Friday, September 01, 2006

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 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.



At September 02, 2006 6:23 pm, Blogger cristy said...

I knew some people who were impacted by the Lateline story (in a professional sense) and have had the impression that something was not right about the way that the reporting was done.

I am glad that the community has lodged a formal complaint, but quite sorry to see more evidence to support my growing unease about what it says about the integrity of Lateline's reporting. I have always really respected the program in the past.

At September 02, 2006 8:58 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Crikey people get quite upset when referred to as "", which is an American site. They are "".

At September 26, 2006 5:53 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am surprised and disappointed that the central thesis of the Lateline story has been lost in a politically-inspired campaign against Gregory Andrews. Many involved in the 'get Andrews' vendetta appear to have forgotten that children were being sexually abused in Mutitjulu by a known, predatory pedophile and that several calls for help went unheeded for years. I see no reference to these depraved and criminal acts in any of the huffing and puffing that's followed the Lateline coverage.

Peter Charley
Executive Producer

At September 26, 2006 6:22 pm, Blogger Mark Lawrence said...

Peter, Thanks for taking them time to read my blog post on this matter, and for sharing your comments. You may have noticed that the main thrust of my post was reporting (albeit second hand) the news that the Mutitjulu Aboriginal community had lodged a complaint against Lateline's handling of the story about there being a "predatory pedophile" operating in Mutitjulu.

That covers their concerns about how the information provided by Gregory Andrews was used by Lateline. I have not engaged in a 'get Andrews' witch-hunt. I'm not fond of Salem's techniques.

I do take issue, however, with your comments that with the 'huffing and puffing' over the 'Andrews' matter that people neglectd the central issues. Here, I draw a distinction with you. I don't believe that the evidence has shown that a "predatory pedophile" operated with impunity in Mutitjulu – thus throwing into question Lateline's journalism (not withstanding your complaint that people neglected the issue).

I do belive that many, many Indigenous people have been working hard to prevent family violence, child abuse and neglect in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities for a long time. They just don't get onto Lateline or covered in blogs.

Peter, I find it odd that you wish to defend Lateline's reputation on this matter through engaging with blogs such as mine, though I do welcome your contributions. I like the direct conversation, and admire your willingness to engage on the matter.

However, what I really want you and your team to do is to win back my - and many other viewers' - trust and respect in Lateline by providing well researched, well supported, evidence-based broadcast journalism that appreciates how your words and images marks the lives of all you touch - for better or for worse. And avoids Lateline becoming a patsy in political games.

All the same, I do believe that Lateline has a case to answer regarding the Mutitjulu community's complaint. I look forward to seeing how that complaint is handled and what response Lateline makes to the ABC about it. And how the Mutitjulu community responds to that.

At September 26, 2006 6:38 pm, Blogger Mark Lawrence said...

Oh, and if anyone else reading this thread is interested in the issues, the SMH has this good article by Kia Mistilis showing what the women of Mutitjulu think about the Lateline story:

'Mutitjulu women hit back at pedophilia claims'
"Ms Wilson's allegations that a pedophile is still at large in Mutitjulu and that the community is complacent about pedophilia are false, the women insist. They refer to the joint Northern Territory police and Family and Community Services investigation, which interviewed 300 people at Mutitjulu after the Lateline program and found no evidence of pedophilia. It found evidence of petrol being given to children but not of it being provided in exchange for sex."

I quote it here to offer a bit more about why the community was so upset at Lateline's reporting.


Post a Comment

<< Home