'Deeply disturbing' police raids on journalists a threat to free press: media

Mariam Cheik-Hussein
By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 6 June 2019

Raids on journalists at the ABC and News Corp have been described by the media as “deeply disturbing” and a threat to democracy. 

The nation’s public broadcaster was raided yesterday by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) over a series of stories, known as The Afghan Files, from 2017 which cover allegations of unlawful killings and misconduct by Australian special forces.

The day before, the home of Annika Smethurst, a senior News Corp journalist, was also raided by the AFP for a separate story on allegations of secret plans to allow government spying on Australians.

Both the Australian media and its industry bodies have been quick to respond, warning of the implications the raids have on a free press.

The AFP reportedly spent nine hours searching through more than 9,000 ABC emails and documents. 

“Two AFP raids on journalists in two days is something that all Australians should find deeply disturbing. We live in a democracy, not a police state,” says Bridget Fair, the CEO of Free TV Australia.

“The role of the media in holding our governments to account is the cornerstone of our democracy. It is essential that journalists are able to continue to do their jobs, reporting on stories in the public interest, without fear of persecution.

“All commercial television broadcasters stand with our colleagues at News Corp Australia and the ABC in expressing our deepest misgivings at these attempts to stifle press freedom.”

Fair also highlighted ongoing concerns over recent national security legislation.

“It is clear today that those concerns were well founded,” Fair says. She also called on the government and opposition to help ensure journalists aren’t further intimidated.

Joan Warner, CEO of Commercial Radio Australia, also expressed concerns.

“We are deeply concerned by these developments and the impact they will have on the freedom of the media to do their jobs,” Warner says.

During yesterday’s raids, John Lyons, an ABC journalist, tweeted from within the office, revealing the search warrant allowed the AFP to “add, copy, delete or alter” material on the ABC’s computers.

The broad conditions of the warrant can be seen here:

News Corp Australia also swiftly defended the public’s right to know information relating to government laws after Smethurst’s home was searched.

“This raid demonstrates a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths. The raid was outrageous and heavy handed,” a News Corp Australia spokesperson says.

"News Corp Australia has expressed the most serious concerns about the willingness of governments to undermine the Australian public's right to know about important decisions Governments are making that can and will impact ordinary Australian citizens. 

“This will chill public interest reporting."

The BBC also issued a statement, calling the raids “deeply troubling” and “highly worrying”.

The ABC’s new managing director, David Anderson, called the raids “highly unusual”.

“This is a serious development and raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press and proper public scrutiny of national security and defence matters,” Anderson says.

“The ABC stands by its journalists, will protect its sources and continue to report without fear or favour on national security and intelligence issues when there is a clear public interest.”

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