Condemnation have been pouring in after the Australian police raided the newsroom of the country’s public broadcaster Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Sydney headquarters with search warrants naming two journalists and the news director.
According to Australian media reports, Wednesday’s 8-hour raids by the Australian Federal Police were carried out over the Afghan Files, a series of investigative stories published in 2017 that revealed allegations of potential war crimes committed by the Australian forces in Afghanistan based on secret documents leaked to the ABC.
The ABC has registered strong protests. The Australian public broadcaster’s managing director David Anderson said that the country’s federal police seized about 100 documents on two USBs during their raids. He demanded that the seized files be kept sealed for at least two weeks while the ABC explored its legal options.
Anderson told a news channel, “We don’t think we’ve done anything unlawful in publishing these stories, we think these stories are absolutely in the public interest.”
Anderson said that Wednesday’s raids raised ‘legitimate concerns over freedom of the press’ adding that the ABC stood ‘by its journalists’ and 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.’
This followed similar raids on Tuesday at the home of a journalist, Annika Smethurst, who reported that the government was considering a secret plan to spy on its citizens. The federal police, in its defence, had said that they were merely executing a search warrant as part of an investigation into the alleged leaking of classified information. Annika Smethurst’s employer News Corp Australia had condemned the raids as ‘outrageous and heavy-handed.’
Australia’s leading journalists unions have condemned the two raids attacking media’s freedom in the country. They said that the two raids indicated a ‘disturbing pattern of assaults on Australian press freedom.’ Similar condemnation had come from other unions and human rights groups.
British public broadcaster, the BBC, issued an official statement condemning the raids inside the newsroom of its Australian partner. A statement by the BBC Press team read, “This police raid against our partners at ABC is an attack on press freedom which we at the BBC find deeply troubling. At time when the media is becoming less fee across the world, it is highly worrying if public broadcaster is being targeted for doing its job of reporting in the public interest.”
Australian Prime Minister said that his government was committed to protecting the press freedom but no one was ‘above the law.’ He told reporters, “These are matters that were being pursued by the AFP operationally, at complete arm’s length from the Government, not with the knowledge of the Government, not at the instigation of government ministers. These were matters that had been referred to the federal police sometime ago, last year, preceding even my time as coming to be Prime Minister.”
Watch this extraordinary report by The Project:
Extraordinary scenes inside Australia’s biggest news organisation today – the sorts of scenes you would not expect to see in a free, open, democracy.
AFP carried out the second raid on journalists raising serious concerns that media freedom in this country is under attack. pic.twitter.com/TIsNBzuekp
— The Project (@theprojecttv) June 5, 2019