The Australian Journalists’ Union condemns recent police investigations on The Guardian’s Paul Farrell and other Australian journalists who report issues of public interest. The union criticises the government for its intrusive questioning on the journalists’ news sources.
Other media unions such as Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) said the government’s actions are disturbing. “The default position for government agencies now when a story appears seems to be to request the federal police to conduct an investigation into how the story appeared – and not a concern about the content of the story and a legitimate public interest in these issues,” MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy told The Guardian Australia.
“They are targeting the whistleblower, actually, they would say the whistleblower has breached the Crimes Act. But the method they use to pursue it is trawling the metadata of journalists and we know that because when we met the federal government representatives and the federal police to discuss our concerns about the metadata legislation the AFP admitted that they had accessed the metadata of journalists 13 times in an 18-month period in an effort to identify the source of a published story,” Murphy added.
Farrell is currently under investigation for the story he wrote about the ‘Ocean Protector.’ “The public interest in the report about the Ocean Protector was significant. It disclosed more details about Australia’s unlawful entry into Indonesian waters. This took place to turn back an asylum seeker vessel under one of Australia’s most controversial asylum policies. We also published the first images of the Ocean Protector, which was the vessel later used to detain asylum seekers held at sea who became the subject of a high court challenge,” he said in an article published by The Guardian.
Apparently, the article sparked a 200-page police investigation. Farrell lamented the fragile state of journalism in Australia because the police can freely investigate journalists because of poorly defined laws. Murphy said that this state of media in the country thrives on the culture of secrecy.
“The culture of secrecy around what happens on Nauru and Manus Island is nothing short of disgraceful, there’s legitimate public concern about what’s being done in our name and efforts to report in the public interest are treated as criminal acts,” Murphy said.
Just this week, Immigration Secretary Mike Pezullo called the police to investigate the Australian’s humanitarian program leak to ABC News. In 2011, New South Wales Crime Commission issued a subpoena to two Sydney Morning Herald investigative reporters, Linton Besser and Dylan Welch, to surrender their mobile phones and sim cards. It was called ‘witch hunt’ by their then editor-in-chief, Peter Fray.