Aussie gov't "open" to legal protection for journalists after police raids, says PM

Source: Xinhua| 2019-06-11 14:13:09|Editor: Shi Yinglun
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CANBERRA, June 11 (Xinhua) -- The Australian government has flagged action on press freedom after federal police raids on journalists.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison met with Ita Buttrose, the chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), on Tuesday to discuss legal protections for journalists and whistleblowers.

Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers raided the ABC earlier in June with a warrant for documents related to stories published by the public broadcaster in 2017 about alleged war crimes by Australian soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

It occurred just one day after officers raided the home of News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst over a national security story published in 2018.

The raids preceded the AFP announcing it had dropped an investigation into the leaking of classified documents relating to legislation in early 2019.

Both raids have been condemned by the media and by the Opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP) as encroaching on the freedom of the press.

Speaking before his meeting with Buttrose, Morrison told reporters that he would "listen carefully" to her concerns and was "open" to strengthening legal protections.

"If there is a suggestion or evidence or any analysis that reveals there is need for further improvement of those laws, then the government is always open to that."

Buttrose was appointed to lead the ABC by Morrison in February despite not being one of the three candidates identified by global headhunters.

Anthony Albanese, the leader of the ALP, welcomed news of the meeting between Morrison and Buttrose, saying it was "good" that the prime minister "acknowledges that there is an issue."

"I think freedom of the press is an essential component of our democracy," Albanese told reporters in Perth.

"I think it's good that Ita Buttrose, as the chairperson of the ABC, has spoken out so strongly and I think it's good that Prime Minister Scott Morrison is meeting with Ita Buttrose.

The ABC is planning to take legal action against the AFP to seek the return of the seized documents.

"At this point, we're really assessing the allegations to see what actions can be taken and we want to make sure that we're in the strongest available position to defend ourselves and also our journalists," Buttrose said on Monday.

The meeting took place the day after Mathias Cormann, the minister for Finance, said that the door was open for a parliamentary inquiry into the AFP raids and wider freedom of the press.

"There are obviously a range of issues to be considered here and we'll make statements in relation to this later in the week," he told reporters on Monday.