Police raids on ABC: The day news theory became reality

AFP officers leave the ABC, eight hours after raiding the public broadcaster's Sydney HQ. Image: Alexandra Menzies/Central News

COMMENTARY: By Alexandra Menzies of UTS Central News in Sydney

As I stood out the front of the ABC’s Sydney headquarters on Wednesday morning (June 5), I couldn’t help but feel the conflicting senses of both pride and anxiety.

Just moments earlier, a group of first-year UTS Journalism students, including myself, had raced from our lecture upon learning that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) were conducting a raid of the ABC building next door. It was over the 2017 story The Afghan Files.

We waited with perched phones in the middle of an eager scrum of professional journalists from organisations such as Sky News, Channel 9, Channel 7 and Reuters News.

READ MORE: The Afghan Files – Defence leak exposes deadly secrets of Australian special forces

The Afghan Files
The Afghan Files … How the ABC reported a “Defence leak exposing deadly secrets of Australia’s special forces” in 2017. Image: Screen shot of ABC/PMC

We took photographs and short videos before posting them to our Twitter accounts and watching as audience responses flooded in.

It wasn’t until I saw the comments from international news organisations requesting to use my footage, that I understood the significance of where I was, and what I was doing.

I checked my tweet engagement and interaction statistics and realised that people were following my posts for breaking information.

I was at the scene and, to the best of my ability, I was responsible for letting the world know the truth and facts of the events that were unfolding.

Feeling accomplished and alive
It was the first time that I had been in such a position. Indeed, it was the first time that I had felt what it is like to be a journalist. And to tell you the truth, I had never felt so accomplished and alive.

The videos of fellow journalism students were also picked up by top news organisations. For instance, a video of ABC News director Gaven Morris, shot by Nicholas Rupolo, was reposted by The Australian and news.com.au.

RELATED STORY: AFP Raids: ‘Journalism is not a crime’ says ABC News boss

Through to the afternoon, I was constantly refreshing my feed to check for updates from the ABC’s Head of Investigative Journalism, John Lyons, who was live tweeting from inside the ABC building. He was sharing information on what the AFP officers were searching for, as they rummaged through 9214 files that belonged to the ABC, and were considered of interest in their investigation.

It may sound melodramatic, but my heart became heavy when Lyons posted two photographs of the search warrant that the police had obtained. I was truly astounded by the scope and broadness of what information the AFP had the power to search and seize.

I thought back to how I had felt earlier that day; the immense zest I’d felt for journalism had now been replaced with a fear for it’s future.

I was confronted with the true irony of the fact that I was reporting freely on an investigation that epitomised the gradual restrictions on my chosen career.

Using this as my incentive, I continued to follow the raid as it stretched into the night.

By 7:30pm, there were six journalists and photographers, seven including myself, who remained out the front of the ABC building.

Keeping an eye out
We chatted among ourselves while keeping an eye out for any movements or updates on the raid. Lyons then tweeted photographs of the AFP filling out paperwork. He approximated that the raid would be concluding in 45 minutes.

At 8:14pm, one of the photographers sighted the AFP officers walking through the security gates of the ABC building.

“Get your cameras ready!,” he yelled.

Remembering the tips and tricks that I had learnt about shooting videos on a mobile phone, I captured the AFP as they made a swift exit from the building across Harris Street, taking with them bags that were filled with what we can only assume to be evidence.

I returned to the ABC building along with the other journalists and photographers. We sat and looked through the photographs and videos that we’d been able to get, and in doing so, I was relieved.

Admittedly, it’s a strange emotion to have felt. But I was relieved by the determination of those who I’d waited with. For over eight hours, some without a break, they had stayed to break the news that the raid had finally ended.

Their sheer perseverance gave me hope in the otherwise grim future of journalism.

Scrolled through Twitter
When I went home, I scrolled through Twitter and noticed another post from Lyons.

“Bravo to this country’s media for taking on the government over the new war on the media”, he said.

“I’ve never seen such a united front. Old rivalries put aside. Journalism matters”.

I owe a great deal of gratitude to Lyons and the other news organisations who showed their support for journalism in the wake of the ABC raid.

It is comforting to know that, as long as people continue to fight for its freedom, journalism will survive.

Befitting what Wednesday’s events taught me – and as quoted by former Washington Post president and publisher Philip L. Graham – “Journalism is the first rough draft of history”.

Alexandra Menzies is a first year journalism student at the University of Technology Sydney with a passion for politics and human rights. This article was first published by the UTS Central News journalism lab

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