Morrison treads lightly amid press freedom row

Morrison treads lightly amid press freedom row

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has given cautious responses to questions about the Australian Federal Police’s (AFP) raids conducted at a News Corp journalist’s home on Tuesday and the ABC’s headquarters in Sydney yesterday.

Mr Morrison said his “government is absolutely committed to freedom of the press” but that “no one is above the law”.

“These are matters that were being pursued by the AFP operationally, at complete arm’s length from the Government, not with the knowledge of the Government, not at the instigation of government ministers,” he told reporters following commemorations of the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

“These were matters that had been referred to the Federal Police sometime ago, last year, preceding even my time as coming to be Prime Minister.”

According to the ABC, yesterday’s AFP raid on its headquarters in Ultimo lasted eight hours and was in relation to a 2017 investigative series into Australia’s clandestine military operations in Afghanistan.

AFP officers left with around 100 digital files.

AFP personnel enter the ABC’s lobby.

ABC Managing Director David Anderson said the files would remain sealed for two weeks while the public broadcaster assesses its legal options.

“We don’t think we’ve done anything unlawful in publishing these stories, we think these stories are absolutely in the public interest,” Mr Anderson told the ABC’s RN Breakfast.

Tuesday’s raid took place at the Canberra home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst in relation to a story published last year concerning potential new powers for the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD).

The story included images of letters between the heads of the Departments of Home Affairs and Defence discussing whether the ASD should be allowed to monitor Australian citizens and businesses on home soil, rather than being limited to gathering intelligence on foreigners.

Mr Morrison was asked whether Australia was “taking tips on media freedom from China” and if he was comfortable with them coming at a time when he and other world leaders were commemorating freedom and democracy.

“I can understand why these issues can cause great anxiety, particularly to members of the press,” the Prime Minister said.

“But at the moment what we are dealing with are two separate investigations following a normal process and any suggestion these were done at, with the knowledge of, the instigation of Government ministers, is completely untrue.

“No one is above the law,” he added.

Meanwhile, the raids have sparked public outcry domestically and gained international media attention.

All eyes are on the Government to explain.

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