AFP won’t lay charges against News Corp’s Annika Smethurst after last year’s raid

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) will not lay charges against News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst after raiding her home almost a year ago.

The raid occurred in response to Smethurst’s 2018 story on government plans to grant the Australian Signals Directorate powers to spy on Australian citizens.

Smethurst’s home was raided in June last year

A day after Smethurst’s home was raided, the AFP also raided the ABC’s headquarters over a separate story, leading both media outlets to challenge the validity of the AFP’s warrants in court.

Last month, the High Court ruled that the warrant used for the Smethurst raid was ‘invalid’, but in February the Federal Court ruled that the ABC warrant was valid. The ABC decided not to appeal the court’s dismissal of its case.

The ABC News director Gaven Morris, however, has now called upon the AFP to also abandon its criminal investigation against two ABC journalists, which could still lead to charges. Daniel Oakes and Samuel Clark wrote ‘The Afghan Files’ – a series of 2017 reports on allegedly unlawful killings by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.


In a joint statement, the Labor Party’s Kristina Keneally, Mark Dreyfus, and Michelle Rowland – who is shadow communications minister – agreed, commenting: “The criminal investigation into Ms Smethurst should never have happened and the raid on Ms Smethurst’s home should never have happened.

“That raid, and the separate raid on the ABC Headquarters in June last year, put a spotlight on the Morrison Government’s contempt for press freedom, its contempt for the public’s right to know and its contempt for scrutiny and any notion of accountability.

“The Attorney-General should now bring this entire sorry saga to an end by announcing today that he will not consent to any prosecution of the ABC’s Sam Clarke and Dan Oakes.”

Both raids attracted criticism from the industry’s union – the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) – and led to the industry-wide ‘Right to Know’ campaign that saw newspapers unite in an act of self-censorship by redacting their front covers last October.

The MEAA welcomed the AFP’s decision to not charge Smethurst, but drew attention to the laws that continue to put other journalists at a similar risk.

“The raids represent a clear indication that the government and its agencies have been pursuing a war on journalism using the powers of a police state,” MEAA Media section federal president Marcus Strom.

“It shows how Australia’s national security laws are being misused in order to criminalise legitimate public interest journalism, punish whistleblowers who seek to expose wrongdoing, and deny the public’s right to know the truth about what our governments are doing in our name.

“The laws that enabled these assaults on press freedom still exist. Two Parliamentary inquiries have yet to report their recommendations on how to fix this crisis. Australia was denounced around the world for these raids and there are concerns that if such things can take place in Australia, that will only encourage other countries to do the same.”

The raids were a significant reason why Australia slid five spots to land in 26th place in the World Press Freedom Index this year.

“Until our statutes are overhauled, Australians’ right to know will continue to be threatened. Journalists will be jailed for doing their jobs, whistleblowers will be intimidated into silence, government information will be locked away and the public will be denied the right to know,” Strom added.

The MEAA, through the Right to Know industry group, is calling for a right to contest warrants against journalists and media companies, exemptions for journalists from laws that could see them jailed for doing their jobs, and laws to protect public sector whistleblowers. The group is also seeking a new regime limiting documents that can be classified as ‘secret’, a ‘properly functioning’ freedom of information process, and reforms to Australia’s defamation laws.

Mumbrella has approached News Corp for comment.


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