Australia and Russia are both declaring war on the free press simply because reporters decide to do their jobs.
Russia’s attack on the press shouldn’t be surprising as it involves the government jailing a reporter on ‘drug charges’ – something his colleagues are calling ludicrous – and making sure the head of the Moscow police force is personally involved in the probe. The journalist, Ivan Golunov, was involved in exposing bad behavior in the apartment financing industry and was working on a piece his editors at Meduza say was the reason for his arrest. It all sounds like something out of a South Korean action film or one of Norwegian author Thomas Enger’s books. We’re talking things which make Chicago look like a beacon of light in the world.
The Australia cases are simpler – but much, much more disturbing. It involves the government conducting raids on separate news agencies because of their reporting.
The first involves Australian Federal Police going into Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s head office looking for files in connection with a series of killings by Special Forces operatives in Afghanistan. Via ABC’s The Afghan Files:
The documents, many marked AUSTEO — Australian Eyes Only — suggest a growing unease at the highest levels of Defence about the culture of Australia’s special forces as they prosecuted a bloody, secretive war against insurgents across a swathe of southern Afghanistan.
One document from 2014 refers to ingrained “problems” within special forces, an “organisational culture” including a “warrior culture” and a willingness by officers to turn a blind eye to poor behaviour.
The Aussie feds decided they wanted to find out how ABC got a hold of the documents. Here’s ABC’s write up of the raid.
The AFP told the ABC they wanted to search through email systems in relation to the people mentioned in the search warrant and were searching “data holdings” between April 2016 and July 2017.
They searched for article drafts, graphics, digital notes, visuals, raw television footage and all versions of scripts related to The Afghan Files stories.
Thousands of items were found which matched search terms listed in the warrant.
This is not unlike the Justice Department tapping Associated Press phones in 2013.
The other raid involved News Corp’s Annika Smethurst – who reported last year the Australian government was considering domestic spying. Via News.com.au:
The top secret correspondence contained in Ms Smethurst’s original story reportedly outlined a proposal to allow government spies to “proactively disrupt and covertly remove” onshore cyber threats by “hacking into critical infrastructure”.
The proposal would also give the cyber spy agency, the Australian Signals Directorate, powers to snoop on the emails, bank accounts and text messages of Aussies, with the approval of the relevant home affairs and defence ministers.
Law currently prevents the agency from monitoring Australian citizens…
In a statement, the AFP confirmed a search was under way at Ms Smethurst’s home.
“The matter relates to an investigation into the alleged unauthorised disclosure of national security information that was referred to the AFP,” the statement read.
“Police will allege the unauthorised disclosure of these specific documents undermines Australia’s national security. No arrests are expected today as a result of this activity.”
Sounds a lot like the activity surrounding the Justice Department and former Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2013 or the 2018 seizure of reporter Ali Watkins’ records over her reporting for The New York Times.
It should be pointed out Australia doesn’t have a constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press while Russia’s press freedom guarantee has been whittled away to the point independent journalists are under dire threat.
The United States is in a unique position where it has freedom of the press – even though politicians in both parties have done their best to make it harder for journalists to do their jobs. The press itself deserves plenty of criticism for being ‘in the tank’ for one political party or another – although the nature of press is to be biased despite claims otherwise. America’s history is rife with examples of politicians being angry over the publication of newspapers which put them in a bad light (see the Alien and Sedition Acts or even the Espionage Act which targeted communist newspapers).
We’re still lucky to be in America and not in Russia or Australia. Press freedom is important. We all need to remember this.