This paper compares and contrasts the Australian Defence Force’s dealings with the media with those of two of Australia’s coalition allies in Afghanistan, the Dutch and the Canadian militaries who recast their relations with their media during the conflict and benefitted from the new arrangements.
These are inauspicious times to be promoting greater openness and cooperation in relations between the government, the military and the media. The blanket secrecy around Operation Sovereign Borders not only represents a fundamental abrogation of the government’s responsibility to keep its citizens informed about the nature, purposes and implementation of its policies, it also sets a dreadful and potentially damaging example for other government departments of how to conduct one’s relations with the media. The prominent role afforded Lieutenant General Angus Campbell in the early days of the operation was the most obvious reflection of the fact that many of the Immigration Minister’s practices and directions had their origins in the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) interactions with the fourth estate during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where its costiveness with information was legendary. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, the government’s information campaign around asylum seekers reflected its esteem for the ADF’s information management practices over the preceding years. Yet the ADF would do well to consider the consequences of its antagonistic relations with the media and how well placed this has left it to face the emerging threats from non-state actors and conventional forces.