FILE - In this June 5, 2019, file image made from video, Australia's Federal Police, top, enter the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the national public broadcaster, during a raid on their offices in Sydney, Australia. Australia's three largest media organizations have joined forces to demand press freedom law reforms that would prevent journalists from risking prison for doing their job. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation via AP, File)

Whistleblower returns to Australian court over Afghan leak

June 27, 2019 - 1:08 am

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian army whistleblower charged with leaking secret documents to Australian Broadcasting Corp. reporters alleging misconduct in Afghanistan said on Thursday he welcomed state-owned ABC taking part in his case.

David William McBride, 55, appeared in the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court on charges relating to the leaking of classified documents about Australian Special Air Service involvement in Afghanistan to journalists.

The leak was the target of a police raid on ABC headquarters in Sydney early this month. Police raided the Canberra home of a News Corp. Australia reporter a day earlier in search for unrelated classified documents. The raids were condemned as media intimidation and sparked criticism of an increasing culture of secrecy in Australian institutions.

ABC, News Corp. Australia and Nine Entertainment — Australia's three largest media organizations — announced on Wednesday that they had joined forces to demand law reforms that would create more press freedom and better protect public sector whistleblowers.

In court on Thursday, government lawyer Andrew Berger told Registrar Annie Glover that the ABC had asked to change draft court orders agreed between the defense and prosecution for dealing with classified evidence that will arise during the trial. The orders could prevent media reporting part or all of McBride's trial.

The ABC had an interest because it is challenging the validity of the search warrants executed at its headquarters in a bid to have documents returned, Berger said.

Glover adjourned the hearing until July 11 to give lawyers time to try to reach agreement with the ABC.

McBride told reporters outside court that he was heartened by the ABC's involvement in his case.

"I do think it's good that they're engaged, and I encourage other media organizations to get engaged too," McBride said. "We have lost our way in Australia and the government now works for themselves rather than for the benefit of the people of Australia."

McBride said his plight was part of the motivation behind rival news organizations banding together to demand law reforms.

Australian media want journalists to be exempt from national security laws passed since 2012 that "would put them in jail for doing their jobs." They also want a right to contest warrants such as those executed in Sydney and Canberra. Both the ABC and News Corp. this week lodged court challenges to those warrants.

Media organizations have also called for reforms to freedom of information and defamation laws.

"I'm so happy, I'm so happy and the people of Australia should be so happy ... because Australia will benefit as a society," McBride said of the demands for reform.

"We need a free press, it needs to be unconditional and the idea that they (media organizations) all work together is just really heartening," he added.

McBride represented himself during his brief court appearance and was released on bail.

He admits to leaking documents that formed part of the basis of an ABC investigation broadcast in 2017 about Australian special forces in Afghanistan. The ABC reported growing unease in the Australian Defense Force leadership about the culture of special forces and that Australian troops had killed unarmed men and children in 2013.

McBride has pleaded not guilty to all charges. He maintains he had a duty as an army officer to expose wrongdoing by generals and government ministers over Australian operations in Afghanistan.

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