Is freedom of the press under attack in Australia?

Peter Williams 06/06/2019

On Wednesday, Australian Federal Police officers entered the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s flagship office in Sydney with a warrant. AFP officers spent more than eight hours raiding the offices over a series of 2017 stories known as the 'Afghan Files'.

Paul Barry, Investigative journalist and host of ABC Media Watch joins Peter Williams on Magic Talk Mornings to discuss the raid which he has described as "chilling".

The raid comes a day after an earlier search of a newscorp journalist's files in her home. Peter wanted to know how many files the AFP took from ABC?

"They took away about 100 files, originally they had tried to take 9,000 but our lawyers here talked them down to the 100 or so that they took," Paul told Peter.

He then went on to explain the story that lead to the raid explaining that it concerned the 'Afghan files' which went to air in 2017. "The source was a defence lawyer who found that some Australian soldiers in Afghanistan were involved in unlawful killings of civillians."

"This was a story that was in the national interest and was not a national security issue."

"Under the law they used to search for evidence they could charge journalists if they chose to."

Peter asked how this made media in Australia feel considering the freedom of the press?

It's a very worrying trend.

It sends a message to journalists that if you're dealing with whistleblowers that you risk prosecution. Bad news for journlaists. It can be very worrying for journalists if you cannot protect your sources."

It has a chilling effect.

This is not just bad for journalists, but for civillians as well.

Peter then asked about the earlier raids on rival Australian news station News Corp and whether or not there is likely to be any prosecutions as a result of this raid?

Paul Barry explained that these raids had the effect of uniting many of the rival news and media companies in Australia against the threat to free press. But that while prosecution of a journalist might remian unlikely legal action was still a threat.

One prosecution is already underway.

He described the case of David McBride, a military lawyer who was the whitsleblower that lead to the 'Afghan files'. the warrant was likely looking for evidence for his upcoming trial.

You can listen to the full interview above.