000 Australians by market research company Colmar Brunton showed 81 per cent were concerned about the thousands of complaints about aged-care homes that the government won't share with the public.

A scene from one of the #righttoknow campaign's television commercials, which aired for the first time across all TV channels on Sunday night.

A scene from one of the #righttoknow campaign's television commercials, which aired for the first time across all TV channels on Sunday night.

Three-quarters (76 per cent) agreed that journalists should be protected from prosecution when reporting in the public interest and 88 per cent backed whistleblowers who exposed wrongdoing.

The newspapers and local news websites of ACM in every state and territory will carry the #righttoknow message over coming weeks to highlight the media's vital role in keeping you informed.

Our boss here at ACM, chief executive Allen Williams, says communities around the country rely on journalists to ask questions on their behalf.

"Australians expect and deserve to know what's going on, and how and why the government decisions that affect their lives are made," Mr Williams said.

"The communities we serve trust us to keep them connected and informed, so ACM is proud to support this campaign to protect the public's right to know."

The media coalition says more than 60 pieces of legislation introduced over the past two decades have effectively criminalised journalism and penalised whistleblowing, even in cases where wrongdoing has been exposed or important information about government decisions has been revealed.

The #righttoknow seeks legislative changes that would force the government to weigh the public interest before applying for search warrants and launching prosecutions against journalists and offer effective protection for those who speak out against government secrecy.

Nine Entertainment CEO Hugh Marks says the campaign is not just about the police raids.

"This is much bigger than the media," Marks said. "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."

Says News Corp executive chairman Michael Miller: "Australians should always be suspicious of governments that want to restrict their right to know what's going on".

ABC managing director David Anderson says Australia is at risk of becoming "the world's most secretive democracy".

"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," Mr Anderson said.

"No one is above the law but something in our democracy is not working as it should when we fail to protect people acting in the public interest."

Please visit yourrighttoknow.com.au to lear more about this important issue.

James Joyce

Executive Editor, Australian Community Media

Sign up below to receive the Voice of Real Australia newsletter direct to your inbox each weekday.

More stuff happening ...