Federal police raid ABC newsroom

In its second raid on journalists in two days, Australia Federal Police officers are searching the Sydney offices of national broadcaster ABC over news reports in 2017 that Australian defence personnel may have committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

Jun 05, 2019, updated Jul 11, 2019
The AFP has raided journalists for a second day, over stories published in 2017 and 2018. Photo: AAP/Lukas Coch

The AFP has raided journalists for a second day, over stories published in 2017 and 2018. Photo: AAP/Lukas Coch

The ABC on Wednesday reported warrants indicated AFP officers would be searching documents and computers linked to reporters Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, as well as news director Gaven Morris.

The ABC said the raids in Ultimo were in relation to a July 2017 story that revealed “hundreds of pages of secret Defence Force documents leaked to the ABC give an unprecedented insight into the clandestine operations of Australia’s elite special forces in Afghanistan including incidents of troops killing unarmed men and children”.

ABC executive editor John Lyons tweeted that ABC lawyers asked the AFP if there was any connection with its Tuesday raid on the home of News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst: police said “No”.

The AFP raided Smethurst’s Canberra home over a 2018 story detailing an alleged government proposal to spy on Australians.

Lyons on Wednesday tweeted that ABC lawyers had told the AFP officers: “We waive no rights, and reserve right to take injunction against the warrant.”

ABC managing director David Anderson said the national broadcaster would protect its sources.

“It is highly unusual for the national broadcaster to be raided in this way,” he said in a statement. “This is a serious development and raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press and proper public scrutiny of national security and defence matters.

“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.”

The union representing journalists, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), condemned the raids as “a disturbing attempt to intimidate legitimate news journalism that is in the public interest”.

MEAA Media section president Marcus Strom said the raids were an attack on the public’s right to know.

“A second day of raids by the Australian Federal Police sets a disturbing pattern of assaults on Australian press freedom,” he said.

“Police raiding journalists is becoming normalised and it has to stop.”

Strom said it was clear that 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 whistleblowers who seek to expose wrongdoing”.

“These laws seek to muzzle the media and criminalise legitimate journalism.”

The Australian Lawyers Alliance described the raids as disturbing.

“This is frightening stuff,” said the ALA’s criminal justice spokesperson, Greg Barns.

“Both stories are clearly within the public interest…

“Scrutiny of government agencies by the media is critical to a democracy, and it is very concerning that these security agencies seem to want to avoid any examination.”

ABC lawyers and AFP officers hover over a computer as they work out what comes within the terms of the warrant. At the end of the table, on the right, are the AFP digital forensics people.

— John Lyons (@TheLyonsDen) June 5, 2019

AFP now saying they want drafts and scripts of all stories relating to this issue. This really strikes at the heart of what journalists do as sometimes drafts have notes, names and numbers – that’s why they’re drafts.

— John Lyons (@TheLyonsDen) June 5, 2019

Today’s raid on the ABC came hours after Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the raid on Smethurst, in which officers searched her home, computer and mobile phone.

Her article had included images of letters between the heads of the Home Affairs and Defence departments, discussing potential new powers for the Australian Signals Directorate.

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The powers would have allowed the ASD’s cyber sleuths to monitor Australian citizens and businesses on home soil, rather than being limited to gathering intelligence on foreigners, the story said.

Defence secretary Greg Moriarty, Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo and ASD director Mike Burgess released a joint statement rejecting the story’s content after it was published last year.

The raid has been widely panned by Smethurst’s employer News Corp, the media union, press freedom advocates and the federal opposition.

But Morrison, who’s on his first official visit to the UK as PM, indicated he was comfortable with what happened.

“Australians believe strongly in the freedom of the press, we have clear rules and protections for freedom of the press and there are also clear rules protecting Australia’s national security. And everyone should operate in accordance with all those laws passed by our parliament,” he said.

When pressed on whether it “bothered” him to see a reporter’s home being raided, the prime minister appeared unconcerned.

“It never troubles me that our laws are being upheld,” Morrison smiled.

News Corp labelled the raid “outrageous and heavy-handed”.

“This raid demonstrates a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths,” a spokesperson said.

“What’s gone on this morning sends clear and dangerous signals to journalists and newsrooms across Australia. This will chill public interest reporting.”

Digital Rights Watch chair Tim Singleton Norton said the AFP was abusing national security powers to reinforce “a culture of secrecy and lack of accountability”.

The AFP said the raid on Smethurst’s home was in relation to “alleged unauthorised disclosure of national security information” and that no arrests were expected.

The prime minister said he supported the powers police and security agencies have under current laws, and added there were no government plans to give greater protections to journalists.

-with AAP

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