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AFP raid on journalist: Stand up to state intimidation

Nick G.                           4 June 2019

The Australian Federal Police earlier today raided the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst.

Smethurst’s “crime” was to have reported on plans to allow spy organisation the Australian Signals Directorate to conduct cyber surveillance on Australian citizens. Her report also included images of documents relevant to her disclosures.

Her report was carried in the Daily Telegraph over a year ago, on April 28, 2018. The same day, the Defence Department referred the leak of the documents to the AFP.

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance, the union that represents journalists, described the raid as an "outrageous attack on press freedom".

"It is an outrage that more than a year after the story was reported in April, 2018, but just days after the federal election result, the Federal Police are now raiding a journalist's home in order to seize documents, computers and a mobile phone in order to track down the source," MEAA media president Marcus Strom said.

A spokesperson for Smethurst’s employer, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, said "This raid demonstrates a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths."

Perhaps for the first time in the history of our Party, we find ourselves in agreement with News Corp.

“Freedom of the press” for whom?

We have long argued, however, that under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, the concept of “press freedom” is quite illusory.  The capitalist press is largely filled with inconsequential rubbish designed to distract people from probing the reasons for the inequality and injustice embedded in capitalist class relations.  Only a few multi-billionaires like Murdoch can aspire to have ownership of mass media such as newspapers, radio networks and TV stations.

Nevertheless, it serves the people’s interests to have journalists courageous enough to stand up to both private and state media owners.  Social and political contradictions can sometimes be allowed to surface under the protection of the bourgeois notion of a “free press”. 

The illusory “independence” of the ABC

The government-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation does not have to cull content to the commercial imperative of delivering its audience to powerful advertisers.  But its content does play a part in ensuring the level of funding that comes from the government.  When Emma Alberici ran a few stories that put the government and the multinationals it serves in a bad light, ABC Chairman Justin Milne sent an email to managing director Michelle Guthrie demanding that Alberici be sacked. The email was sent on May 8, 2018, one day after former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull sent a list of grievances about Alberici’s reporting to the ABC. Milne may not have needed to be prompted: he was at the time the chairman of MYOB, one of the companies criticised in her corporate tax story on big corporations that paid no tax on their earnings in Australia.

The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also called for the sacking of ABC political editor Andrew Probyn.  Justin Milne allegedly told Ms Guthrie “you just have to shoot him’’ and said refusing the then-prime minister’s wishes would put half a billion dollars of project funding and “the future of the ABC at risk”.

Yesterday, the ABC’s Media Watch program reported that the producer of Saturday AM, Thomas Oriti, had killed a story by journalist Isobel Roe that questioned the economic viability of the Adani coal mine.  Adani had threatened litigation against the ABC through ABC News boss Gaven Morris even before having previewed the story.

Limitations of “press freedom”

Whilst the Daily Telegraph is striking an heroic pose in defending the integrity of its journalist, neither it nor any of the garbage in the Murdoch stable, or the capitalist press more widely, has taken a stand in defence of people like Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning or Julian Assange. Petty arguments about whether or not Assange is a journalist and therefore entitled to defence under the “press freedom” umbrella, are beside the point. Assange and the others broke the imperialists’ monopoly on knowledge and information.

Nor have they defended Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery , both charged with leaking details of Australian espionage against the government of Timor-Leste during negotiations over oil and gas drilling proposals from prosecution and the deliberate drawing out of the case against them. 

So, while we do support News Corp and its defence of journalist Smethurst, we call for a much broader campaign against all forms of state intimidation of journalists and whistle-blowers.

Intimidation by the state reveals a steady slide towards the adoption of fascist measures against anyone who questions imperialism and its supine lackeys within parliament and the state apparatus.

The latter have all the backbone of dead jellyfish on an abandoned beach.  The people alone have the backbone to stand up against intimidation.
 
 

 

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