afp abc raids
ABC director of news Gaven Morris (Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) raided the ABC’s Ultimo offices on Wednesday morning over a series of 2017 stories documenting unlawful killing by Australian troops in Afghanistan. This is the second in as many days the AFP has launched a raid in response to reporting on security matters. 

The AFP’s warrant named three journalists — news director Gaven Morris, as well as reporters Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, who wrote the 2017 articles.

The series, “The Afghan Files”, based on hundreds of pages worth of defence force documents, revealed Australian special forces had been involved in the unlawful killing of unarmed civilians, and highlighted an alarming “warrior culture” within elite units.

ABC lawyers told the AFP that they “waive no rights, and reserve the right to take an injunction against the warrant”, according to a tweet from ABC News executive editor John Lyons.

When Lyons reportedly told the AFP that ABC staff were extremely concerned at granting access to emails and correspondence, the AFP told him they were confining their search to “very specific matters”.

The AFP spent hours raiding News Corp political journalist Annika Smethurst’s Canberra home on Tuesday, alleging there had been an unauthorised leak of “national security information” in a story she wrote over a year ago. Smethurst’s story alleged the Home Affairs and Defence departments were considering giving spy agencies the power to secretly access bank records, emails and text messages.

2GB radio presenter Ben Fordham was also told yesterday that he is the subject of a Home Affairs inquiry which could lead to an AFP criminal investigation, related to a story revealing up to six illegal boats are headed for Australia.

Marcus Strom, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance’s media federal president, said he was concerned that the raids amounted to “criminalising journalism”, a trend he worried was becoming the new normal in Australia.

“We can’t have a politicised police force clamping down on legitimate journalism,” Strom told Crikey.

“The opposition and the government, ever since 9/11, have been involved in a high stakes game of bluff, in increasing the draconian laws under the guise of national security legislation,” Strom said.

The incidents, which have drawn outcry across the media landscape, could put pressure on the government to respond to the AFP’s hostility toward investigative journalism.

Asked about the Smethurst raid yesterday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison initially said it was a matter for the AFP, before telling reporters he was unconcerned. 

“It never troubles me that our laws are being upheld.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey