ABC chairwoman condemns Australian police raid

Larry Hoffman
June 9, 2019

It's the second raid in two days by police who are investigating government leaks to journalists.

Ita Buttrose, the Chairperson of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), said on Friday that the recent raid by the Federal Police on its headquarters was aimed at intimidating the media.

"In a frank conversation with the minister for communications, cyber safety and the arts, Paul Fletcher, yesterday, I said the raid, in its very public form and in the sweeping nature of the information sought, was clearly created to intimidate".

The ABC raid and the one on the home of News Corp editor Annika Smethurst earlier in the week have drawn united ire from publishers, outlets, industry bodies and the union alike.

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

Australian news media have expressed concern about a police investigation into the alleged leak of classified documents on Australian troops deployed in Afghanistan. "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.

The ABC Chair made these remarks after meeting with the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher on Thursday, in which she asked him for assurances that the broadcaster would not be subject to similar raids in the future, which he refused to provide.

Smethurst said while she is a fairly hardened journalist who is not easily rattled, the raid on her home was a really "off-putting experience" - particularly the search of her technological devices.

"There are insufficient safeguards to prevent law-enforcement agencies from using these powers to expose journalists' confidential sources", said Emily Howie, a Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre.

Oakes and Clark have both been named in AFP search warrants, along with Gaven Morris, the ABC's director of news, analysis, and investigations.

He added that the broadcaster "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".

AFP Acting Commissioner Neil Gaughan has rejected any suggestion the raids undertaken at Smethurst's home and the ABC were meant to intimidate journalists.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he's open to reviewing the legislation underpinning the AFP searches.

"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 ..."

Innes Willox - a former political adviser, diplomat and now chief executive of the Australian Industry Group - said he was anxious about the perceived politicisation of supposedly independent government departments and agencies.

The BBC described the raid on ABC as "a deeply troubling" attack on press freedom. The AFP later added that the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, was not notified prior to the execution of the warrants. If you can not depend on the law to protect press freedoms, then journalists must take care to secure their communications, notes, drafts, data, documents and other materials.

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