SYDNEY, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Australia’s Home Affairs minister asked police on Friday to exhaust all avenues before conducting more searches of journalists, after criticism over the raid of an editor’s home and the offices of the national broadcaster.
In a directive issued to the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Peter Dutton said he expected police to consider “the importance of a free and open press in Australia’s democratic society and ... broader public interest implications before undertaking investigative action involving a professional journalist or news media organisation.”
Police raided the offices of Australian Broadcasting Corp in Sydney in June over allegations it had obtained and published classified material. They also raided the home of a News Corp editor, but said the raids were unrelated.
The police action prompted criticism from advocates of press freedom that national security was being used to justify curbs on whistleblowing and public scrutiny.
Dutton’s comment comes ahead of an inquiry by the intelligence and security parliamentary committee into the powers of the police and government agencies and the need for press freedom while maintaining national security.
“Where consistent with operational imperatives, I expect the AFP to exhaust alternative investigative actions prior to considering whether involving a professional journalist or news media organisation is necessary,” Dutton said.
At the time, ABC said the raid was over its 2017 reports about alleged misconduct in Afghanistan by Australian troops, while News Corp said the raid on the editor’s home related to a 2018 report about plans to let Australia’s intelligence forces snoop on Australians’ emails, text messages and bank accounts.
The government agreed to the inquiry after ABC and News Corp challenged the legality of the raids and demanded regulatory changes to protect press freedom. (Reporting by Paulina Duran; Editing by Neil Fullick)