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The Age raided after story on party database with secret personal info

Thu 2011-Dec-15 @ +08 17:53:53 pm

If one had a nasty mind, the first thought would be this is dirty work by News Corp (Rupert Murdoch, prop.) getting one back on the competition, but there is no indication that is so. However the raid comes a month after the Sunday Herald-Sun, owned by News Ltd, had reported that police were investigating alleged hacking of the database. The Age, owned by News Ltd rivals Fairfax Media, had broken the story about the database in November last year.

Fairfax also owns the Sydney Morning Herald, and a string of other newspapers and broadcasting stations. News Ltd owns The Australian, the Herald-Sun in Melbourne and country newspapers across Australia.

News Ltd in the UK shut down its mass circulation New of the World after revelations that its journalists had hacked into private voice mailboxes of celebrities and other people, including the family of a kidnap victim. The phone hacking story, broken by the Guardian, resulted in a judicial inquiry that is continuing.

The Age is somewhat of an Australian counterpart of the Guardian.

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The Age newspaper in Melbourne has been raided by state police over allegations the newspaper hacked into a database of the ruling Labor Party containing sensitive personal information about voters. But The Age said it had been provided authorised access by its source, a whistleblower concerned about the database.

Victoria Police searched reporters’ desks and spoke with editor Paul Ramadge and senior journalists and lawyers, the paper’s owners, Fairfax Media, said. “The police have served search warrants and are conducting searches in relation to The Age’s reporting of information on an ALP database prior to last year’s Victorian election.”

The database contained secret files on tens of thousands of people, which included sensitive health and financial information. The Age described how the database could be used to search voters by name, address or stance on particular political issues, and contacted a number of people reportedly listed about the information it contained about them.

Victoria Police told AFP their investigation was about an allegation that personal details were accessed without authorisation”.

But Age editor Ramadge said the whistleblower source provided authorised access to the database.

“This was a story with significant public interest — a powerful, highly influential organisation collecting private information on voters without their knowledge and giving campaign workers, including, it seems, volunteers, access to it.”

Ramadge said they had “grave concerns” that their source may be identified, something he said would be a breach of media ethics and professional trust. “If the sources for this report are identified through the police searches, even inadvertently, it will be a dark day for journalism,” he said.

Hywood said Fairfax “absolutely” stood behind its journalists on the story. “It would be extremely disappointing if quality journalism, the public interest in the story and the integrity of what we stand for including protecting our sources at all costs suffers because powerful individuals didn’t like what we revealed.”

The raid comes in the wake of the phone hacking scandal in Britain that led to Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World being shut down and prompted a review of Australia’s print media.
» AFP report
» April 2011: Herald-Sun reports ALP orders hacking probe (heraldsun.com.au)
» July 2011: The Australian says The Age accused of hacking hypocrisy (australian.com.au)

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