Police have raided the Sydney headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC), in a second day of searches targeting journalists.
Officers arrived at the public broadcaster with search warrants naming two reporters and the news director. The ABC has protested over the raid.
The police action is related to articles about alleged misconduct by Australian forces in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday police searched the home of a News Corp journalist, sparking alarm.
The leading journalists’ union said the two raids represented a “disturbing pattern of assaults on Australian press freedom”. Other unions and human rights groups also condemned the actions.
According to the ABC, Wednesday’s search is about the 2017 investigative series known as The Afghan Files which “revealed allegations of unlawful killings and misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan”.
The broadcaster said the series was “based off hundreds of pages of secret Defence documents leaked to the ABC”.
The Australian Federal Police said the warrant was in relation to “allegations of publishing classified material” and that it “relates to a referral received on 11 July 2017 from the Chief of the Defence Force and the then-Acting Secretary for Defence”.
The Afghan Files were published by the ABC on 10 July 2017.
The police said Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s raids were not connected, adding: “Both however relate to separate allegations of publishing classified material, contrary to provisions of the Crimes Act 1914, which is an extremely serious matter that has the potential to undermine Australia’s national security.”
It defended its actions, saying they had “been independent and impartial at all times”.
ABC journalist John Lyons has been live-tweeting the raid since the police arrived on Wednesday morning. He earlier said that police were going through 9,214 documents found on the ABC systems one-by-one, including “thousands of internal ABC emails”.
Later in the evening at 19:40 local time (09:40 GMT) he said: “ABC and AFP have settled on the documents that fit the warrant. These are now being sealed and the AFP will not be permitted, under an agreement about to be signed, to open the documents for 2 weeks. Gives ABC times to challenge.”
ABC ‘stands by its journalists’
In a statement ABC Managing Director David Anderson said the police raid “raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press”.
“The ABC stands by its journalists, will protect its sources and continue to report without fear or favour on national security and intelligence issues when there is a clear public interest,” Mr Anderson said.
ABC News director Gaven Morris defended the two journalists who were named along with him in the search warrant.
“For the record, @DanielMOakes and @sclark_melbs are two of @abcnews’ finest journalists,” he tweeted.
“Honest and committed to telling the truth in the Australian public’s interests. Just like @annikasmethurst. I’m proud of the difficult work they all do.”
Whistleblowers in the cross-hairs?
by Jay Savage, Australia editor, BBC News website
Australian journalists have reacted furiously, calling the raids “outrageous” and “chilling”; one editor said he’d “never seen an assault on the media as savage”.
Police insist that there is no link between the scouring of the ABC and a News Corp Australia journalist’s home.
But the timing is more than curious: two raids, on successive days, concerning stories that were published more than a year ago. Each piece explored matters of transparency in clandestine Australian institutions.
Some suspect it is the whistleblowers – not the media – who are actually being targeted.
Political opponents say all of this raises “serious questions” for Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government – which has denied any interference – and there are calls for an urgent inquiry into press freedom.
Others say the media should reflect upon defending all whistleblowers’ interests as noisily as it defends itself.
Alarm over other raids
On Tuesday, police raided the home of newspaper journalist Annika Smethurst, who reported last year that the government was considering a secret plan to spy on its citizens.
Her employer News Corp Australia, which publishes several of the country’s most-read newspapers, condemned the raid as “outrageous and heavy-handed”.
Police said their warrant related to “the alleged publishing of information classified as an official secret”.
Also on Tuesday, Ben Fordham, a broadcaster for radio station 2GB, said that the government was investigating how he obtained information that up to six boats carrying asylum seekers had recently tried to reach Australia.
The BBC contacted the home affairs ministry for comment. A spokesperson would not confirm or deny the existence of the investigation.
“The chances of me revealing my sources is zero. Not today, not tomorrow, next week or next month. There is not a hope in hell of that happening,” Fordham said.
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, which represents journalists, said: “Police raiding journalists is becoming normalised and it has to stop.
“This is nothing short of an attack on the public’s right to know.”
Australia introduced new espionage offences last year that human rights advocates say could be used to target journalists and whistleblowers.
“There are insufficient safeguards to prevent law enforcement agencies from using these powers to expose journalists’ confidential sources,” said Emily Howie, a legal director at the Human Rights Law Centre.
The two raids come weeks after a new centre-right government was elected. In a surprise result, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was returned to office.
He responded to Tuesday’s raid on Ms Smethurst’s Canberra home by saying that while he supported press freedom, “it never troubles me that our laws are being upheld”.
The opposition Labor party has asked Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to explain the raids.
The police said that Mr Dutton “was not notified prior to the execution of the warrants”.