Higher journalistic standards would be in the public interest!

What is in the public interest?

This has been getting a good run by the journalist class this past week in the wake of the AFP raids.

Apparently breaking laws and reporting of classified documents is ok if there is a public interest to the story. This is the get out of gaol free card for journalists. But how is public interest defined and better still by whom?

From what I can gather public interest is deliberately undefined because it is considered a balance of contextual factors.

As to who determines public interest it would seem that that is a decision for the courts and hence that is why Annika Smethurst is in a spot of bother. Publishing or reporting on classified material is a crime so now a court must decide if it was in the public interest for her to do so.

There are no easy winners here. Having an unelected judge determine what we get to read in the public interest seems undemocratic, however, leaving it up to journalists to self-regulate is clearly self-serving and unworkable.

Listening to Smethurst and other journalists elevating themselves as the custodians of public interest has been nauseating. Their trite argument is little more than if I publish something and someone reads it, it must ergo be in the public interest.

But what was the public interest aspect of Annika Smethurst’s article that landed her in hot water?

According to Smethurst it was merely that the powers of the ASD could have been expanded. In other words it was public interest merely because a conversation within government was taking place.

As it turns out Smethurst was wrong about the nature of the proposed changes. Moreover, the government categorically rejected ASD powers be expand to include spying on Australian citizens.

So it turns out there was no public interest to this story because it was in fact a bogus non-story.

This brings us the so called “whistleblower”. This person broke the law and deserves to be punished.

Lets be clear. It wasn’t whistleblowing. No decision had been made. There was nothing inappropriate about having a policy discussion. There was no cover-up or corruption involved.

To the contrary it was the routine business of government.

Hence why this is a serious case. Here we have a unscrupulous employee who breached national security and engaged in a duplicitous attempt to influence a decision of government and / or embarrass and damage a government for personal political purposes.

This is why Annika Smethurst should not have published the story but allowed the proper functioning of government to take its course. Her reporting was grossly irresponsible, tantamount to gossip.

If during that course a decision to significantly expand the jurisdiction and powers of the ASD was made, and if the public were kept in the dark about it, then at the point the story would have been arguably in the public interest.

Government’s are entitled to canvas a whole range of policy options in confidence before they arrive at decisions. When public servants betray that confidence they undermine the functioning of government and undermine democracy.

A free press doesn’t mean, or shouldn’t mean, a free pass on responsible reporting.

Good reporting holds governments to account and is vital to democracy. Unfortunately, much of what passes for journalism these days is shoddy, biased bordering on propaganda, and fake that seeks to undermine democracy at every turn.

The AFP raids far from having a chilling effect on a free press are a welcome wake up call for higher standards.

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29 Responses to Higher journalistic standards would be in the public interest!

  1. Rod

    This article should be sent to and read by Miss Smethhurst

  2. I thought knowingly receiving confidential government material and not informing the relevant department was in itself an offence. And whoever leaked that information is also committing crimes against the state and the Australian public.

  3. stackja

    To me ASD story was probably mischief.
    The ABC on Afghan SAS was treason.

  4. Another Peter

    I forget the source but the quote was to the effect that

    Public interest does not mean just that the public would be interested

    It means something similar to public benefit, by exposing malfeasance or what have you.

  5. Dr Fred Lenin

    Bemused ,the word High Treason comes to mind ,formerly a capital crime probably now attracts a ten dollar fine ,we cant have lefty traitors being justifiably hanged for espionage . If the ALPBC stenographers have a state secret it is no longer a secret and costly correction mut be done ,imagine how much the AFP inquiry cost ,it should be deducted from the alpbc grant of taxpayers money they get from their career pollie mates . Could be worse ,we could be charged 150 quid a year like the UK punters for the BBC. left gangrene propagnda machine , about $300 !

  6. cuckoo

    Well, at least we know that the salaries of the public servants at the ABC are not a matter of the public interest, certainly not to the taxpayers who fund them.

    Nor were the Climategate emails a matter of the public interest. Nor are raw data climate records, or the means by which they are ‘adjusted’.

  7. Robbo

    Maybe these self absorbed scribblers should start by doing a revisionist course in spelling and grammar. Then when they write their rubbish at least it will be grammatically correct rubbish.

  8. Phill

    I would say that the act of classifying a document is in fact a public interest test. Instead of looking for anything positive that might arise from public release, the classification process looks at the damage that might be caused, not just to national security, but to people, finances, and other things that might be impacted. It is done in accordance with a published process (google PSPF classification) that is pretty comprehensive. And by the way, classifying a document for the purpose of hiding a crime is not allowed.

    So, if these scribblers want the right to second guess the original public interest test, then show me their detailed process and the parameters they apply. Whats that you say? They don’t have any?

    Perhaps, instead of wailing at the twitter-verse, they should negotiate a mechanism with government whereby journos can apply for and get appropriate clearances, accompanied by appropriate physical security (secure buildings, safes). They would then be able, through FOI, to ask for, receive and review the documents they want, and then, as needed, negotiate declassification in whole or part so they can publish.

    There are plenty of other folks who have to deal with these matters by the book. Any screw up leads to future unemployability. Defence industry, contractors, public servants and so on are all examples. Why can’t they work to the standards that others have to follow?

  9. Shy Ted

    And the journalists who got the election so terribly wrong haven’t changed a jot. Defund the ABC.

  10. Seza

    Well argued, Justinian. I agree that the ABC side of this has a different complexion.

  11. W Hogg

    I don’t care what they do with this scandal, as long as much of TheirABC goes to jail.

  12. Dr Fred Lenin

    Higher standards ? Impossible ! You are talking about indoctrinated global communists here ,too late to educate in decency , truth and morality .

  13. Sydney Boy

    “Public interest” sounds a lot like “social licence” when the ABC whine about it.

  14. Lucid

    Clearly the writer is a bureaucrat. This whole piece is based on an assumption that a policy proposal is not a policy proposal.
    Fact is that government was considering a proposal to spy on citizens. That itself is alarming.

  15. Empire 5:5

    Fakestream media is dead. Terminal. Nobody will pay for online news because they know it’s trash. More are waking up to the fact that the whole notion of the fourth estate is bogus. It is and always has been an oligarchy of information gatekeeping.

    Given journalism is a dead profession (everyone who comments here is a journo-hobbiest), it’s hardly surprising they are fighting for self preservation by declaring themselves a protected endangered species. Most of them probably believe it. Most others equate them with carp.

  16. Empire 5:5

    Shy Ted
    #3041819, posted on June 13, 2019 at 5:41 pm
    And the journalists who got the election so terribly wrong haven’t changed a jot. Defund the ABC.

    Neither the ABC or the Govt will utter a word, but both sides know we are closer to that reality (the end of extravagant public b/cast funding) than most understand.

  17. Howard Hill

    Unfortunately, much of what passes for journalism these days is shoddy, biased bordering on propaganda, and fake that seeks to undermine democracy at every turn.

    And this my dear friends is why no one is crying over them but themselves.
    May they all rot in the gulag of their own making, even that’s too good for them.

  18. Boambee John


    Fact is that government was considering a proposal to spy on citizens. That itself is alarming.

    Perhaps I missed something. I had the impression that this was a proposal drafted by bureaucrats which never got as far as consideration by ministers.

  19. John Comnenus

    Mmmm something is not right here in your analysis.

    If Ms Smethurst’s story was wrong, based on bogus information, then how could she have released any classified information, if that information didn’t exist?

    I suspect that the issue was canvassed and then dropped by politicians. I am not against the government considering options, but surely this type of proposal would require legislative change, so it would have to be made public at some stage. Much better to have the public servants recommend such a position in public and then let our elected representatives represent our interests by smacking down the idea.

    No, something is not right here. If the story was fake then it would be about as interesting to our intelligence agencies as stuff in the Guardian comments section. The reaction of the intelligence community strongly suggests that there is something to the story.

  20. Nob

    Perhaps Lucid, like many of us, sees the bureaucracy as part of government.
    An important part, even a dominant part.

    If they’re discussing spying on citizens then that discussion should be had in public.

  21. Entropy

    So what are you saying Nob? That the bureaucrats should never put some options on the table because they are the verboten? You would prefer the bureaucrats decide what the elected people consider on a policy matter by limiting the options that get talked about in Cabinet material?
    Because I can tell you right now that is a problem in itself, with the technocracy all too often deciding what the stupid politicians, those annoying people that just because they were elected think they are the decision makers, get to see in their Cabinet papers. There are many bureaucrats right now that do not put options in papers because they do not want them to be implemented, on the grounds they know the politicians would want to do them.

    Also, if your scenario was implemented, a nefarious bureaucrat could insert absolutely terrible proposals into the document and then leak it just to make the government look bad. I can tell you they would be plenty of bureaucrats who would be just fine with that.

  22. Exactly right. All ideas should be considered, even the potentially stupid and then reviewed and discarded as appropriate. But not considering all ideas will limit the discovery of good ideas from what initially may appear stupid.

    However, it’s ever the way of the Left to not consider all ideas, only those that are ‘correct’ as far as their ideology is concerned. Thus potentially good ideas never get off the ground and only stupid ideas go forward. This of course continues their mental decline.

  23. Iampeter

    What is in the public interest?

    An abstract concept used by unthinking collectivists to justify violating rights, because they haven’t gone to the effort of thinking and realizing that there is no conflict between the interests of the individual and the public interest.

    Good reporting holds governments to account and is vital to democracy.

    Only good knowledge of political theory can hold governments to account.

    So, spending time talking about what people should or shouldn’t be doing in their professions is a pretty big waste of time and can’t help you with politics whatsoever.

  24. nfw

    It’s amazing how the leftie luvvie “progressives”, eg Their ALPBC, the most of the rest of the media, suddenly have concerns about freedom of the press when it affects them. Hypocrites.

  25. bespoke


    I have grown to appreciate your posts, keep going they will come around eventually.

  26. Zatara

    Higher journalistic standards? How about they just live up to the ones they already have?

    Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics

    Seek Truth and Report It
    Minimize Harm
    Act Independently
    Be Accountable and Transparent

    That one has been around since 1926 and was last revised in 2014. Zeus only knows what the last revision was.

  27. AlanR

    Personally I think it’s politicians who need to improve their standards ‘in the public interest’.

  28. Empire 5:5

    Only good knowledge of political theory can hold governments to account.

    This is an interesting concept. Which theoretical framework(s) do you think the citizenry require knowledge of in order to ‘hold the govt. to account’ and what % of pop. needs the knowledge to sustain it?

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