Raid on ABC puts Australian press freedom at risk

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”107111″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship condemns the raid by Australian federal police on the offices of public broadcaster ABC over a 2017 article it ran in on operations of Australian special forces in Afghanistan.

The search warrant named three ABC journalists — news director Gaven Morris, Daniel Oakes, Samuel Clark — and gives police wide-ranging powers, including the power to “add, copy, delete or alter” material in the ABC’s computers. Thousands of documents are being sought by police in the raid.

“The power of this warrant is terrifying,” said Index chief executive Jodie Ginsberg. “Protection of journalistic sources is one of the basic conditions for press freedom – and the huge scope of this warrant puts that at risk.”

The federal police said it was investigating “allegations of publishing classified material, contrary to provisions of the Crimes Act”.

The raid comes a day after the federal police searched the home of Annika Smethurst, a News Corp political editor, over articles she published on plans to expand Australia’s domestic surveillance capabilities.

Last week, the High Court in Belfast, Northern Ireland ruled that warrants against two Northern Irish journalists whose homes and office were raided by police last year were “inappropriate”. Three days later, the criminal investigation into Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey was dropped.

Birney and McCaffrey produced a documentary No Stone Unturned, which examines claims of state collusion in the murders of six men. During the Northern Irish raid, police seized documents, personal computers and USB sticks belonging to family members and copied a computer server that contained years of sensitive reporting by the documentary makers, risking endangering confidential sources unrelated to the film.

Index on Censorship and colleagues English PEN intervened in the judicial review of the case, noting the “chilling effect” of such orders, which were “likely to have the effect of intimidating journalists throughout Northern Ireland and further afield.”[/vc_column_text][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1559725317075-72546647-22cf-1″ taxonomies=”6534″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Australia’s “Auntie” pummelled over Indonesia coverage

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has accused the Australian Broadcasting Corporation of being unAustralian.

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has accused the Australian Broadcasting Corporation of being unAustralian.

In a dust up over the reporting of spying revelations, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has been called unAustralian by prime minister Tony Abbott, who has also called for a review of its funding.

The ABC, known affectionately as “Auntie”, has long been accused of left-wing bias by both conservative media and politicians and the prime minister is just the latest, saying in late January, “a lot of people feel at the moment that the ABC instinctively takes everyone’s side but Australia’s. I think it is a problem.”

The problems Abbott was referring to were revelations broadcast by ABC, prompted by documents released by former US National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, that Australia’s government had tapped the phones of the Indonesian prime minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife in 2009. Snowden was described by Abbott as a “traitor” and said the broadcaster was delighting in “advertising” what he had to say. Abbott accused the broadcaster of attacking the nation.

Though the phone tapping took place during the tenure of the previous Labor government, Abbott’s administration has been vocal that the reporting has badly damaged relations with Indonesia. At the same time, Abbott’s government has been turning back boats into Indonesian waters with no prior warning. This follows  an ABC report that Australian navy personnel had abused asylum seekers in their care by forcing them to hold onto hot pipes that burned their hands. The allegations came from members of the Indonesian navy, but were not fully verified by ABC reporters.

An investigation by Media Watch, an ABC watchdog programme detailed varied journalistic abuses or stretches of the truth and found its own network had “overreached” on the allegations of abuse. The programme said the story should have been more adequately researched.

Tony Abbott later said he wanted the national broadcaster to apologise but would “leave it up to them”.

“My concern as a citizen of our country is to try to ensure our national broadcaster is accurate, is fair,” he continued.

Others in his party, such as communications minister Malcolm Turnbull, have not been so direct, noting the importance of freedom of press and a lack of self-censorship

The ABC, in a poll conducted by Essential Research found the taxpayer-funded broadcaster, is considered the country’s second most trusted institution after the Supreme Court. Further research conducted by the ABC found that 85 percent of people believe the broadcaster provides a valuable service.

None of this stops repeated claims of bias against the broadcaster, usually by conservative politicians and journalists. The supposed bias shown last election against Labor by News Limited papers has not been subjected to the same attacks by the Coalition. Other conservative commentators have noted the former government’s own attempts at censorship of the press.

This has come at the same as an”efficiency study” of the ABC and the Special Broadcasting Service, which also receives government funding, has been announced. Beginning this month, it will announce its findings in April and there is much speculation budgets will be cut. There has even been talk of privatising or scrapping the broadcaster, though communications minister Malcolm Turnbull has been keen to distance himself from the ideas.

This article was originally published on 7 February 2014 at

Radio prank expands Australia’s broadcasting authority remit


It began like many other radio pranks. On 4 December last year two hosts from 2DayFM in Australia called the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in London impersonating the Queen and Prince Charles. Kate Middleton, wife of Prince William and Duchess of Cambridge, was there being treated for morning sickness.

Hosts Mel Greig and Michael Christian spoke to nurse Jacintha Saldhana who put the call through to the ward. Later horrified by the fallout and attacks upon her in the press, she killed herself. The immediate fallout was tragic but there may be wider ramifications in Australia.

This is not the first time a prank by a broadcaster has had unexpected consequences. In 2007 the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s The Chaser’s War on Everything programme – mostly concerned with political satire – managed to breach security at the APEC Summit and get within metres of US President George W. Bush’s hotel to offload comedian Chas Liccardello dressed as Osama Bin Laden. In the end little came of it save embarrassment for those heading the AUD150 million security concern.

However, thanks to the tragic outcome of the radio stunt the Australian Communications Media Authority has weighed in, deciding that the station’s broadcast of their conversation with Saldhana breached laws, specifically whether in recording then broadcasting the call the station breached the Surveillance Devices Act.

Then in early November the Federal Court ruled that ACMA could in fact investigate and decide criminal guilt, but does not actually determine criminal guilt. This significantly broadens ACMA’s powers and, according to Addison’s law firm this “may lead to adverse licensing consequences for broadcasters in relation to conduct that the ACMA finds has contravened the criminal law, even where a police investigation has not been thought appropriate or necessary.”

Justice Richard Edmonds found that in this case future criminal proceedings were irrelevant in this case as they are not proceeding and “an administrative process cannot constitute an interference with the due administration of justice in criminal proceedings which have not yet commenced,”

In other words the broadcasting regulator can decide criminal guilt in cases that are not under criminal investigation.

Whilst ACMA chairman Chris Chapman told media it, “provides clarity over the operation of the licence condition that prohibits broadcasters from using their broadcasting service in the commission of an offence.”

Others are less certain. In June the lawyer acting for the station characterised the ruling body acting as ”policeman, prosecutor, judge, jury, prison warden and parole officer” when it delivered its preliminary findings.

Justine Munsie a partner at Addisons law firm in Sydney, said in an interview that it adds “another level of quasi-criminal jurisdiction into the mix when commercial radio and TV broadcasters make decisions regarding publication. However, whereas normally the criminal standard of proof normally applies, this new level applies only the civil standard which may make broadcasters more cautious in broadcasting certain matters”

Martin Hirst, Associate Professor and media lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne and former journalist, said it “creates an effective and worrying grey area between jurisdictions. The ACMA can determine that a criminal action has occurred and use this as the basis for action against a licensee, without the claim of criminality being fully tested in a court of law. Perhaps ACMA is better to wait the outcome of criminal proceedings before pursuing its own regime of sanctions.”

This article was published on 9 Dec 2013 at