Friday, May 02, 2008

Australia Also Got Newspaper Raid

Malaysia is not only famous for its Nasi Kandar and globe-trotting, mansion-owning Prime Minister in Perth, but also for its newspaper-SWAT team. From The Australian.

Newspaper raid 'like in Malaysia'

Paige Taylor and Elizabeth Gosch | May 02, 2008

MAJOR media organisations yesterday unanimously condemned a government-instigated raid on The Sunday Times newspaper in Perth and leading media academics likened it to oppressive tactics used in Malaysia.

The newspaper was locked down for about four hours on Wednesday as 16 police from the Major Fraud Squad tried to find a confidential document allegedly leaked to journalist Paul Lampathakis for a story about election funding. The complaint to police, and to the Corruption and Crime Commission, came from the department of Premier Alan Carpenter, a former journalist.

The Carpenter Government tried to defend itself yesterday, saying the director-general of Mr Carpenter's department had been obliged by law to report the alleged leak to both the Major Fraud Squad and the CCC.

The CCC has the power to compel journalists to reveal their sources or receive three years' jail and a $60,000 fine. Those called in to be grilled - there are believed to have been six in the past two years - are not allowed to tell friends or families they have been questioned.

Murdoch University journalism lecturer Chris Smyth said: "Western Australia is starting to excel in the repression of reporters going about their duties trying to reveal information to the public."

Speaking on behalf of media coalition Australia's Right to Know, News Limited chairman and chief executive John Hartigan described the raid as a "farcical and transparent attempt by a police force to punish journalists and whistleblowers if a government suffers political embarrassment".

The Government's complaint on February 12 this year followed the publication on February 10 of Lampathakis's exclusive report on a state government decision to spend an extra $16 million on advertising, allegedly to support its re-election campaign.

"Do we now live in a country where whistleblowers and journalists can expect to be hunted down and charged if they reveal government information that is a matter of legitimate public interest?" Mr Hartigan said. "The answer, regrettably, appears to be yes."

A former editor of Malaysia's Daily Express, journalism lecturer Joseph Fernandez, said it was a disturbing development.

"I come from an environment where this sort of treatment of the media is par for the course," Mr Fernandez said. "The tragedy in this is that whatever the impact is on free speech, it is largely unidentifiable."

Police took action after the CCC decided not to pursue the matter and state Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said there had been no political interference. The raid has hampered the Carpenter Government's ability to fully capitalise on the woes of the state Opposition, whose leader, Troy Buswell, was revealed to have sniffed the chair of a female staffer as a joke.

Last month, state Attorney-General Jim McGinty made a complaint to police that The Sunday Times had illegally removed computers from an alley while researching a story that showed patients' details were left on them.

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