Almost a year on from the unprecedented federal police raid on ABC, journalists Samuel Clark and Daniel Oakes could still face prosecution for their investigative reports, the Afghan Files.  

While the Public Media Alliance welcomes news that News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst will not be charged for the publication of reports in the Sunday Telegraph about plans to expand the spying powers of the Australian Signals Directorate, we remain deeply concerned about ABC journalists Daniel Oakes and Samuel Clark.

The ABC was raided by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) on 4 June 2019 in relation to a series of investigative reports from 2017 by Clark and Oakes, which revealed allegations of war crimes committed Australian forces in Afghanistan. The incident took place one day after an AFP raid on Smethurst’s home.

Both reports relied on the use of classified material, with the Afghan Files using information leaked to the ABC.

The raids sparked a national campaign on press freedom, particularly about the ability and extent to which journalists can effectively hold power to account. This was not helped by Australia’s lack of a clear set of constitutional rights that protect whistleblowers and journalists, leaving many sources vulnerable to having their identity revealed via court orders.

The campaign resulted in assurances that journalists would not be prosecuted without the attorney general’s consent. However, there has been no word as to whether the case against Clark and Oakes will be dropped.

The Afghan Files have been widely praised as quality and essential public interest journalism. In a report on Wednesday, an ABC spokeswoman said:

Regrettably, almost a year after its raid on the ABC, the AFP has not yet ruled out prosecuting our journalists, Dan Oakes and Sam Clark, over their factual and important reporting,”

“They still remain in limbo.

In a statement in February, ABC Chair Ita Buttrose said: “Supporting media freedom doesn’t mean making allowances for journalists to break the law – it means having laws that allow journalists to safely do reporting in the public interest.

“None of us wants Australia to be a secretive state where journalists and whistleblowers can be threatened with charges over stories that we have the right to know.”

The Public Media Alliance continues to stand in support of the ABC and its journalists, and joins calls for reform. It is essential for healthy democracy that journalists are able to hold power to account and provide the public with access to accurate, accountable and independently sourced news and information.

Find out more

June 2019: Unprecedented police raid on ABC

August 2019: Another government agency involved in ABC raid?

February 2020: Warrants used to raid ABC valid, says court

March 2020: ABC will not appeal validation of police raids on public broadcaster

May 2020: AFP will not lay charges against Annika Smethurst over publishing of classified intelligence documents

Header Image: People entering and leaving the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Centre in Ultimo, Sydney. Credit: kokkai/iStock