Australia: Federal Court dismisses questions over journalist raids

Australia’s Federal Court rejected the case put forward by Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC challenging the legality of police warrants used to raid their offices in 2019. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Media, Entertainment and Arts Affiliate (MEAA) notes the decision as evidence of the severe threat Australia’s laws pose to press freedom and the public’s right to know.

Police raid on ABC in 2019. Screenshot: SBS

On February 17, Justice Wendy Abraham dismissed the ABC’s legal challenge finding the Australia Federal Police (AFP) complied with the law when issuing the warrant. The ABC’s challenge claimed the warrant was “legally unreasonable” and had no meaningful limitation to what could be searched. The broadcaster also argued Australia’s implied freedom of political communication limited the discretion of police in issuing warrants.

The warrant authorised AFP to seize files from ABC computers regarding a series of 2017 reports known as the Afghan Files based on leaked Department of Defence documents. The raids occurred on June 5, 2019, a day after News Corporation journalist Annika Smethurst’s Canberra home was raided after she reported on a government proposal to give Australia’s cyber spies unprecedented powers. The search was confirmed by the federal police as part of an “investigation into the alleged unauthorised disclosure of national security information". 

MEAA said: “It is clear that the motivation behind these raids is to intimidate journalists and media organisations. The raids have a chilling effect on public interest journalism by demonstrating to whistleblowers that if they reveal wrongdoing, corruption or illegal activities in the public interest, they will be hunted down and prosecuted."

The IFJ said: “The ruling highlights the excessive power that exists in Australia to limit press freedom. In a democracy that values transparency, the law must protect whistleblowers and public interest journalism.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on 
+61 2 9333 0918

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

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