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Journalists in jail? Australia weighs implications of police raids on media

06 Jun 2019 TRT World

Police raided state-funded Australian Broadcasting Corp on Wednesday, a day after raiding a News Corp editor. The operations were in relation to alleged crimes of receiving and leaking classified information, kicking open questions of press freedom.

Australian journalists could face

jail for holding classified information, authorities and

lawmakers said on Thursday, as police appeared to broaden the

scope of their investigation after raids on two media


Police raided the head office of the government-funded

Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) in Sydney on Wednesday, a day

after they raided the home of a News Corp editor.

The raids, which police said were unrelated, triggered

complaints of assaults on press freedom.

Police initially said the raids were in relation to alleged

crimes of leaking classified information, suggesting media that

received any such information would not be affected.

But police later changed a statement on their website to

include the possible crimes of receiving national secrets.

Media, lawyers and opposition politicians were scrambling to

work out the implications.

Receiving and leaking national secrets

"It's apparent that that is possible," shadow attorney

general Mark Dreyfus said when asked in an ABC interview if the

change in the police statement meant journalists could go to


"It's for the government to explain if journalists might be

charged," he said.

The ABC said the raid on its office was in relation to 2017

stories about alleged troop misconduct in Afghanistan. 

News Corp has said the raid on its employee concerned an article

about plans to spy on Australians' emails, text messages and

bank accounts.

The raids, which involved police examining some 9,000

computer files at the ABC, and sifting through the female News

Corp editor's underwear drawer, according to media reports, have

drawn criticism around the world with the British Broadcasting

Corporation calling them "deeply troubling".

The left-leaning Greens party, which makes up a powerful

voting bloc in the Senate, said it wanted a parliamentary enquiry into the raids.

Dreyfus said he may support that.

“The raids this week highlight just how dangerous it is to expose government wrongdoing in Australia," said Emily Howie, a legal director at the Human Rights Law Centre.

"Espionage offences should protect Australians from grave

harm, instead they go too far and criminalise public interest

journalism and brave whistleblowers," Howie said.

Press freedom at stake

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was travelling in

Britain, told reporters the police acted independently and that

the government believed in media freedom.

"If there are issues regarding particular laws, they will be

raised in the normal way that they should be in a democracy, and

they are matters I am always open to discuss," Morrison said.

Media widely took that remark as a suggestion Morrison may

amend laws to improve media protection.

Free speech safeguards needed

Australia has no underlying safeguards for free speech in

its constitution. 

When the government ratcheted up

counter-espionage laws in 2018, it added a provision to protect


Acting police commissioner Neil Gaughan defended the actions

as independent and necessary, adding that more raids were


"No section of the community should be immune to this kind

of activity or evidence collection more broadly," Gaughan told

reporters in Canberra.

"I reject the allegation ... that we are trying to

intimidate journalists," he said.

"I'm not going to rule in or rule out anyone being subject

to further charges. We haven't made a decision, one way or the

other," he said when asked if journalists could be charged as

part of the investigation.

Source: Reuters

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