10 February 2017

The inaugural issue of “Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch” was published in April 1988 – over a year before the first edition of the ABC TV Media Watch program went to air. Between November 1997 and October 2015 “Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch” was published as part of The Sydney Institute Quarterly. In March 2009 Gerard Henderson’s Media Watch Dog blog commenced publication.


  • STOP PRESS: Joe Hildebrand gets picked on at ACOSS Conference; David Speers’ Royal Commission Howler
  • Deliberate Mistakes: A Report
  • Can You Bear It? Leslie Cannold; Paul Barry; Mr Barry/Mr Hitler; Q&A’s American Take-Over & Fairfax Media Plays Defamation Poker (Again)
  • A Wendy Harmer Moment with the Oh-So-Condescending John Birmingham
  • Correspondence: The ABC’s Michelle Guthrie & Alan Sunderland Help Out (Sort of) re ABC’s Editorial Policies & Keith McLennan Helps Out (Again) on the First Gulf War




 Just before commencing Media Watch Dog at 3 am this morning, Nancy’s (male) co-owner switched on ABC Radio National. As you do. [Really. I thought you would only do this if you had a hangover. MWD Editor]

It turned out that Big Ideas  was repeating its “The role of the media in public opinion and social cohesion” debate which aired first at 8.05 pm yesterday.  The debate, for want of a better word, was recorded at an ACOSS (Australian Council on Social Services) conference on 17 November last year. That long ago.

It turned out that the panel was a leftist stack presided over by journalist and University of Technology, Sydney academic Helen Vatsikopoulos. It seemed as if Joe Hildebrand (News Corp columnist and co-host of Network 10’s Studio Ten) was in the dock.  There was no defence counsel.  There was the hanging judge Ms Vatsikopoulos. And the case for the prosecution was presented by the following:


Owen Bennett: President of the Unemployed Workers Union

Nancia Guivarra: Journalist and senior producer of NITV, National Indigenous Television

Mehal Krayem: Researcher at the International Research Centre for Youth Futures at the University of Technology, Sydney

Lenore Taylor: Editor of The Guardian Australia

Joe Hildebrand: Columnist with News Corp and co-host of Studio 10 on Network 10

Helen Vatsikopoulos: Journalist and academic


Guess what?  Owen Bennett and Nancia Guivarra and Mehal Krayem and Lenore Taylor all ganged up against Joe Hildebrand – to a greater or lesser extent. They were encouraged by the panel chair Helen Vatsikopoulos who was particularly hostile to Joe Hildebrand. The targets of attack were News Corp’s alleged unfair coverage of such issues as welfare, Islam and Aborigines.

The next time the taxpayer subsidised ACOSS presents a panel discussion which will (eventually) be carried on the taxpayer funded public broadcaster – it would save time to simply put the News Corp representative in the stocks.  UTS academic Helen Vatsikopoulos could lead the throwing of rotten fruit.  This may not work for Radio National. But it would work well on ABC News 24 – which is really ABC News 14 since that is about the news it runs in a 24 hour period.



Sky News’ David Speers is one of Australia’s finest journalists.  However, he was out of his depth last night when discussing this week’s events at the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse with author and former Catholic priest Paul Collins on Speers Tonight.

David Speers ran the line that Gail Furness SC, Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission, on Monday provided devastating statistics concerning the current state of alleged child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Australia.  Figures included the claim that 7 per cent of priests are child sexual abusers.

Mr Speers – reflecting reportage by Fairfax Media and the ABC – referred to instances of clerical child abuse of victims “over the past 35 years”. There was also a reference to child sexual abuse “victims over the last 35 years”. David Speers also declared that the Catholic Church “is still trying to tackle this problem”.

Sure, the Catholic Church – as distinct from Cardinal George Pell – has been poorly represented at the Royal Commission. This applies to its legal team and the contribution of Francis Sullivan of the Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council.

However, the job of journalists is to find and report facts.  And the evidence indicates that the overwhelming majority of crimes by Catholic priests, brothers and laymen against children (overwhelmingly boys) occurred in a four-decade period between the early 1950s and the early 1990s.  This is essentially a problem of past offending.

In other words – contrary to David Speers’ claims, which were not challenged by Dr Collins, an outspoken critic of the contemporary Catholic Church – sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has not been occurring on a wide scale “over the past 35 years” and the Church is not “still trying to tackle this problem”.

It is true that, in her submission to the Royal Commission on Monday, Ms Furness focused on the period 1950 to 2010.  However, she was referring to the period when allegations of clerical child sexual abuse were reported.  Not the period when such alleged crimes took place.

This was not made clear by Counsel Assisting, who has demonstrated an evident hostility to social conservative Catholics like Cardinal George Pell during the Royal Commission’s hearings.  However, the evidence is contained in the source from which Ms Furness was quoting.  This document, titled Proportion of priests and non- ordained religious subject to a claim of child sexual abuse: 1950-2010, was prepared by the Royal Commission.

As Table 3, Table 4 and Table 5 demonstrate, the overwhelming majority of allegations relate to alleged offences which took place in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s – that is, 35 years ago and beyond.  Overwhelmingly, they are not allegations about alleged child sexual abuse which took place between 1990 and today. However, you would never know this watching David Speers talk to Paul Collins on Sky News last night.

Documents prepared by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney demonstrate the point.  Note that Counsel Assisting’s submission was based on material provided to the Royal Commission by the Catholic archdioceses and dioceses of Australia. The following graph prepared by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney (CAS) illustrates the point.

Number of incidents of sexual abuse by decade of occurrence based on claims received between 1980 and 2015 for which CAS was the relevant church authority for the claim:



 The Royal Commission did not accept the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney data in full.  But it did accept this interpretation of the data:


Comparison between CAS data and amendments to CAS data required by the Royal Commission.


Even on the Royal Commission’s own interpretation of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney’s data, it is clear that instances of clerical child abuse in the Sydney Catholic Archdiocese dropped significantly from the mid-1980s.

This reflected the establishment of the Towards Healing process – which was set up in 1997 by the Sydney Hierarchy and all other Catholic archdiocese and dioceses in Australia except Melbourne. In 1996 the (then) Archbishop George Pell had set up the Melbourne Response to handle allegations of clerical child sexual abuse in the Melbourne archdiocese.

The suggestion that clerical child sexual abuse is currently rife in the contemporary Catholic Church is just a beat up. But it has been run by quite a few journalists – some of whom run the risk of defamation actions.  See the “Can You Bear It?” segment.



Congratulations to the thousands of avid readers who identified the John-Laws-Style-Deliberate-Mistakes in last week’s issue.

Yes – the date was wrong on the front page.  Yes – Donald J. Trump won Wisconsin (not Minnesota) from the Democrats on 8 November 2016.  And yes – Bob Day was elected twelfth out of twelve – not tenth out of ten – in the South Australian Senate election last July. These errors have been corrected online. Lotsa thanks.


Reproduced without permission from ABC’s Media Watch



Thanks to the avid reader who drew MWD’s attention to the forthcoming visit to the United States by Australian-based US citizen Leslie Cannold.

As avid MWD readers will be aware, Leslie Cannold has a habit of not responding to difficult questions. See MWD Issue 122 .

So, Dr Cannold declared last week that she is “worried” about travelling to the United States due to a “little-noticed bombshell in Trump’s immigration order”. However, she threw the switch to no-comment when asked a genuine question as to why a US citizen should be worried about travelling to the US – even during the time of what the left like to call the Trump Fascist Dictatorship.

Can you bear it?



While on the issue of the Trump Fascist Dictatorship, as MWD pointed out last week ABC TV’s Media Watch hunkered down for what journalists like to call a Well-Earned-Break on Monday 21 November 2016.  Presenter Paul (“There are too many white presenters on Australian TV”) Barry and producer Tim Latham emerged from their Silly Season Slumber last Monday – after a W.E.B. of 10 weeks.

So, the middle aged white man Paul Barry and his middle-aged white comrade Tim Latham were on taxpayer subsidised furlough when white middle-aged Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president of the United States and during the early period of the Trump administration.  There was also much news of relevance to media analysis in Europe and Australia during Aunty’s W.E.B.

So, what did the taxpayer funded public broadcaster’s media program – which has always been presented by white leftists – do to cover the period when Aunty slept?

Well, on Monday Media Watch’s  topic was “Fake news and alternative facts”. And so it came to pass that Mr Barry and his team regurgitated all the leftist fashionable arguments of the past 10 weeks about how the Trump team had prevailed over Hillary Clinton with a little help from “fake news”, “alternative facts” and all that jazz.  Yawn.

However, Paul Barry neglected to mention the fake news which his own media mates at the ABC and elsewhere put out during the US presidential campaign.  Namely, the assertion that there was no pathway to victory for Trump and the Republicans.  In other words, the claim that Donald J. Trump could not win a majority of votes in the Electoral College.  In fact, the Donald Trump/Mike Pence ticket prevailed in the Electoral College by 304 votes to 227 votes.  A significant victory on any analysis.

MWD is not aware of any ABC presenter, producer, editor or journalist who gave Trump a chance of defeating Clinton.  If there are one or more such persons, please advise and MWD will publish the names.  Nancy’s (male) co-owner likes taking names and compiling little lists.

In this instance, it seems that the taxpayer funded public broadcaster was as hopelessly wrong as the taxpayer subsidised United States Studies Centre – aka the US[less] Studies Centre – at the taxpayer subsidised University of Sydney. All the USSC academics – many of whom were regarded as “experts” on America by the ABC – predicted that Clinton would defeat Trump. Including the ABC’s very own John Barron who is a part-time USSC staffer and who also co-presents the Planet America program on ABC TV.

And yet Paul Barry spent some 12 minutes on Monday banging on about how Trump supporters engaged in fake news and alternative facts before, during and after the campaign – without mentioning the media’s very own “fake news” in the lead-up to 8 November 2016 that Trump could not win.  Can you bear it?

[Interesting. I note that Nancy’s (male) co-owner was one of the few Australian commentators who gave Trump a chance of victory when he made this comment on Insiders on 11 September 2016:

Gerard Henderson: I am no fan of Donald Trump. But the dismissive attitude of many Australian journalists to Trump overlooks one central fact. If the Republicans hold all the States they won four years ago under Mitt Romney and Trump wins, say, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania he will be President next year.

I note that, apart from Insiders, Hendo was m,not asked by any ABC program to discuss the US presidential election. On the other hand, the USSC supremo Professor Simon Jackman – whose analysis proved to be hopelessly wrong – was heard/seen on the ABC every morning, every night and frequently during the day during the presidential campaign. – MWD Editor]



While on the topic of Media Watch, it is commonly said that the last refuge of a contemporary political commentator is to evoke the name Adolf Hitler or the Nazi Party in a current debate.  And rightly so.

After the analysis of events in the United States, from 21 November last year to the present, on Media Watch Dog on Monday – Paul Barry bagged such Republicans as Donald J. Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer and Steve Bannon along with Australian politicians Matt Canavan (National Party) and Malcolm Roberts (One Nation). Soon after, your man Barry threw the switch to the Nazi Party founder.  Let’s go to the transcript:

Paul Barry: Yes fake news could be an opportunity for mainstream media rather than its death knell.  The media you can trust not to lie, distort and make things up. But the sad truth is that lies are powerful. Fake and misleading stories can be shared 10 times more than articles that debunk them. And falsehoods live on because people want to believe them.  Or as one authority in the subject, Adolf Hitler, once wrote in Mein Kampf : “The grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.”

So there you have it.  The ABC Media Watch presenter regards Adolf Hitler as some kind of authority worth quoting on the taxpayer funded public broadcaster to support criticism of the Trump administration. Can you bear it?  [I wonder what Joe Stalin said about lying – MWD Editor]



While on the topic of the US presidential election, did anyone watch the first issue of Q&A last Monday – after its very own Well Earned Break?

Coalition Minister Joshua Frydenberg made some telling points. And Victorian premier Daniel Andrews was, well, Daniel Andrews. And then there was the American-born Daisy Cousens and the American-born Helen Andrews and the American-born Xiuhtezcatl Martinez.  It was one of those rare occasions when Q&A had a three right-of-centre (Frydenberg/Helen Andrews/Cousens) to two left-of-centre (Daniel Andrews/Martinez) split in the panel. But overall it was as a dull event.

Sure, much of the discussion turned on Donald J. Trump with nearly all the studio audience joining in applause when he was attacked by the leftist Martinez. Even so, it seemed an odd idea that one of Australia’s leading current affairs programs chose three Americans out of a panel of five. It’s all but impossible to imagine that a British or United States program would invite three Australian-born panellists out of a panel of five. Can you bear it?

[I wonder whether conservatives like Janet Albrechtsen, who was in Washington DC at the time of the inauguration, are declining to accept invitations to appear before the baying hordes that compose the Q&A audience most nights.  In which case, such a boycott will reduce Q&A’s potential talent pool.  Just a thought – MWD Editor.]



While on the topic of debate as a form of conflict, here’s the latest on Fairfax Media’s War on George Pell.

Here’s how the Fairfax Media’s Rachel Browne reported the second day of what is called the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses To Child Sexual Abuse’s “Catholic Wrap” in the print edition of the Sydney Morning Herald last Tuesday.

The commission has released data showing for the first time the extent of abuse in Catholic institutions [sic] Australia with almost 4500 victims and 1880 perpetrators over the past 35 years. The analysis found seven per cent of priests, overall, were sexual offenders…

The statement is false.  As pointed out in today’s “Stop Press”, the overwhelming majority of alleged victims and perpetrators involve the period from 1950 to 1990 – not “the past 35 years” which covers the period 1980 to 2015.

Later Rachel Browne continued:

Cardinal George Pell is the most senior Australian in the Vatican and has appeared at the royal commission three times.

Lisa Flynn, abuse law principal at Shine Lawyers which represents a number of Catholic Church victims, said Pope Francis should act against Cardinal Pell. “We have heard so much evidence but still the Catholic Church remains recalcitrant,” she said. “Much of this abuse happened under the watch of Cardinal George Pell who remains in the Vatican.

Again this statement is false.  George Pell only had hierarchal authority on two occasions.  When he was Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001 and as Archbishop of Sydney from 2001 to 2014. Moreover, in the printed edition of her report, Ms Browne implied that the number of victims and their perpetrators were established – rather than alleged.

The evidence presented to the Royal Commission indicates that clerical child sexual abuse by Catholic priests/brothers/laymen declined substantially from the early 1990s.  It is simply untrue to allege that “much” of the clerical child sexual abuse in Australia “happened under the watch of Cardinal George Pell”.

Last week Fairfax Media offered a truly grovelling apology to former Leighton’s chief executive officer Wal King following allegations by key reporters Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker.  The Australian’s  “Media” section has estimated that the settlement and costs paid by Fairfax Media could exceed $1 million.

In spite of this, Fairfax Media is still running undocumented allegations which are professionally damaging. Can you bear it?

[Er, no.  By the way it is worth looking at the statement by Civil Liberties lawyer Terry O’Gorman criticising suggestions that Cardinal Pell should return immediately to Australia.  Mr O’Gorman has warned against the Royal Commission “becoming a witch-hunt” – see below. MWD Editor]


Terry O’Gorman comments on Senate calls for Pell to return to Australia

Thursday February 9, 2017

Civil Liberties’ lawyer Terry O’Gorman today criticised the Australian Senate motion calling on Cardinal George Pell to return to Australia to assist Police with child sexual abuse investigations.

Mr O’Gorman said that the Australian Senate motion was yet another example of politicians politicising the criminal investigation and related Court processes.

“Great care has to be taken, particularly by politicians using the ‘coward’s castle’ of Parliament, to prevent the current Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse from becoming a witch hunt”, Mr O’Gorman said.

“It is obvious to anyone who has followed the Royal Commission since its establishment that Cardinal Pell has fully cooperated with the Royal Commission both by giving evidence in Australia and in giving evidence from Rome”, Mr O’Gorman said.

“The wording of the Senate motion namely calling on Cardinal Pell to return to Australia to assist Victorian Police and the Office of Public Prosecutions was totally misguided and reflected the total lack of appreciation by those who voted for the Senate motion of the importance of observing the separation of powers doctrine which is fundamental to Australian democracy but also indicates an appalling, and one suspects, a wilful ignorance of the processes of Police investigations and decisions to prosecute by the DPP”, Mr O’Gorman said.

Mr O’Gorman said that it was imperative that politicians and other community leaders not whip up hysteria in relation to matters arising from the Royal Commission as that will negatively affect balanced and serious consideration by the community of the Royal Commission in respect of its final recommendations which are due in the next number of months.



As Wendy (“I’m an old fashioned socialist”) Harmer announced this week – her program’s name has been changed from “Mornings with Wendy Harmer” to “Mornings”. How about that? Also what used to be called Radio 702 is now termed ABC Sydney.  Which shows that Aunty’s management has been up to important work over the Silly Season.

During this time of the Trump Fascist Dictatorship, it was not surprising that an old-fashioned socialist like Ms Harmer should decide that the time is right to discuss dystopian books.  Like George Orwell’s 1984.  Get the idea? Donald J. Trump is Big Brother – a dictator and responsible for what is now called fake news.

This is how the ABC’s website described the leftist Harmer’s interview with the leftist Birmingham:

Why is George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984 back on the top seller list? Some say the surge in fake news is driving readers back to dystopian novels like George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

The idea that the contemporary US resembles in any way what Orwell referred as “Airstrip One” in his novel is, well, unhinged.  It’s just that there are lotsa unhinged types around following Donald J Trump’s victory last November. Particularly at the taxpayer funded public broadcaster.

In any event, on Tuesday Wendy Harmer invited leftist journalist John Birmingham into the ABC Sydney studio in, you’ve guessed it, Sydney where, you’ve guessed it, your man Birmingham drew parallels between the contemporary US and the truth destroying dictatorship depicted in the novel 1984.

It was not long before Birmingham threw the switch to condescension.  Let’s go to the transcript:

John Birmingham: Often people, like, you know, normal people you know – unlike me who works in books for a living, you know – they don’t necessarily think deeply about books. They often just read them to enjoy them.

How contemptuous can you get?  According to Birmingham there are, like you know, “normal people” who, like you know, you know, read books for mere enjoyment. What losers.  And there are towering intellectuals like John Birmingham – who used to write for the Sydney Morning Herald, you see – who think deeply about books.  So deeply, it seems, that the likes of Birmo can compare the Trump Fascist Dictatorship to George Orwell’s depiction of totalitarianism in the novel1984.

Needless to say, the old fashioned socialist Wendy Harmer did not stand up for the masses in the face of Mr Birmingham’s elitist declaration.

Verily, A Wendy Harmer Moment.


This overwhelmingly popular segment of Media Watch Dog usually works like this. Someone or other thinks it would be a you-beaut idea to write to Nancy’s (male) co-owner about something or other. And Hendo, being a courteous and well-brought up kind of guy, replies. Then, hey presto, the correspondence is published in MWD – much to the delight of its readers.

There are occasions, however, when Nancy’s (male) co-owner decides to write a polite note to someone or other – who, in turn, believes that a reply is in order. Publication in MWD invariably follows. There are, alas, some occasions where Hendo sends a polite missive but does not receive the courtesy of a reply. Nevertheless, publication of this one-sided correspondence still takes place. For the record – and in the public interest, of course.

As MWD readers are aware, The Guardian Australia’s deputy editor Katharine Murphy put out the following tweet on 6 June 2014 at 4.33 pm – when that issue of MWD was “hot off the press”. Here is Ms Murphy’s tweet: “Without in any way wanting to breach anyone’s human rights or free speech – why do people write emails to Gerard Henderson?” It’s a very good question. Thankfully, not everyone follows Katharine Murphy’s wise counsel – not even Ms Murphy herself (See MWD Issue 297).


 When he was communications minister in the Abbott government, Malcolm Turnbull argued that the ABC should split the roles of managing director and editor-in-chief.  This proposal was rejected by the ABC Board. So Michelle Guthrie is the public broadcaster’s managing director and editor-in-chief.  As was her predecessor Mark Scott.

Despite promises to the contrary, during his time as ABC managing director Nice Mr Scott rarely acted as editor-in-chief.  He tended to refer matters that would normally be regarded as the responsibility of an editor-in-chief down the ABC’s chain of command.  The evidence suggests that Ms Guthrie has adopted a similar stance.

As the following case study concerning the ABC’s handling of allegations against (now) Cardinal George Pell illustrates – Michelle Guthrie has chosen to pass on a letter directed to her as the ABC’s editor-in-chief to Alan Sunderland (ABC’s editorial director). Mr Sunderland falsely declared that Gerard Henderson’s letter had been directed to Ms Guthrie in her capacity as managed director.  Now read on.


Gerard Henderson to Michelle Guthrie – 17 January 2017

Dear Ms Guthrie

I am writing to you in your capacity as the ABC’s editor-in-chief. I understand that some time ago the ABC board declined to take up Malcolm Turnbull’s suggestion (when he was Communications Minister) that the roles at the public broadcaster of managing director and editor-in-chief should be split. Hence this letter, directed to you in your editor-in-chief role.

Please note that this is a request for information about ABC editorial policy. It is not a complaint and I do not want this matter referred to the ABC complaints unit – Audience & Consumer Affairs in Canberra.

As you will be aware, in recent years the ABC has given extensive coverage to Cardinal George Pell. This includes his appearances before the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – along with enquiries undertaken by Victoria Police as well as by 7.30 on behalf of the ABC.

My question relates to the ABC’s policy concerning corrections/clarifications either on-air or in the on-line transcripts of ABC programs. I am referring to situations where an explosive report is made on the ABC which appears to be either qualified or discredited after the event – without this also being reported on the ABC. Here are some examples:

▪ On 20 May 2015 this is how Mark Colvin introduced a segment on the Royal Commission:

Mark Colvin: The child sex abuse Royal Commission has heard potentially damning evidence today from a witness who claims that Cardinal George Pell offered him a bribe to keep him quiet about clerical sexual abuse in Ballarat. Another witness gave evidence that he told George Pell a priest was sexually abusing boys at St Patrick’s College Ballarat in 1974, but the then Father Pell ignored his plea for help. Both men have raised the allegations before, but this time they’ve done so under oath – and the Royal Commission says it will make findings on the issues raised. Samantha Donovan reports.

Ms Donovan’s report contained the following comment:

Samantha Donovan: The Royal Commission witness David Ridsdale bears a notorious surname. His uncle is the convicted paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale. David Ridsdale gave evidence today that he, too, is one of his uncle’s victims – having been sexually abused by him between the ages of 11 and 15. Mr Ridsdale told the Commission the abuse had had a devastating effect on him. And, when he was 25 in the early 1990s, he decided he would ring and tell the then Archbishop [sic] George Pell, who was a long-time family friend.

David Ridsdale: Nine AM on the 2 February 1993, I rang George from my home in Bentleigh. My partner at the time was sitting in the room when I made the call. I told George I had been abused by Gerald. His first reaction was: “Oh, right.”

Samantha Donovan: David Ridsdale told the Commission there was no shock in Archbishop Pell’s tone but he could sense anger in his voice and he was made to feel he had done something wrong. He said Archbishop Pell asked him what it would take to keep him quiet. Mr Ridsdale told the Commission he said: “Excuse me, George, what the fuck are you talking about?” He said Archbishop Pell said: “I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet.” Mr Ridsdale said his response was: “Fuck you George, and everything you stand for” – and he [Ridsdale] said he [Pell] then hung up the phone.

[Note, contrary to Samantha Donovan’s comment, in 1993 George Pell was an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne – he did not become an archbishop until 1996.]

Gail Furness SC, Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission, is not regarded as someone who has been soft on the Cardinal. However, in her submission to the Royal Commission, which is dated 10 June 2016 and which was released to the media on 31 October 2016, Ms Furness made the following comment:

1527   For these reasons, it is submitted that the evidence is not sufficient to establish that in their telephone conversation in early February 1993, Bishop Pell sought to bribe Mr Ridsdale to prevent him from going to the police or from going public with allegations against his uncle.

Ms Furness’ submission on this matter was not reported on PM – and PM’’s report of 20 May 2015 has not been clarified on the ABC’s transcript. The World Today returned to this same issue on 7 December 2015. This transcript also has not been clarified to take account of Ms Furness’ submission to the Royal Commission in 2016.

Mark Colvin’s report that George Pell ignored a plea for help in 1974 concerning child sexual assault is dealt with below.

▪ On PM on 7 December 2015, presenter Tim Palmer introduced a segment on the Royal Commission (re BWF) as follows:

Tim Palmer: A dramatic new allegation has been made against Cardinal George Pell at the child sex abuse Royal Commission today. A former Ballarat altar boy has given evidence that, in the 1980s, he overheard the then Father Pell telling a colleague that he thought a third priest, Gerald Ridsdale, was abusing boys again.

Samantha Donovan’s report contained the following statement:

Samantha Donovan: Cardinal George Pell has consistently denied he was aware priests were sexually abusing children during his time in the Ballarat diocese from the ‘60s to the ‘80s. Today, a new witness contradicted Cardinal Pell. BWE told the Commission that when he was an altar boy at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Ballarat in 1983 he overheard George Pell speaking to another priest, Father Frank Madden, about Father Gerald Ridsdale.

 BWE: “I think Gerry has been rooting boys again” [BWE alleged that George Pell said]. This remark shocked me to the core. It rattled me because of everything I had learned from my brothers about Gerry Ridsdale.

In her submission to the Royal Commission, Gail Furness SC made the following comment:

1476   It is submitted that Mr BWE presented as an honest witness. However, while it should be accepted that Mr BWE gave evidence of his honest recollection of events, the evidence is not sufficient to establish that the conversation Mr BWE recalled overhearing between Father Madden and Father Pell occurred in accordance with his recollection.

Ms Furness’ submission on this matter was not reported on PM – and PM’s report of 7 December 2015 has not been clarified on the ABC’s transcript to take account of Ms Furness’ submission to the Royal Commission.

▪ On The World Today on 8 December 2015, Eleanor Hall introduced a segment on the Royal Commission as follows:

Eleanor Hall: To the latest from the child sex abuse Royal Commission now – and another serious allegation has been made today against Cardinal George Pell. A former student at St Patrick’s College Ballarat has given evidence that he reported his brother’s sexual abuse, by a Christian Brother at the school, to Father George Pell in 1973. But he says George Pell argued with him and sent him away. Cardinal Pell has consistently denied having any knowledge of clerical sexual abuse when he was a priest in the Victorian town from the 1960s to the 1980s. Samantha Donovan is following the Commission hearings in Melbourne and joins us now. So Sam, who is this witness and what did he tell the commission this morning?

Samantha Donovan: Well Eleanor, BWF, as he is known to the Commission, was a student at George Pell’s old school, St Patrick’s college Ballarat, in the 1970s… Here’s how BWF described his visit to Father Pell in 1973.

BWF: I wanted some authority outside the school to know about what was happening there and someone who would be able to do something about it. I knocked on the door and someone answered the door. I cannot remember who it was. I asked to see Father George Pell and that person went to get him. I was angry about the situation and also frightened and nervous about approaching a high-ranking priest such as Pell. Because I was nervous, I just blurted out to Pell that Dowlan had beaten and molested BWG – and demanded to know what Pell was going to do about it. Pell became angry and yelled at me: “Young man, how dare you knock on this door and make demands.” We argued for a bit and he finally took me – he finally told me to go away and shut the door on me.

In her submission to the Royal Commission, Gail Furness SC made the following comment:

429     It is submitted that there is no doubt that Mr BWF went to the St Patrick’s presbytery and reported to a priest that BWG had been beaten and molested by Dowlan. However, while it is submitted that Mr BWF genuinely believes he spoke to Cardinal Pell, to whom Mr BWF reported cannot be resolved.

The World Today did not report Ms Furness’ submission with respect to BWF – and The World Today’s report of 8 December 2016 has not been clarified on the ABC’s transcript to take account of Ms Furness’ submission to the Commission.

▪ On 31 October 2016, in its coverage of Ms Furness’ submission to the Royal Commission, the ABC totally ignored the BWE and BWF matters. On 31 October 2016, PM presenter Peter Lloyd and reporter Rachel Browne focused instead on one matter where Ms Furness submitted that George Pell should have done more with respect to Fr Peter Searson in Melbourne. At the end of the report, Ms Browne mentioned briefly that Counsel Assisting had submitted that there was not sufficient evidence “to establish the then Bishop Pell sought to bribe Mr [David] Ridsdale” but then added:

Rachel Browne: But counsel has urged the Commission to find Cardinal George Pell would have known why paedophile priests including Ridsdale were being moved from parish to parish.

That was all. Ms Browne made no reference to Gail Furness’ submission with respect to the allegations of BWE and BWF. In other words, Ms Browne only reported Ms Furness’ negative submissions with respect to Cardinal Pell – the favourable submissions were ignored.

▪ In its coverage of the Royal Commission on 31 October 2016, 7.30 carried a report by Louise Milligan. On 27 July 2016 Ms Milligan had devoted the entire 7.30 program to reporting allegations highly damaging concerning Cardinal Pell which had not been made to the Royal Commission. The evidence of Ms Milligan’s report of 27 July 2016 indicates that she is critical of Cardinal Pell.

In her report on 31 October 2016, Ms Milligan only reported Counsel Assisting’s submissions which were unfavourable to Cardinal Pell – Ms Milligan ignored Ms Furness’ submissions concerning the David Ridsdale, BWF and BWE matters which were favourable to Cardinal Pell. 7.30  concluded its coverage with the following prejudicial statement:

Louise Milligan: The Royal Commission will decide next year whether it accepts the submissions of its own legal team. It is considered likely the Commission will make some adverse findings against the Cardinal. It could also privately recommend police press charges against George Pell.

Leigh Sales: Louise Milligan with that report.

The fact is that Ms Milligan has no idea whether the Royal Commission will either “make some adverse findings against the Cardinal” or “privately recommend police press charges against Cardinal Pell”. This is an unsourced opinion – not a report. Ms Milligan did not state who “considers” that the Royal Commission would make adverse findings against Cardinal Pell. This is an unsourced allegation.



An examination of the ABC’s coverage of the Royal Commission indicates that the public broadcaster has given coverage to the most serious allegations made against Cardinal George Pell – which were variously described as “potentially damning” (re David Ridsdale) and “dramatic” (re BWE). However, the ABC has virtually ignored the comments of Counsel Assisting where Gail Furness submitted that there is insufficient evidence to establish that Cardinal Pell (i) attempted to bribe David Ridsdale, (ii) told a fellow priest that he knew that Gerald Ridsdale was offending against children and (iii) got angry and told a young boy to go away when advised of Brother Dowlan’s offending. ABC listeners/ viewers have not been informed of these facts – despite ABC presenters and reporters highlighting the allegations when they were first made.

My question to you, as ABC editor-in-chief, is this. What is the ABC’s policy with respect to following-up stories in which serious allegations made against individuals have been widely reported on the ABC but where subsequently the veracity of such assertions has been challenged by a relevant authority?

As mentioned earlier, this is a genuine request concerning the public broadcaster’s policy with respect to corrections/clarifications. It is not an official complaint.

Yours sincerely

Gerard Henderson

cc:      Jim Spigelman AC QC

Chairman, ABC

Gaven Morris

Director of News, ABC


Alan Sunderland to Gerard Henderson – 27 January 2017

Dear Mr Henderson

Your letter to the ABC’s Managing Director, Michelle Guthrie, has been passed on to me.

The ABC has processes in place to ensure that any complaints about our editorial content are properly investigated and responded to, but I note that you are quite explicit in requesting that your letter not be treated in this manner as you are not making a complaint.

Therefore, I would simply make the following broad observations in relation to the ABC’s coverage of the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse:

      • The ABC has provided extensive coverage of the Commission across its news and current affairs programs and platforms;
      • Allegations have been accurately presented as allegations, and responses to those allegations have been sought and included in our coverage;
      • Submissions from Counsel Assisting have also been included in our coverage;
      • The Commission is ongoing and so is our coverage;
      • I don’t consider that the examples you provide are examples where “an explosive report is made on the ABC which appears to be either qualified or discredited after the event – without this also being reported on the ABC”;
      • I don’t share your broad conclusions about the nature of the ABC’s coverage.

In relation to your request for information about the ABC’s policy on corrections/clarifications, you can find all of the ABC’s editorial policies on this searchable public website:

To further assist, I would draw your attention to the specific editorial policy on corrections and clarifications and the more detailed guidance note on corrections and clarifications. Both documents can be found on the website.


Alan Sunderland

Editorial Director

Australian Broadcasting Corporation


Gerard Henderson to Michelle Guthrie – 10 February 2017

Dear Ms Guthrie

As you may recall, I wrote to you in your capacity as ABC editor-in-chief on 17 January 2017 seeking information about ABC editorial policy concerning corrections/clarifications either on-air or for the on-line transcripts of ABC programs.

I referred to a situation in which an explosive report is made on the ABC which is either qualified or discredited after the event – without this being reported subsequently on the ABC.  I provided four specific examples concerning Cardinal George Pell’s appearances before the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – as reported on the ABC.

As indicated in my letter, I was not making a complaint.  For starters, I do not have a personal complaint – I am simply asking you, as ABC editor-in-chief, to explain the public broadcaster’s editorial policy in this area.  In any event, according to the ABC’s own statistics, around 95 per cent of complaints which are investigated by ABC bureaucrats in Canberra are rejected – after a minimum delay of six weeks. There is not much point joining that (bureaucratic) queue.

Alan Sunderland (ABC’s editorial director) wrote to me on 27 January 2017 – advising that my letter to you of 17 January 2017 had been “passed on” from you to him.

My comments on Mr Sunderland’s letter – written on your behalf – are as follows:

      1. Alan Sunderland claimed that I wrote to you as “the ABC’s Managing Director”. This is false. As I specifically made it clear in my letter, I wrote to you in your capacity as the ABC’s editor-in-chief. I do not understand why Mr Sunderland was untruthful in this instance.
      1. Alan Sunderland did not respond to any of the four examples which I provided in my letter to you. Instead he chose to make what he termed some “broad observations” in relation to the ABC’s coverage of the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Needless to say, the ABC’s editorial director defended – without exception – the ABC’s editorial practices with respect to the Royal Commission. Quelle surprise.
      1. Alan Sunderland stated that “submissions from Counsel Assisting have…been included in our coverage” of the Royal Commission. However, he avoided the fact that Counsel Assisting’s submissions concerning the allegations made against Cardinal Pell by David Ridsdale by the person named “BWE”, and by the person named “BWF” were NOT included in the ABC’s coverage. Mr Sunderland’s claim in this instance is intellectually dishonest.
      1. Alan Sunderland made only one “broad” reference to the four examples cited in my letter to you. Here it is:

I don’t consider that the examples you provide are examples where “an explosive report is made on the ABC which appears to be either qualified or discredited after the event – without this also being reported on the ABC”.

This is mere denial.  David Ridsdale’s allegations against George Pell were described by PM’s Mark Colvin as “potentially damaging”. BWE’s allegations against George Pell were described by PM’s Samantha Donovan as “dramatic”.  And BWF’s allegations against George Pell were described by The World Today’s  Eleanor Hall as “serious”.

Such explosive introductions covered such (alleged) explosive matters as (i) bribery, (ii) covering up sexual child abuse and (iii) dismissing the claims of a boy who reported child sexual abuse. On any analysis, these were explosive allegations made against a senior cardinal in the Vatican.

Yet Mr Sunderland – writing on your behalf – claims that the ABC’s reports were not “explosive”. And that, consequently, the ABC acted correctly in failing to report Counsel Assisting Gail Furness’ submissions that not one of these allegations could be established.

      1. Alan Sunderland also failed to explain why in Louise Milligan’s story on 7.30 on 31 October 2016, Ms Milligan only reported Counsel Assisting’s submissions concerning Cardinal George Pell which were unfavourable to him – and ignored Gail Furness SC’s submissions which were favourable to Cardinal Pell. This is significant since ABC management made it possible for Louise Milligan to devote an entire 7.30 program to new untested allegations against Cardinal Pell which had not been made to the Royal Commission or, as I understand it, Victoria Police.
      1. A professional response by Alan Sunderland, on your behalf, would have involved an examination of the evidence. Mr Sunderland’s response was unprofessional in that he dismissed my analysis without providing any reasons of any kind. It’s called denial.  And it’s just lazy.

As Leigh Sales demonstrated on 7.30 last Tuesday, ABC journalists invariably get annoyed when they direct specific questions to, say, politicians and business figures – only to receive answers which pay scant regard to the points they were asked to address. It’s interesting to note that Mr Sunderland adopted this very tactic in his reply to me which was written on your behalf.



In his conclusion, Alan Sunderland drew my attention to bureaucratic documents by the ABC about corrections/clarifications.  However, a reading of this poorly written material does not explain why the ABC has not corrected or clarified the issues raised in my letter to you.

Yours sincerely

Gerard Henderson

PS: For the record, I point out that not one ABC presenter, producer,  editor or journalist has had the courage to report that in 1975 – when pedophilia was widespread – the ABC ran a program, hosted by self-confessed pedophile Richard Neville, that gave soft interviews to pederasts while ignoring the plight of their victims.

Likewise, no one at the ABC has seen fit to distance the organisation from the fact that, in 1975, former ABC chairman Professor Richard Downing declared that the community should understand that “in general, men will sleep with young boys” – despite the fact that such activity was a crime then, as it is now.

This matter is documented in K.S. Inglis This is the ABC which was written in co-operation with ABC management. No other media organisation gave such comfort to pederasts in the mid-1970s as the public broadcaster.  But no one in the contemporary ABC will do or say anything about the matter – despite the possibility that the victims of the pederasts (who were given soft interviews by Richard Neville in 1975) may be alive.

cc:      – James Spigelman AC

– Alan Sunderland

– Gaven Morris, Director of News



 In MWD Issue 347, Keith McLennan took up Gerard Henderson’s criticism of Drusilla Modjeska’s claim that the United States invaded Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1991.  Hendo responded, then Mr McLennan replied. And Gerard Henderson – being courteous – concluded the correspondence. Here’s the final bit:


Keith McLennan to Gerard Henderson – 3 February 2017

Hi Gerard,

Thank you for your reply. I’d say your argument boils down to: there was no invasion of Iraq during Desert Storm, firstly, because the objective of the operation was the liberation of Kuwait, and secondly, because upon its conclusion the Allied forces withdrew. But these points do not argue for there having been no invasion of Iraq. D-Day, the invasion of France, was also a campaign of liberation, and the Allied forces subsequently withdrew – but it was still an invasion, and is universally known as such. The invasion of Italy was the same. These days, the Germans regard even the Allied invasion of Germany as a campaign of liberation, as witness SBS’s series Germany’s War, in which the narrator commented on German soldiers advancing in the Battle of the Bulge, “These men were delaying their own liberation.”

I don’t think I have joined a unity ticket with Ms Modjeska, and certainly not under the influence of gin and tonic. I’m just not spooked by the word “invasion”. Granted, the invasion of Iraq is one of the lesser-known aspects of Desert Storm, but it’s not correct to say that no invasion occurred. I must say, preferring the terms “intervention” or “briefly occupying” to “invasion” reminds me of President Truman assenting to the characterisation of the Korean War as a “police action”. Ms Modjeska may not have a perfect understanding of “invasion”, but I think on this occasion her use of the term is really irreproachable.

Best wishes,

Keith McLennan, avid reader


Gerard Henderson to Keith McLennan – 10 February 2017

Thanks for your note.  It’s great to learn that you are one of lotsa MWD’s  “avid” readers.

In response to your points, I make the following observations:

▪  The D Day landings in 1944 were an invasion because France at the time was under occupation and controlled by the German High Command. The Allies invaded German controlled territory.

▪ The United States’ landing in Italy in 1943 was an invasion since Italy was at war with the Allies and governed by the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

▪ In 1945 Nazi Germany was invaded – by the Allies from the west and the Soviet Union from the east.  The Allies occupied West Germany for some years and the Soviet Union effectively occupied East Germany for some decades.  What was an invasion was also an act of liberation – but that’s not the point.

However, none of this has anything to do with what happened in February 1991 – when the Coalition of the Willing successfully occupied a small part of Iraq during its campaign to drive Saddam Hussein’s Iraq out of Kuwait. The Coalition of the Willing entered Kuwait with the approval of the Kuwait government-in-exile and with the endorsement of the United Nations.

Since you support the view of the Birchgrove based Drusilla Modjeska that the Coalition of the Willing invaded Iraq in 1991, I wonder whether you support her oh-so-Birchgrove view that it was “Bush’s war”.  Ms Modjeska’s reference, I assume, is to George H. W. Bush. But you never know – she may have had George W. Bush in mind since before Donald J. Trump got blamed for everything down Birchgrove way.

After all, as Second Half First makes clear, the lady is into lentils.

Keep Morale High

Gerard Henderson


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Until next time.