Demonstrators convened at ABC studios in Melbourne, Sydney, and Perth on Thursday morning due to concerns that the network would disclose its private sources for a Four Corners segment.
Earlier this month, an investigative program showcased Disrupt Burrup Hub as they organized a demonstration against Woodside Energy’s massive gas project on the Burrup peninsula in Pilbara.
The ABC team was on site when protestors were apprehended outside the residence of Woodside’s chief executive, Meg O’Neill, in Perth. After an internal inquiry by ABC, the team was found innocent of conspiring with the activists or illegally entering O’Neill’s property.
The Western Australian police requested that the ABC surrender all recorded material for the show. This action was criticized by numerous groups as an excessive breach of press freedom.
The organization Disrupt Burrup Hub acknowledges that the ABC plans to provide footage to the WA police. However, the ABC has not officially confirmed this and the contents of the footage are unknown.
According to David Anderson, the managing director of ABC, they have consistently refused to disclose their sources and will continue to do so. He stated during estimates this week that the broadcaster is currently in talks with the police regarding what information they can provide while also safeguarding their sources.
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According to Jesse Noakes, media advisor for Disrupt Burrup Hub, numerous individuals agreed to be filmed for the Four Corners investigation, but none gave consent for footage to be used in a police investigation.
“I have personally been given assurances by ABC regarding several sources who have asked for and received guarantees that they will not be identified as a condition for their participation in events recorded by Four Corners,” he stated.
“If the ABC were to hand over any Four Corners footage to the WA police, they would bear sole responsibility for any legal or criminal consequences faced by those involved. I hope the ABC management fully understands the gravity of this situation.”
On November 6th, Noakes will go to trial for his refusal to surrender material. According to lawyer Zarah Burgess, the ABC may utilize a comparable defense of “reasonable excuse”, similar to what Noakes plans to use.
The ABC was directed to for inquiries by WA police.
According to a spokesperson for the ABC, like other media companies, the network occasionally receives obligatory legal requests for access to content.
“Any suggestion that the ABC has disclosed or will disclose material in breach of any undertaking to a confidential source is incorrect.
“According to ABC’s managing director David Anderson, it is our policy to not disclose our sources, and we have always adhered to this principle.”
Desmond Blurton, a campaigner for the Disrupt Burrup Hub, and a member of the Ballardong Noongar community, expressed worry that the ABC’s release of source material to the police may result in the imprisonment of vulnerable individuals, speaking from his own experience of being incarcerated.
Over the weekend, Karen Percy, the federal president of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, addressed the Queensland Clarion Awards and stated that the MEAA is collaborating with its members to combat the excessive overreach that is harming the industry as a whole.
According to her, the actions of the police were intended to “intimidate and disrupt”.
This type of legal coercion undermines the freedom of the press, despite the supposed dedication to protecting media freedom claimed by law enforcement and others.