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Outcry as Australian police search public broadcaster ABC - BBC

05.06.2019, 17:55
A police raid on Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) has drawn fire from broadcasters and rights groups, as BBC reported. Officers arrived at the public broadcaster's Sydney headquarters with search warrants naming two reporters and the news director. The ABC has protested over the raid. Police searched the home of a News Corp journalist on Tuesday, sparking alarm. The BBC said it was "deeply troubling" for a broadcaster to be searched. The leading journalists' union in the country said the two raids represented a "disturbing pattern of assaults on Australian press freedom". Other unions and human rights groups also condemned the actions. In a statement ABC Managing Director David Anderson said the police raid "raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press". "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." ABC News director Gaven Morris defended the two journalists who were named along with him in the search warrant. Why the search? The police action is related to articles about alleged misconduct by Australian forces in Afghanistan. According to the ABC, Wednesday's search is about the 2017 investigative series known as The Afghan Files which "revealed allegations of unlawful killings and misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan". The broadcaster said the series was "based off hundreds of pages of secret defence documents leaked to the ABC". The Australian Federal Police said the warrant was in relation to "allegations of publishing classified material" and that it "relates to a referral received on 11 July 2017 from the Chief of the Defence Force and the then-Acting Secretary for Defence". The Afghan Files were published by the ABC on 10 July 2017. The police said Tuesday's and Wednesday's raids were not connected, adding: "Both however relate to separate allegations of publishing classified material, contrary to provisions of the Crimes Act 1914, which is an extremely serious matter that has the potential to undermine Australia's national security." It defended its actions, saying they had "been independent and impartial at all times". ABC journalist John Lyons, who live-tweeted the raid, said that police were going through 9,214 documents found on the ABC systems one-by-one, including "thousands of internal ABC emails". Whistleblowers in the cross-hairs? Australian journalists have reacted furiously, calling the raids "outrageous" and "chilling"; one editor said he'd "never seen an assault on the media as savage". Police insist that there is no link between the scouring of the ABC and a News Corp Australia journalist's home. But the timing is more than curious: two raids, on successive days, concerning stories that were published more than a year ago. Each piece explored matters of transparency in clandestine Australian institutions. Some suspect it is the whistleblowers - not the media - who are actually being targeted. Political opponents say all of this raises "serious questions" for Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government - which has denied any interference - and there are calls for an urgent inquiry into press freedom. Others say the media should reflect upon defending all whistleblowers' interests as noisily as it defends itself. Alarm over other raids On Tuesday, police raided the home of newspaper journalist Annika Smethurst, who reported last year that the government was considering a secret plan to spy on its citizens. Her employer News Corp Australia, which publishes several of the country's most-read newspapers, condemned the raid as "outrageous and heavy-handed". Police said their warrant related to "the alleged publishing of information classified as an official secret". 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. The BBC contacted the home affairs ministry for comment. A spokesperson would not confirm or deny the existence of the investigation. "The chances of me revealing my sources is zero. Not today, not tomorrow, next week or next month. There is not a hope in hell of that happening," Fordham said. What's the background? Australia introduced new espionage offences last year that human rights advocates say could be used to target journalists and whistleblowers. The two raids come weeks after a new centre-right government was elected. In a surprise result, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was returned to office. He responded to Tuesday's raid on Ms Smethurst's Canberra home by saying that while he supported press freedom, "it never troubles me that our laws are being upheld". The opposition Labor party has asked Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to explain the raids. Mr Dutton said he was only informed of the raids after they had taken place. "Like all Australians, I believe in the freedom of the press," Mr Dutton said. "We have clear rules and protections for that freedom of the press and we also have clear rules and laws protecting Australia's national security." BBC
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