In search of publication that could undermine Australian national security, Australian Police raided the public broadcaster ABC News at its Sydney headquarters last Wednesday (June 05, 2019). The authorities have sent the shock waves through the Australian Media after it ferreted out three leading media companies and homes of journalists over separate stories in just past few days. This has definitely sent out a message regarding Australia going a bit tough on journalists and media platforms.
As understood from the information available, the Australian Federal Police raided the ABC News office over the Afghan Files which includes a series of 2017 stories. The reports conducted by the ABC National Reporting Team's Dan Oakes and Sam Clark used leaked classified documents to reveal alleged cover-up on unlawful killing and misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan. These classified documents consist of hundreds of pages of secret Australian Defence documents which are accused of being leaked to ABC News by whistle-blower David McBride.
This raid on the national public broadcaster was the second high-profile raid, which occurred just a day after the federal policy agency executed a search warrant at the home of Newscorp journalist Annika Smethurst in Canberra. Newscorp Journalist was raided over a completely separate report published last year which talked about the Australian authorities' attempts to spy over Australian citizens that outlines something not been done ever before. While not related to the matter under discussion, the common grounds are sown through to involvement of journalists and scrutiny that they undergo.
In this series of media crackdown, radio broadcaster Ben Fordham's report was also sent for investigation after the broadcaster unveiled that some boats carrying asylum seekers had recently tried to reach Australia.
While ABC top guys have shown an interest to meet the Prime Minister to discuss about these raids, the whole episode is pointing towards a different direction that emerges in the wake of the stern moves relating to the raids.
Is it the question of National Security or suppression of freedom of the press?
The raids occurring just a few days after the re-election of Scott Morrison have put the entire nation into an aftershock.
Given the nature of independent journalism, the media fraternity has addressed the issue as a 'savage' attack on the freedom of the press. The government authorities have been accused of attempting an outrageous act of intimidation against the news journalism that has the courage to tell the uncomfortable truths.
Media academicians and officials have defined the whole matter as an international embarrassment for a nation that has long valued press freedom. The representatives of journalists in Australia stated that the raids were a disturbing' attempt to intimidate' legitimate news journalism that is in the public interest, as per a media report.
On the other end, the government considered the nation's security of utmost importance. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that Australia firmly believes in the freedom of the press, but there are also clear rules protecting Australia's national security. He added that everybody should operate in accordance with all of those laws passed by the Australian parliament.
The opposition Labor Party has also been seen diving into the matter as they have demanded an explanation for why the raids occurred, according to media reports.
While we see different opinions coming in limelight, the process in terms of future steps, any degree of negotiation expected, discussions to understand the whole scenario in a better way and build-up of the context on enforcement are few key areas that are being watched out for.
Raid Details and ABC Response:
Three Australian Federal Police entered ABC building at around 11.30 am and conducted hours-long raid on the basis of the search warrant that named Oakes, Clark and the ABC's director of News Gaven Morris, as per ABC News report.
ABC managing director David Anderson stated that "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."
Since the raid came a day later after the federal police agency searched the home of Newscorp journalist in Canberra, the Australian Federal Police released a statement clarifying that the Wednesday's search warrant on ABC officials was "not linked" to raid executed at News Corp journalist's home.
This has also raised a question on the national security laws and how the country is going to deal with cases when it comes to unearthing certain facts that may go against an eminent genre of people or community or government. Further, how this deals with arguments relating to public interests and taking any prosecution ahead in that regard, have also come under the radar. All eyes are now on the developments in the above case given the critical nature of events that have been witnessed so far.
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