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According to the Federal Court, the warrant the AFP executed against the ABC was valid, and therefore, completely within the law.
While the AFP’s raids on the ABC is seared into the psyche, the hits keep coming, and the situation grows bleaker. Today, the Federal Court ruled that the warrant executed was valid.
Outside the court, ABC’s Head of Investigative Journalism John Lyons said the decision was disappointing.
“It is a bad day for Australian journalism…after 18 months, we still have two journalists that face possible criminal charges. I contrast this to Angus Taylor and what the AFP’s treatment of him was, that case was over within weeks,” he said.
Since the raid, we’ve had Peter Dutton roundly dismiss calls to drop the probe into journalists stating that “nobody is above the law”, and suggested that criminal charges would be levelled against the journalists that published the leaked material.
In response, the President of the MEAA (Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance), Marcus Strom, said that the comments “smack of hypocrisy from the government…politicians regularly leak information to journalists when they think it’s in their interests, this can be secret documents, cabinet documents, discussions within cabinet…these journalists were acting in the public interest and reporting in the public interest,” Strom said.
In a piece published in June of 2019, the ABC described the contents of a letter they received on April 1, two months prior to the raid, asking for the fingerprints of the two journalists who published the Afghan Files that inspired the later raid. Per the piece, “the AFP wanted finger and palm prints from Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, the ABC journalists who two years earlier had produced stories on the activities of Australian special forces soldiers in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2013. The letter that arrived in the email inbox of the two journalists stated that the AFP was ‘requesting your consent to a forensic procedure being the copying of your finger and palm prints'”.
The ABC signed off their article with the line “This is a high-level, and very important, game of intrigue,” which certainly seems like the hostage blinking SOS messages in morse code.
It sounds like abject insanity, but the point to remember is the AFP’s classification of the work of these journalists. They find them to be criminals, those who work in the service of the greater public. Per the letter, Oakes and Clark were subject to three alleged offences — “one under s79 (6) of the Crimes Act 1914 concerning “the receipt of prescribed information”, one under s73A (2) of the Defence Act 1903 concerning “unlawfully obtaining information,” and another under s132 1 (1) of the Criminal Code.”
Attorney-General Christian Porter, who said that the target of the raids were not the journalists, while the AFP was telling the journalists they were suspects. To that end, Porter said he was “disinclined” to see the journalists charged, whereas Dutton has stated that the AFP were working independently, i.e. he wasn’t holding their strings, despite the fact that AFP directly reports to him.
Clearly, the freedom of the press is the true victim here. The blame is less important, as who ordered the raid is a kind of parlour game, stopping us from asking the most important question: “Why?”