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Australian Parliament to probe press freedom after raids

July 5, 2019

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A parliamentary committee on Friday announced an inquiry into the impact of Australian law enforcement and intelligence powers on press freedom following police raids on a media organization and a journalist’s home.

Australian media organizations have demanded reforms after police raided Australian Broadcasting Corp. headquarters in Sydney and the Canberra home of a News Corp. reporter in search of leaked government documents.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security announced the government had called for the inquiry based on concerns about those raids and the issue of balancing national security with the freedom of the press.

“This inquiry will allow the committee to hear from the media, government agencies and other interested stakeholders as to the direct impact of these powers on civil society and their importance to both national security and the public interest,” committee Chairman Andrew Hastie said.

Media organizations asked for responses to the inquiry referred to a joint statement made by ABC Managing Director David Anderson after media executives met with Attorney-General Christian Porter and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher on Tuesday to discuss reforms.

“While our strong preference was for immediate action rather than inquiries, we will engage with any processes that seek to address the issues we have raised,” Anderson said.

“We will continue to push for real outcomes that strengthen the Australian public’s fundamental right to know,” he added.

Australia’s three largest media organizations — ABC, News Corp. and Nine Entertainment — joined forces last week to demand legal reforms that would exempt journalists from national security laws passed since 2012 that “would put them in jail for doing their jobs.”

They also want a right to contest warrants such as those executed in Sydney and Canberra. The organizations have called for greater legal protections for public sector whistleblowers as well as reforms to freedom of information and defamation laws.

The committee has invited written submissions from interested parties to be lodged by July 26. The committee will report to Parliament by Oct. 17.

There are concerns that dozens of counterterrorism laws passed by Parliament since the al-Qaida attacks on the United States in 2001 have eroded press freedoms.

The leaked documents sought in the raid on the Canberra home related to reports of a government plan to lift a ban on an intelligence agency spying on Australian citizens.

The ABC raid a day later was after documents relating to potential war crimes committed by the Australian Special Air Service Regiment in Afghanistan.

Hastie, the committee chairman, is a government lawmaker and an SAS veteran whose war service in Afghanistan has also been scrutinized by the ABC.

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