Censorship in Australia

This post is a little off topic for me, but it’s focus is on a topic that should be close to the heart of any parent – freedom of speech. I recently watched an excellent documentary by Australian current affairs television program Four Corners. Called “Tremble and Obey”, it carefully compiled footage shot by ABC reporters in 1989 before, during and after the Tianamen Square Massacre, including recent interviews with people who were there. Much of this footage had been unreleased until recently.

Given 3 June was the 30 year anniversary of the Massacre, I guess they thought it was time to re-tell the story of what happened. I was a young teenager in 1989 and although I’d seen the famous “tankman” photo, I never really bothered to find out what had happened. Watching the footage shocked me. I still find it hard to understand how the Chinese government could open fire on it’s own people, most of whom where students, when they were engaged in peaceful protest to try and build a better country. The interviews show surviving students at the time were just as shocked as we would be if this happened today in Australia.

Being older now, and having heard more about the existing Chinese censorship which still makes the news regularly, I wasn’t quite as shocked to find that punishments following the Tianamen Massacre were so effective that many young Chinese today are either unaware it happened, are unwilling to talk about it, or have been conditioned to approve of it. That’s just awful, right?? Talk about censorship. You can watch the documentary below (it’s riveting viewing) or read their article here and form your own opinion.

Living in Australia, the “lucky country”, we’ve not really had to worry about censorship. But we do now! The day after Tremble and Obey aired, News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst had her home raided. You see, over a year ago, a confidential source had leaked information to Annika which showed that the Australian government had secret plans to spy on its own citizens. Annika published the story, embarrassing a few officials. They did eventually change the laws around secrecy provisions and nothing else happened. Until the raid on 4 June. They’re trying to find Annika’s source, the whistleblower who revealed government misconduct, so they can prosecute and jail them.

Then yesterday, they raided the offices of the ABC, essentially Australia’s version of the BBC. This time they were looking to find the source of documents leaked in 2017, which talked about Australian special forces committing possible war crimes in Afghanistan. Obviously this one was a bit more embarrassing than secret plots to spy on citizens…. although it was two years ago.

John Lyons, the ABC’s Executive Editor and ABC News’ Head of Investigative Journalism live tweeted the raid. It was really interesting to “watch” it unfolding through my Twitter feed. Ah, technology! The search warrant covered thousands of files, and astoundingly gave the federal police permission to “add, copy, delete or alter” the ABC’s files. Seriously?? Yes… Read more here, here and here. There are way more articles out there if you want to search.

This is so worrying, on so many levels. Waiting for so long following publication of these articles before raiding the journalists responsible gives the lie to the claim that the federal police are acting on matters of national security. I am actually embarrassed on behalf of our country. Now we are known globally as the “world’s most secret democracy”. If we’re going to make a habit of jailing whistle-blowers, where will it end? Historical incidents such as the Tianamen Massacre remind us that we need to keep a check on our governments, if we want to retain the freedom of speech we value. I’m pleased to see that so many people are speaking up in outrage about Australian attempts at censorship, and I wanted to add my small part to the chorus.

What else should we do to ensure that our governments support democracy and freedom of speech?

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Learning to thrive as a solo mum in Australia while working and studying. It's definitely a juggling act!

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