Ita Buttrose slams ‘unprecedented’ raid on ABC headquarters

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) raid on the ABC’s Sydney headquarters has drawn the ire of ABC chair Ita Buttrose who today spoke out about the public’s right to uncensored journalism.

In a statement published by ABC, Buttrose confirmed she had registered her ‘grave concern’ over the raid with the Federal Government and discussed it with Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher.

“An untrammelled media is important to the public discourse and to democracy. It is the way in which Australian citizens are kept informed about the world and its impact on their daily lives,” said Buttrose in the statement.

“Observance of this basic tenet of the community’s right to know has driven my involvement in public life and my career in journalism for almost five decades.

“The raid is unprecedented – both to the ABC and to me.”

The raid saw the AFP enter ABC’s Sydney offices earlier this week, allegedly in relation to 2017 reporting by investigative journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark known as ‘The Afghan Files’.

The ABC raid and the one on the home of News Corp editor Annika Smethurst earlier in the week have drawn united ire from publishers, outlets, industry bodies and the union alike.

A statement posted to the Walkley Foundation website reads: “The Walkley Foundation supports journalists’ rights to do their job, to report vigorously in the public interest, and to protect their sources and whistleblowers who speak out at great personal cost.

“We are deeply disturbed by the Australian Federal Police’s raid on the ABC’s Sydney headquarters today and yesterday’s raid on the home of two-time Walkley Award-winning Herald Sun journalist Annika Smethurst.”

Buttrose’s statement regarding the raid said the move was clearly designed to intimidate the broadcaster and journalists. She went on to reference the News Corp raid and the overall feeling among the industry.

“It is impossible to ignore the seismic nature of this week’s events: raids on two separate media outfits on consecutive days is a blunt signal of adverse consequences for news organisations who make life uncomfortable for policy makers and regulators by shining lights in dark corners and holding the powerful to account,” said Buttrose.

Buttrose also says in the statement that during her discussions with Fletcher about the raids she sought assurance that the ABC wouldn’t be targeted again by the AFP, but he declined to provide them.

While the ABC will always respect the ABC Act and Charter and legitimate matters of national security, Buttrose said public interest is best served by the ABC doing its job, and that its journalists should not be treated as criminals for doing so.

“In my view, legitimate journalistic endeavours that expose flawed decision-making or matters that policy makers and public servants would simply prefer were secret, should not automatically and conveniently be classed as issues of national security.

“The onus must always be on the public’s right to know. If that is not reflected sufficiently in current law, then it must be corrected.

“As ABC Chair, I will fight any attempts to muzzle the national broadcaster or interfere with its obligations to the Australian public. Independence is not exercised by degrees. It is absolute,” said Buttrose.


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