Police raids sought to intimidate media: ABC Chair

Sunday, 09 Jun, 2019

The raid comes a day after the AFP searched the home, computer and mobile phone of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst over a story she wrote past year detailing an alleged government proposal to spy on Australians.

Australian police have defended raids on the country's national broadcaster and a prominent journalist, and said more could be coming as they continue an investigation into the alleged publication of state secrets.

ANAustralian police raid on public broadcaster ABC this week risks having a chilling effect on freedom of the press, its editorial director says.

Buttrose's statement regarding the raid said the move was clearly created to intimidate the broadcaster and journalists.

The ABC raid was in relation to a series of broadcasts in 2017 about alleged misconduct by Australian troops in Afghanistan, the broadcaster said. "To have Federal Police officers - and it is not their fault - combing through people's books and sock drawers is a pretty dim image for Australia to have in the 21st century", he said.

Police said there was "no link" between the two raids which relate to "separate allegations of publishing classified material".

"Police raiding journalists is becoming normalized and it has to stop".

The police action was also criticized by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Australia's media union, which said that the raids "are about intimidating journalists and media organisations due to their truth-telling".

The raid, described by News Corp Australia as "outrageous and heavy-handed:", follows an article in April 2018 about a proposal to give security services the power to snoop on the emails, bank accounts and text messages of Australians.

"The search warrant names Mr Oakes, Mr Clark and ABC's director of News Gaven Morris", reports the ABC.

Australian law forbids officials from disclosing secret information, and the police warrant was based on a law enacted in 1914.

Police questioning of journalists is not new, but raids on two influential news organisations sparked warnings that national security was being used to justify curbs on whistleblowing and reporting that might embarrass the government. A spokesperson would not confirm or deny the existence of the investigation.

Australian media say the raids threaten the freedom of the press.

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

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks at a business breakfast in Darwin, April 24, 2019.

ABC executive editor John Lyons, who live-tweeted the raid on the network's offices, called the police's actions a "war on the media" in a tweet late on Wednesday. The AFP later added that the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, was not notified prior to the execution of the warrants.

"Police will allege the unauthorised disclosure of these specific documents undermines Australia's national security", it said in a statement, adding that no one had been arrested during the operation.