National security has become a more prominent angle for Australian media reporting on relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Such reporting regularly cites anonymous sources.
On the one hand, the public interest is overwhelmingly served by journalism that uncovers facts previously hidden from view. On the other hand, when views are presented without attribution or documentary evidence, scepticism can be stoked about the qualifications and motivations of those behind such stories. This can lead to diminished trust in the Fourth Estate, a vital institution in well-functioning liberal democracies. It can also feed division in Australian society, which the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Frances Adamson, has warned that Beijing might seek to exploit to further its interests.
What ethical challenges do journalists face when they receive information from sources insisting on anonymity? Is there a consensus around what ‘best-practice’ looks like in handling these challenges and how does Australia stack up compared with standards overseas? What markers can readers look for to help determine which reporting they can have confidence in? Are background briefings from government sources common on PRC-related developments and policy announcements: who hosts these and what purpose do they aim to serve? When it comes to challenges that the PRC presents, what are some of the best examples of where the public interest has been served by national security reporting that drew on anonymous sources?
The Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS:ACRI) will host an online webinar with Professor Monica Attard, Head of Journalism, UTS and former reporter and foreign correspondent for the ABC; and Anthony Galloway, foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on a panel moderated by UTS:ACRI Director Professor James Laurenceson to discuss these issues.