Australia: Police seek authorisation to raid NT Independent office

Police in Australia’s Northern Territory (NT) have sought powers to raid the office of NT Independent after the digital news outlet released an article on the sexual assault of a minor, an incident suppressed by local police. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its Australian affiliate, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), in condemning this violation of press freedom and calling on the territory’s authorities to safeguard the right of journalists to report on matters in the public interest.

NT Independent was targeted by police after publishing an article on a sexual assault committed in the Northern Territory. Credit: Facebook

In March 2021, NT Independent published an article on an incident of sexual assault committed against a minor, in which the news outlet alleged that local police had deliberately avoided informing the public of the incident.

The article prompted a series of investigative pieces alleging a pattern of attempted cover-ups by the police media unit of serious sex offences committed across the territory.

On September 25, NT Independent revealed that police had sought authorisation to raid the news outlet’s office, seize documents and computers, and arrest staff by requesting that the Australian Classification Board categorise the article as “restricted content”.

The request was ultimately rejected by the board, though NT Independent foreshadowed that it would file a complaint against the police with an appropriate statutory authority.

MEAA’s National Media Section committee of elected officials unanimously condemned the “appalling” actions of the NT Police and the use of intimidation to restrict the publication of reporting in the public interest. Adam Portelli, Media Director of the MEAA, said, “This is an extremely disturbing development that represents a dangerous pattern of behaviour in the Northern Territory.”

According to NT Independent editor, Christopher Walsh, the actions of NT Police reflected an effort to subvert laws protecting journalists from unlawful search and seizures or arrests.

MEAA Media Director, Adam Portelli, said: “The previous and the current Chief Ministers have locked out the NT Independent from reporting matters that are in the public interest. We call on the NT Government and NT Police to respect the rights of journalists and to cease impeding the public’s right to know what our governments and their agencies do in our name.”

The IFJ said: “Northern Territory police’s attempts to preclude journalists from reporting on matters in the public interest are deeply concerning and constitute an alarming infringement of press freedom. The IFJ urges the region’s authorities to ensure that all journalists and media workers are free to work without fear of harassment, intimidation or reprisal.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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