Federal Court dismisses ABC’s case, ruling that AFP raid warrant was valid

A search warrant used by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to raid ABC headquarters last June was valid, the Federal Court has ruled.

The public broadcaster commenced legal action after the AFP searched its computer systems in response to ‘The Afghan Files’ – a series of 2017 reports on allegedly unlawful killings by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan  – arguing the warrant was “legally unreasonable”. But today, the court dismissed the case and ordered the ABC to pay costs, in a decision managing director David Anderson said is a “blow” for public interest journalism and the public’s right to know.

The ABC’s offices were raided last year, in the same week of the Annika Smethurst raid

“Today’s ruling is further evidence of the urgent need for explicit protections for public interest journalism and for whistleblowers,” Anderson said.

“When the AFP executed its search warrant here at the ABC last June 5th, its raid was seen – internationally – for exactly what it was: an attempt to intimidate journalists for doing their jobs. Not just the journalists named on the search warrant, but all journalists.

“The ABC challenged the validity of the AFP’s search warrant and we’re disappointed by today’s ruling.  It’s a blow for public interest journalism and a blow for the Australian public’s right to know.  It’s a win for further secrecy and lack of accountability.”

Anderson added that the ABC is not proposing journalists should be “above the law”, but that “legitimate journalism should not be criminalised”.

“The accuracy of this reporting [The Afghan Files] has never been challenged. No one has been able to demonstrate a direct threat to national security as a result of those stories,” he said.

“Yet almost three years after those stories were published, investigative journalists Sam Clarke and Dan Oakes remain in limbo. They could be charged and prosecuted at any time for doing their jobs.”

In the same week the ABC was raided, the AFP also raided the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst. Both raids attracted criticism from the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, 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 in October.

Anderson called on the AFP to “resolve this issue as a matter of urgency and drop its threat against our journalists”.

“This ruling highlights the serious problem with Australia’s secrecy laws. Australia has by far the most onerous secrecy laws of any comparable western democracy – the UK, US, Canada, New Zealand,” he added.

“This is at odds with our expectation that we live in an open and transparent society.”

The ABC may appeal the decision.


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