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Police raid on Australian ABC offices is 'attack on press freedom', BBC says

The BBC has condemned a police raid on the offices of an Australian national broadcaster, calling it a “deeply troubling” attack on press freedom.

Australia’s federal police raided the offices of ABC on Wednesday in connection to a 2017 story based on leaked military documents that indicated the country’s military forces were being investigated for possible war crimes in Afghanistan.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation said the raid, the second in as many days by police investigating Government leaks, raised questions about media freedom in the country.

“It is highly unusual for the national broadcaster to be raided in this way,” ABC managing director David Anderson said in a statement.

“This is a serious development and raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press and proper public scrutiny of national security and defence matters.”

BBC News raised similar concerns in a statement, saying: “This police raid against our partners at ABC is an attack on press freedom which we at the BBC find deeply troubling.

“At a time when the media is becoming less free across the world, it is highly worrying if a public broadcaster is being targeted for doing its job of reporting in the public interest.”

ABC head of investigative journalism John Lyons tweeted pictures of the Australian Federal Police officers at work, including the search warrant issued.

During his live-tweeting of the raid, Lyons said: “I have to say, sitting here watching police using a media organisation’s computers to track everything to do with a legitimate story I can’t help but think: this is a bad, sad and dangerous day for a country where we have for so long valued – and taken for granted – a free press.”

The raid in a suburb of Sydney came a day after federal police searched the Canberra home of Annika Smethurst, the political editor of The Sunday Telegraph of Sydney, over a 2018 story detailing an alleged government proposal to spy on Australians.

News Corp Australia, the parent company of The Sunday Telegraph, said the raid “demonstrates a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths”.

There were no arrests in either raid.

Australian law forbids officials from disclosing secret information, and the police warrants in both raids were based on a law enacted in 1914.

The police said in a statement that the two raids were not linked.

Anderson said ABC stood by its journalists, would protect its sources and continue to report “without fear or favour” on national security and intelligence issues.

ABC editorial director Craig McMurtrie said: “We will be doing everything we can to limit the scope of this and we will do everything we can to stand by our reporters and as a general observation, we always do whatever we can to stand by our sources of course.”

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