News Corp, Australian national broadcaster to challenge legality of raids

By Byron Kaye

By Byron Kaye

SYDNEY, June 24 (Reuters) - Australia's state broadcaster and the media company News Corp said on Monday they will challenge the legality of recent police raids on their staff saying the action was unconstitutional and a threat to media freedom.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) raided the home of a News Corp editor and the head office of the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) on successive days this month, prompting an outcry from the media and opposition politicians.

The police and the news organisations said at the time the raids were in connection with reports alleging troop misconduct in Afghanistan and unrealised plans to let Australia's intelligence forces snoop on Australians' emails, text messages and bank accounts.

On Monday, ABC Managing Director David Anderson said the state-funded broadcaster had applied to the Federal Court to declare the search warrant invalid and demand the return of seized files.

The challenge would rely on legal grounds that "underline the fundamental importance of investigative journalism and protection of confidential sources", Anderson said.

"We are also challenging the constitutional validity of the warrant on the basis that it hinders our implied freedom of political communication," he said.

The ABC wanted the police to be banned from accessing the seized material, which is being stored in sealed envelopes, and to be ordered to return it immediately.

News Corp also planned a legal challenge against the validity of the raids, the News Corp-owned newspaper the Australian said on Monday.

A News Corp spokeswoman confirmed the plan but declined to comment further.

A police spokesman had no immediate comment when contacted by telephone. Police did not respond to a Reuters email seeking comment.

The ABC said it expected a court hearing about the raid on its office would take place in July or August. (Reporting by Byron Kaye Editing by Robert Birsel)