Australia: Police raid scribe’s home, confiscate photos
Police urged for thorough investigation into the incident
BRUSSELS, May 10 2023: The home of Ngaarda Media journalist Eliza Kloser was searched by police, with a memory card confiscated, after the journalist took photographs of the suspected removal of sacred ancient rock art during the construction of a fertiliser plant on the Burrup Peninsula, Western Australia. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its Australian affiliate, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), in calling on the police to fulfil its commitment to thoroughly investigate the incident.
Photojournalist Eliza Kloser was stationed at the Burrup Peninsula in Western Australia (WA) on April 28, taking photographs at the site of chemical company Perdaman’s new urea fertilizer plant. The plant, set to be Australia’s largest when it becomes operational by 2025, has been criticised by Aboriginal rights and environmental activists due to the presence of over one million culturally significant rock art petroglyphs, which the company has moved to facilitate the plant’s development.
When Kloser approached the plant on a public road, the lead journalist for Ngaarda Media was stopped by a police patrol, who questioned and eventually released her. Kloser was then stopped by a second set of police who tested her blood alcohol level, searched her car and asked her about her camera.
Upon returning to her home in Karratha, police arrived with a search warrant concerning a separate incident the same day involving her housemate and colleague Gerrard Mazza, who was arrested and held in police custody for attempting to disrupt a Woodside Energy meeting with ‘stench gas’. Kloser told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), she had no knowledge or involvement in the Woodside incident. After a 90-minute search by approximately ten officers, police confiscated the memory (SD) card of Kloser’s camera.
The incident has been criticised by media representative bodies and press freedom advocates, including the MEAA. Media Director Cassie Derrick questioned the conduct of the Western Australian Police and identified significant security and source confidentiality risks that emerged from the problematic nature of the search.
The SD card has since been returned to Kloser, according to WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch, who said in an interview with ABC Radio Perth that police would be investigating the incident.
On World Press Freedom Day on May 3, Kloser addressed the incident in a Twitter post, “I was taking photos of ancient rock art being removed and stopped twice by the police. I am glad that the WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch agreed to look into the circumstances of the incident. #PressFreedom.”
MEAA Media Director Cassie Derrick said: “From the information to hand, the WA police have urgent questions to answer about these raids. Police have seized and retained property on what appear to be questionable grounds. […] We are calling for the WA Police Minister to investigate the behaviour of the police in these cases and to publicly report the outcome of these investigations. The bottom line is that this kind of police action utterly undermines journalism and the public’s right to know. That these property seizures have taken place in the same week as World Press Freedom Day makes it even more important that this property is returned urgently.”
The IFJ said: “The obstruction of Eliza Kloser’s coverage, and the subsequent arbitrary search of her premises and seizure of images, is an unacceptable imposition on press freedom and poses further threats to Australian journalists working in the field. The IFJ urges Western Australian police to conduct an immediate, transparent, and thorough investigation into the incident and ensure all media workers are permitted to do their jobs without interference."