Media chiefs have lashed a "creeping secrecy that shrouds Canberra" and demanded changes to laws they say are criminalising journalism.
A dozen senior executives from Australia's major news organisations presented a united front when they appeared before federal parliament's powerful intelligence and security committee.
News Corp executive chairman Michael Miller spoke of politicians stamping the words "secret" or "classified" on documents and then hiding behind laws that keep Australians in the dark.
Mr Miller said government departments and law enforcement agencies spoke often about the importance of a robust and free media.
"However, we have many laws that criminalise journalism. They are creating a secret society that most Australians would not recognise as our own," he told the committee in Sydney on Tuesday.
"We may not be living in a police state but we are living in a state of secrecy.
"The package of law changes that we are seeking will put a stop to the creeping secrecy that shrouds Canberra."
Various media chiefs described a culture of "intimidation and secrecy" having a "chilling effect" on legitimate public interest journalism.
ABC managing director David Anderson called for stronger protections for whistleblowers, while Nine chief executive Hugh Marks described recent police raids as "a real wake up call".
"We're here to talk about laws - old and new laws - being used to unreasonably and unnecessarily inhibit the media," Mr Marks said.
"Issues of national security are clearly important but so is truth."
Media organisations want the committee to include exemptions in national security laws that allow for legitimate journalism.
"It is true that nobody is above the law but we need the right laws," Mr Marks said.
"The current tone being set seeks to restrict, not respect, a free media."
Their joint appearance comes after Australian Federal Police raids on the Canberra home of a News Corp journalist and the Sydney office of the ABC over separate investigations into government leaks.
The AFP raids were widely condemned as heavy-handed and for having a restrictive effect on reporting.
A panel of ABC executives, who appeared separately before the inquiry, called for four key changes:
* The introduction of a consistent "public interest" element at the outset of any investigation into a government leak;
* Decriminalisation of whistleblowing with a consistent legal threshold for public interest disclosures;
* Raising the bar for search warrants; and
* Unblocking the country's congested freedom of information system.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance wants new laws to give explicit recognition of press freedom, along with adjustments in national security laws to better protect journalists.
"Our current security laws have gone too far. They are now so broad that journalists, publishers and whistleblowers face real and disturbing risks of prosecution," the alliance's Greg Barns said in a statement.
Human Rights Commissioner Edward Sandow said the inquiry was a chance to rethink the balance between press freedom and national security, with an unprecedented number of laws passed since 2001.
"Some of those laws make little difference in keeping our community safe, but they have a significant negative impact on our rights and freedoms," he told the hearing.
Australian Associated Press