An Australian Federal Police raid on the country’s public broadcaster ABC after reports that military forces were being investigated for possible war crimes in Afghanistan was designed to silence the media, the network’s chief said.
With indignation and outrage from press freedom groups around the world, Australian Broadcasting Corporation Chairwoman Ida Buttrose expressed “grave concern” about the raid on the Sydney headquarters that she said was “clearly designed to intimidate.”
Buttrose said she had a “frank conversation” with a government minister and that, “As ABC chair, I will fight any attempts to muzzle the national broadcaster,” as the imbroglio intensified with no sign authorities were willing to back off going after journalists.
Ironically, the raid came after Australian journalists had been bitterly denounced by supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange – an Australian – jailed in London and fighting extradition to the United States to be tried for espionage for revealing the same kind of alleged military crimes.
Australia’s journalism community offered no real support for Assange, sometimes denying him the status of journalist, despite warnings they would be the next target of governments wanting to keep the media from reporting on what officials would claim were issues of national security.
The raid on ABC’s headquarters came a day after the police searched the Canberra home of Annika Smethurst, the political editor of The Sunday Telegraph of Sydney, over a 2018 story detailing an alleged government proposal to spy on Australians.
News Corp. Australia, the parent company of The Sunday Telegraph, said the raid “demonstrates a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths,” but didn’t indicate what it would do to fight it.
There were no arrests in either raid. Australian law forbids officials from disclosing secret information, and the police warrants in both raids were based on a law enacted in 1914.
Police said in a statement that the raids weren’t linked.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the ABC raid was a matter of police “soberly and calmly” enforcing the law but he was assailed by media freedom critics who said the government could declare virtually anything secret information to prevent journalists from reporting stories.
ABC said it stood by its journalists, would protect its sources and continue to report “without fear or favor” on national security and intelligence issues.