The Guardian • Issue #1967

Journalism, juvenile pranks, or domestic terrorism?

YouTube-based comedian and political commentator Jordan Shanks, known as “friendlyjordies,” posted a video on 14th June titled “arrested.” The video describes how ten days earlier, Shanks’ producer Kristo Langker was arrested by the NSW Police’s “Fixated Persons” unit at his family home and taken in an unmarked police car. The video opens:

“For legal reasons, I have to keep this video as strait-laced as I possibly can. My name is Jordan Shanks, and I’m being sued by John Barilaro, the Deputy Premier of New South Wales. Up until recently, I’ve treated this legal problem with the levity it deserves; but in all honestly, every move I’ve made, no matter how ridiculous it appeared, has been both legal and considered. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Deputy Premier, who has impulsively, maliciously escalated the situation at every turn, and in doing so, out-clowned the clown.”

Barilaro was already in the process of suing Shanks for defamation over several earlier videos accusing Barilaro of corruption. Then, according to Shanks, Barilaro did not initially serve the lawsuit papers to him, but first released them to the media. Subsequent videos by Shanks depict various efforts by him and his employee Langker to obtain the papers, and later to return the papers due to alleged errors found within them. These efforts included perhaps over-the-top stunts for comedic purposes.

After a brief 4th June street encounter between Barilaro and Langker, filmed by Langker and included in “arrested,” the 21-year-old Langker was arrested at his home later that day on two charges of “Stalk or intimidate intending to cause fear of physical or mental harm.”

The arrest was carried out by the Fixated Persons Investigations Unit (FPIU), established in 2017 via counterterrorism legislation passed in response to the 2014 Lindt Café attack.

Langker’s bail conditions were described by the pair’s legal team, Xenophon Davis, as a gag order. A 21st June article by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd states: “While he awaits court, Langker’s bail conditions prevent him even commenting on Barilaro’s appearance or behaviour. He’s not even allowed to possess a photograph of him. He is effectively gagged.” On 24th June, Xenophon Davis reported on Twitter that some of the bail conditions had been lifted following the proceedings of Langker’s first court appearance.

Reporting on the case online and in mainstream media has been mixed. Some writers have focussed criticism on Shanks and Langker for the often immature or inappropriate style of their videos and stunts, the financial incentive they have due to revenue from video views, Shank’s political loyalty to the ALP, and have criticised Shank’s claim that he and Langker are acting in the capacity of journalists.

But the fact that a police unit established for the purposes of “counterterrorism” was deployed to carry out this arrest is disturbing, especially when it occurs in the context of a legal battle over allegations of corruption.

Rudd further commented: “these events raise broader questions about what the future holds for the media, for powerful individuals, for the police, and for the public.”

Many further questions could be asked – if this “counterterrorist” unit had not been established, would Langker instead have been arrested by regular police officers? If so, why did FPIU officers need to be sent in at all – in what way were regular police officers insufficient?

In Shanks’ view: “Australia does have its own secret police, and they get sent in very quickly.”

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