Media Room: Media Releases
Department of Defence
PUBLIC RELEASE OF INFORMATION BY THE ADF
BY BRIGADIER ANDREW NIKOLIC
DIRECTOR GENERAL PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Trooper David Pearce’s tragic death in Afghanistan from a Taliban roadside bomb rightly raises questions about the flow of information to the Australian public from Defence.
It is often said that there is a tension between the interests of military forces to control information and the desire of the media to publish or broadcast. Balancing these interests is difficult but neither the media nor the military are helped by absurd claims in some newspapers this week that Defence kept David Pearce’s death a “secret” for eight to ten hours before releasing detailed information.
The Australian Defence Force has an absolute commitment to be open about its activities, but this must be balanced against the safety of our people on dangerous operations and the rights of their families to be informed first about personal events.
Defence is also committed to ensuring that the efforts of our people are publicly recognised. They are deployed all over the world undertaking difficult missions in dangerous and demanding environments. They are wonderful ambassadors and in a direct and practical Australian way are helping to bring stability in some very troubled parts of the world.
Defence works hard to bring these stories to Australia’s attention by being as open as we can about our military operations. But we cannot forget that our forces are on dangerous missions and in the case of Afghanistan, they are fighting a determined and capable opponent in the Taliban.
The Taliban is a ruthless exploiter of the media, using it as a source of intelligence about Australian and NATO activities and as a platform for its own propaganda. For example, Radio Netherlands on 10 October reported that the Taliban closely monitor Dutch news reports relating to Oruzgan Province, where our forces and the Dutch work closely together. An hour after Netherlands radio broadcast an interview with the commander of Dutch forces in Oruzgan Province, Taliban militants were reportedly discussing the interview on their walkie-talkies.
When Defence releases information about an incident like the roadside bomb attack that killed David Pearce, we must do so in a way that doesn’t help those who seek to harm our people. Although tactical details may add ‘colour’ and news interest, they might also help the Taliban make their own attacks more lethal.
Before any Defence information is released to the public, it is rigorously reviewed to ensure that it is correct; protects the privacy and security of Defence personnel; does not compromise our mission; and will not help our enemy.
In the past three months Defence has released 29 statements relating to ADF operations. Of these, 15 related to incidents where Australians were wounded or attacked. In addition, hundreds of photographs and combat footage from several engagements were also released. This hardly amounts to an information blackout or an attempt to conceal the dangers that Defence personnel are exposed to, as some have suggested.
In modern media reporting, speed is all. It is often the case that news of an event such as the recent roadside bomb will be publicly reported at the same time as our forces are still dealing with the attack.
In a tragic situation such as David Pearce’s death, our first priority is to make sure the family is fully informed and supported before personal information is publicly released.
Defence has a very deliberate process in place to inform families that their loved one has been killed. Every detail has to be confirmed so that families can be provided with as much reliable information as possible. Support mechanisms are also quickly activated to ensure we do our best to help them through an incredibly difficult and painful time.
Once the family has been informed and supported, we seek their agreement to release information to the public. If the family does not wish personal details to be released, we will inform the Australian public of the situation more broadly.
Were we to rush this process before informing the next of kin, potentially thousands of Australian families could be subjected to unnecessary worry and stress, wondering if it was their loved one that was killed or wounded.
For Defence, the safety of our people and the wellbeing of their families come first. We balance that against the priority of being open about what we do. Getting this balance right is challenging but we try to meet that demand every day. The level of public support for our forces suggests that more often than not we get this balance right.
Media contact: Defence Media Liaison (02) 6265 3343 or (0408) 498 664
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