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Balancing the public interest: The D-Notice system and the suppression of sensitive government information relating to national security

Sadler, Pauline Barbara (1999) Balancing the public interest: The D-Notice system and the suppression of sensitive government information relating to national security. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

Balancing the public interest: the D-Notice system and the suppression of sensitive government information relating to national security

The D-Notice system is a voluntary arrangement between the government and the media where the media agree not to publish certain information in the interests of national security. The D-Notice system operates only in Australia and the U.K. and is now known as the DA-Notice system in the U.K. It represents voluntary censorship on the part of the media. The alternative to the D-Notice system is legal action by the government to suppress allegedly sensitive material, for example by use of the civil action of breach of confidence, or to punish the media after publication by use of the criminal law.

The thesis identifies a major deficiency in both the D-Notice system and the legal alternatives to the system. The public interest, that is the interests of the general public, is insufficiently represented in the operation of the former and is often not sufficiently recognised by the judiciary in the latter. The result is that material may be suppressed which has no connection with national security but instead exposes the government to embarrassment.

First the study examines the history and present operation of the D-Notice system in the U.K. and Australia. This reveals that there is not, and never has been, any independent evaluation of the interests of the general public when decisions are made. Next the legal alternatives to the system in both countries are analysed. It is shown that the reluctance of some judges to actually examine the information in question, and the background to the information, is a flaw in the various procedures which in turn favours the government interest in suppression.

Finally the study explores some related issues that clarify a number of the concepts discussed earlier. It will be shown that while both the government and the media purport to represent the public interest, in reality both primarily represent their own interests which are not always synonymous with the interests of the general public.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: Division of Business, Information Technology and Law
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: repository@murdoch.edu.au. Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Macmillan, Fiona and Blakeney, Michael
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/51263
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