Industry association Free TV Australia has expressed its most serious concerns at the recent AFP raids on News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst and on the ABC.
Free TV CEO, Bridget Fair said: “Two AFP raids on journalists in two days is something that all Australians should find deeply disturbing. We live in a democracy, not a police state.
“The role of the media in holding our Governments to account is the cornerstone of our democracy. It is essential that journalists are able to continue to do their jobs, reporting on stories in the public interest, without fear of persecution. All commercial television broadcasters stand with our colleagues at News Corp Australia and the ABC in expressing our deepest misgivings at these attempts to stifle press freedom.
“Free TV has consistently voiced its concerns at the lack of adequate protections for reporting in the public interest in recent tranches of national security legislation,” she said.
“It is clear today that those concerns were well founded. We call on the Government and the Opposition to support the role of fearless and independent journalism in this country and act to ensure that journalists will not continue to be intimidated in this unprecedented fashion.”
In response to an AFP raid on 5 June of the ABC Ultimo office in Sydney, ABC Managing Director David Anderson said: “It is 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.
“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.”
Anderson was joined by ABC Chair, Ita Buttrose, who issued a statement, saying, “On behalf of the ABC, I have registered with the Federal Government my grave concern over this week’s raid by the federal police on the national broadcaster.
“An untrammelled media is important to the public discourse and to democracy. It is the way in which Australian citizens are kept informed about the world and its impact on their daily lives.
“Observance of this basic tenet of the community’s right to know has driven my involvement in public life and my career in journalism for almost five decades.
“The raid is unprecedented – both to the ABC and to me.
“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 designed to intimidate.
“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.
“I also asked for assurances that the ABC not be subject to future raids of this sort. Mr Fletcher declined to provide such assurances, while noting the ‘substantial concern’ registered by the Corporation.
“There has been much reference in recent days to the need to observe the rule of law.
“While there are legitimate matters of national security that the ABC will always respect, the ABC Act and Charter are explicit about the importance of an independent public broadcaster to Australian culture and democracy.
“Public interest is best served by the ABC doing its job, asking difficult questions and dealing with genuine whistle-blowers who risk their livelihoods and reputations to bring matters of grave import to the surface. Neither the journalists nor their sources should be treated as criminals.
“In my view, legitimate journalistic endeavours that expose flawed decision-making or matters that policy makers and public servants would simply prefer were secret, should not automatically and conveniently be classed as issues of national security.
“The onus must always be on the public’s right to know. If that is not reflected sufficiently in current law, then it must be corrected.
“As ABC Chair, I will fight any attempts to muzzle the national broadcaster or interfere with its obligations to the Australian public. Independence is not exercised by degrees. It is absolute.”
For it’s part, the Australian Federal Police issued a statement about the raid on the offices of the ABC in Ultimo, Sydney.
“The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has executed a search warrant on the Ultimo premises of the ABC (Wednesday, 5 June 2019) in relation to allegations of publishing classified material, contrary to provisions of the Crimes Act 1914.
“The search warrant relates to a referral received on 11 July 2017 from the Chief of the Defence Force and the then-Acting Secretary for Defence.
“All AFP search warrants are authorised by a magistrate or an appropriate member of the judiciary. This is the result of supporting documentation or material being presented to the court which provides sufficient suspicion that a criminal offence has been committed.
“No arrests are planned today as a result of this activity.”
The AFP statement went on to say that the raid on the ABC “is not linked to a search warrant executed in Canberra (Tuesday, 4 June 2019)” on the premises of News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst.