The billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, who is a staunch advocate for media freedom, told News Corp he saw how every Australian newspaper’s front page was blacked out as the Australia’s Right To Know coalition was launched.
He praised all media outlets for “fighting back”.
“I saw the front pages, and I took my hat off to newspapers in Australia for fighting back in the way they did,” he said.
“Press freedom is an absolute essential part of a democracy and should not be interfered with.
“People who are in power who almost always are complaining about the press and sometimes maybe justifiably, but more often than not, they just don’t like to hear bad news.”
Mr Branson also called on the Australian public to stand up and speak out to protect freedom of the press.
“I think what the press are doing in fighting back is important,” he said.
“Everybody in Australia should also speak up in favour of the press.
“You’ve got the same basic we do in London on libel and America doesn’t have that so you can have Trump saying what he wants and getting away with it.
“But the libel laws should be sufficient to protect people when they feel there is an inaccuracy and they shouldn’t go further than that.”
In a piece Mr Branson penned on his Virgin website in July titled ‘Why we should defend media freedom’, he wrote: “It’s time we put an end to the hate, the abuse, the threats journalists are forced to confront every day.
“What I’d like to see emerge is a global alliance for media freedom united in this common cause. There is no time to lose. Worldwide, at least 99 journalists were murdered in 2018, many more assaulted or imprisoned. Few of the killers were ever held responsible. We must do what we can to end the violence and restore accountability.”
Mr Branson’s comments come as he visits Australia to launch his Virgin Voyages cruise ship with tailored package deals for Australians through his Virgin Australia airline.
It also comes as media bosses met with Attorney-General Christian Porter and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher to discuss a parliamentary inquiry into the impact of national security laws on press freedoms and public transparency.
It comes after recent raids on the Canberra home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst and the ABC in Sydney.
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The inquiry is due to report on its findings in a fortnight, where law reform changes could be made by the Federal Government to protect whistleblowers and the public’s right to know.
News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller said the meeting was “constructive”.
“This isn’t just about laws and journalists, it’s about transparency, its about the (public’s) right to know and a suspicion and desire to have an open government,” he said.
The Right to Know campaign, backed by some of the country’s biggest media companies including the ABC, Nine and SBS, is asking for six legal reforms to combat government secrecy, protect the public’s access to information, and enshrine protections for journalists and whistleblowers.