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Australia 7 May 2008

Police raid on Perth newspaper highlights need to protect confidentiality of sources

Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for the adoption of a law protecting the confidentiality of journalists’ sources after police carried out a search of the headquarters of the Sunday Times, a tabloid weekly based in Perth, Western Australia, on 30 April.

“This police raid on a newspaper following a story about the use of a large sum of public funds for electoral purposes is a violation of press freedom and an attempt to intimidate journalists,” the organisation said. “It highlights yet again the inability of the authorities in the state of Western Australia to manage public affairs in a transparent manner and to accept the publication of damaging reports.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “In view of the continuing conflicts between local authorities and the press, the federal government should adopt concrete measures to provide legal protection for journalists and their sources, so that they can exercise their right to freely report the news. Australia is a democracy built on the principles of free expression and should set a better example to other countries.”

Sixteen members of the Major Fraud Squad carried out the raid on the headquarters of the Sunday Times in the centre of Perth on the afternoon of 30 April. The police blocked access to the building and searched the premises for four hours, examining files and searching everyone who left. The newspaper’s editor, Sam Weir, was interrogated for an hour.

Police searched the offices of the Sunday Times in a bid to find out the source of a story about the misuse of public funds.

Documents were seized with the aim of establishing who leaked the information for a 10 February report in the newspaper that the state government’s treasurer (finance minister), Eric Ripper, had proposed that 10 million euros be allocated to “strategic advertising campaigns.” The article claimed that the money was to be used to finance the reelection campaign of the state’s Labour Party government, led by Alan Carpenter.

The raid has been condemned by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), Australia’s Right to Know and the Australian Press Council, as well as News Limited (a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp), which owns the newspaper.

Reporters Without Borders is calling for a shield law that would prevent the police and judicial authorities from forcing journalists to divulge their sources except in special cases where there is a clear public interest in knowing.

The press freedom organisation stresses its support for Weir, the newspaper’s editor, and hails his determination to shed light on matters in which the public interest is at stake.

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