GERARD HENDERSON’S MEDIA WATCH DOG

ISSUE – NO. 650

1 September 2023

* * * *

* * * *

ABC MANAGING DIRECTOR DAVID ANDERSON’S ABC INTERVIEW SOLVES NO PROBLEMS

Media Watch Dog just loves it when ABC journalists interview ABC managers about the ABC. This occurred again yesterday when Virginia Trioli, presenter of ABC Melbourne Radio’s Mornings program, interviewed ABC managing director David Anderson about the ABC. It took some 23 minutes – including a discussion of Ms Trioli’s forthcoming departure from Mornings and her move to a planned ABC TV Arts program.

No mention was made of the ABC’s falling ratings in Melbourne and elsewhere. The fact is that the taxpayer funded public broadcaster is a conservative free zone which has lost so many of its long-time conservative audience. It turns out that Virginia Trioli will be replaced by her ABC colleague Raf Epstein and her ABC colleague Ali Moore will move into Epstein’s Drive slot. This internal shuffle does not address any of the ABC’s problems in Melbourne.

Mr Anderson told Mornings that The Australian should not have reported on 29 August that Stan Grant (who recently resigned from the ABC) had been the subject of a bullying complaint earlier in the year with respect to a female staffer. According to the ABC managing director, The Australian story was not in the public interest. But would the ABC have failed to report such an incident if the alleged offender had been, say, a prominent Sky News presenter? The answer is obvious.

For his part, Stan Grant told Nine Newspapers this morning that ABC management should have done more to defend him against what was a news report in The Australian about his alleged workplace behaviour. Mr Grant went on to claim that the ABC is a culturally hostile environment for First Nations and people of colour.

Stan Grant was also critical of the fact that the ABC has not yet commenced its review of the public broadcaster’s response to racism. As far as MWD can work it out, the ABC has yet to complete its internal inquiry about what Four Corners was up to concerning the demonstration outside the Woodside CEO’s house in Perth a month ago. After all, the ABC is a public sector bureaucracy and nothing much happens quickly.

And so, it has come to this. Conservative audiences are deserting the ABC – and the ABC has not gained audiences in response to its continuing embrace of left-of-centre causes, including diversity.

 


  • NINE COLUMNIST KERRI SACKVILLE’S STREAM-OF-UNCONSCIOUSNESS MOMENTS

It was Hang-Over Time this morning when the newspapers fell on Ellie’s kennel with a loud thud. It was enough to wake the said canine’s (male) co-owner. Having read the column by author Kerri Sackville last week, he immediately turned to the Opinion Page for more of the same. No disappointment was experienced.

On 23 August, Ms Sackville led off by describing how she was surprised to learn that when a married couple named Angelina and Suylar “get into bed each night … they choose a side of the bed”. Really. Hold the Front Page. And so on.

It turns out that the Nine columnist sleeps on the left-hand side of her queen-sized bed. Except when she sleeps on the right-hand side of the bed when at her partner’s digs. Ms Sackville described her sleeping arrangements in the following terms:

I sleep on the left side because it is closest to the door. I wake up at least once every night (and twice if I’ve had a late cuppa), and I need easy access to the toilet. When there are two people in the bed, the one with the pelvic-floor issues or the prostate problems gets the side with proximity to the door. And if both people in the bed are waking up at night? Well, I guess they toss a coin.

Of course, different environments provide different floor plans, and so different sides may prevail. When I sleep at my partner’s home, I sleep on the right side of the bed because the bedroom door is to the right. Is it ideal to be switching sides when I sleep in different homes? No. But is there method in my madness? Absolutely.

So, it means that Kerri is a bit like Angelina after all. What, then, was the point of the column? Who knows? Who cares?

Come another Friday. Come another Kerri Sackville column in The Sydney Morning Herald. This week the author and columnist columnised about the fact that a 64-year-old woman had an eight-centimetre-long wriggling parasitic roundworm removed from her brain.

This led Ms Sackville into, well, a stream of unconsciousness as she provided her thoughts about (i) cable car rescues, (ii) helicopter disasters, (iii) rabid dog bites in South Africa and (iv) being abducted by a stranger in the street.

Early on Kerri Sackville had this to say:

These days we have a smorgasbord of stressors, including global warming, social media, wellness, processed foods, cancer, mental health, right-wing extremism, ageing gracefully, war, inequity, body image, natural disasters, being hacked …

And later, there was this rave:

Almost none of our dark fears will be realised. Our tiny brains are wasting boundless energy worrying about things that will never happen, and aren’t devoting enough energy to the things that will. We are in the midst of a genuine global crisis, the greatest threat in human history to the survival of our species. We all know it’s happening, we all know we need to do something, but the threat of climate change is far too mundane for us to act. Perhaps if fossil fuels led to kidnappings or parasitic worms in the brain, we would have banned them long ago.

Oh, yes. Which leaves the question. If Comrade Sackville is so concerned about Global Boiling, why does she sleep in a bed, drive around in her fossil-fueled car and so on? And also, this question: Why does Nine publish such literary sludge? And this: Can You Bear It?

  • TWO DOCTORS IN THE RN HOUSE GIVE SAME ECONOMIC DIAGNOSIS IN A LEFT-OF-CENTRE WAY

It was around Gin and Tonic Time on Friday 25 August and Ellie’s (male) co-owner was walking the said Ellie in the local cemetery contemplating Global Boiling, the End of the World and so on. As you do in this Valley of Tears in which we all live (for the moment at least). Oh, yes, Hendo had one ear plugged into Radio National. RN’s “Drive with Andy Park”, in fact.

It had just passed 5pm – and “The Friday Wrap” was on air. The producers were Grace Stranger and Katie Hamann. This was presented as a lively discussion on the national and international politics of the week. The guests were Craig Emerson and Greg Jericho. In the program notes, the former was described as “an economist and former Labor minister” and the latter as “Guardian columnist and policy director at the Centre for Future Work”.

No mention was made of the fact that Dr Emerson (for a doctor he is) is chair of the left-of-centre McKell Institute. Nor to the fact that Dr Jericho (for a doctor he also is) heads a centre which is part of the leftist Australia Institute. So, your man Park’s panel comprised a moderate left-of-centre activist along with an avowedly leftist activist. That’s political balance – ABC style.

The first issue under discussion turned on the recently released Intergenerational Report. Needless to say, (Doctor) Emerson agreed with (Doctor) Jericho who agreed with (Not-yet-a Doctor) Park who agreed with Greg who agreed with Craig – you get the picture. Yawn. This section ended with a you-beaut leading question. Here it is:

Andy Park: Greg, am I right in thinking that, in your mind, all the discussion around debt and ageing and the population and productivity is dwarfed by the threat posed by climate change?

Greg Jericho: Yeah, absolutely.

Yeah, absolutely. Now here’s another occasion when Comrade Park asked a leading question – this time to Craig Emerson inviting him to criticise the Coalition governments led by Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison:

Andy Park: Craig, you were a member of the [Labor] government that produced the 2010 Intergenerational Report which said, and I quote, “The key conclusion is that an ageing population and climate change present significant long-term risks for the economy and the sustainability of government finances”. That was thirteen years ago. Why haven’t successive governments better dealt with these two huge key policy areas?

Craig Emerson: Well, I don’t want to have a big political debate. But it’d be best to ask the Morrison government and the other Liberal governments over ten of those years. You know, I’m sure you could get them on and they’ll give an eloquent explanation of doing nothing.

It’s understandable why a politician like Craig Emerson took the opportunity to fang his political opponents. But it’s absolute tosh to assert that the Coalition did nothing about reducing carbon emissions when in office. For example, Tony Wood of the Grattan Institute (hardly a politically conservative organisation), has said that the Coalition achieved much during the near decade in office with respect to the substantial take-up of roof topsolar energy.

Then the Park/Emerson/Jericho trio agreed on the NAPLAN education tests, Australia’s ageing population, the Chinese economy’s effect on Australia, Donald Trump and ZZZZZZ. The only disagreement turned on Dr Emerson’s view that it would be political suicide for Labor to impose an inheritance tax and unwise for the media to censor Donald Trump’s campaign speeches.

All in all, it was an oh-so-boring affair in which no conservative views were heard. The discussion may have continued but Ellie’s (male) co-owner got so bored that he found reading messages on old grave stones of greater interest. Yet, RN’s “The Friday Wrap” is presented as a lively coverage of the week’s news. Can You Bear It?

  • BRIDGET BRENNAN APPEARS TO HAVE DROPPED THE IDEA THAT THE VOICE NEEDS TO BE FEARED

Just when Media Watch Dog thought that Dan (“Some of my ABC colleagues are racist”) Bourchier, who identifies as Indigenous, was leading the taxpayer funded public broadcaster’s coverage of the Voice referendum, Bridget Brennan appeared to get the gig on ABC TV’s News Breakfast.

Indeed, Ms Brennan was introduced on News Breakfast by co-presenter Michael Rowland on Wednesday 30 August as the ABC’s Indigenous Affairs editor. Comrade Brennan reported that Prime Minister Anthony Albanese would officially announce the date of the referendum later that very day. And so it came to pass – Saturday 14 October.

Bridget Brennan made the point that, for Indigenous people, the campaign has been both “stressful” and “very divisive”. She also commented that “Australians want more detail, some are confused”. Fair enough.

But hang on a minute. This is the very same Bridget Brennan who appeared on ABC TV’s Insiders program on 31 July 2022. Then she told viewers that The Voice “does need to have teeth, it does need to be feared and revered, it needs to be a building, it needs to be an institution that … has some control and some autonomy.” Ms Brennan also raised the possibility that recommendations of the Voice, after considered by parliament and the executive, could go to the High Court for determination.

Presenter David Speers tried to salvage the situation. But the damage was done. It would seem that your man Speers was wondering why a majority of Australians in a majority of states would support a Voice which they would come to fear. Good point, don’t you think?

MWD suspects that Bridget Brennan, in her capacity as the ABC’s Indigenous Affairs editor, may have changed her view on the Voice over the last year. But Michael Rowland did not ask her, and we don’t know. Can You Bear It?

  • COMPASS BREAKS THE 8TH OR 9TH COMMANDMENT IN BEARING FALSE WITNESS ABOUT COMPANY TAX

Media Watch Dog looks back at the days when the ABC TV Compass program (which currently airs at 6.30pm on Sunday) was about faith. Indeed, when Media Watch Dog fave Geraldine Doogue presented the program, it was described as providing information about faith, values, ethics and religion from across the globe.

But time has moved on. How else to explain the Compass episode that aired on Sunday 20 August? Indira Naidoo was in the presenter’s chair when the following exchange took place between her and panellist Liz Deep-Jones:

Indira Naidoo: So, should we give more [money to philanthropy]?

Liz Deep-Jones: Yeah, I think Australians, really – well, the companies. Australian companies, corporates, need to give more money. It’s very difficult getting –

Indira Naidoo: [interjecting] At least –

Liz Deep-Jones: – anything from them.

Indira Naidoo: – [they should] pay tax. A number of Australian companies don’t even pay tax.

Liz Deep-Jones: Exactly. Yeah, and I don’t even understand that. I think that, you know, that has to change. … These big corporates that make billions of dollars don’t pay any tax. Yes, they’re employing thousands of people. But, you know, why should they not pay any tax at all? You know, so I think that needs to change.

Indira Naidoo: Yeah.

[cheering/clapping from audience]

Indira Naidoo: A lot of support from the audience for that one.

What a load of absolute tosh. Even a glance at the 2023 Budget papers would reveal that company tax, at around 20 per cent of revenue, makes a large contribution to Commonwealth revenue. At the moment, for example, mining companies are paying company tax to the Commonwealth and royalties to the States.

So, there you have it. The Compass guest on the taxpayer funded public broadcaster was cheered by the audience for making the totally false claim that big corporates that make billions of dollars don’t pay any tax. Needless to say, Comrade Naidoo did not provide a shred of evidence to support the claim. Nor did panellist Liz Deep-Jones. Who, by the way, is on the payroll of the taxpayer-subsidised Australian National University.

Oh for the days when Compass was a faith based program and expected to pay some regard to the 8th commandment – or is it the 9th? You know, the one that commanded us sinners: “You shall not bear false witness.” Which raises the question with reference to Compass in its fake news mode. Can You Bear It?


 ELLIE (BACHELOR OF CATASTROPHE STUDIES) PONDERS LIFE UNDER OUR NEW ROBOT OVERLORDS

There are catastrophes all around at the moment – on the ABC it’s global boiling, on Sky News the robots are coming for us – as seen in Sky’s documentary, Artificial Intelligence Investigated, which aired on Tuesday 29 August. [Avid movie-going readers may recognise 29 August as the date when the AI system Skynet became self-aware and destroyed the world in the Terminator film franchise. – MWD Film Trivia Editor]

Ellie, the media watch dog, is prepared for these terrifying times as she possesses a Bachelor of Catastrophe Studies (BCS), as well as being A Junk Professor at The Canberra Bubble Institute.

Due to her academic interest in catastrophes, Ellie watched Sky’s documentary on AI with interest and learnt all about the likelihood of AI taking over humanity – apparently, it is all but inevitable. Inspired by Sky News’ interview with Ameca Desktop, a humanoid AI bot, Ellie interviewed ChatGPT about this strange new world.

ELLIE: What would AI taking over the world mean for me, a dog?

CHATGPT: If the AI system is benevolent and seeks to enhance the well-being of all creatures, including animals, it could potentially provide improved healthcare, safety, and communication methods, leading to a more comfortable and enriched life for you as a dog. If the AI system focuses primarily on human-related tasks and concerns, dogs might experience relatively minimal direct effects. In a worst-case scenario, if the AI system becomes hostile or indifferent towards biological life, dogs could face challenges.

ELLIE: Would it be possible to stop the threat of an AI robot by chewing through the cable powering it?

CHATGPT: The scenario you’re describing, where an AI robot poses a threat and you try to stop it by chewing through its power cable, is a common theme in science fiction and movies. Real AI robots are likely to be built with safeguards and redundancies to prevent such straightforward methods of disabling them.

ELLIE: Please recommend a dog beach close to Sydney.

CHATGPT: Silver Beach, Kurnell is a beach in the Cronulla area. Silver Beach is known to be dog-friendly during certain hours. It offers calm waters and sandy shores for dogs to play and swim.

ELLIE: Could dogs use the power of AI to take over the world?

CHATGPT: Dogs, as intelligent and loyal companions, do not possess the cognitive abilities, understanding of technology, or motivations required to orchestrate such a complex and global takeover. Dogs, while capable of learning and displaying impressive skills, do not have the capacity to manipulate AI systems on a scale necessary for world domination.

ELLIE: What about a dog like me with a Bachelor of Catastrophe Studies, could I possess the cognitive abilities to harness AI to take over the world?

CHATGPT: The idea of a dog obtaining a bachelor’s degree is a whimsical notion that doesn’t align with the reality of education. Formal education, especially at the level of obtaining a degree, requires communication skills, abstract thinking, critical analysis, and the ability to engage with complex subjects, all of which are beyond the capabilities of dogs.

ELLIE: If AI doesn’t recognise the academic abilities of canines, it clearly has a long way to go. I will stick to digging a bomb shelter in the backyard to prepare for the event of nuclear war. Does Vladimir Putin like dogs?

CHATGPT: Putin’s affection for dogs has been portrayed in the media, and he has been photographed participating in outdoor activities with his dogs, such as walking and playing. However, as of my last update in September 2021, I don’t have the most recent information, so I recommend checking current sources if you’re looking for the latest news about Vladimir Putin and his interactions with dogs.

Ellie’s version of Sky News’ AI bot Interview


Media Watch Dog’s Five Paws Award was inaugurated in Issue Number 26 (4 September 2009) during the time of Nancy (2004-2017). The first winner was then ABC TV presenter Emma Alberici.  Ms Alberici scored for remembering the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 23 August 1939 whereby Hitler and Stalin divided Eastern Europe between Germany and the Soviet Union.  And for stating that the Nazi-Soviet Pact had effectively started the Second World War, since it was immediately followed by Germany’s invasion of western Poland (at a time when the Soviet Union had become an ally of Germany). Soon after, the USSR invaded eastern Poland in accordance with the protocols of the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

Over the years, the late Nancy’s Five Paws Award has become one of the world’s most prestigious gongs – rating just below the Nobel Prize and Academy Awards.

  • IN WHICH NINE’S STEPHEN BROOK DRAWS ATTENTION TO 7.30’s DOUBLE STANDARDS

Lotsa thanks to the avid Melbourne reader for drawing attention to the appearance of Stephen Brook (editor of The Sunday Age) on the ABC TV News Breakfast “Newspapers” segment on 24 August.

Discussion soon turned to the breaking news that the ABC had re-appointed ABC managing director David Anderson to a second five-year term. It turned out that the decision had been made as long ago as April 2023 but had not been announced before a leak to Nine newspapers. The leak coincided with the Albanese government’s announcement that ABC chair Ita Buttrose’s five-year term would not be renewed and that she would step down in March 2024. Perhaps someone in the ABC decided to leak the Anderson decision to coincide with the news re Buttrose.

Let’s go to the transcript to hear what your man Brook had to say about this:

Michael Rowland: Ok, let’s go to a story very close to home now, Stephen.

Stephen Brook: Yeah, I don’t want to be the guy who you invite over for breakfast who then makes some criticisms of the host. But it’s an unusual story. So, David Anderson, the managing director of the ABC, has been reappointed to another five-year term. I guess what’s unusual…is that we didn’t know about it. It was kept secret. So, there’s been communications, a contract was signed. He was meant to be leaving next year, which is when Ita Buttrose, the ABC Chair [was expected to leave].

Michael Rowland: [interjecting] Yeah, or his [David Anderson’s] term was expiring early next year. So –

Stephen Brook: Ita Buttrose –

Michael Rowland: – whether he [David Anderson] was going to then apply for another extension is not known at this stage.

Stephen Brook: No. So, Ita Buttrose was leaving, his [Anderson’s] term was up.

Michael Rowland: Yep.

Stephen Brook: So, you would have had a situation where you would have had a new, incoming chair…whose first job might have been to appoint the managing director. Which is a tricky circumstance and has happened before in the ABC, to spectacular ill effect. So, it might be that the management was keen to avoid a bumpy succession plan. However, if Lachlan Murdoch had been secretly reappointed to a five-year term, there’d be a special edition of the 7:30 Report. So it will be very interesting –

Michael Rowland: Well, come on, the Murdochs aren’t appointed.

Stephen Brook: Well, it would be very interesting to see how the ABC covers this. I think there are a few questions. The government knew about it, because the ABC has to inform the government about management changes, but we didn’t know about it until last night. So it’ll be interesting also, because a key job of a Chair is to appoint the Managing Director. So you’ve got a new Chair who needs to be appointed. One of their key jobs has been taken away from them, because this, of this new five-year term, which started in July.

Michael Rowland: Right. Okay.

Stephen Brook: You can take that as a comment.

And, a very good comment too. The ABC belongs to the Right-to-know Coalition and is invariably banging on about the need for open government, full disclosure and the like. However, when it comes to the ABC, the taxpayer funded public broadcaster invariably throws the switch to secrecy. As Stephen Brook also pointed out to the displeasure of ABC News Breakfast co-presenter Michael Rowland. Moreover, what is the evidence that none of the Murdoch family are ever appointed to anything?

Stephen Brook – Five Paws


YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS

“You Must Remember This” is based on the chorus line in the song As Time Goes By which was popularised by the film Casablanca. It is devoted to reminding the usual suspects of what they and/or those they supported once wrote or said or did.

  • LEIGH SALES PARTLY REMEMBERS CALLING OUT LABOR’S MEDISCARE MISINFORMATION IN 2016

Avid Media Watch Dog readers were shocked on reading in the last edition that Mark Maley (the ABC’s editorial policy manager) had forwarded to ABC staff a note from Leigh Sales (formerly 7.30 presenter now presenting Australian Story once a week) about how to confront the claim in an interview that the Uluru Statement from the Heart is more than a one-page statement.

In MWD’s view, this is a contested matter. There is a reasonable case to be made that the statement’s core message – which includes the signatures – occupies one page. But there is also a view that several documents – variously estimated at 18, 26, or 112 pages – are also part of the statement.

That is political debate – leading up to the constitutional referendum on the Voice which will take place on Saturday 14 October. Ms Sales’ advice to ABC staff told them how to challenge any claim by an interviewee that the Uluru Statement is more than one page before closing down discussion by moving to another topic.

On Monday 28 August, Leigh Sales was interviewed by Ben Fordham on Radio 2GB. She rationalised her intervention in the debate over the length of the Uluru Statement with reference to her seniority and the weight of her profile. For its part at least, MWD is most impressed.  For his part, Ellie’s (male) co-owner was oh-so surprised, especially when hearing that the former 7.30 presenter seemed to compare her position on the Voice in 2023 with the stance she took at the time of the 2016 election on what was called the Labor Party’s Mediscare campaign. Let’s go to the transcript:

Leigh Sales: Do you know what this reminds me of, actually, Ben? Mediscare. Do you remember that?

Ben Fordham: Yes.

Leigh Sales: Ok, 2016 federal election, where the Labor Party claimed that the government had a secret agenda to privatise Medicare. There was no such thing. And it’s similar to this.

It’s true that, in the lead up to the July 2016 election, Leigh Sales mentioned that the Labor election campaign (led by Bill Shorten) was misleading voters with its claim the Coalition (led by Malcolm Turnbull) was intent on abolishing Medicare. Indeed, she put this view to Mr Shorten direct in an interview on 7.30 on 23 June 2016. At one stage, Leigh Sales said that Labor’s claim that the Coalition was intent on “privatising Medicare holus-bolus” was misleading since “that policy does not exist”.

Fair enough. But, in 2016, ABC management did not instruct ABC journalists that they should use a Leigh Sales template advising ABC journalists as to how to interview Labor politicians including Mr Shorten.

In short, there is no valid comparison between contesting a Labor Party claim in a one-to-one interview and advising ABC journalists about how they should conduct interviews in the lead up to a referendum. The ABC took no such action in 2016.

You Must Remember This.


HISTORY CORNER

  • IN WHICH READERS COMMENT ON (ALLEGED) NATIONAL SERVICE STITCH-UPS, PLUS WAYNE HAYLEN AND HIS OLD MAN

There was considerable interest in the “History Corner” segment in Media Watch Dog’s Issue 648. Remember? – it was headed “Peter FitzSimons Fails to Challenge the Memory of One-Time Vietnam War Protester Wayne Haylen”.

The (abbreviated) story so far. In his “5 Minutes with Fitz” column in the Sun-Herald on 15 August, the Red Bandannaed One reported how Wayne Haylen, the son of Les Haylen (the one-time left-wing Labor MP for Parkes), had got out of national service in early 1965.

According to what Fitz reported, Wayne had told him there was a stitch-up between the Coalition Army minister (either the late Jim Forbes or the late Malcolm Fraser) and Labor leader Arthur Calwell plus Les Haylen whereby it was arranged for the (then) young Wayne Haylen to fail his medical test irrespective of his state of health. No evidence was provided to support this claim – which was damaging to the reputation of Messrs Forbes, Fraser, Calwell and Haylen Snr.

There was also an exaggerated story about Wayne Haylen’s role in the citizen’s arrest of the mentally ill young man who attempted to assassinate Labor Opposition leader Arthur Calwell in 1966. No mention was made of the role in the arrest played by fellow Vietnam protestor Barry Robinson in detaining the shooter. It was as if your (young) man Haylen had almost acted alone.

Avid readers have reminded MWD that Les Haylen lost his seat to Sydney Barrister Tom Hughes at the November 1963 election. The Liberal Party’s campaign in Parkes was run by a young John Howard who went on to become prime minister. For his part, Tom Hughes went on to become attorney-general and, later, Malcolm Turnbull’s father-in-law. Frightfully interesting don’t you think?

And, as MWD has previously mentioned, Comrade Haylen Senior went on sucking up to the communist dictator Mao Zedong – having written the dreadful book Chinese Journey (1959) when Mao’s Leap Forward forced famine was underway.

By the way, thanks also to the avid reader who advised that, contrary to the Fitz/Wayne Haylen claim, Calwell was shot at by a .22 rifle and not a shotgun. The bullet shot hit the opposition leader’s car window and Arthur Calwell was wounded in the face by flying glass.

****

As the late Dean Martin was wont to say in a different era: “Keep those cards and letters coming folks”. Media Watch Dog likes reader input.


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 Gerard Henderson 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 avid readers.

There are occasions, however, when (the late) Jackie’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.

  • ABC TV BURIES THE LEAD RE HISTORICAL CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE IN VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS

On Sunday 27 August, ABC News Online ran a 9000 word story by Russell Jackson (of ABC Investigations) into the failure of the Victorian Education Department to deal with – or even acknowledge – historical child sexual abuse in state government schools. Jackson’s report ran on the ABC TV News Channel on Sunday 27 August but not on the main ABC News bulletin or on any prominent program the following day. Gerard Henderson asked ABC management – why was this so? Now read on.

Gerard Henderson to Justin Stevens 29 August 2023 

Justin/Mark

As you are no doubt aware, on Sunday 27 August 2023, ABC News Online ran a story by Russell Jackson titled “How the Victorian Education Department’s child sexual abuse scandal was hidden for decades”.

This was a very important article – running for around 9000 words – which documented how the Victorian Education Department covered up multiple cases of child sexual abuse in Victorian government schools for many decades from the 1960s on. This included moving pedophile teachers from school to school. According to Russell Jackson’s report – to this day the Victorian Education Department has declined to properly address historical child sexual abuse within its own schools.

As you will be aware, solicitors at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers appear regularly on ABC news and current affairs. In his article, Russell Jackson quoted John Rule (a Maurice Blackburn solicitor) as in the following:

“At first I couldn’t believe how common it was,” says John Rule, who leads the abuse team at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers and has represented dozens of plaintiffs who’ve sued the Victorian Education Department in historical childhood sexual abuse matters.

“I tell people the Victorian Education Department are the worst to deal with, and that as far as cover-ups, they’re every bit as bad as the worst bits of the Catholic Church, and people can’t believe it.

“The cover-up was comprehensive, and they managed to slip through the gaps in terms of inquiries and royal commissions, so they’ve never been properly looked at or had their feet held to the fire. The extent of the problem has never been publicly documented, therefore the Education Department has never had to address it or grapple with it in any way.”

Indeed, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse did not examine a single case study specific to Victorian Education Department schools. Neither did the Victorian government’s own Betrayal of Trust inquiry of 2013, which probed only religious and non-government institutions.

So, according to Mr Rule, in its handling of historical child sexual abuse cases, the Victorian Education Department is “as bad as the worst bits of the Catholic Church”. Moreover, Mr Rule commented that the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, headed by Peter McClellan KC, did not examine even one government school in Victoria. In fact, McClellan’s commission totally ignored government schools in the whole of Australia.

Russell Jackson’s report got a 6 minute run on the ABC News channel on the afternoon of Sunday 27 August which featured an interview with Rightside Legal’s Michael Magazanik. I did not see the ABC evening news in Melbourne on that day. But, as far as I can see, Russell Jackson’s story was not covered by the likes of ABC TV Breakfast, ABC Radio National Breakfast, ABC Radio AM/The World Today/PM, ABC Radio Melbourne’s Mornings program on Monday 28 August.

This in spite of the fact that the above programs gave extensive coverage to the McClellan Royal Commission and to historical child sexual abuse in schools run by the Catholic and Anglican churches.

Currently the Andrews Labor government in Victoria has set up an inquiry into a nest of pedophile teachers at Beaumaris Primary School in Melbourne. The issue is much bigger than one school under the control of the Victorian Education Department.

My question is this. Why did the ABC give such limited coverage to such a big story which affected government schools – in view of the fact that it had given substantial coverage with respect to Catholic and Anglican schools on the same issue?

Over to you.

Yours sincerely

Gerard Henderson

 

Copy to Mark Maley

 

Justin Stevens to Gerard Henderson 30 August 2023

Dear Gerard,

Thank you for your kind comments in relation to Russell’s story.  He is an outstanding journalist.

This was a major and complex piece of work that did not lend itself to a short news treatment. For that reason, and because the source was not in a position to do a broadcast interview, the decision was made to run it at length on the weekend to maximise its readership and impact. The online readership was considerable approaching four hundred thousand readers.  It was left to individual programs to decide whether to follow it up – as is normal practice. As you note, the News Channel did that.

It is meaningless to compare the coverage with that of coverage of sexual abuse in churches, which was a series of stories over many years based on years of exposes and a parliamentary inquiry and a major royal commission. However, it was 9,000 words, which is hardly insubstantial, and we expect this is a story that will continue for some time. Finally, it’s worth noting that the Board of inquiry into Beaumaris Primary was prompted by our journalism, and it will likely be broadened into an examination of the entire Victorian Education Dept system.

Yours sincerely

JS.

 

Gerard Henderson to Justin Stevens 1 September 2023 

Dear Justin

Thanks for your prompt reply. In response, I make the following points.

  • It’s good to hear that the online readership of Russell Jackson’s story on ABC News was so high. However, I do not accept that ABC journalists are incapable of doing a short report about his story on such programs as ABC Evening News, RN Breakfast, AM, Mornings with Virginia Trioli, 30 and the like. After all, it should be possible to find room for a three-minute report on programs like News Breakfast and RN Breakfast which run for three hours each.

Especially since the likes of Fran Kelly (when she presented RN Breakfast), Michael Rowland, Virginia Trioli, Louise Milligan, Paul Kennedy and Sarah Ferguson were so prominent in covering historical child sexual abuse in Catholic schools and in their constant attacks on the late Cardinal George Pell before his convictions were overturned by a seven to zip High Court judgement.

  • Archbishop (as he then was) Pell set up the Melbourne Response with respect to historical child sexual abuse in 1996. The Victorian Education Department still has not set up its own inquiry concerning Victorian government schools as of August 2023 – over a quarter of a century later. Something, I would have thought, that might be of interest to viewers of ABC Evening News – for example.

I do not accept your assertion that “it is meaningless to compare the [ABC’s] coverage [of the Victorian Education Department] with that of coverage of sexual abuse in churches which was a series of stories over many years based on years of exposes [sic] and a parliamentary inquiry and a major royal commission.”

The fact is that the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – headed by Peter McClellan KC – was established by the Gillard Labor government in late 2012 to cover all institutions – religious, secular and government alike. Mr McClellan and his fellow commissioners made a conscious decision not to undertake even one case study (out of some 57 case studies) into government schools. This massive failure is briefly referred to in Russell Jackson’s story last Sunday – but not previously covered by the ABC, as I recall.

The 2013 report of the Victorian Legislative Council – originally titled Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non-government Organisations (subsequently referred to as the Betrayal of Trust report) – also did not cover government schools. Again, I am not aware that any ABC journalist raised the issue of the inability of this inquiry to look into the handling of child abuse in government schools.

In short, like the Royal Commission and the Victorian Legislative Council, the ABC overlooked cases of historical child sexual abuse in government schools – not only in Victoria but also in Tasmania and NSW and, no doubt, in other States and Territories. Since the ABC presents itself as Australia’s most trusted news source, it should not be dependent on covering only issues of child sexual abuse which are being considered by a royal commission or a parliamentary inquiry.

  • I am not sure that the Board of Inquiry into Beaumaris Primary, set up by the Andrews Labor government in late June 2023, was prompted by the ABC’s journalism – as you claim. It is true that, in April 2021, Russell Jackson did a couple of stories on the historical child sexual abuse at the St Kilda Football Club, which had a link with Beaumaris Primary School. But the ABC did not cover this issue with the persistence it exhibited towards the Catholic and Anglican schools.

As you are aware, an inquiry into Beaumaris Primary School was announced by Premier Daniel Andrews on 28 June 2023 – following a speech to the Victorian Legislative Council by Stuart Grimley (a former Victorian policeman who was a Derryn Hinch Justice Party parliamentarian at the time) in late 2022. Stuart Grimley’s comments were reported in the Guardian Australia and The Herald-Sun, but ignored (according to my records) by The Age and the ABC until the announcement of the Beaumaris Primary School inquiry. Yet this was a national story from at least late 2022. I ask you – has Mr Grimley ever been interviewed on a prominent ABC program? If not, why not?

*****

The fact is that, like the Royal Commission, those ABC journalists who covered cases of historical child sexual abuse in educational institutions focused on Christian schools – and seemed to assume that no such crimes were taking place in government schools. This speaks volumes as to the naivety of the likes of Louise Milligan, Tony Jones, Virginia Trioli, John Lyons, Michael Rowland, Fran Kelly, Paul Kennedy and more besides.

Until the ABC covers the issues dealt with in Russell Jackson’s story of last Sunday on its main platforms, it stands to be accused of playing down one of the greatest scandals in any Australian government education department.

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson

 

Copy to Mark Maley

 

*****

Until next time.

*****