Australia’s major news outlets published redacted front pages on Monday in a campaign to highlight government secrecy that is often motivated on national security grounds.
Media outlets collaborate to send a message
National and regional press outlets including the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review ran their front page completely blacked out.
The newspaper front pages ask their readers: When government keeps the truth from you, what are they covering?
— World Editors Forum (@WorldEditors) October 21, 2019
The initiative is aimed at putting pressure on the government to protect freedom of speech and provide journalists with the proper exemptions when it comes to sharing classified information that affects public interest.
Currently, Australia has no constitutional safeguards for freedom of speech, although the government added a provision to protect whistle-blowers in 2018.
However, media outlets state press freedom continues to be restricted.
Rising concerns over press freedom
The campaign was initiated by the Right to Know coalition – an organization advocating for information access – after federal police raided on the national broadcaster ABC and a News Corp journalist’s home earlier this year over two stories that were based on leaked classified information.
The media outlets are also calling for improved protections for public sector whistle-blowers – who have been charged for leaking information to the press – as well as an improved freedom of information regime and defamation law reform.
“The culture of secrecy that has descended through these legal provisions restricts every Australian’s right to know and goes well beyond the original intent of national security,” Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) union leader Paul Murphy said.
With so many channels for information distribution, governments around the world, especially in oppressive regimes, resort to stifling access to information via censorship.
Australia is considered a democratic country, however, censorship attempts and its strict defamation laws have garnered the country the label of the most secretive democracy.
In many democratic countries, most people think that the internet is what they can see when searching Google.
However, increasingly there are uncovered cases where content is filtered, giving governments as well as big corporations like Google, Apple, and Facebook the opportunity to manage and shape public opinion.
Censorship-resistance on decentralized platforms
Bitcoin and blockchain-based technology have three specific properties that can enable viable solutions for maintaining freedom of speech around the globe – immutability (of data), transparency (of processes), and anonymity (of users).
In today’s society, information flows through multiple third parties and each intermediary can potentially censor, track, and profit from that information.
Bitcoin is the first platform that brought the decentralized infrastructure to the attention of the public, which allows its users to transact without intermediaries.
Subsequent networks built with these principles at their foundation can be viable platforms for journalists to spread access to information.
At the same time, privacy-centered solutions also allow journalists and whistle-blowers alike to share information for the public interest without compromising their identity.
If in the past, government censorship attempts were hard to spot and circumvent, this new technology can be the tool to bring transparency and maintain freedom of speech.