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Australia 26 September 2008

Federal police violate confidentiality of reporter’s sources by raiding his home

Reporters Without Borders is very disturbed by this week’s raid on the Canberra home of Philip Dorling, a reporter for the Canberra Times daily, by federal police seeking classified defence documents cited in a story reporting that close allies Japan and South Korea were priority targets for Australia’s spies as well as countries such as China and North Korea.

“We firmly condemn this attack on the right to the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, an inviolable principle that is one of the cornerstones of press freedom,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This violation is all the more disturbing as the Labour government had announced that it would pass a law strengthening protection for journalists in Australia.”

The 23 September raid on Dorling’s home was carried out by seven members of the federal police investigation the leaking of Defence Intelligence Organisation documents for a story published in the Canberra Times on 14 June. It quoted from classified briefing papers prepared for defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon shortly after the November 2007 parliamentary elections and gave a rare insight into the activities of Australia’s intelligence agencies.

Accompanied by two computer experts, the police spent for than five hours looking for documents in Dorling’s home. They had a search warrant that accused Dorling of violating the Commonwealth Crimes Act by communicating confidential government information. They finally left with his laptop, the hard drive from a second computer, various documents and a copy of the 14 June issue of the Canberra Times.

The newspaper’s editor, Peter Fray, said Dorling “was doing his job - the job of every journalist - to reveal the truth.” Calling the raid “an outrageous action against the freedom of the press,” Dorling said it showed that the current government was using the same police methods against journalists as its predecessor.

Australia’s Right to Know, a media coalition, called on the government to pass a law that will protect investigative journalists from being hunted down and prosecuted. “There is no evidence that national security or public safety is at risk or that this information could lead to a serious crime ... and therefore there are simply no legitimate grounds for today’s police raid,” the coalition said.

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