ABC chair Ita Buttrose raises ‘grave concerns’ with minister over ‘unprecedented’ raids

“An untrammelled media is important to the public discourse and to democracy. It is the way in which Australian citizens are kept informed about the world and its impact on their daily lives.”


Ms Buttrose – who was picked by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to chair the ABC earlier this year after a lifelong career in journalism and publishing – also called for changes that would dramatically rebalance the law in favour of public interest journalism.

“In my view, legitimate journalistic endeavours that expose flawed decision-making or matters that policy makers and public servants would simply prefer were secret, should not automatically and conveniently be classed as issues of national security,” she said.

“The onus must always be on the public’s right to know. If that is not reflected sufficiently in current law, then it must be corrected.

“Public interest is best served by the ABC doing its job, asking difficult questions and dealing with genuine whistle-blowers who risk their livelihoods and reputations to bring matters of grave import to the surface. Neither the journalists nor their sources should be treated as criminals.”

The ABC raid related to stories the broadcaster aired in 2017 exposing allegations of severe misconduct by the Australian Defence Force in Afghanistan, based on secret documents.

It took place just 24 hours after the Australian Federal Police also raided the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst regarding a story she authored last year revealing plans to expand the remit of the Australian Signals Directorate to monitor some Australian citizens.

“It is impossible to ignore the seismic nature of this week’s events,” Ms Buttrose wrote.

“Raids on two separate media outfits on consecutive days is a blunt signal of adverse consequences for news organisations who make life uncomfortable for policy makers and regulators by shining lights in dark corners and holding the powerful to account.”

The ABC has secured a two-week legal “stay” in which police have agreed not to access documents seized from the broadcaster’s Ultimo headquarters on Wednesday.

Ms Buttrose vowed to use her position to “fight any attempts to muzzle the national broadcaster or interfere with its obligations to the Australian public”.

“Independence is not exercised by degrees. It is absolute,” she said.

At a press conference on Thursday, acting AFP commissioner Neil Gaughan said the ABC raid would not have been so public if the ABC had not filmed it and broadcast the footage.

“The only way it was turned into a public display was based on what the ABC did when we arrived yesterday,” he said. “The ABC filmed it, which is their right, and they continued to tweet during the execution, which again is their right.

“The fact that was allowed to occur, without any hindrance whatsoever, does show the AFP supports freedom of the press.”

Michael Koziol is a political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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