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Australia's biggest newspapers join forces to stage front-page protests against lack of press freedom

Papers from News Corp, Nine Entertainment and the website of the government-funded Australian Broadcasting Corp joined in the protest

Australia's biggest newspapers ran front pages have made up to appear heavily redacted to protest against recent legislation that restricts press freedoms, a rare show of unity by the usually tribal media industry.

Mastheads from the domestic unit of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, Australian Financial Review publisher Nine Entertainment and the website of the government-funded Australian Broadcasting Corp show current news stories with most of the words blacked out.

The protest was designed to put public pressure on the government to exempt journalists from laws restricting access to sensitive information, enact a properly functioning freedom of information system, and raise the benchmark for defamation lawsuits.

"It's about defending the basic right of every Australian to be properly informed about the important decisions the government is making in their name," Nine CEO Hugh Marks said in a statement.

News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller said people "should always be suspicious of governments that want to restrict their right to know what's going on".

Australia has no constitutional safeguards for free speech.

Restrictions around whistleblowers and high-profile cases sparked the protest

The government added a provision to protect whistleblowers when it strengthened counter-espionage laws in 2018, although media organisations say press freedoms remain restricted.

Global attention turned to media freedoms in Australia this year when a court order prevented media from reporting that the former Vatican treasurer, Cardinal George Pell, had been found guilty on child sex abuse charges.

Some Australian outlets reported that an unidentified person had been convicted but some foreign media companies identified Pell because they were outside Australia's jurisdiction.

Prosecutors are now seeking fines and jail sentences for three dozen Australian journalists and publishers for their coverage of the trial. Pell is appealing against his convictions.

The subject came to a boil again in June when police raided the head office of the ABC in Sydney and the home of a News Corp editor on suspicion of receiving national secrets.