Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of the Arts, English and Media


This practice-based PhD thesis presents a major work of hybrid journalism-policy research - the candidate’s UNESCO-published study Protecting Journalism Sources in the Digital Age1 (Posetti 2017a2) - and associated outputs (including journalism, industry reports, and public events), together with this critical and connective exegesis that provides theoretical and reflective context for the major artefact (i.e. aforementioned book) at the core of the project. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) commissioned the major artefact in 2014 to provide quantitative data and qualitative research to demonstrate international developments in legal and normative frameworks that support the principle of confidential source protection which is central to the practice of investigative journalism, with an emphasis on emerging digital era implications. The resulting book, published by UNESCO in 2017, examined a decade’s worth of relevant source protection developments in 121 countries. Its impact was significant, as evidenced by international media coverage, citation in a major judgement on journalistic source protection from the European Court of Human Rights, through a Report from the UN Secretary General, and via a UN General Assembly Resolution on journalism safety. Described by UNESCO as a “benchmark study” (UNESCO 2017a), the book makes a major contribution to this emerging area of scholarship, especially through its development of a comprehensive 11-point framework for assessing legal source protection instruments and normative environments. It is the first study of its kind to map and analyse the convergent digital era threats posed to source protection globally. These laws and frameworks sit at the complex intersection of a range of threats involving: the undercutting of source confidentiality by mass and targeted surveillance; the risk of source protection laws being trumped by national security and anti-terrorism legislation; the expanding requirements for third party intermediaries to mandatorily retain (and potentially handover) citizens’ data for increasingly lengthy periods of time; and debates about diverse digital media actors’ entitlement to access source protection laws where they exist. This exegesis provides a critically reflective account of the development of the study (i.e. Protecting Journalism Sources in the Digital Age) as a hybrid work of journalism and international public policy research. It presents a theoretical account of the scholarship around source protection, the fraught history of the UN’s role in commissioning research designed to develop international freedom of expression rights and standards, and the shifting nature of journalism and press freedom advocacy in the networked public sphere. It describes the act of ‘making content out of process’ and maximising research impact through the extended life of the project. This involved interwoven collaborations, engaging stakeholder communities and broader publics in the research and dissemination processes, explaining and promoting the study’s findings, and carefully negotiating iterative publication through protracted UN diplomatic and bureaucratic processes. Together, this critical reflection and scholarly analysis form the exegetical thesis, explicating the hybrid model of networked public communication at the heart of the production, publication and impact of the UNESCO-published study Protecting Journalism Sources in the Digital Age.


Chapter 6 of this thesis is under embargo until July 2021.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.