Get the facts

Why media freedom is important

You deserve to know the truth. The truth about tax dollars spent and decisions made behind closed doors, on your behalf.

Journalists play an important role in defending this right to know. They hold to account those you elect, and the businesses that influence them. Through their reporting, they help make sure public officials are working for you – not special interests – and act as a counterweight to corruption.

This work can be controversial. In order to do it, journalists and their sources need some basic freedoms and protections. Without these, getting too close to the truth can mean having their careers and personal freedom threatened.

Today we’re at a tipping point. Australian governments are becoming increasingly secretive about important information that affects peoples’ health, wealth and basic rights, from aged card abuse to covering up details of land deals.

Reporters and whistleblowers live in growing fear of criminal charges, police raids and damaging court battles. As their role comes under fire, your right to know is also being slowly and quietly eroded.
Powerful people can avoid accountability and democracy is undermined.

Media freedom is a central part of our democracy.

Read through previous submissions made by Australia’s Right to Know coalition.

What we want

To make sure journalists and their sources can expose wrongdoing without fear of reprisal, we’re seeking a suite of reforms:

  • The right to contest the application for warrants for journalists and media organisations;
  • Exemptions for journalists from laws that would put them in jail for doing their jobs, including security laws enacted over the last seven years;
  • Public sector whistle-blowers must be adequately protected – the current law needs to change;
  • A new regime that limits which documents can be stamped secret;
  • A properly functioning freedom of information (FOI) regime; and
  • Defamation law reform.

History of media freedom in Australia

Over the past two decades, Australian governments have passed more than 75 laws related to secrecy and spying. This raft of legislation has taken a toll on media freedom to investigate a huge range of issues. It’s left journalists exposed to prosecution for publishing classified information and raised the risk of their sources and meta data being seized without a warrant.

Journalists’ ability to do their jobs has been legally limited. Worse yet, the industry as a whole has suffered from a wider chilling effect where reporters become cautious of exercising even their legal rights to defend the public’s right to know.

In 2007, Australian media organisations formed the Australia’s Right to Know (ARTK) coalition to address the unintended consequences of this legislation and urge lawmakers against unnecessary restrictions.

We now await the findings of parliamentary and senate inquiries into the impact of law enforcement and intelligence powers on press freedom. With their reports due in the coming months, it’s crucial that we all play our part and let the government know how much we care about having access to the truth.