Alumni submission to Senate inquiry
AFGHAN FILES RAIDS AND CHARGES THREATEN MEDIA FREEDOM
ABC Alumni says the Australian Federal Police might be trying to dodge proper ministerial oversight in its conduct of the Afghan Files investigation.
ABC Alumni raised the concern in its submission to the Senate inquiry into the adequacy of Commonwealth laws covering the disclosure and reporting of sensitive and classified information.
The ABC published stories in July 2017 about the activities of Australian special forces in Afghanistan, based on secret Defence Force documents leaked to the ABC.
The Defence Force referred the leaks to the Australian Federal Police a few days later. Since then, the AFP raided the ABC Sydney headquarters, and the man accused of leaking the documents has been committed for trial.
ABC Alumni is concerned decisions to proceed with charges under certain laws could indicate the AFP is attempting to evade requirements for approval by the Federal Attorney General, and that the defence of public interest would not be available.
The submission said the use of these charges against "a normal journalistic endeavour" would have a dramatically chilling effect on a wide range of public interest journalism.
ABC Alumni shares the concerns of media organisations and others about the scope of the counter-terrorism and secrecy legislation passed by the Federal parliament since September 2001.
ABC Alumni also believes that there is a strong case for more protection for whistleblowers, particularly if they consider that the issues that concern them have not been dealt with adequately by internal regulators.
But the recent AFP tactics are of great concern.
"They appear to have snuck under the radar of even the most vigilant guardians of our civil liberties. We believe it has the potential to have as chilling an effect on the media’s ability to hold government to account as any of the security legislation much more commonly cited as posing such a threat."