Police attack Australian over publication of raids story

The Australian terror raidsThe Australian newspaper is at the centre of a row about whether it should have self-censored today’s front page scoop about an alleged terrorist plot on Australian soil.

The newspaper broke the news of the allegations which police believed involved an attack on an Australian army base.

In the second paragraph of the story – by associate editor Cameron Stewart – the paper reported:  

“Federal and state police, armed with search warrants, are poised to swoop on members of the suspected terror cell as early as this morning.”

An infuriated Victoria Police Commissioner Simon Overland told a press conference this morning that The Australian had caused “an unacceptable risk to the operation” because it was available on the streets of Melbourne from the early hours, potentially tipping off the alleged plotters. He said that the newspaper had been in discussions with the Australian Federal Police prior to today’s developments. And he pledged to investigate the leak.

Overland said: “The AFP negotiated with The Australian in terms of getting this story run today. I am concerned that despite these negotiations copies of that newspaper, I am told, were available on the streets of Melbourne at 1:30am.”

First editions of daily papers are usually available in Australia’s major cities from just before midnight.

Earlier today, Stewart told Sky News that although he could not say categorically, he thought the papers had not been available until later. Stewart said: “It was certainly not us being cowboys – far from it. A lot of effort was made to delay the appearance of the story until late in the piece.”

And The Australian this morning posted an article on its website defending its decision to publish. It said:

“In a complex logistical exercise, The Australian held back its coverage of the raids until later editions of the newspaper, which were not available for sale until after the raids, and altered its online publishing schedule to ensure Cameron Stewart’s exclusive reports did not appear on, or anywhere else on the internet, until the raids had begun.”

And the article quotes editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell as saying: “Simon Overland is wrong. This is his sour grapes about not getting enough credit for Victorian police and him protecting himself against complaints from Victorian editors. “We held the story out of all early editions. No newspaper that was sold before the raids had any mention of them – they had Godwin Grech on the front page. Only papers that were sold at newsagents after the raid, and those destined for home delivery, had the raid story on page one.”

The row underlines the issue newspapers face when they land a scoop which also have implications for the safety of the public or individuals.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that New York Times reporter David Rohde had been kidnapped by the Taliban in Afghanistan. In a controversial move, 40 news organisations around the world, along with Wikipedia, self censored the story for seven months until he escaped.


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