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Australian papers censor front pages in press freedom campaign

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Newspapers across Australia ran heavily redacted front pages on Monday in protest against government secrecy and a crackdown on press freedom, a rare show of unity in a fractious media landscape.

National and regional mastheads including The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review hit newsstands Monday with most of their front-page news stories blacked out.

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Advertisements have also been rolled out across the country’s television networks, asking viewers to consider the question: “When the government hides the truth from you, what are they covering up?”

The campaign by the Right to Know coalition was sparked by federal police raids on the national broadcaster ABC and a News Corp journalist’s home earlier this year over two stories that had proved embarrassing for the government.

It centres on six demands, including exemptions for journalists from strict national security laws that have created a complex web of provisions critics say too easily ensnare reporters doing their jobs.

“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 union head Paul Murphy said.

AFP / Saeed KHAN The media campaign was sparked by Australian police raids on national broadcaster ABC and a News Corp journalist’s home

“The police raids on the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst and the headquarters of the ABC in Sydney were direct attacks on media freedom in Australia but they are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

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Three journalists are facing possible criminal charges in the wake of the raids — Smethurst for revealing the government was considering plans to spy on Australians — and two ABC reporters for exposing alleged war crimes by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.

The media groups are also calling for enhanced protections for public sector whistleblowers — who have also faced charges for leaking to the press — as well as an improved freedom of information regime and defamation law reform.

Australia’s defamation laws are notoriously complex and among the strictest in the world.

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And unlike most liberal democracies, Australia does not have a bill of rights or constitutionally enshrined protections for freedom of speech.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government would “always believe in the freedom of the press”, but he also insisted that journalists were not above the law.

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“The rule of law has to be applied evenly and fairly in protection of our broader freedoms, and so I don’t think anyone is, I hope, looking for a leave pass on any of those things,” he told reporters during an official visit to Jakarta.

A press freedom inquiry is due to report its findings to parliament next year.


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US ‘concerned’ China is seeking to sway Taiwan polls

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The de facto US ambassador to Taiwan on Friday expressed concern that Beijing was attempting to influence the island's coming elections, days after China sent its first domestically built aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait.

Beijing confirmed earlier this week that the carrier traversed the strait separating China from self-ruled Taiwan, saying it was "routine" training.

"We of course regard any of these threatening actions with concern," said Brent Christensen, the director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), when asked to comment on the sail-by.

AIT serves as the de facto American embassy in Taiwan.

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Trump is ignoring his duties to obsess over impeachment and panic about GOP betrayal: report

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According to a report from Politico, Donald Trump thinks of little else other than the ongoing impeachment hearings being conducted by the Democratic-controlled House and is in a constant of panic that Republicans may turn on him.

Te report notes that the president has put all policy initiatives aside to concentrate on pushing back on impeachment and running for re-election earlier than had been anticipated.

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Michael Steele hilariously shreds the RNC for spending $100K on Donald Trump Jr’s ‘dumb book nobody’s going to read’

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Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, trashed the organization he once led over revelations that donor money was used to boost sales of Donald Trump Jr.'s new book.

The former RNC chair told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that he wasn't a bit surprised by the reports, and said the GOP organization has been absolutely corrupted by President Donald Trump.

"Of course it was the RNC -- SOBs," Steele said. "Oh my god."

"Look, let me just tell you how screwed up this is," he continued. "Before I became national chairman, I had written a book on how the Republican Party can regroup after the 2008 shellacking, after the 2006, you know, bang-up at the polls, and move the party forward, and people looked at me and said, 'How dare you write a book and try to profit off of the RNC.'"

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