Aussie journalist targeted as WAN-Ifra censures governments

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As world editors were agreeing a motion censuring countries including the UK on press freedom issues, federal police were raiding the home of an Australian journalist who disclosed new plans to snoop on the public.

News Corp said the AFP raid this morning on (Sydney) Sunday Telegraph political editor Annika Smethurst would "chill public interest reporting".

The "outrageous and heavy handed" raid followed a story in April last year which said new espionage powers were being considered by defence and home affairs ministries which would allow the Australian Signals Directorate to monitor Australian citizens. "This raid demonstrates a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths," said a spokesperson. The raid was outrageous and heavy handed.

Yesterday in Glasgow - where it had been holding its annual World News Media Congress - the board of WAN-Ifra called on the UK government to address "critical press freedom challenges" which it says threaten UK media and risk undermining recent international efforts to prioritise media freedom.

It deplored the killing on April 18 of journalist Lyra McKee, a death which had already been referred to by UK foreign minister Jeremy Hunt when he addressed the congress on Saturday. In one of six press freedom resolutions, it urged Norther Ireland police to "vigorously pursue its investigation until her killer is identified and brought to justice".

It also expressed "deep concern" at the 2018 arrest of journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey in connection with their documentary 'No Stone Unturned' investigating the murder of six men by suspected loyalist paramilitary gunmen in Northern Ireland in 1994, and to "make good on its commitment to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, introduced in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry, which would force publishers not signed up to an approved press regulator to pay the claimant's litigation costs as well as its own, even when the title's journalism has been vindicated by the court.

The board added support for an exemption from new controls proposed by the Online Harms White Paper, and reform of defamation laws in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

It also passed resolutions calling on global solidarity for media facing extreme challenges in Brazil, Mexico, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Venezuela and Nicaragua, calling on new leaders and their administrations in Brazil and Mexico to take "urgent, resolute action to end the cycle of violence that continues to target journalism" and make decisive steps in prioritising the safety and security of journalists

In Mozambique, the board condemned a spate of "arbitrary arrests and attacks" on independent media, notably what it says has been a systematic campaign by authorities to muzzle the press by limiting the ability of local and foreign journalists to report on the insurgency in the coastal province of Cabo Delgado.

In Rwanda, it denounced stifling of critical voices "through a combination of brazen and covert tactics of censorship", and in Tanzania, it denounced "a systematic campaign by the government to attack and intimidate the press as a means of preventing critical and opposition voices, as well as controlling information available to the Tanzanian public". In Venezuela and Nicaragua, the board called for the authorities to end a cycle of censorship that targetted journalism in both countries and commit to guaranteeing the free-flow of information to citizens.

• A second AFP raid - this time on the ABC offices in Sydney - was not linked to that on News Corp, although both related to "separate allegations of publishing classified material, contrary to provisions of the Crimes Act 1914," the group said.

ABC head of investigations John Lyons said the search warrant authorized the AFP to "copy, delete or alter" material from the public broadcaster's computers. "All Australians, please think about that," he tweeted.

The raid relates to a 7.30 Report story published in July 2017 in which an Afghan veteran spoke out against a "disturbing culture of recklessness" he said emerged among an influential minority of Australian Special forces in Afghanistan.

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