ABC Editorial Director Craig McMurtrie speaks to media outside ABC HQ in Ultimo. Picture: Toby Zerna
ABC Editorial Director Craig McMurtrie speaks to media outside ABC HQ in Ultimo. Picture: Toby Zerna

Government distances itself from media police raids

THE Morrison government went into panic mode on Wednesday night to try and distance itself from what appeared to be the "unequivocal intimidation" shown in two separate Australian Federal Police raids on the ABC and News Corp in two days.

International press freedom organisations condemned the raids, warning "press freedom is under assault in Australia" and predicting a further drop from Australia's already low position at No. 21 on the World Press Freedom Index.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison opened the door to discussions on changes to media laws after the raids.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says there should be a conversation about media laws.  Picture:  AAP
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says there should be a conversation about media laws. Picture: AAP

Mr Morrison was again peppered with questions about the attack on freedom of speech at D-Day services in Portsmouth, England.

"If there are issues regarding particular laws they will be raised in the normal way that they should be in a democracy," he said. "They are matters I am always open to discuss as any prime minister would be.

"But I think it's important to understand what is occurring here and that is a process of investigations being pursued by independent law enforcement agency and they are acting in accordinacne with the laws that govern their behaviour, and that is done at arms length from the government, this is not a matter that has been directed or in any way involves government ministers and it would be inappropriate if it did."

Mr Morrison defended Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, saying he hold no knowledge of the raids before they happened.

 

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton says he had no prior knowledge of raids on media offices.  Picture:  AAP
Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton says he had no prior knowledge of raids on media offices. Picture: AAP

Earlier, Home Affairs Minister Dutton looked to separate himself from the raids, saying: "I have had no involvement in the AFP's investigation into these matters."

He said his office was only informed after the raids had taken place. But just how close he is to the AFP was ­underscored by his statement that the AFP would soon be issuing a release to back him up.

Moments later it dropped: "The AFP can confirm the Minister for Home Affairs was not notified prior to the execution of the warrants."

ABC lawyers discuss the raid with AFP officers. Picture: John Lyons
ABC lawyers discuss the raid with AFP officers. Picture: John Lyons

 

The AFP confirmed the raids stemmed from "two separate referrals from agency heads" linked to the leak of documents from the Defence Department. It is understood the referrals came from Greg Moriarty, secretary of the Department of Defence, and Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell.

Tuesday's warrant on Sunday Telegraph political editor Annika Smethurst allowed AFP officers to search for material linked to a leaked story about a secret plan to spy on Australians. The warrant served on the ABC allowed officers to search for leaked material relating to a story on the killing of civilians by Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan.

It is not known when the previous defence minister Marise Payne or any government minister was told about the referrals.

Australia is listed at number 21 on the World Press Freedom Index.
Australia is listed at number 21 on the World Press Freedom Index.

 

In London to celebrate the anniversary of the Normandy landings - a battle that was fought for democracy - PM Scott Morrison was quizzed about the first raid and said "it never troubles me that our laws are being upheld".

Michael Miller, executive chairman of News Corp Australasia - publisher of The Daily Telegraph - said: "We are disappointed in the government's response dismissing the AFP raid on the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst.

"That raid involved seven police officers arriving unannounced at her home early morning, and seven hours searching through her personal belongings … The raid was unequivocal intimidation.

"It was an affront to press freedom and demonstrated an alarming escalation to ­silence those who publish truths the government does not want made public.

"We stand by Annika and we will not resile from our campaign to protect the ­public's right to know about important decisions governments are making that can and will impact ordinary Australian citizens.

"Equally, we support the ABC's concerns over freedom of the press and proper public scrutiny of national security and defence matters."

 

 

Head of New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Joel Simon, said: "Press freedom is under assault in Australia. Journalists cannot hold the powerful accountable if journalism itself is criminalised. So much is at stake."

Monash University Associate Professor Johan Lidberg said he took a "very dim view" of both raids coming so closely together: "These two raids send a really chilling message to journalists that we are going to come after you, your sources and your metadata."

 

AFP HITS ABC IN WAR ON TRUTH

A top ABC ­staffer was "staggered" by the Australian Federal Police warrant executed in yesterday's raids which he condemned for ­granting officers the power to "add, copy, delete or alter" material in the public ­broadcaster's computers.

ABC head of investigative journalism John Lyons made the revelation as he live-tweeted the second raid on a media organisation in two days after three AFP officers and three police IT technicians marched into the broadcaster's Ultimo headquarters yesterday.

The warrant regarded a search on the broadcaster's hard drive for material linked to its 2017 series, The Afghan Files, based on leaked documents from a defence force insider about the killing of ­civilians in Afghanistan.

It came a day after seven AFP officers spent seven hours searching the ­Canberra home of Sunday Telegraph political editor Annika Smethurst for material relating to a leak about a secret plan to spy on Australians.

 

 

AFP officers inside the ABC building today. Source - ABC Twitter
AFP officers inside the ABC building today. Source - ABC Twitter

 

Yesterday's ABC warrant allowed the AFP to identify 9214 documents that they then began to go through with ABC lawyers to see what could be taken. Mr Lyons reported every move of the AFP raid on Twitter after it began before noon.

"I have to say, sitting here watching police using a media organisation's computers to track everything to do with a legitimate story I can't help but think: this is a bad, sad and dangerous day for a country where we have for so long valued - and taken for granted - a free press," he tweeted.

"I'm still staggered by the power of this warrant. It ­allows the AFP to 'add, copy, delete or alter' material in the ABC's computers. All Australians, please think about that: as of this moment, the AFP has the power to delete material in the ABC's computers. Australia 2019."

ABC chair Ita Buttrose told the Daily Telegraph that the raid was a serious development.

"It's highly unusual for the national broadcaster to be raided this way, I don't think we've ever heard of this happening before," she said.

"It's a serious development, and raises legitimate concerns about freedom of the press and proper public scrutiny of national and security defence matters."

She added:"It's hugely detrimental to whistleblowers and sends a chilling signal to journalists and audiences who rely on the media to report matters in the public interest.

"The AFP were at the offices for more than eight hours.

"Our lawyers were there the entire time and material that was not applicable to the warrant was not handed over."

 

 

 

ABC editorial director Craig McMurtrie said: "They have a warrant that allows them to access emails, ­electronic files, files and reports around the Afghan Files … that examines very serious allegations around the ­Special Forces.

"We knew they were coming but they were not invited."

It became clear the police officers were looking for evidence to build their case against the whistleblower who provided the documents that were the basis of the story.

"From sitting in this room it's clear that the AFP is trying to gather evidence to build a case against one particular person," Mr Lyons tweeted.

AFP officers inside the foyer of the
AFP officers inside the foyer of the

 

 

Top of the list of people mentioned on the warrant is David McBride, a former defence force lawyer who has been charged with releasing classified material to three ABC journalists. Two of those journalists, Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, were mentioned on the warrant and wrote the Afghan atrocity stories.

Media Watch presenter Paul Barry said the "absolutely outrageous" raid had been conducted under old powers enshrined in the 1914 Crimes Act which give no ­exemptions to journalists for publishing stories based on leaked documents.

 

The law was changed in 2018 to give a public interest exemption to journalists. However the raids relate to two stories published before the law was changed.

Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance president ­Marcus Strom said: "A second day of raids by the Australian Federal Police sets a disturbing pattern of assaults on Australian press freedom. This is nothing short of an attack on the public's right to know.

"It is equally clear that the spate of national security laws passed by the parliament over the past six years have been designed not just to combat terrorism but to ­persecute and prosecute whistleblowers who seek to expose wrongdoing".

 

PM HIT IN D-DAY FOR PRESS FREEDOM

- by Anna Caldwell

Nine: that was the number of times Prime Minister Scott Morrison was handed a chance to condemn the chilling raids on freedom of the press.

And he refused to do so nine times.

Could there be a worse time for our Prime Minister to shirk this than when he is rubbing shoulders with world leaders and commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when thousands of soldiers died for the very democracy and freedom we expect?

Mr Morrison was peppered with nine questions about the raids on Sunday Telegraph National Political Editor Annika Smethurst, moments after he delivered a rousing speech with a theme of modern freedom to about 150 business people at the Australian-UK chamber of commerce in London.

 

 

 

 

Then came this stunning juxtaposition. After hailing liberty inside the high-end London hotel, the PM stepped outside and wanted to put a qualification on freedom of the press.

Asked if "the look" of having police raid a journalist's home bothered him, he replied, "it never troubles me our laws being upheld".

When I pointed out that just moments ago his speech inside the Savoy hotel espoused the virtues of democracy and freedom, he said he believed in those values strongly.

But he then deflected, saying the AFP conduct their own investigations.

Freedom of the press and democracy is not something that comes with qualifications.

You cannot have it both ways.

As Mr Morrison is meeting with leaders of the world's greatest democracies at a sacred
D-Day site, major international news organisations including the New York Times and CNN are reporting on police raiding Australian journalists.

This is a deeply uncomfortable moment for Australia on the world stage.

At the time of writing this piece, Mr Morrison has not yet faced press questions on the ABC raids. That will be his tenth chance to condemn these chilling events.

The ABC building on Harris Street in Ultimo.
The ABC building on Harris Street in Ultimo.
ABC offices in Ultimo. Source - ABC Twitter
ABC offices in Ultimo. Source - ABC Twitter


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