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An Open Letter to Australia about Press Freedom

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To Australia, to our government, to our legislators, to the law enforcers, and to the everyday person.

I write this to urge you to consider the vast implications of negating press freedom.

Last week, the Australian Federal Police executed a search warrant on the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst, who had reported on claims of secret plans of the government spying. Only a day later, the AFP raided the ABC Sydney headquarters over a series of 2017 stories known as the Afghan files, which detail incidents of troops killing unarmed civilians.

press freedom papers
via Unsplash

Why should this matter? Why should you care?

This breach of press freedom not only affects journalists, but it also affects Australia in its entirety. It affects you, it affects your right to freedom of speech, freedom of knowledge and your power in this democracy.

Press freedom is a fundamental right; it is a fundamental aspect of democracy. It allows journalists to publish stories that may hold uncomfortable truths about our government and our nation – is that not in the public’s interest?

Press freedom and freedom of speech may not be written into our legislation, but without press freedom, how are we able to hold the actions of our legislators, our politicians, our nation accountable?

Australia may possess an innate distrust of media in the age of fake news and clickbait; however, the media is where honest truths are told – which we cannot always trust will be disseminated by our leaders. The media is where objective truths can hold their place, where we can read or watch or listen to form our own nuanced view of the world.

These AFP raids have shaken and beaten our idea of press freedom. As a young journalist, it has shaken my idea of my future career to the very core. If I cannot report on the uncomfortable truths, then what is the point of reporting at all?

Ita Buttrose, the chairperson of the ABC, stated these raids were designed to “intimidate”.

“An untrammelled media is important to the public discourse and to democracy; it is the way in which Australian citizens are kept informed about the world and its impact on their daily lives”, she said.

If we did not have the media, if we as journalists did not produce stories for the public interest, we would be left uninformed and without an opportunity to learn the happenings of our world, especially issues that directly affect us, even if sometimes we do not take that opportunity.

press freedom presss
via Unsplash

These raids leave our democratic nation to transform into a security state, where the state holds the power to say what is and what isn’t in the public interest and to sugar coat or simply cover up the injustices that unfortunately do occur in our nation and around our world. These raids provide the opportunity for the state to control the media landscape in the defence of ‘national security’.

We were not told why these stories compromised our national security, we were not given the chance to defend these stories in the public interest. So, where does that leave us for our future?

Waleed Aly wrote, “We now have a militarised, security-based culture in which we presume the organisations that wield hard power do so appropriately.” This is an unfortunate truth; following the 2018 Essential survey the AFP is the most trusted institution in Australia, far above Australian media institutions. The institution we trust the most has made a demonstration against the fundamental right of knowledge. Let that sink in.

Ita Buttrose aptly stated, “In my view, legitimate journalistic endeavours that expose flawed decision-making or matters that policymakers and public servants would simply prefer were secret, should not automatically and conveniently be classed as issues of national security.”

“The onus must always be on the public’s right to know. If that is not reflected sufficiently in current law, then it must be corrected.”

Uncomfortable or confronting stories should not be swept under the rug as matters of ‘national security’; this means state power will dominate and we will no longer speak of the things that matter.

As a young journalist, this world scares me. It scares me for covering up stories, for my rights in my workplace, for the rights of the public. What professional world am I entering? Unfortunately, it seems it is a world where the truth is valued less than the nation covering up disturbing truths, and that is not a world I wish to be part of.

 

You, as the public, need to care about this. It goes beyond the press and impacts our basic democratic rights for honesty and integrity. We cannot let these raids go unnoticed as if we do not care. For then the consequences will be dire and the potential for our fundamental human rights to be abused is too strong.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right, and these breaches of press freedom are merely a stepping stone in Australia allowing state power to rule and democracy to crumble.

I urge you to notice, to fight back, to fight for our freedoms, and to fight for change so that we live in a truly democratic state, not a policed one.

Sincerely,

Savannah