Police raids on Australian broadcaster and journalists condemned
5 June 2019
National Union of Journalists has joined the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) in condemning the raids by police of the offices of Australia’s public broadcaster, ABC, and a News Corp political reporter's home.
Australian federal police (AFP) officers served the ABC legal team with a warrant to search through email systems and conduct a search of the Sydney office. The raid is related to a series of stories published in 2017 called The Afghan Files. The stories, by ABC investigative journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, revealed allegations of unlawful killings and misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan and were based off hundreds of pages of defence documents leaked to the ABC.
Annika Smethurst, a News Corp senior political reporter, had her house raided by AFP officers the previous day over an April 2018 report she wrote about a proposal to broaden the powers of the security services to spy on citizens without their knowledge. On the same evening, journalist and radio presenter Ben Fordham reported that he had been contacted by AFP regarded a story he shared on his radio program about asylum seekers.
Marcus Strom, MEAA Media section president, said:
“A second day of raids by the Australian federal police sets a disturbing pattern of assaults on Australian press freedom. This is nothing short of an attack on the public’s right to know. These raids are about intimidating journalists and media organisations because of their truth-telling. They are about more than hunting down whistle-blowers that reveal what governments are secretly doing in our name, but also preventing the media from shining a light on the actions of government.
“It is equally clear that the spate of national security laws passed by the Parliament over the past six years have been designed not just to combat terrorism but to persecute and prosecute whistle-blowers who seek to expose wrongdoing. These laws seek to muzzle the media and criminalise legitimate journalism. They seek to punish those that tell Australians the truth.”
Philippe Leruth, IFJ president, said:
"I strongly condemn the repeated harassment of journalists in Australia as infringements of press freedom. Secret of sources is the corner stone of press freedom and press freedom is a key element of democracy where access to documents is requested from authorities. Journalists are not bound by any secret and their task is to inform the public which has the right to information according to the universal Declaration of human rights, according to their own ethical codes. The IFJ strongly calls the Australian authorities to ensure press freedom and the Australian judicial and police authorities to respect the fundamental rights of journalists."
Gaven Morris, ABC's director of news who was named in the warrant, said journalism is not a crime:
"Our journalists do a really difficult job, I'm proud of what they do, they do it in the public's interest. I'd say to all the journalists at the ABC and all the journalists across Australia, don't be afraid of the job you do. Stand up and be proud of it and continue to act in the public's interest knowing the stories you tell and the service you provide the community is a vital one for our democracy."
American watchdog Freedom House report, Freedom and the Media: a downward spiral, shows freedom of the media has been deteriorating around the world over the past decade.