Journalism – what it is, what it isn’t; and what it can and can’t do – is being redefined right before our eyes as once seemingly unquestionably free societies morph into something, well – new.
The process is happening as these societies come under scrutiny and become obvious in the way they choose to respond to that scrutiny.
Ideally, a democracy should be not only capable of withstanding the pressure of being questioned and examined by probing journalists – but actually, thrive under those circumstances.
But that’s not what the Australian democracy seems to be doing just now. Down Under, a journalist has had her home raided by the Federal Police for reporting about the government’s plan to spy on its own citizens.
That’s not only newsworthy, but newsworthy big time: as it would be the first time Australia’s authorities turned their spying apparatus onto Australians themselves, to gain access, without the citizens’ knowledge, to their emails, text messages, and bank accounts.
However, after News Corp’s political editor Annika Smethurst did her job informing the public about this, the police eventually raided her home to search her computer and phone.
This was done as part of an investigation into an “official secrets” leak about the government’s plan back in 2018 – which The Guardian described as Australia’s defense and home ministers putting their heads together in the hopes of drafting “draconian new powers to allow the Australian Signals Directorate to spy on Australian citizens for the first time.”
The investigation’s primary target seems to be the source of the leak – the kind of which is an offense in Australia, even if made to inform public interest journalism.
And despite journalists having the right to defend themselves by stating that they “reasonably believe” it was in the public interest to publish the information – “the media union has warned the law still effectively criminalizes journalism,” the British newspaper said.
News Corp Australia reacted to the raid on Smethurst’s home with a strongly-worded statement, recalling that the country’s public had the right to know if their government was mulling legislation that would affect their lives.
“This raid demonstrates a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths,” the publisher said.
No arrests have been made today – the Federal Police said in a statement. But as any number of totalitarian regimes could tell you for free – sometimes an act of intimidation is as good as an arrest.