At a time when the government has launched a full-scale war on the ABC over its journalism, the decision of the government’s hand-picked Director of Public Prosecutions — former Trade Union Royal Commission counsel Sarah McNaughton — to charge Canberra lawyer Bernard Collaery for talking to the ABC raises serious questions about the agenda behind the prosecution.

In addition to facing a charge of conspiring with Witness K to reveal the illegal bugging of the Timorese government by the Australian Secret Intelligence Service under Alexander Downer in 2004, Collaery is being charged with illegally communicating information via interviews or conversations with a number of ABC journalists and producers: Emma Alberici, Peter Lloyd, Connor Duffy, Marian Wilkinson, and Peter Cronau.

Alberici has been a regular target of both the Turnbull government and its media supporters in relation to her journalism on economic issues.

But there’s a strange omission from the prosecution’s summons to Collaery. The charges relating to ABC journalists or producers all relate to early December 2013 or March 2014, in the wake of raids by ASIO on Witness K and Collaery’s offices, which included the seizure of privileged material. ASIO had waited until Collaery was out of the country to conduct the raid of his office.

The omission is that the revelation of the illegal bugging of the Timorese cabinet wasn’t by the ABC in December 2013, but by The Australian on May 29, 2013 — when Collaery told The Australian’s Leo Shanahan what ASIS had done. Shanahan isn’t mentioned in the summons to Collaery, which goes through chapter and verse of all the times he is meant to have illegally shared information with ABC staff. Why the selective focus on the ABC when the original “offence” was committed with News Corp?

If the government has its way in preventing Collaery and K’s trials from being held in public, we’ll likely never find out.

No journalists, editors or producers have been directly charged.

Peter Fray

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