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Issue #1918      June 8, 2020

Editorial

No charges for Smethurst; others not so lucky

News Corp Journalist Annika Smethurst, whose story exposed “a secret government proposal to expand domestic intelligence activities,” will not be charged by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

Following her story published in 2018, the AFP raided Smethurst’s home in June 2019, which led to her mounting a High Court challenge. The challenge was a success but not because the warrant violated any journalistic rights but because it “misstates the substance of s 79(3) of the Crimes Act 1914” and didn’t “state the offence to which it relates with sufficient precision,” among other technical issues.

Following the ruling, the AFP decided not to pursue charges with Deputy Commissioner Ian McCartney stating that the police had already gone through the material and found that “there was insufficient evidence to progress the investigation.”

The decision not to pursue charges also extends to former intelligence official Cameron Gill whose home was raided last September because the government alleged that he was the source of the Smethurst’s leak.

Commenting on the end of the investigation, Law Council of Australia president Pauline Wright said that “The law continues to leave journalists and media organisations exposed to possible police investigation and prosecution.”

This is undoubtedly true for ABC journalists Dan Oakes and Sam Clarke.

Oakes and Clarke, the team behind The Afghan Files, are “still under active investigation,” According to McCartney, for the leak of classified documents that informed their series of reports.

One has to wonder how much influence News Corp was able to exert on the ruling of Smethurst’s challenge, a privilege Oakes and Clarke won’t have as employees of the ABC, an institution continuously under fire by Australia’s right wing.

The topic of journalistic freedom has been covered extensively by the bourgeois press, and it is a freedom that The Workers’ Weekly Guardian, and the CPA, also holds in high regard. However, lost in this conversation seems to be any discussion about accountability.

What repercussions are there for those officers in charge that wrote malformed, and thus unissuable, warrants? Probably none.

The question of accountability is an incredibly important one to ask, especially in light of the riots over George Floyd’s death at the hand of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. In the States, the lack of accountability has led to riots all over the country. The situation is perhaps worse in our own country of Australia where the death of many Indigenous people at the hands of the police goes unreported.

Law enforcement is allowed repeatedly to break the law in order to achieve their ends, without consequences, and even Smethurst’s case is a testament to this. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, despite “police actions [being] unlawful on technical grounds,” they were not stopped from using the material they gathered. Thus, the work of the investigators could continue regardless of the actions they took to further their case.

It is clear as day that the system will protect law enforcement even when they themselves abuse the law. Smethurst had her career and life on the line; the cops had nothing to gamble away.

The discussion around police accountability is not as prominent here as it is in the States, but it definitely should be. Instead of looking across the Pacific, we need to start at home. We need to make sure that law enforcement agencies cannot get away with doing as they please in order to “get the job done.” Because the reality is that the only way our journalistic freedom, among our other liberties, is worth anything, is if there are consequences for those who violate them.

Next article – CP USA Statement – Rise up and protest the murder of George Floyd!

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