SYDNEY (MEAA/Asia Pacific Report/Pacific Media Watch): The raid by Australian Federal Police on the home of award-winning Canberra Press Gallery journalist today has been condemned by the MEAA union as an “outrageous attack on press freedom” seeking to punish a journalist for reporting a legitimate news story that is clearly in the public interest.
The MEAA (Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance) said in a statement that raid on the home of senior News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst, the Canberra Press Gallery Journalist of the Year in 2017 and a Monash University graduate, as yet another example of the heavy hand of government seeking to:
- + withhold important information from the public, harass and intimidate journalists who are reporting responsibly to the Australian community; and
- + persecute and prosecute whistleblowers who reveal matters of concern, including exposing any information or activity that is against the public interest.
MEAA said the government had already rushed through deeply flawed anti-encryption legislation on the last sitting day of the Parliament in 2018.
The new law sought to “break”, or decrypt, the encrypted communications of ordinary citizens.
MEAA has already warned that, based on past experience, Australian governments and their agencies had little regard for press freedom and there was every likelihood that the powers to be used over encrypted communications can be misused – either to identify a whistleblower or pursue a journalist for a story the government did not like.
MEAA media president Marcus Strom said: “Yet again, we have an example of a government aiming to punish those who have brought to light vital information.
“Australians are entitled to know what their governments do in their name. That clearly includes plans by government agencies to digitally spy on Australians by hacking into our emails, bank accounts and text messages.
“It is an outrage that more than a year after the story was reported – in April 2018 but just days after the federal election result, the Federal Police are now raiding a journalist’s home in order to seize documents, computers and a mobile phone in order to track down the source,” Strom said.
“MEAA has catalogued, in our annual press freedom report, the steady encroachment of government into muzzling the media and pursuing whistleblowers for daring to bring to light legitimate news stories that embarrass the government of the day.
“But when you go after whistleblowers you are going after journalism. When you seek to muzzle the media and deny their right to subject the powerful to scrutiny, you are attacking democracy and the public’s right to know,” Strom said.
MEAA called on the Morrison government to show support for press freedom.
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