ABC drawn into row over naming Brisbane women accused of Covid-19 quarantine deception | Australian media


The ABC has been criticised by some of its own journalists for identifying two Brisbane teenagers for allegedly lying on their border declaration forms to avoid quarantine after a trip to Melbourne. It follows widespread criticism of other outlets, including the Courier-Mail, for the tone of their coverage of the matter.

The Walkley award-winning foreign correspondent Sophie McNeill, who has left the ABC for Human Rights Watch, said she was “really disappointed” the women had been named and their photographs had been shown by the ABC online. “The different standards between who has been named & shamed and who hasn’t is very alarming,” McNeill said. The social affairs correspondent, Norman Hermant, said it was “demonisation” and the ABC journalist Josie Taylor agreed.

But it was the tabloids who went to town on the story, with huge photos on their front pages. The Courier-Mail branded the pair “Enemies of the state” and its News Corp stablemate the Herald Sun called the two 19-year-olds “Dumb and dumber” and “reckless”.

Aunty was not alone. The Daily Mail followed the News Corp tabloids’ example as well, exposing the women’s personal details on Thursday and referring to them as “coronavirus-infected teenagers”. Like many other outlets Guardian Australia is naming the pair in reports about their court appearance and charges.

The public humiliation unleashed a torrent of abuse against the women on social media, much of it racially based, some of it sexist, including comments that ridiculed their appearance, prompting the Queensland human rights commissioner, Scott McDougall, to release a statement expressing concern about the widespread publication of their personal details.

The anti-Andrews offensive

The editor of the Daily Telegraph, Ben English, has defended his relentless campaign against Dan Andrews, and labelled the Victorian Labor premier a “fool”.

Speaking to the trade publication Mediaweek, English said the Sydney paper’s attacks had been against the government, not the people of Victoria.

Daily Telegraph articles criticising Victoria’s premier Dan Andrews
Daily Telegraph articles criticising Victoria’s premier Dan Andrews

The Telegraph has run stories under headlines such as “It’s God-Dan disgraceful” and “Dan-made disaster”. Others include “Victoria bitter” and “Bordering on madness”. They all accuse Andrews of bungling the crisis.

Early on in the pandemic, when Victoria was the most firm among the states insisting on early shutdowns, the premier was attacked for being a dictator whose hardline stance was destroying the economy. After the second wave of infections and the quarantine bungle he was portrayed as hopelessly inept.

Challenged on playing politics in the time of a pandemic, English told Mediaweek’s James Manning the role of newspapers was “not to whitewash things so everyone can feel good and sing Kumbaya. It is to fearlessly lift the lid on how these things happen.”

The New South Wales Liberal premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has done a better job, English reckons, the “misstep” of the Ruby Princess not withstanding.

Less news from the regions

Nine has made deep cuts to its regional news TV service across more than a dozen communities in Queensland, NSW and Victoria, blaming a drop in advertising revenue due to coronavirus.

Its hour-long news programs were dropped in favour of metropolitan ones when Covid-19 hit. When they return on 10 August they will run for only 30 minutes. Some centres, including Dubbo, are losing their only TV reporter as Nine makes 12 staff redundant.

“Changes like this are never easy and I am conscious of the impact this restructure will have on individual people,” the managing director of Nine Queensland and northern NSW, Kylie Blucher, told staff. “However, the unprecedented advertising and economic downturn has prompted a review of the functional effectiveness while ensuring our bulletins remain commercially sustainable.”

The mayor of Dubbo, Ben Shields, said the removal of the sole video journalist from the central west city meant local TV news was “closer to death” and showed the broadcaster is “dismissive” of a community which relies on its news. The blow comes a year after Win TV withdrew from the central west altogether. Last year Win stopped producing news programs in Albury, Orange, Dubbo, Wagga Wagga and Wide Bay.

“It truly is remarkable that a region of our size is being discarded and treated as irrelevant by another local television news provider,” Shields said.

“Places like Dubbo need reliable and community-focused news and media services, so I implore Nine to reconsider withdrawing the Dubbo-based news position. This city, and our region, is substantial enough to warrant decent locally based television news coverage.”

Nine said without the government’s $50m in regional funding the impact on regional news might have been worse.

Murdoch coming to Australia

For all those salivating at the prospect of watching the three-part BBC documentary The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty, now without a broadcaster in Australia, we have some good news. The real-life soap opera/political drama doesn’t have a home yet, after plans to screen it on the BBC’s Foxtel channel faltered, but BBC sources said negotiations were under way to screen it in Australia on free-to-air television.

One of the strangest reactions to the program comes from a participant, Les Hinton, a trusted Murdoch lieutenant who started work for the tycoon at the age of 15 in Adelaide, and stayed with News Corp for more than 50 years.

On his blog, Hinton was highly critical of the program for portraying his former boss as “Britain’s default demon and the source of just about everything that’s gone wrong in this country in the last five decades or so”.

He ends with the line: “While the BBC loathes Rupert Murdoch, it’s fair to say the feeling is entirely mutual.”

‘Failures of journalism’

The barrister Bruce McClintock SC made some interesting observations about Australian journalism during an Australian Law Reform Commission webinar on Monday, where he spoke alongside Georgia-Kate Schubert from Australia’s Right to Know coalition and the district court judge Judith Gibson about defamation reform.

McClintock’s high-profile clients include the decorated soldier Ben Roberts-Smith, who is suing the former Fairfax papers for an article in 2018 that Roberts-Smith believes defamed him as having committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

The top silk argued there was no need for a new public interest defence because all the recent court rulings against publications were down to shoddy journalism and media organisations weren’t interested in freedom of speech, just their bottom line.

“One of the proposals for reform is to introduce a new defence for public interest journalism,” McClintock said. “The point I wish to make is that that call is largely misplaced and that such failures as there are are not failures of the law, which is perfectly adequate, but failures of journalism.

“The current campaign has been largely dominated by media organisations, whom, I hope I don’t sound overly cynical, I suspect are more interested in their bottom line than actually in freedom of speech.”

McClintock said there were fewer than 90 to 100 defamation cases brought in Australia every year and the reason plaintiffs such as the actor Geoffrey Rush, the cricketer Chris Gayle and the businessman Chau Chak Wing won their cases was that the journalism in those reports was defective. It wasn’t what advocates of defamation law reform wanted to hear. But McClintock wasn’t backing down from his strong views, telling the moderator: “I’m here and full of fight.”

Campion the columnist

It was just two years ago that the former political staffer Vikki Campion was photographed in the street by the Daily Telegraph, which revealed under the headline “Bundle of Joyce” that she was expecting a baby with the National party leader Barnaby Joyce. Campion was incensed by being photographed while heavily pregnant and filed a breach of privacy complaint, which was later withdrawn. Campion also complained of media intrusion when drones were flown over the house she shared with Joyce and their newborn son, Sebastian.

Now a mother of two, Campion has returned to public life as staffer to the federal deputy speaker, Llew O’Brien, and as a columnist for – wait for it – the Daily Telegraph.

Her first piece on Saturday was about juggling motherhood and paid work, and how women shoulder the majority of the burden of parenting. Let’s just say Joyce does not come out of it well.

“It’s 7.30am and the toddler at the centre of the storm is ‘shaving’, and my just fed, bathed and dressed one-year-old is shoving both fists into a tub of peanut butter,” she writes. “Their father, blind to the bloody face and peanut butter arms, repeatedly asks of the bin liner of dirty nappies: ‘Is this the bin?’”





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