Addressing all the problems with Defence public affairs, not just some of them

As he often does with his "reporting" about our defence force, an opinion article by Ian McPhedran tells only half the story about the problematic interfaces between the Minister for Defence, the Department of Defence and our defence force on one hand, and the media and the Australian people on the other.

Letter to The Advertiser (Adelaide)

Friday, 03 August 2012
(not published)

As the country’s most longstanding and detailed critic of the way Ministers for Defence and the Department of Defence now mishandle defence force public affairs — and of the poor standard of media coverage of defence issues generally — the Australia Defence Association notes the considerable irony of Ian McPhedran’s opinion article (“In my View”, August 3).

The ADA has long advocated a return to the decentralised pre-1995 policy of defence force commanders from unit level upwards being authorised to run their own public affairs and interact with Australians and the media directly.

Especially where no operational security matters, international sensitivities or party-political controversies are involved.

The current over-centralisation in Minister’s offices, the ever-increasing desire of Ministers to micro-manage and spin everything, and the sheer bureaucracy involved departmentally, has long hampered the ability of our defence force to explain what it does to the Australian people swiftly, comprehensively and in easily understood terms.

But, typically, Ian McPhedran tells only half the story at best.

He misses the demographic contribution of growing community ignorance of defence matters through no first-hand, or even extended family, knowledge and how this is now often exploited or exacerbated by ill-informed, sensationalist or careerist media coverage.

Whereas specialist journalists with business, science or health qualifications still cover such issues respectively and well, most defence coverage is now by generalists with no qualifications, relevant experience or long-term knowledge and insight.

The resulting poor coverage contrasts strongly with the days of through-career war/foreign correspondents backed up by knowledgeable defence columnists who had been experienced members of the ADF.

Worse still, virtually all defence coverage is now via political journalists in the parliamentary press gallery in Canberra and often for only very short periods as a box-ticking career exercise.

The irony is that Ian McPhedran's "reporting" typifies the inaccurate, sensationalist, un-insightful and self-centred journalism that so adds to the problem.

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