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A free and independent press is a core component of any healthy democracy. National security too is critically important: it ensures the continued existence of the state and safety of its people. Over the course of the 21st century, however, the relationship between press freedom and national security has been placed under increasing strain. This is certainly the case in Australia, where more counter-terrorism laws have been enacted than anywhere else in the world, and we remain the only liberal democracy lacking codified national protection for free expression or, relatedly, press freedom. In Australia and elsewhere, governments face the challenge of protecting national security without unduly encroaching on free speech, press freedom and other basic rights and liberties.
This course explores this challenge through a public law lens. By breaking down the nature and importance of both press freedom and national security, and understanding the processes and frameworks around each, this course equips students with the intellectual and research tools to critique national security law and policy for its impacts on press freedom, and advance arguments for and against reform.
Core themes of central importance in the modern national security and media environments emerge for discussion and debate. For instance:
- Who is the ‘press’? What is its role in a democracy, and what does press ‘freedom’ require?
- How far should governments go in protecting national security?
- How might basic values like free speech and public accountability be threatened and preserved in the national security context?
- To what extent does security require secrecy? Who should be responsible for determining what information ought to remain secret, and on what basis?
- Does the press have an oversight role to play in respect of national security agencies, actors and actions?
- How have, and should, governments respond to complex issues, including:
- The publication of leaked security-classified information;
- Public sector (including intelligence) whistleblowers;
- Criminal prosecutions based on sensitive national security information;
- Widespread use of encryption technologies (including by criminals and journalists), and;
- The prospect of journalism-based defences to national security offences; and
- The democratic need for government secrecy and accountability.
Principal topics will include:
- Security and Democracy
- National Security in the Post-9/11 World
- Press Freedom: role, importance, protections
- Secrecy and the Right to Know
- National Security Governance and the National Intelligence Community
- Formal classification systems and FOI
- Offences for handling and communicating information.
- Court reporting and the National Security Information Act
- Sources and source protection
- Public sector whistleblower protections.
- Police and Intelligence powers.
- Impacts: Doing journalism in today’s national security environment
Course content focuses on Australia, though will also be given to developments in a global context, including for the major research essay.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject will:
- Identify and explain the nature and importance of press freedom by reference to key principles of public law.
- Identify and explain key national security laws and governance structures.
- Identify and explain journalistic process and how it intersects with the national security sector.
- Conduct and communicate research in press freedom and national security, applying appropriate research principles and methods.
- Investigate and critically analyse complex information, problems and concepts in relation to press freedom and national security.
- Independently critique and evaluate national security law, practice and policy, including from a press freedom perspective.
- Have the cognitive and technical skills to generate critical and creative ideas relating to press freedom and national security, and to harness theories, principles and concepts with creativity and autonomy;
- Have the cognitive and technical skills to independently examine, research and analyse existing and emerging legal issues relating to press freedom and national security;
- Have the communication skills to clearly articulate and convey complex information regarding press freedom and national security to relevant audiences;
- Be able to demonstrate autonomy, critical thinking and analysis skills and expert judgment and responsibility in the field of press freedom and national security, with an eye to giving clear conclusions on law reform options.
Last updated: 10 November 2023