The Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom has welcomed the decision by the Australian Federal Police to drop charges against Newscorp journalist Annika Smethurst and has renewed its call for a media freedom law.
The announcement, coming more than a year after the raids, underscores the need for unambiguous protections for press freedom in Australian law, the AJF said in a statement.
The AFP were searching for evidence of the source of a story she published revealing secret plans by the government to expand the powers of the nation’s international electronic eavesdropping agency, the Australian Signals Directorate.
The raid, and a similar one the following day on the offices of the ABC, highlighted the precarious position of Australian journalists who are fulfilling their democratic duty to keep watch over our government.
It also appeared to send a message to both journalists and their sources exposing abuses of government authority – the police are prepared to come after you.
The AJF believes the damage the case has done to journalism, to the AFP’s reputation, and to Australia’s international standing as a champion of democratic values, could have been avoided if press freedom was clearly enshrined in our legal code.
AJF spokesperson Professor Peter Greste, the UNESCO chair in journalism and communication at the University of Queensland, said: “This decision is the right one, but the controversy would never have happened if we had a law in place that protects journalism in the public interest, while giving the security agencies the tools they need to go after genuine threats to the country.
“We can do that with a Media Freedom Act. Such an act would clearly establish the relationship between journalists holding government to account, and the security agencies trying to keep us safe.
“A Media Freedom Act would enshrine the public’s right to know, but also help the security forces from damaging the very thing they aim to protect, namely the health of one of the world’s most successful democracies.”
The AAJF first called for a Media Freedom Act in May 2019, three weeks before the raids.
Australia is ranked 21st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.