Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 15 November 2019

Australian police raid public broadcaster over Afghan war crime leak

The raid in Sydney came a day after federal police searched the home of a journalist over a story detailing an alleged government proposal to spy on Australians

Editorial Director of the ABC Craig McMurtie speaks to members of the media outside the ABC building in Sydney. EPA
Editorial Director of the ABC Craig McMurtie speaks to members of the media outside the ABC building in Sydney. EPA

Australian police raided the offices of the national public broadcaster on Wednesday over a 2017 story based on leaked military documents that revealed the country's military forces were being investigated for possible war crimes in Afghanistan.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation executive editor John Lyons said the search warrant demands access to reporters' handwritten notes, emails, story drafts, footage and passwords, among other things.

The ABC said the raid, the second in two days by police investigating government leaks, raised questions about media freedom in the country.

"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."

Although the press in Australia can report largely free of political interference, strict defamation laws, court gag orders and state security statutes affect what can be reported in print and broadcast.

Australia's Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance branded the raids a "disturbing attempt to intimidate legitimate news journalism that is in the public interest".

"Police raiding journalists is becoming normalised, and it has to stop … it seems that when the truth embarrasses the government, the result is the Federal Police will come knocking at your door."

The raid in a suburb of Sydney came a day after federal police searched the Canberra home of Annika Smethurst, the political editor of The Sunday Telegraph of Sydney, over a 2018 story detailing an alleged government proposal to spy on Australians.

News Corp. Australia, the parent company of The Sunday Telegraph, said the raid "demonstrates a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths".

There were no arrests in either raid.

Australian law forbids officials from disclosing secret information, and the police warrants in both raids were based on a law enacted in 1914.

The police said in a statement that the two raids were not linked.

Mr Anderson said ABC stood by its journalists, would protect its sources and continue to report "without fear or favour" on national security and intelligence issues.

"We will be doing everything we can to limit the scope of this, and we will do everything we can to stand by our reporters and as a general observation, we always do whatever we can to stand by our sources," ABC Editorial Director Craig McMurtrie said.

Updated: June 5, 2019 11:24 AM

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