Australian police raid public broadcaster amid media crackdown

Australian police raided the headquarters of public broadcaster ABC on Wednesday, the second high-profile raid on journalists in 24 hours in a sharp crackdown on sensitive leaks.

Six police descended on the corporation’s offices in Sydney armed with a warrant targeting three senior journalists and executives involved in a two-year-old investigative report.

In 2017, ABC obtained documents that showed Australian special forces had killed innocent men and children in Afghanistan.

The Australian Federal Police said the search was “in relation to allegations of publishing classified material, contrary to provisions of the Crimes Act 1914.”

ABC executive editor John Lyons said the search warrant demanded access to reporters’ handwritten notes, emails, story drafts, footage and passwords, among other things — going through a total of 9 214 documents.


“This is a really serious escalation of the attack on the free media, and that hits the public,” he said as the raid continued. “I’ve never seen an assault on the media as savage as this.”

“It’s not just about the media. It’s about any person out there who wants to tell the media about a bad hospital or a school that’s not working. Or a corrupt local council.”

A day earlier police raided a journalist’s home in Canberra over a report that detailed the authorities’ bid to gain powers to spy on Australian citizens communications at home.

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

Both stories involved sensitive and potentially classified materials and were embarrassing to the Australian government and the security services in particular.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has tried to distance himself from the raids, which come just days after the re-election of his conservative government, insisting they were police, not government, matters.

“Australia believes strongly in the freedom of the press and we have clear rules and protections for the freedom of the press,” he said during a visit to London.

“There are also clear rules protecting Australia’s national security and everybody should operate in accordance with all of those laws passed by our parliament.”

‘Attempt to intimidate’

Police said that controversial Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton was not notified about the raids beforehand, and that the issues had been referred by two unnamed agency heads.

Shadow home affairs minister, the Labor party’s Kristina Keneally, demanded an explanation for why the raids occurred.

Although the press in Australia can report largely free of political interference, strict defamation laws, court gag orders and state security statutes affect what can be said in print and broadcast.

Australia’s Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance union branded the raids a “disturbing attempt to intimidate legitimate news journalism that is in the public interest.”

“Police raiding journalists is becoming normalised and it has to stop… it seems that when the truth embarrasses the government, the result is the Federal Police will come knocking at your door.”

© Agence France-Presse

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Andrew Beatty
Andrew Beatty
European. Ulsterman. @AFP News Editor for Australasia. Recovering White House correspondent. Ex Southern Africa/Libya/Fed/LatAm/EU

Related stories

Empire and environmentalism: The legacy of a brilliant maverick, Richard Grove

The prolific interdisciplinary scholar who worked on the periphery and challenged Eurocentrism also drew attention to the El Niño phenomenon and global warming concerns in Victorian times

Invest in children to give them a better world

This entails putting them at the centre of national strategies, but doing it without high CO2 releases

Zimbabwean journalist ‘fears for his life’ after being singled out by Zanu-PF

Hopewell Chin’ono recently published a series of Facebook posts that outline alleged connections between President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s son and a company that was awarded tender to supply equipment to prevent the spread of Covid-19

Australia to force Google, Facebook to pay for news content

Australia's new regulations will also cover the sharing of data, and the ranking and display of news content, to be enforced by binding dispute resolution mechanisms and penalties

Viral authoritarianism during the Covid-19 pandemic

Authoritarian leaders have often used natural disasters to tighten their grasp on power. We are seeing the same happen during the coronavirus crisis, in dictatorships and democracies alike

Olympics halt good for everyone

They took time, but the International Olympic Committee have finally done the responsible thing and postponed Tokyo 2020
Advertising

Ingonyama Trust Board moves to retrench staff

More than 50 workers at the Ingonyama Trust Board have been issued section 189 notices

No proof of Covid-19 reinfection, yet

Some people report testing positive for Covid-19 after initially having the disease and then testing negative. Scientists are still trying to understand if this means that reinfection is possible
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday