ABC won’t appeal Federal Court decision about the AFP’s raid

Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, has decided not to proceed with an appeal over the validity of a warrant used by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to raid its offices.

The ABC’s managing director David Anderson said the ABC’s legal position was carefully considered, however the industry’s union, the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), said the decision showed the system is broken.

ABC won’t challenge the court’s decision 

Anderson said the case demonstrated the need for urgent law reform.

“The ABC stands behind our journalists and is committed to defending media freedom,” he said. “This outcome demonstrates the urgent need for law reform to ensure professional journalism and whistle-blowers are appropriately protected.

“The AFP raid was an assault on public interest journalism and the Federal Court ruling was a blow to media freedom and democracy in Australia. But we don’t believe we can litigate our way to reforming fundamentally bad laws.”

Despite the decision, Anderson said The Afghan Files stories, which led to the raid, remained online, and this type of journalism would continue to be pursued by the organisation.

Anderson also noted the wide-reaching implications of the situation for whistleblowers, journalists and the public.

“All Australians should be highly concerned at this outcome, the position the ABC has been put in and what this means for all journalists and the public’s right to know,” he said.

“Australia’s regime for issuing search warrants fails to adequately protect whistleblowers and public interest journalism. We lag behind comparable western democracies and these events have been the subject of significant international criticism.

“There has never been a question over the accuracy or importance of the Afghan Files stories or whether they were in the public interest. Yet potentially our reporters could still be charged with offences carrying jail terms. They have now had this threat hanging over their heads for almost two years.

“Australians should not only expect but demand an open and transparent society. Our laws fail that expectation.”

The MEAA echoed this concern and also called for immediate law reform.

“That warrant targeted journalists who had published the truth. The warrant was issued with the intent to bypass the journalists’ ethical obligation to never reveal the identity of a confidential source – a principle of journalism recognised around the world,” he said.

“Journalists and whistleblowers cannot feel safe until there are legislative reforms to protect public interest journalism. Remember, there are three journalists still in legal limbo following the raids on the ABC and the home of a News Corporation journalist. This is not about making journalists above the law, but to bring the law into line with community expectations. There must be a positive legal protection for journalism that is in the public interest in order to uphold the public’s right to know.”

Strom reminded people that the scope of the warrant allowed the AFP to “add, copy, delete or alter” material on the ABC’s computers, which he said was “extremely disturbing”.

“That represents a genuine threat to the ability of media outlets to carry out their duties if government agencies can cause immense disruption to entire computer networks as well as undermine the privacy of other Australians unrelated to the warrant’s intent,” he said.

“As ABC managing director David Anderson has said today, the journalism in the Afghan Files was published almost two years before the raid. Its veracity has never been questioned.

“And yet for publishing the truth and upholding the public’s right to know, three journalists now face lengthy jail terms. Warrants should be contestable before they unleash their damage on the truth and the public’s right to know.”


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