Anniversary of AFP raids a reminder to reform laws that ‘criminalise journalism’: union

Exactly a year after the Australian Federal Police (AFP) raided News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst’s home, the industry’s union has demanded further progress on press freedom.

A year ago today, on 4 June 2019, the AFP raided Smethurst’s home over a 2018 story on government plans to grant the Australian Signals Directorate powers to spy on Australian citizens. The next day, it raided the ABC’s headquarters over ‘The Afghan Files’ – a series of 2017 reports on allegedly unlawful killings by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Last week it was revealed  no charges would be laid against Smethurst, however the two ABC journalists behind that reporting – Daniel Oakes and Samuel Clark – still face the looming threat of charges.

Smethurst’s home was raided exactly a year ago

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) has today re-condemned the raids “in retaliation for news stories that were true” and stressed the urgency of law reform to protect journalists.

“The June 2019 raids grabbed global attention about the state of press freedom in Australia,” federal president of MEAA Media, Marcus Strom, said.

“Dawn raids of journalists are the type of thing you would expect to see in a despotic police state, not a country that prides itself as being a liberal democracy.

“Politicians have cited ‘national security’ so government agencies can reach into our homes, offices, phones and computers in order to control the possession and flow of information. But what we are actually witnessing is a war on journalism.”

The ABC offices in Sydney were raided on 5 June 2019

Both News Corp and the ABC challenged the validity of the warrants the AFP used for its raids in court. In April, the High Court ruled that the warrant used for the Smethurst raid was ‘invalid’, but two months earlier, the Federal Court found the ABC warrant was valid. The ABC decided not to appeal the court’s dismissal of its case.

The raids – which also saw Australia slide five spots to land in 26th place in the World Press Freedom Index this year – were denounced by the MEAA, leading to the industry-wide ‘Right to Know’ campaign involving newspapers uniting in an act of self-censorship by redacting their front covers last October.

MEAA’s Strom. Source: Twitter

“Current laws allow governments to hide information from the public and punish any who reveal that information,” Strom added.

“This cloak of secrecy shields the government from scrutiny and embarrassment, particularly when a whistleblower reveals instances of wrongdoing. Governments are now empowered to hunt down the whistleblower and the journalist. The new laws that can be used against them provide for prison terms of up to 20 years for telling the truth.”

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.


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