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Press freedom: Dutton directives to Australian Police slammed as inadequate

CANBERRA: Australia Home Affairs’ Minister Peter Dutton has directed Australian Federal Police to consider press freedom before it launches investigations into journalists. However, the directives have been slammed as inadequate.

The Home Affairs Minister’s ‘ministerial direction’ to outgoing AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin today comes amid a fierce backlash over the June AFP raids on News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst’s Canberra home and the ABC’s headquarters in Sydney.

Mr Dutton said he expected the AFP to take into account “the importance of a free and open press” and “broader public interest implications” before launching investigations into journalists or media organisations.

The peak body representing journalists has welcomed the concession but says it doesn’t go far enough to protect reporters or whistleblowers.

News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller also welcomed Mr Dutton’s advice to the AFP but said it “doesn’t fundamentally change the secret way these matters of public interest are dealt with”.

“The need for law reform rather than advice is more necessary than ever,” he said.

Mr Dutton announced his directive to the AFP in a statement this afternoon saying: “A key function of the AFP is the enforcement of the criminal law, without exception.”

“However, I expect the AFP to take into account the importance of a free and open press in Australia’s democratic society and to consider broader public interest implications before undertaking investigative action involving a professional journalist or news media organisation in relation to an unauthorised disclosure of material made or obtained by a current or former Commonwealth officer.”

Mr Dutton said he expected the AFP to “exhaust alternative investigative actions” before considering whether to involve a professional journalist or news media organisation.

“I also expect the AFP to continue to seek voluntary assistance from professional journalists or news media organisations,” he added.

Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance president Marcus Strom said Mr Dutton’s directive didn’t go far enough to protect journalists and whistleblowers.

“While we welcome the fact that he’s moving his position a bit on this, we don’t think it’s enough because this is still left to the whim of a ministerial directive,” Mr Strom told News Corp Australia.

“We and our partners in the Right to Know coalition are calling for legislative protections for journalists and whistleblowers.