RSF warns Australia over ‘grave threat’ to investigative journalism

Craig McMurtrie ABC
ABC’s editorial director Craig McMurtrie speaks to the media as Australian police raided the headquarters of public broadcaster in Sydney on June 5, 2019. Image: Peter Parks/AFP/RSF

Pacific Media Watch Newsdesk

After the latest Australian federal police raid targeting the media – this time the Sydney headquarters of the national public broadcaster ABC – Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has warned the Australian government about the grave threat it is now posing to investigative journalism and the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.

“In a scene that might be expected in an authoritarian country but not in a democracy, six federal officers entered the ABC building this morning and began examining computers, email accounts and data storage devices under a warrant authorizing them to ‘add, copy, delete or alter’ any content they find,” reports RSF on its website.

The warrant was reportedly issued in order to help them to identify the sources for an Afghan Files report broadcast on the ABC current affairs programme The 7.30 Report on 10 July 2017 about the alleged role of Australian special forces personnel in the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan.

READ MORE: RSF’s earlier report on the Australian raids

“Persecuting a media outlet in this way because of a report that was clearly in the public interest is intolerable,” said Daniel Bastard, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

“This kind of intimidation of reporters and their sources can have devastating consequences for journalistic freedom and independent news reporting.”

Bastard added: “We urge Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government to stop harassing investigative journalists, using national security as a pretext in connexion with subjects on which Australian citizens clearly have the right to be informed.”

The raid on ABC headquarters in Sydney came less than 24 hours after Tuesday’s equally shocking raid on the Canberra home of Annika Smethurst, the political editor of News Corp’s Sunday newspapers.

After the raid on Smethurst’s home, Ben Fordham, a presenter for the Sydney radio station 2GB, revealed that he was also being investigated by the department of home affairs in connection with a story broadcasted on Monday about six asylum-seeker boats heading for Australia.

Australia is ranked 21st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, after falling two places.

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