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ABC raid: Outcry as Australian police search public broadcaster

from BBC

caption Police officers arrived at the Sydney headquarters of Australia’s public broadcaster on Wednesday morning

A police raid on Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) has drawn fire from broadcasters and rights groups.

Officers arrived at the public broadcaster’s Sydney headquarters with search warrants naming two reporters and the news director. The ABC has protested over the raid.

Police searched the home of a News Corp journalist on Tuesday, sparking alarm.

The BBC said it was “deeply troubling” for a broadcaster to be searched.

Twitter post by @BBCNewsPR: BBC statement on Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) police raid

The leading journalists’ union in the country said the two raids represented a “disturbing pattern of assaults on Australian press freedom”. Other unions and human rights groups also condemned the actions.

In a statement ABC Managing Director David Anderson said the police raid “raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press”.

“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.”

ABC News director Gaven Morris defended the two journalists who were named along with him in the search warrant.

Twitter post by @gavmorris: For the record,@DanielMOakes and @sclark_melbs are two of @abcnews’ finest journalists. Honest and committed to telling the truth in the Australian public’s interests. Just like @annikasmethurst. I’m proud of the difficult work they all do.

Why the searches?

The police action is related to articles about alleged misconduct by Australian forces in Afghanistan.

According to the ABC, Wednesday’s search is about the 2017 investigative series known as The Afghan Files which “revealed allegations of unlawful killings and misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan”.

The broadcaster said the series was “based off hundreds of pages of secret defence documents leaked to the ABC”.

The Australian Federal Police said the warrant was in relation to “allegations of publishing classified material” and that it “relates to a referral received on 11 July 2017 from the Chief of the Defence Force and the then-Acting Secretary for Defence”.

ABC lawyers with police officers
Image captionThe warrant allows police to access emails, notes, scripts, drafts and other documents

The Afghan Files were published by the ABC on 10 July 2017.

Tuesday’s search at the home of newspaper journalist Annika Smethurst related to her 2018 report about a government plan to spy on Australian citizens.

Police said their warrant was linked with “the alleged publishing of information classified as an official secret”.

The police said Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s raids were not connected, adding: “Both however relate to separate allegations of publishing classified material, contrary to provisions of the Crimes Act 1914, which is an extremely serious matter that has the potential to undermine Australia’s national security.”

It defended its actions, saying they had “been independent and impartial at all times”.

ABC journalist John Lyons, who live-tweeted the raid, said that police went through 9,214 documents found on the ABC systems one-by-one, including “thousands of internal ABC emails”.Skip Twitter post by @TheLyonsDen

Also on Tuesday, Ben Fordham, a broadcaster for radio station 2GB, said that the government was investigating how he had obtained information that up to six boats carrying asylum seekers had recently tried to reach Australia.

The BBC contacted the home affairs ministry for comment. A spokesperson would not confirm or deny the existence of the investigation.

“The chances of me revealing my sources is zero. Not today, not tomorrow, next week or next month. There is not a hope in hell of that happening,” Fordham said.

What reaction has there been?

The raids have been met with widespread condemnation by media outlets and press freedom groups.

The search of Ms Smethurst’s home provoked anger from her employer News Corp Australia. The multinational media corporation, owned by press mogul Rupert Murdoch, called the raid “outrageous and heavy-handed” and “a dangerous act of intimidation”.

News Corp – whose UK titles include The Times and the Sun newspapers – said the public’s right to know was being undermined by the Australian government.

Annika Smethurst
Image caption Annika Smethurst reported top secret discussions about new surveillance powers

Peter Greste, director of the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, said Australians who value press freedom will be concerned by the raids.

Mr Greste, a former Al Jazeera reporter, suggested his jailing by the Egyptian government in 2013 on national security charges is “on the same spectrum”.

The raids could have a “chilling effect on the right of journalists to carry out their jobs”, the National Press Club of Australia said in a statement.

“The scene might be expected in an authoritarian country but not in a democracy,” Reporters Without Borders said of the raids on Twitter.

Presentational grey line

Whistleblowers in the cross-hairs?

by Jay Savage, Australia editor, BBC News website

Australian journalists have reacted furiously, calling the raids “outrageous” and “chilling”; one editor said he’d “never seen an assault on the media as savage”.

Police insist that there is no link between the scouring of the ABC and a News Corp Australia journalist’s home.

But the timing is more than curious: two raids, on successive days, concerning stories that were published more than a year ago. Each piece explored matters of transparency in clandestine Australian institutions.

Some suspect it is the whistleblowers – not the media – who are actually being targeted.

Political opponents say all of this raises “serious questions” for Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government – which has denied any interference – and there are calls for an urgent inquiry into press freedom.

Others say the media should reflect upon defending all whistleblowers’ interests as noisily as it defends itself.

Presentational grey line

What’s the background?

Australia introduced new espionage offences last year that human rights advocates say could be used to target journalists and whistleblowers.

The two raids come weeks after a new centre-right government was elected. In a surprise result, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was returned to office.

He responded to Tuesday’s raid on Ms Smethurst’s Canberra home by saying that while he supported press freedom, “it never troubles me that our laws are being upheld”.

The opposition Labor party has asked Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to explain the raids.

Mr Dutton said he was only informed of the raids after they had taken place.

“Like all Australians, I believe in the freedom of the press,” Mr Dutton said.

“We have clear rules and protections for that freedom of the press and we also have clear rules and laws protecting Australia’s national security.”

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