In today’s Australian, former Northern Territory attorney-general and minister for correctional services John Elferink reflects on the ABC beatup by Four Corners that prompted Malcolm Turnbull’s snap decision to initiate a Royal Commission into youth detention– an inquiry that has so far consumed $50 million and prompted not a single case recommended for prosecution (emphasis added):
The ABC says [Turnbull] would not have made his decision based solely on its report. Actually, yes, he did.
During conversations with Four Corners, I sought and repeatedly was given assurances that the highest ethical standards were being applied. In the opinion of other news outlets, trusting the ABC was a rookie mistake. That trust was why it was given the extraordinary access.
Those ethical standards can be found in the ABC’s Code of Practice under the heading Impartiality and Diversity of Perspectives. I believe Four Corners failed all five guidelines.
The ABC is a federally funded public service organisation. It withheld information from a Prime Minister and based on partial information the Prime Minister made a call to spend $50m. Since that time, the ABC has declared its footage unavailable; attempted to suppress evidence before a royal commission; and, when asked, has refused to investigate itself. Even an ABC journalist referred to it as a “hatchet job”.
Perhaps worth noting is reporter Caro Meldrum-Hanna’s route from journalism student at the University of Technology Sydney to ABC newsroom and “multiple Walkleys, a Human Rights Commission Media Award and … and the 2017 Logie Award for uncovering the horrific abuse of children in juvenile detention centres in the Northern Territory in her Four Corners story ‘Australia’s Shame’, which prompted a Royal Commission just hours after broadcast.”
Accepting an alumni award earlier this year for her journalistic triumphs, Ms Meldrum-Hanna gushed her gratitude to former UTS journalism head and veteran radical Wendy Bacon, who “set me up with a job at the ABC.” She continued:
“Unfortunately journalists have poor reputations – muckrakers, tricksters, fake news! – but the good ones outweigh the bad. I get my strength from giving a voice to the voiceless, holding power and authorities to account, and making change.
“Journalists can improve or destroy people’s lives. It’s a big responsibility that I take very seriously…”
That bit about journalism improving or destroying people’s lives, John Elferink would likely not demur.