WA Police challenge ABC independence

WA Police challenge ABC independence

The WA Police Force has demanded that the ABC hand over the footage the ABC compiled for the 4 Corners program, Escalation. ABC Friends is gravely concerned by this attack on press freedom.

ABC Staff around Australia have joined calls not to break trust in the ABC. Image courtesy @MEAA

On Monday 9 October the ABC’s Four Corners program screened Escalation, a documentary that followed the battle between climate activists, the WA government and energy companies over the proposed expansion of a massive gas project on the Burrup Peninsula in Western Australia.

The program underscored the increasingly combative confrontations that are occurring between protesters and the state. Four Corners analysed arrest data and found climate activists across the country are being charged with serious offences in unprecedented numbers.

More than twenty of those charges have been directed towards a small group of Perth activists called Disrupt Burrup Hub.

The program was a rare occasion when an ABC crew was embedded with climate activists as they planned their campaign; and it culminated in an unsuccessful attempt by the protesters to throw paint at the house of Woodside chief executive Meg O'Neill.

But what’s made news since then is the demand by WA police that the ABC hand over the footage it made in compiling the program. The police used the Order to Produce provisions of the WA Criminal Investigations Act to make their demand.

If the ABC were to release the footage it would give WA police access to material that could be used to support their legal case against the protestors. It would also expose others who helped plan the action but did not participate on the day. Such an action would expressly contravene the ABC’s undertaking to the group that their identities would be kept anonymous.

“Multiple people attended Disrupt Burrup Hub campaign events that were filmed by Four Corners on the explicit proviso that they not be identified or featured on camera in the program,” Burrup Hub media advisor Jesse Noakes said.

The ABC has held firm, with Managing Director David Anderson saying “We don’t reveal our sources, we never have and never will.” However, he did not explicitly rule out handing the vision to police.

ABC Friends has written to David Anderson, seeking an assurance that the ABC will not hand over any footage from the program to the WA Police. We have also advised the WA Minister for Police and the Premier of WA that the police demand is a serious over-reach and should be discontinued.

We urge the ABC to continue to hold firm against this challenge to press freedom.

"Release of the footage would undermine public trust in the ABC and seriously damage the ABC’s reputation for creating valuable, public interest journalism," ABC Friends president, Cassandra Parkinson, said:

It's another reminder that we need much stronger protections for press freedom in Australia.

Cassandra Parkinson
ABC Friends