Federal Police raid on the ABC threatens press freedom

In a concerning week for Australian media, the Federal Police have raided ABC headquarters in Sydney, along with the home of a News Corp journalist, in relation to the exposure of government secrets.

The raid on the ABC came in connection to The Afghan Files, a series of investigative stories published in 2017 which detail allegations of unlawful killings and misconduct by Australian forces in Afghanistan.

These allegations arose based on documents leaked to the ABC.

‘We don’t think we’ve done anything unlawful in publishing these stories,’ said ABC Managing Director David Anderson, adding that it was ‘highly unusual for the national broadcaster to be raided in this way.’

‘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.

‘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 raid lasted eight hours, with hundreds of files being seized by Federal Police.

In the same week, AFP officers also raided the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst, who last year reported on secret plans to allow government spying.

Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance president Marcus Strom described the raids as ‘disturbing’.

‘These raids are all about intimidating journalists and intimidating whistle blowers so that mistakes made by the Government, including potential crimes by the military, remain covered up, remain secret, and don’t fall in to the public domain.’

In a statement, ABC Chair Ita Buttrose has pledged to defend the ABC and freedom of the press, referring to the raids as ‘unprecedented’.

‘It is impossible to ignore the seismic nature of this week’s events: raids on two separate media outfits on consecutive days is a blunt signal of adverse consequences for news organisations who make life uncomfortable for policy makers and regulators by shining lights in dark corners and holding the powerful to account,’ she said.

‘As ABC Chair, I will fight any attempts to muzzle the national broadcaster or interfere with its obligations to the Australian public.’

You, too, can have your say. There is currently a petition calling for a Media Freedom Act, which will help protect press freedom. You can sign the petition here.