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Last week, the AFP raided the ABC. They could “add, copy, delete or alter” documents.

Just after 11:30am on Wednesday June 5, the Australian Federal Police entered the ABC’s offices in Sydney.

For nine long hours, six AFP officers stood around a big screen in the headquarters of the national broadcaster as they sifted through thousands of emails and documents belonging to ABC journalists.

Just one day after police raided the home of News Corp reporter Annika Smethurst, following the publication of a leaked plan to allow the government to spy on Australians, the AFP stormed the ABC in response to the 2017 publication of The Afghan Files, a story which detailed unlawful killings by Australian defence in Afghanistan.

Why should I care about the ABC raids? Post continues after podcast. 

Immediately, hundreds of Twitter users, including many Australian journalists, chimed in on the two raids, describing the operations as “an attack on press freedom”.

John Lyons, the Executive Editor at ABC News and the Head of Investigative Journalism, even live-tweeted the events of the ABC raid.

According to Lyons, during the raid, the AFP were even authorised to “add, copy, delete or alter” material in the ABC’s computers.

“This would not be allowed to happen in the United States under their constitution,” Lyons said.

“My question is why is it allowed to happen in Australia in 2019?”

So why did the raids happen and why is it such a big deal? Mamamia’s daily news podcast The Quicky broke down exactly what you need to know about the AFP raids.

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Why did the raids happen?

The AFP raids on the ABC were in relation to the publication of The Afghan Files in 2017.

David McBride, an ex-military lawyer, is currently facing the ACT Supreme Court after allegedly leaking military documents to ABC journalists Dan Oakes, Andrew Clark and Chris Masters, which led to the creation of The Afghan Files.

The hundreds of pages of secret defence force documents examined incidents in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2013 where special force allegedly shot dead a number of insurgents and unarmed civilians, including women and children.

McBride has announced that he will fight the charges against him on the basis the public had the right to know that their government had broken the law.

But why are the raids on the ABC happening now?

Since last week’s raids, questions have been raised about whether anyone in the government was aware about them.

Although Prime Minister Scott Morrison explained he had no prior knowledge of the AFP’s plan to raid the ABC, according to The Quicky, some people are speculating why the raids are happening now – and why they occurred so close together.

“Some people are speculating that the reason the raids are happening now is because the Liberals won the election. This means they can make these moves without it being a threat to them retaining power,” The Quicky host Claire Murphy explained.

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“Some are saying it’s because they want to send a clear message of intimidation to journalists who dare to question the authority or actions of the government.”

Why is it such a big deal?

In the US, the first amendment in the constitution protects both free speech and free press.

In Australia, on the other hand, press freedom isn’t constitutionally granted.

The AFP raids are a big deal for the Australian media as journalists rely on sources for their stories.

If the AFP have the power to seize and modify the documents and emails of journalists, this could seriously impact both the relationship between journalists and their sources as well as the privacy of journalists and their sources.

Put simply, without freedom of press, journalists can’t inform the public.

“It is extremely unusual for an authority to exercise a warrant on a national broadcaster like this and it is very serious,” ABC’s Editorial Director said following the raid.

“We will be doing everything we can to limit the scope of this and we will do everything we can to stand by our reporters.”

ABC chairwoman Ita Buttrose also chimed in on the raid, adding: “The raid is unprecedented – both to the ABC and to me.

“An untrammelled media is important to the public discourse and to democracy,” she added. “It is the way in which Australian citizens are kept informed about the world and its impact on their daily lives.”

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