Aboriginal community fights back - against the ABC
If you had been following the saga of how the media reported the beat-up about child abuse and neglect in Central Australian Aboriginal communities, you may be aware of the controversy surrounding whether ABC TV's Lateline programme acted fairly in its reporting of how a paedophile' acted with impunity in a particular community.
While some of the controversy revolved around the identity and alleged links between an anonymous informant interviewed by Lateline and Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough, little attention has been paid to how such negative media attention affects the Aboriginal communities portrayed. Until now. One of this blog's readers has sent me a tip-off of this report from Crikey.com about the Lateline controversy:
Residents of Mutitjulu, the community at the centre of the June 21 Lateline broadcast on s-xual abuse, have lodged a formal complaint (read the full document here) with the ABC today, accusing the current affairs flagship of an “extraordinary attack on the community” that has “continued with a series of self-serving reports and adverse comments".
Dorothea Randall, a community member and one of the signatories to the document, told Crikey that the Mutitjulu community feels defamed and betrayed.
Randall told Crikey that since the Lateline broadcast aired, the community’s funds have been frozen, an administrator has been appointed and Mutitjulu's reputation is in shreds.
“A lot of it's not true, that’s where we’re shocked,” Randall told Crikey. “And it’s very stressful out here because it’s affecting the people emotionally..."
"We’ve just had enough of it and …no-one ever came out here…," says Randall. "We’re just angry…We had no idea the story was going to air, it was a shock.”
Some of the charges in the 55 page document include:
...Lateline used old file footage of Mutitjulu without identifying it as such, including old vision of petrol sniffing, a scourge which has now been eliminated from our community.
...Lateline made no attempt to visit the community of Mutitjulu before or after the broadcast of its June 21 story. To exacerbate this, Lateline falsely claimed publicly that it had unsuccessfully sought permission to enter Mutitjulu on several occasions…
...The alleged paedophile at the centre of the Lateline program was forced out of the community by residents and his employer long before Lateline aired its story (at least seven months). This fact was well known to Lateline…
...Lateline misled its viewers by falsely describing Greg Andrews as a “former youth worker” in its original June 21, 2006 broadcast. Mr Andrews has never worked as a youth worker neither at Mutitjulu nor anywhere else, a fact eventually conceded by Lateline and Mr Andrews…
...Some of the witnesses portrayed in the Lateline story have not lived in Mutitjulu for many years but are depicted as people who are aware of the situation on the ground today, when clearly they are not…
Of public servant Gregory Andrews, who was granted anonymity by Lateline and labelled a "youth worker", Randall said, “Greg never lived here, we hardly saw him…”
“One family member couldn’t believe what Greg did to her…she trusted him… she said he said stuff out of context, made it a mixed story… she felt betrayed…she recognised pieces of her story…but they were taken out of context,”says Randall.
Lateline Executive Producer Peter Charley told Crikey this morning: "I can’t comment until I see the complaint in full but I totally and utterly stand by the story that Lateline put to air and I reject any assertion that we’ve breached codes of ethics or acted in any self serving way in what was a genuine and important story that needed to be told.”
I wonder how the ABC will handle this complaint. I do know that this whole saga has severely dented by trust in Lateline and its compere, Tony Jones. (I've italicised where Crikey quotes from the complaint document.) You can find that Crikey story online here. If you want more of a backgrounder, the National Indigenous Times (who first broke the story of the identity of the anonymous Lateline interviewee, and alleged connections to government) pursued the story.