19 Australian newspapers blacked out their front page on 21 October in protest against the increasing restrictions of the freedom of the press in the country. Newspapers across all opinions from the left to the conservative spectrum joined forces for this action. The campaign ran under the slogan “Your Right to Know”.
rt. In Australia the options for reporting have increasingly been limited with more than 70 safety laws since 11 September 2001. These laws, including anti-terrorism laws, data security laws, electronic traffic control laws, disclosure laws, etc., have been introduced step by step. With the help of these laws journalists who report on abuses at government level, but also on abuses in other state institutions, can now be punished with up to 60 years in prison.
Two house searches were the bone of contention for the protest: On the one hand, the editorial offices of the public broadcaster ABC were searched because the broadcaster owns government documents and has processed them in a report proving the killing of civilians by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, including children.
On the other hand, government documents were searched in the apartment of journalist Annika Smethurst, which enable the secret service to intercept Australian citizens.
Following the “Your Right to Know” campaign, numerous journalists and media scientists around the world pointed out that it is a scandal of the first order when in a democratic state like Australia the freedom of the press is violated in such a grossly manner. The reports and comments in the press of North America and Europe joined this protest and reported critically about the situation in Australia.
It is not without reason that freedom of the press is regarded as one of the fundamental rights vis-à-vis the state. It had to be wrested, sometimes bloodily, from absolutist or totalitarian rulers, and even today it is still not considered secured.
Ministers, presidents, authorities or governments like to keep their people in the dark about what they are doing. Anyone who collects information in order to form his own opinion, or who disseminates news in order to inform others about it, arouses suspicion. Even those who read certain newspapers or websites come under general suspicion.
Who, if not the individual responsible citizen himself, can decide whether he trusts a message or not? Judgments based on different facts and opinions must be made by each individual for himself, just as he has to make decisions elsewhere in life. To whom else should thinking be left?
Everyone is requested to defend the freedom of the press, which is a basis for freedom of thought and thus for freedom par excellence. Or should we leave it to individual press houses in Australia to defend our right to information?
The counterpart of the freedom of the press, censorship, is a sure sign of authoritarian or dictatorial conditions. The ban on spreading news – especially so-called “false” news – can be understood as a sure indication of custodial, authoritarian structures and is reminiscent of times when others have decided about our lives.
The situation in Australia – at the other end of the world – seems to be exotic at first glance, but unfortunately it is not at all so exotic in the rest of the “liberal” world. The latest EU regulations on so-called “false reports”, “hate speech”, “racism” as well as data security laws and similar legislation in many countries are precisely in line with the successive restrictions on freedom of the press.
But it is not only the state itself or supranational entities such as the EU that are suspected of restricting the freedom. The single-track nature of the “Meanstream media” (cf. www.swprs.org), which are transatlantically synchronised, also makes you think. They rightly denounce the conditions in Australia, but for some time now they have no longer themselves been fulfilling their actual task of providing factual and comprehensive information.
To speak of an authoritarian or paternalistic state in this context has a downright trivialising effect. The restriction of freedom of information is better described as what it is, as a step into unfreedom, towards a totalitarian “Brave New World” or a “1984”.
The basis of every democracy remains the freedom of the press and the related right to inform oneself without hindrance and comprehensively in order to be able to decide freely. •
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