The target of the raid, the kind of surprise visit every journalist could do without, was Annika Smethurst, the political editor of News Corp’s Sunday newspapers, including The Sunday Telegraph.
Armed with a warrant issued by a Canberra magistrate for an investigation into “alleged publishing of information classified as an official secret,” the police searched her home and seized her computer, her mobile phone and printed documents.
The raid was prompted by a story published in April 2018 revealing that the departments of defence and home affairs were considering extending their powers so that they could order the intelligence agencies to spy on the emails, text messages and bank accounts of any Australian citizen.
“National security cannot be used as grounds for violating press freedom in a story that is so manifestly in the public interest,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “This search warrant is clearly an attempt to intimidate reporters who want to investigate subjects that could embarrass the government. And it poses an unacceptable threat to respect for the confidentiality of their sources. We call on Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government to stop harassing journalists.”
After today’s raid, Ben Fordham, a presenter on the Sydney radio station 2GB and a contributor to Sky News, revealed that he is being investigated by the department of home affairs in connection with his story yesterday about six asylum-seeker boats that are bound for Australia.
Australia is ranked 21st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, after falling two places.