Outcry over police raid on Aussie national broadcaster

Policemen outside the ABC building in Sydney yesterday. The broadcaster was raided over claims that it had published classified material. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Policemen outside the ABC building in Sydney yesterday. The broadcaster was raided over claims that it had published classified material. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Search follows raid of News Corp editor's home, sparking fears over freedom of press

SYDNEY • Australian police raided the offices of the national broadcaster yesterday over claims that it had published classified material, the second raid on a media outlet in two days, prompting complaints of assaults on press freedom.

The Australian Federal Police said officers with a search warrant carried out a raid at the head office of the government-funded Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) in Sydney.

Police raided the home of a News Corp editor a day earlier, although they said the raids were unrelated.

ABC said the raid was over its 2017 reports about alleged misconduct by Australian troops in Afghanistan, while News Corp said the raid at an editor's home on Tuesday related to a report last year about plans for surveillance of Australians' e-mails, text messages and bank records.

"It is highly unusual for the national broadcaster to be raided in this way," ABC managing director David Anderson 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," he said.

News Corp, controlled by media baron Rupert Murdoch, called the raid "outrageous and heavy handed", and "a dangerous act of intimidation".

Police questioning of journalists is not new, but raids on two influential news organisations sparked warnings that national security was being used to justify curbs on whistleblowing and reporting that might embarrass the government.

LEGITIMATE CONCERNS

This is a serious development and raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press and proper public scrutiny of national security and defence matters.

MR DAVID ANDERSON, Australian Broadcasting Corp's managing director.

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

"This is shocking for those who are targeted but this surveillance also has a chilling effect on people coming forward," she added.

ABC's investigations editor John Lyons tweeted a photo of the search warrant which showed the targets included two ABC journalists, the organisation's news director and a former Australian military lawyer, David William McBride, who was charged last year with leaking national secrets. Media reports said he had pleaded not guilty.

"It's a complex case but it's also a simple case. It comes down to: At what point are you obliged to basically rebel against the government?" online publication The New Daily quoted McBride as saying

Reuters was not immediately able to reach McBride to verify his comments.

The raids came barely two weeks after Australia's conservative government won a May 18 election it was widely expected to lose, and which almost cost Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton his seat.

The home affairs minister must authorise raids considered politically sensitive, according to guidelines on the police website.

Mr Dutton denied involvement in the police investigations and said his office was notified after the raids were carried out.

"It is entirely appropriate they conduct their investigations independently and, in fact, it is their statutory obligation," Mr Dutton said in a statement.

Police confirmed they had not notified Mr Dutton in advance and said their actions were "independent and impartial at all times".

Both raids "relate to separate allegations of publishing classified material... which is an extremely serious matter that has the potential to undermine Australia's national security", they added.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2019, with the headline 'Outcry over police raid on Aussie national broadcaster'. Print Edition | Subscribe