Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has ordered the Australian Federal Police to consider the importance of press freedom before investigating journalists who publish classified material.
“A key function of the AFP is the enforcement of the criminal law, without exception,” he said.
“However, I expect the AFP to take into account the importance of a free and open press in Australia’s democratic society and to consider broader public interest implications before undertaking investigative action involving a professional journalist or news media organisation in relation to an unauthorised disclosure of material made or obtained by a current or former Commonwealth officer.
“I also expect the AFP to continue to seek voluntary assistance from professional journalists or news media organisations,” he said.
His comments follow recent raids on ABC and News Corp journalists, and come ahead of an inquiry into press freedoms.
But Shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally said in a statement, “Mr Dutton waited until 4pm on a Friday afternoon — just days before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s public hearings into press freedoms — to announce his ‘Ministerial Direction on Investigative Action Involving Journalists.’
“This is a cowardly act. Mr Dutton has announced what he ‘expects’ of the AFP.
“Australians, including journalists, media executives and the public, have demanded guarantees from the Government and all Mr Dutton has given them is window dressing.
“This pithy effort and even more pitiful timing from Mr Dutton is disrespectful to every hard-working journalist in Australia and epitomises what the Home Affairs Minister thinks of them, the media, and the Australian public.”
Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance president Marcus Strom told News Corp, “While we welcome the fact that he’s moving his position a bit on this, we don’t think it’s enough because this is still left to the whim of a ministerial directive.
“We and our partners in the Right to Know coalition are calling for legislative protections for journalists and whistleblowers.
“We also feel like this is trying to pre-empt the inquiry ongoing in parliament.”