Labor leader Anthony Albanese and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton debated press freedom on the Today show this morning. Picture: Supplied
Labor leader Anthony Albanese and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton debated press freedom on the Today show this morning. Picture: Supplied

Dutton attacked over outrageous claim

HOME Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has rejected calls to drop the investigation into journalists targeted in recent police raids.

Two ABC reporters and a News Corp journalist are under police investigation after publishing separate stories based on leaked government information.

Appearing alongside Labor leader Anthony Albanese on the Today show this morning, Mr Dutton seemed to imply ABC reporters Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, along with News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst, had committed a crime.

However, the minister insisted he would not interfere in the police investigation.

"If you've got top secret documents and they've been leaked, it is an offence under the law," Mr Dutton told Today.

"Nobody is above the law and the police have a job to do under the law. "I think it is up to the police to investigate, to do it independently, and make a decision whether or not they prosecute."

"These are laws that go back decades in western democracies like ours where, if you've got top secret documents and they've been leaked, it is an offence under the law and police have an obligation to investigate a matter referred to them. and they'll do that."

Today, Campbell Reid, News Corp's group executive for corporate affairs, policy and government relations, issued a statement saying it was "time the government stopped paying lip service to standing up for press freedom".

"It is not that journalists are above the law but some of these laws are being applied in ways that are not appropriate if you have a commitment to an open society," he said.

"The government cannot keep talking the talk and not walking the walk.

"You cannot have Marise Payne say one thing in London and Dutton say something completely different here in Australia.

"It is time the government stopped paying lip service to standing up for press freedom."

News Corp and the ABC have written to the home affairs minister, asking that action against their journalists cease.

But Mr Dutton has pushed back against their requests.

It comes as freed journalist Peter Greste lashed the raids at a press freedom conference in London.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese backed the media organisations, saying it would be a "common sense outcome" for the investigations to be abandoned.

"Quite clearly the government needs to show leadership on this issue," Mr Albanese told Today.

The police raids have attracted international attention, with high profile human rights lawyer Amal Clooney publicly challenging Australia on press freedom.

Overnight, journalist Peter Greste said Australia was now being compared to Iran following the raids.

Mr Greste gave a scathing review of the use of police raids to crack down on journalists and whistleblowers at the Global Conference for Media Freedom in London yesterday.

The media freedom campaigner, who was jailed in Egypt for more than a year for his reporting for Al Jazeera, said Australia needed an urgent review of media laws.

He said when he was speaking to a colleague in the ABC's Persian bureau about the Australian raids that his colleague replied: "So it's just like Iran then."

Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste stands inside the defendants' cage in a courtroom during a trial on terror charges in Cairo Egypt. Picture: AP
Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste stands inside the defendants' cage in a courtroom during a trial on terror charges in Cairo Egypt. Picture: AP

Greste also criticised the Federal Government's current review, saying it was being framed by a committee intent on national security rather than media freedom.

"National security must surely be about protecting press freedom," he said.

"At the moment the Australian government has called a commission of inquiry. It is a security committee, the same committee that waved through so much of the legislation that underpins those raids. I think it's the wrong approach."

ABC journalist Peter Greste. Picture: Supplied
ABC journalist Peter Greste. Picture: Supplied

Greste said media companies must be involved in drafting any new laws to ensure that the right balance was struck.

"If you are trying to strike a balance between press freedom and national security both sides need to be involved in that process," he said.

"If we do that we'll go a long way towards protecting national security, press freedom and the role of democracies."

NIGERIAN TV CHAIRMAN SLAMS AUSTRALIA

It came as John Momoh, chairman of Nigeria's Channels Media Group, said he is "appalled" at Australia's crackdown on press freedom.

Nigeria's Channels Media Group suffered the death of a journalist at the hands of Boko Haram and the station was shut down by the Nigerian Government.

Mr Momoh said he knew there were some problems in African countries, but he was surprised that a western country such as Australia would have police raids on journalists.

"It concerns me coming from Australia; one would think these are democracies who understand the importance of press freedom," he said. "It's something that appals me and I'm still trying to come to terms that this is happening in Australia."

John Momoh is chairman of Nigeria's Channels Media Group. Picture: Supplied
John Momoh is chairman of Nigeria's Channels Media Group. Picture: Supplied

He said his station was shut down for two days because it reported a wire story that there was an issue with the president's health.

"When you think of Australia it's supposed to be a good democracy and you start to wonder what's going on in the world," he added.

ABC reporter Dan Oakes. Picture: Supplied
ABC reporter Dan Oakes. Picture: Supplied

 

Annika Smethurst. Picture Gary Ramage
Annika Smethurst. Picture Gary Ramage

The AFP also sought travel details of ABC journalist Dan Oakes, in what has been seen as an attempt to intimidate whistleblowers.

Former foreign minister Julie Bishop also deflected questions on Australia's press freedom as she chaired a discussion between representatives of Jamaica, Ghana, Rwanda and Namibia.

Former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has dodged questions on Australia’s press freedom. Picture Kym Smith
Former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has dodged questions on Australia’s press freedom. Picture Kym Smith

When asked about the raids in Australia and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney's criticism of Australia on Wednesday, Ms Bishop replied: "Fortunately the Australian foreign minister was here yesterday when Amal made those comments so any comment I made would be superfluous."

Ms Clooney declared: "What happens in a country like Australia or the UK or the US will be looked at by every other leader in the world and potentially be used as an excuse to clamp down even further on journalists. Journalists all around the world are less safe if the rhetoric, or even policies or laws, of states that are supposed to be free are actually a threat to journalists in those countries."


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