AFP raids a cause for journalistic concern

Depending on who you ask, last week was either the beginning of the end for public interest journalism or the inevitable next chapter in a story many people saw coming.

When the Australian Federal Police raided two journalists and the offices of the ABC many saw it as legal intimidation and a direct attack on the freedom of the press and some saw it as karma.

The raids were made possible by the newly minted anti-terror national security laws and triggered by "alleged publishing of information classified as an official secret".

The journalists targeted were not touting political dissent or broadcasting revolutionary ideals from secret hidey-holes but rather they were trained professionals of some experience who claimed to have been just doing their jobs.

One journalist was investigated after publishing a story in 2018 about a leaked plan to allow the government to spy on Australian citizens by secretly accessing emails, bank accounts and text messages.

The warrant served by the AFP allowed police to search the journalist's home, computer and mobile phone.

Public interest journalism, contrary to what the name suggests, is not celebrity gossip, sensation or fake news.

It is also known as watchdog journalism, which some might see as the purest form of the profession.

This is the type of journalism designed to keep the authorities honest and it relies on whistleblowers to come forward.

History has shown that this type of reporting has prevented wrongdoings within government, corporations or organisations from remaining hidden from the public.

Australia was rated 21st in the World Press Freedom Index for 2019, behind Iceland, Estonia and Costa Rica and well behind New Zealand, which rated 7th and that was before the AFP raids.

Reporters Without Borders says investigative journalism is at risk in Australia, saying "the space left for demanding investigative journalism has also been reduced by the fact that independent reporters and whistleblowers face draconian legislation".

The role of the media might be seen in a different light today, with the advent of bloggers, vloggers and citizen reporters.

But professional journalists still represent the Fourth Estate, tasked with serving as the eyes and ears of the people in the halls of power and most reporters take this responsibility seriously.