Australian Federal Police officers last night left the ABC’s Sydney headquarters with two USB drives containing a small number of electronic files.
Officers spent more than 8 hours at the Ultimo headquarters, in a raid over a series of 2017 stories known as the ‘Afghan Files.’
Evidence was sealed in plastic bags, pending a review by ABC lawyers.
Three AFP officers entered the building at about 11:30am yesterday, followed shortly afterwards by three police IT technicians. A search warrant named investigative journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clark and the ABC’s Director of News Gaven Morris.
They searched for article drafts, graphics, digital notes, visuals, raw television footage and all versions of scripts related to The Afghan Files stories.
John Lyons, Executive Editor ABC News & ABC Head of Investigative Journalism, live tweeted the AFP activities from inside the room as they pored over files with ABC lawyers.
ABC managing director David Anderson said it was “highly unusual for the national broadcaster to be raided in this way”.
“This is a serious development and raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press and proper public scrutiny of national security and Defence matters,” he said.
“The ABC stands by its journalists, will protect its sources and continue to report without fear or favour on national security and intelligence issues when there is a clear public interest.”
News boss Gaven Morris said “journalism is not a crime”.
“Our journalists do a really difficult job, I’m proud of what they do, they do it in the public’s interest,” he said.
“I’d say to all the journalists at the ABC and all the journalists across Australia, don’t be afraid of the job you do.
“Stand up and be proud of it and continue to act in the public’s interest knowing the stories you tell and the service you provide the community is a vital one for our democracy.”
The raid, which follows an unrelated raid on News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst the day before, has been roundly criticised and questioned from all sides. Newspapers The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Guardian Australia all gave major coverage, questioning the impact on press freedom and independence.
- FreeTV Australia stood with ABC over the raid, saying,”Two AFP raids on journalists in two days is something that all Australians should find deeply disturbing. We live in a democracy, not a police state. The role of the media in holding our Governments to account is the cornerstone of our democracy. It is essential that journalists are able to continue to do their jobs, reporting on stories in the public interest, without fear of persecution. All commercial television broadcasters stand with our colleagues at News Corp Australia and the ABC in expressing our deepest misgivings at these attempts to stifle press freedom.”
- MEAA Media section president Marcus Strom: “A second day of raids by the Australian Federal Police sets a disturbing pattern of assaults on Australian press freedom. This is nothing short of an attack on the public’s right to know. Police raiding journalists is becoming normalised and it has to stop. These raids are about intimidating journalists and media organisations because of their truth-telling. They are about more than hunting down whistleblowers that reveal what governments are secretly doing in our name, but also preventing the media from shining a light on the actions of government.”
- BBC: “This police raid against our partners at ABC is an attack on press freedom which we at the BBC find deeply troubling. At a time when the media is becoming less free across the world, it is highly worrying if a public broadcaster is being targeted for doing its job of reporting in the public interest.”
Senior cabinet members insist the actions of the AFP were not politically motivated and that the agency had acted properly to uphold the law.
“It is entirely appropriate they conduct their investigations independently and, in fact, it is their statutory obligation,” said Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton in a statement.
The ABC’s lawyers will now analyse the seized documents to determine any privilege claims. They are also assessing whether they will challenge the terms of the search warrant.