ABC raid: Australian public broadcaster loses legal challenge

  • February 17, 2020

ABCs editorial director Craig McMurtrie speaks to the media as Australian police raided the headquarters of public broadcaster in Sydney on June 5, 2019.Peter Parks / AFP – Getty Images

Australia’s national broadcaster has lost its legal challenge to controversial police raids on its Sydney newsroom last year.

In June, police searched the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the home of a newspaper journalist over articles which relied on leaks from government whistleblowers.

The raids sparked public outrage and protests across the nation’s media.

However, the Federal Court of Australia has ruled the searches were legal.

ABC’s managing director David Anderson said the decision was “disappointing”. He said the raids had been a high-profile “attempt to intimidate journalists for doing their job”.

Australian Federal Police alleged the stories and reporters at the centre of its searches had breached national security laws.

In the raid last year, they seized thousands of documents over a 2017 ABC investigation which alleged Australian armed forces had committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

Police also raided the home of News Corp reporter Annika Smethurst. In 2018, she had reported an alleged attempt by a government agency to spy on Australian citizens.

Australia’s conservative government tightened its security laws in 2018 to make it a criminal offence for journalists to receive classified information from military or intelligence sources.

Canberra has previously said it backs press freedom but that “no one was above the law”.

The ABC tried to challenge the legality of the police search warrant, arguing that it breached an implied constitutional right for free speech on political matters.

However, the court rejected that argument. It said “the purpose of the warrant in this case was entirely legitimate” as police had been investigating “valid” national security offences.

The court also said the few legal protections for journalists’ sources were not applicable in this case.