Don’t speak truth unto power (2)

5 June: Following their raid on Annika Smethurst, Australian federal police raided another broadcaster, although on a completely different investigation. In July 2017, ABC, Australia’s national broadcaster, screened a documentary called “The Afghan Files”. The programme contained allegations by a lawyer, David McBride, that Australian special forces had been involved in the torture and/or mistreatment of detainees during the conflict in Afghanistan.

The police arrived at ABC with an astonishing search warrant that gave them access to ABC’s computer systems and allowed them to amend or delete any document they wished to. According to ABC, such a warrant is unprecedented in Australian legal history. It certainly sounds like something that one would expect to be issued in Putin’s Russia rather than a democracy like Australia. Naturally ABC’s lawyer’s fought this and in the end it was agreed that any contested documents would be sealed and held until an appeal against the terms of the warrant could be launched.

Australia introduced new espionage laws last year. Opponents warned that these new powers would be used to target journalists and whistleblowers. Those warnings appear to have come true. This is the second raid on journalists since the recent election of the right wing government of Scott Morrison. Other journalists have reported government contact requesting that they identify sources – the most prominent being Ben Fordham of Radio station 2GB who covered a story about asylum seekers. The head of ABC News has tweeted: “I’ve never seen an assault on the media as savage as this.” Responding to coverage of the raids, Morrison would only say, rather threateningly, that “no-one is above the law.”

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