Published: Wed, June 05, 2019
Life&Culture | By Sue Mclaughlin

ABC raided by Australian Federal Police, but it ‘stands by’ its journalists

ABC raided by Australian Federal Police, but it ‘stands by’ its journalists

The series of stories, authored by investigative journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, revealed allegations of unlawful killings and misconduct carried out by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.

Six police descended on the corporation's offices in Sydney armed with a warrant targeting three senior journalists and executives involved in a two-year-old investigative report.

This was signalled by the phrasing of the warrant, which reportedly stated that the raid was partly in relation to the "alleged publishing of information classified as an official secret, which is an extremely serious matter that has the potential to undermine Australia's national security".

Officers raided News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst's home on Tuesday, triggered by a story she wrote a year ago revealing the government's plans to dramatically expand the Australian Signals Directorate's spying on its own citizens, giving the agency power to secretly access bank records, text messages, and emails without an individual's knowledge. AFP officers are seeking to obtain thousands of emails, files, passwords and written documents from April 2016 and July 2017.

News Corp, the Rupert Murdoch-controlled news organisation, confirmed the raid targeted Annika Smethurst, political editor of the group's Sunday newspapers, calling the police action "outrageous and heavy-handed".

The Australian Press Council said the police raids could have a "chilling effect on journalists and may intimidate them from pursuing legitimate stories in the public interest".

Officers arrived at the public broadcaster with search warrants naming two reporters and the news director.

The AFP said the ABC warrant was not linked to the Canberra raid 24 hours earlier.

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"Australians care deeply about press freedom, and if this had happened before the election, it would have become a big issue in the campaign", said Peter Greste, director of the Alliance for Journalists' Freedom.

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

Agents searched her home, computer and phone.

The Australian Federal Police said the search was "in relation to allegations of publishing classified material, contrary to provisions of the Crimes Act 1914".

"It is highly unusual for the national broadcaster to be raided in this way", he said.

"This is nothing short of an attack on the public's right to know".

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has tried to distance himself from the raids, which come just days after the re-election of his conservative government, insisting they were police, not government, matters.

The Daily Telegraph article included photographs of top secret internal documents that detailed a proposal to allow the ASD to target Australians - if approved by the Defence and Home Affairs ministers.

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