Australian police raid public broadcaster amid media crackdown

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Australian police raided the headquarters of public broadcaster ABC on Wednesday, the second high-profile probe into news outlets in 24 hours, amid a crackdown on sensitive leaks.

ABC executives said police executed a search warrant at the corporation’s offices in Sydney, targeting three journalists involved in a 2017 investigative report.

In 2017, ABC obtained government documents that showed Australian special forces had killed innocent men and children in Afghanistan.

The Australian Federal Police said the search was “in relation to allegations of publishing classified material, contrary to provisions of the Crimes Act 1914.”

A day earlier police raided a journalist’s home in Canberra over a report that detailed the authorities’ bid to gain the power to spy on Australian citizens at home.

Both stories involved sensitive and potentially classified materials and were embarrassing to the Australian authorities.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has tried to distance himself from the raids, which come just days after his re-election, insisting they were police, not government, matters.

“Australia believes strongly in the freedom of the press and we have clear rules and protections for the freedom of the press,” he said during a visit to London.

“There are also clear rules protecting Australia’s national security and everybody should operate in accordance with all of those laws passed by our parliament.”

Australia’s Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance -- a union -- branded the first raid an “outrageous attack on press freedom that seeks to punish a journalist for reporting a legitimate news story that was clearly in the public interest.”

Although the press in Australia can report largely free of political interference, strict laws, court gag orders and state security statutes affect what can be said in print and broadcast.

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