Federal police raid ABC in assault on press freedom


The head of Australia's public broadcaster says she has "grave concern" about a police raid on the corporation's headquarters in connection with a 2017 story based on leaked documents that indicated the country's military forces were being investigated for possible war crimes in Afghanistan.

Yesterday Police raided the Canberra home of Australian journalist Annika Smethurst, looking for the source of a leak of confidential information.

"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.

"In a frank conversation with the minister for communications, cyber safety and the arts, Paul Fletcher, yesterday, I said the raid, in its very public form and in the sweeping nature of the information sought, was clearly created to intimidate".

The raid on the News Corp editor related to a 2018 newspaper report that said Australian intelligence agencies wanted to carry out surveillance by accessing people's emails, bank accounts and text messages, domestic media reported.

"But when it comes to a leak of information that would benefit the government there is not the same apparent vigour and rigour when it comes to that investigation", she told reporters in Sydney on Saturday.

The police seized several documents but agreed to seal them for two weeks in order to give the ABC time to appeal the warrant, he added.

"I said the raid, in its very public form and in the sweeping nature of the information sought, was clearly created to intimidate", she said in a statement.

The police warrants issued for the raids were based on 1914 legislation created to deal with World War I-era concerns over German espionage.

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The leading journalists' union in the country said the two raids represented a "disturbing pattern of assaults on Australian press freedom".

Oakes and Clark have both been named in AFP search warrants, along with Gaven Morris, the ABC's director of news, analysis, and investigations.

Police searched the home of a prominent Canberra journalist on Tuesday, hunting for information linked to a story she wrote previous year on secret government plans to spy on Australian citizens.

Marcus Strom from the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance said the consecutive raids showed no media organisation was immune from the government's attacks.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison says it's a matter of police "soberly and calmly" enforcing the law.

"It seems that when the truth embarrasses the government, the result is the Federal Police will come knocking at your door", Strom said.

The prime minister, who returned from an overseas trip on Friday night, expects she will express similar sentiments when they next meet.

The opposition Labor party has asked Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to explain the raids.

"At a time when the media is becoming less free across the world, it is highly worrying if a public broadcaster is being targeted for doing its job of reporting in the public interest", added a statement from the BBC.