A police raid on Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) has drawn fire from broadcasters and rights groups.
Officers arrived at the public broadcaster’s Sydney headquarters with search warrants naming two reporters and the news director. The ABC has protested over the raid.
Police searched the home of a News Corp journalist on Tuesday, sparking alarm.
The BBC said it was “deeply troubling” for a broadcaster to be searched.
The leading journalists’ union in the country said the two raids represented a “disturbing pattern of assaults on Australian press freedom”. Other unions and human rights groups also condemned the actions.
In a statement ABC Managing Director David Anderson said the police raid “raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press”.
“The ABC stands by its journalists, will protect its sources and continue to report without fear or favour on national security and intelligence issues when there is a clear public interest.”
ABC News director Gaven Morris defended the two journalists who were named along with him in the search warrant.
Why the searches?
The police action is related to articles about alleged misconduct by Australian forces in Afghanistan.
According to the ABC, Wednesday’s search is about the 2017 investigative series known as The Afghan Files which “revealed allegations of unlawful killings and misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan”.
The broadcaster said the series was “based off hundreds of pages of secret defence documents leaked to the ABC”.
The Australian Federal Police said the warrant was in relation to “allegations of publishing classified material” and that it “relates to a referral received on 11 July 2017 from the Chief of the Defence Force and the then-Acting Secretary for Defence”.
The Afghan Files were published by the ABC on 10 July 2017.
Tuesday’s search at the home of newspaper journalist Annika Smethurst related to her 2018 report about a government plan to spy on Australian citizens.
Police said their warrant was linked with “the alleged publishing of information classified as an official secret”.
The police said Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s raids were not connected, adding: “Both however relate to separate allegations of publishing classified material, contrary to provisions of the Crimes Act 1914, which is an extremely serious matter that has the potential to undermine Australia’s national security.”
It defended its actions, saying they had “been independent and impartial at all times”.
ABC journalist John Lyons, who live-tweeted the raid, said that police went through 9,214 documents found on the ABC systems one-by-one, including “thousands of internal ABC emails”.
Also on Tuesday, Ben Fordham, a broadcaster for radio station 2GB, said that the government was investigating how he had obtained information that up to six boats carrying asylum seekers had recently tried to reach Australia.
The BBC contacted the home affairs ministry for comment. A spokesperson would not confirm or deny the existence of the investigation.
“The chances of me revealing my sources is zero. Not today, not tomorrow, next week or next month. There is not a hope in hell of that happening,” Fordham said.
What reaction has there been?
The raids have been met with widespread condemnation by media outlets and press freedom groups.
The search of Ms Smethurst’s home provoked anger from her employer News Corp Australia. The multinational media corporation, owned by press mogul Rupert Murdoch, called the raid “outrageous and heavy-handed” and “a dangerous act of intimidation”.
News Corp – whose UK titles include The Times and the Sun newspapers – said the public’s right to know was being undermined by the Australian government.
Peter Greste, director of the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, said Australians who value press freedom will be concerned by the raids.
Mr Greste, a former Al Jazeera reporter, suggested his jailing by the Egyptian government in 2013 on national security charges is “on the same spectrum”.
The raids could have a “chilling effect on the right of journalists to carry out their jobs”, the National Press Club of Australia said in a statement.
“The scene might be expected in an authoritarian country but not in a democracy,” Reporters Without Borders said of the raids on Twitter.