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Media groups condemn police raid on ABC News in Australia

Media groups have joined voices to condemn a police raid on the offices of broadcaster ABC News in Australia.

The Society of Editors has said the “attempt to discover the identity of news sources is a shocking move by the authorities in a free society”.

Trade union groups the National Union of Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists said the “repeated harassment” of journalists in Australia infringed press freedom.

Federal police raided ABC’s offices in Sydney over a 2017 story based on leaked military documents that revealed Australian forces were being investigated for possible war crimes in Afghanistan.

The raid, which took place yesterday, was the second in as many days by Australian police investigating government leaks.

ABC managing director David Anderson described the incident as a “serious development” that raised “legitimate concerns over freedom of the press and proper public scrutiny” of national security matters.

ABC News executive editor John Lyons tweeted pictures of the raid as it was ongoing and posted photos of the search warrant.

In a tweet about the warrant, he said: “I’m still staggered by the power of this warrant. It allows the AFP to ‘add, copy, delete or alter’ material in the ABC’s computers.”

The federal police search came a day after a similar raid on the Canberra home of The Sunday Telegraph of Sydney political editor Annika Smethurst.

No arrest were made during the raids. A police statement said the searches were not connected.

Society of Editors executive director Ian Murray said: “The raid by police at ABC’s Sydney headquarters armed with search warrants naming two reporters and a news director in an apparent attempt to discover the identity of news sources is a shocking move by the authorities in a free society.

“The Society of Editors in the United Kingdom, which campaigns on behalf of a free media and freedom of expression, is adding its voice to those of media organisations around the world in the hope that the authorities in Australia realise that such actions are simply not compatible with the defence of freedoms in a liberal democracy.”

IFJ President Philippe Leruth said: “I strongly condemn the repeated harassment of journalists in Australia as infringements of press freedom. “Secrecy of sources is the corner stone of press freedom and press freedom is a key element of democracy where access to documents is requested from authorities.”

The NUJ and IFJ have pushed for Australian authorities to “respect the fundamental rights of journalists”.

The UK Equality and Human Rights Commission chairman David Isaac said the raid, which was live-tweeted by ABC executive editor John Lyon, was “unprecedented” and “highly concerning”.

He added: “Around the world media freedoms are being eroded and many journalists are increasingly faced with intimidation and threats of violence. An independent media is a fundamental pillar of a healthy democracy. When we threaten the freedom of the media we threaten democracy itself.”

The BBC has also criticised the raid, describing it as a “deeply troubling” attack on press freedom.

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