Journalists express concerns as AFP recommends charges against ABC reporter

Source: AAP/ David Gray

The Australian Federal Police have recommended to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecution that charges be made against ABC journalist Dan Oakes, over an investigation he conducted into alleged war crimes.

The Australian Federal Police have recommended the Commonwealth DPP consider charges against ABC journalist Dan Oakes for the series he co-wrote with ABC journalist Sam Clark ‘The Afghan Files’ back in 2017.

The series examined alleged war crimes by Australian soldiers, that led to the death of civilians in Afghanistan.  

The AFP have been investigating the reporting of Oakes and Clark for three years -- this investigation triggered the raids at the ABC’s Sydney offices in Ultimo in June 2019.

The raid was carried out because of the leaked documents that contributed to the story. 

Last night, Clark was cleared of any potential charges by the AFP while Oakes is still in limbo about his future. 

Clark was a suspect for 658 days, and today Oakes entered his 659th day as a suspect. 

“Tomorrow Dan wakes up to his 659th day facing the very real prospect of being charged over stories that were plainly in the public interest,” Clark said last night. 

ABC Managing Director David Anderson said in a statement the development in the investigation was “a disappointing and disturbing development”. 

"The Afghan Files is factual and important reporting which exposed allegations about Australian soldiers committing war crimes in Afghanistan. Its accuracy has never been challenged,” Anderson said. 

"The AFP has advised it won’t be taking any further action against ABC journalist Sam Clark, who also worked on the Afghan Files. We welcome that news.

"The ABC fully backs Dan and we will continue to support him however we can. Doing accurate journalism that is clearly in the public interest should not be an offence."

In a statement the AFP repeated previous communication given to the media earlier. 

A spokesperson told The Feed the AFP was referred on July 11, 2017 to the “publication of classified material” by the Chief of the Defence Force, the then Acting Secretary of Defence -- a day after the release of the series.

"The AFP executed a search warrant on the Ultimo (Sydney NSW) premises of the ABC on 5 June 2019 in relation this matter," the AFP said.

"A brief of evidence has now been forwarded to the Office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecution.”

"The AFP will be making no further comment."

Weeks after the raid on ABC office in Ultimo, the ABC took their case to the Federal Court on June 24 to challenge the warrants validity but the courts ruled it was valid. 

The powers the AFP had in the raid meant they could “alter, copy and delete” documents. 

“Journalism is not a crime”

Oakes has been vocal about the decision to recommend charges for his reporting. On Twitter, he highlighted what he thought was important about the revelations in ‘The Afghan Files’. 

“And who knew what? Upper echelons of Defence and intelligence communities are littered with men - always men - who presided over our special forces’ activities in Afghanistan. Do they escape scrutiny while operators are held to account?,” Oakes said.

Oakes hasn’t been without supporters. Colleagues at the ABC and other sections of the media have leapt to his defence -- the line most have used is ‘Journalism is not a crime’. 

Nick Feik, the editor of The Monthly, didn’t hold back on his criticism of the AFP’s investigation into Oakes. 

“How ridiculous is the AFP? They drop every investigation involving govt MPs and their offices, never find anything. But when it comes to a journalist telling the truth about war crimes…”

Four Corners reporter Louise Milligan said our nation shouldn’t be charging journalists over this kind of reporting. 

“It’s an outrageous attack on the freedom of the press and we should all be extremely concerned about it.”

Others have called for a Bill of Rights to ensure the rights of journalists while reporting subjects they may uncover the alleged crimes Oakes and Clark’s work has done. 

Last year, the federal government's Attorney General Christian Porter made it clear any journalists charged under Australia’s national security laws would need to be approved by him. 

Oakes' future remains uncertain after more than two years in limbo as a suspect to the AFP’s investigation.