The Guardian • Issue #1987

Terrorist unit targets independent journalists

In the wake of friendlyjordies journalist Jordan Shanks’ settlement with former National Party leader and NSW Deputy Premier Giovanni “John” Barilaro, many Australians are concerned about the way the Fixated Persons Unit (FPU) is utilising NSW law against terrorism to target independent journalists. Shanks has been successful this week in settling his defamation case brought against him by Barilaro for releasing videos that defamed Barilaro and made fun of his Italian heritage, although they were based around highlighting many of Barilaro’s questionable political actions. Shanks’ producer, Kristo Langker was also targeted by Barilaro in June, where he was arrested by two FPU police officers in his family home on grounds of stalking or intimidation, after approaching Barilaro with a video camera twice. Shanks and Langker are fighting against this misuse of power in the courts and police force, which could set the precedent for other independent journalists in Australia being more protected.

The FPU was set up in the wake of the Martin Place Lindt Cafe Seige of 2014 as a a joint initiative of NSW Police Force Counter Terrorism, Special Tactics Command, and NSW Health. The purpose of the force is to “decide on the actions required to manage a fixed person, where they pose a threat to the safety of an individual or section of the community” in efforts to counter terrorism. It is a disgrace that this unit would be used to target independent journalists who have purely approached a politician with a camera to question them or make them uncomfortable about their political actions which have a multitude of effects for working class people and the environment.

Barilaro, as well as two police officers who made the arrest on Langker have embarrassed themselves in this blatant corruption, as Shanks has continued to expose on his Youtube channel. Langker approached Barilaro when speaking publicly at Macquarie University, and at his car on another day when he was leaving a funeral. The day of the funeral where Langker approached Barilaro, he was arrested aggressively in his home by two FPU police officers on grounds of stalk/intimidation to cause fear of physical or mental harm. Langker described how his “mum and girlfriend were assaulted by NSW terror police who invaded [his] home after they shackled [him] on the ground outside” leaving his mother and partner traumatised. It is clear that Barilaro was demonstrating his power over the police force, particularly the FPU.

While it is never acceptable to genuinely stalk or intimidate people, or discriminate against people’s heritage, the facts of this situation must be understood. The FPU used a policy which was put forward to counter terrorism, and has instead been used against independent journalists. Langker pleads not guilty and is planning to go to trial next year.

The Australian public and media have expressed dissatisfaction for the way that Barilaro and the FPU have used their position, and have a right to fight against the ways leading politicians using dirty tactics to silence independent journalists. Hopefully with the struggle that both Shanks and Langker continue to fight this corruption, there is hope for other dissident journalists to have their voices heard without professional or personal attacks by corrupt individuals with power.

This does not mean that all of Shanks’ work has been done with the most appropriate methods. As a YouTube satirist, he also referred to Barilaro as “bruz” in an Italian accent, which Barilaro described as “deeply offensive” and “racist”. Shanks also compared him to Super Mario, mimicked him in an Italian accent, referred to him as “a ball of grease,” and fat-shamed him. In other videos, he has expressed transphobic and anti-unemployed views which has caused understandable discontent in several communities. Working class people should remain mindful of these insensitive remarks and urge Shanks towards a more professional level of journalism with more sophisticated levels of comedy production.

With these clear concerns pointed out, it is still important that wins like the settlement between Shanks and Barilaro are celebrated, not only for independent journalists, but whistleblowers like Julian Assange or David McBride, who have brought serious government crimes to the forefront. Currently, Australia’s Assange sits in a British prison awaiting extradition to the US, purely for exposing US war crimes in the Middle East. Australia’s McBride also awaits trial for exposing war crimes of Australian SAS soldiers in Afghanistan. It is essential that the Australian public are exposed to the crimes of soldiers who Australian taxpayers fund, to make more ethical decisions, and for how Australia can maintain diplomatic relations globally.

It is also imperative that Australians take notice of organisations being created in the wake of terrorism or crises. There should be close attention paid to the political decisions that are made in their wake, and how they could be weaponised against journalists and the working class.

As much as Shanks represents as a Labor-aligned presenter, it is imperative that voices aligned against the shackles of the Liberal Party agenda are heard. Through a well-fought battle with the Liberal Party whose interests along with Murdoch aligned only with the ruling class and their interests, there is hope that independent journalists can speak to empower the working class to realise their true potential.

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