Journalists covering the murder of police accountant Curtis Cheng in Parramatta on October 2 are working in a climate of fear because of death threats. Chris Reason, senior reporter for Seven News, Sydney said this last night in a speech to about 100 media people and friends at a Melbourne Press Club function at the RACV.
Reason and his cameraman, Greg Parker, provided live coverage throughout the Man Monis siege at the Lindt Café in Martin Place last December.
“Some media outlets are receiving direct physical violent death threats, specific threats not to go near Parramatta Mosque, where the 15-year-old went to pray. At one point a senior member of the Daily Telegraph turned up there with two flak jackets,” Reason said.
“The situation is deadly serious among journalists covering the story in Western Sydney. People have been seen videoing journos in their cars. Journos and cameramen are doing their job more cautiously, but they continue covering this critical story well.”
The Press Club function to legendary Age editor Graham Perkin, killed by a heart attack 40 years ago at the age of just 45. Reason last March was named 2014′s Graham Perkin Australian Journalist of the Year. He told the audience last night, “This is the sort of story Graham Perkin would have chased down hard and fearlessly.”
The Age had no coverage of Reason’s talk this morning, nor did the Herald Sun, The Australian or ABC, at least according to online searching. Last night’s audience was a galaxy of past and present editors, investigative journalists, star columnists and commentators, and household-word media personalities.
Interviewed by Quadrant after the function, Reason said Sydney reporters, as far as he knew, were continuing to “keep going with their work” and their tone was not affected.
“The Telegraph received direct threats to their journalists and the word spread from there. There had been an explicit threat to a young female Tele journo that she would have her arms ripped off and she would be murdered. It was very violent language, she told us.
“Counter-terrorist operators in Sydney intercepted messages between certain groups threatening and targeting journos and media. The Telegraph was one of them, AAP another. Executives organised precautions. Most media organisations like (channels) 7 and 10 ended up hiring private security guards while covering the story in the first week.
“It’s an atmosphere of intimidation and fear. I have never seen anything like it in Sydney in 20 years. In my organization there’s been some serious conversation on how to cover it, how to approach the story, how to protect ourselves. Some cameramen are worried, some journos worried. I don’t know what’s being done about security at people’s homes.
“We have not talked about it publicly. No reporter has talked or written about it in Sydney.”
A sample of the death threats being received by journalists was provided, by coincidence, yesterday by Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt. An email he received and reproduced on his blog reads:
“hi there again you arrogant piece of shit!!! You f—ng Jewish dog, stop hiding behind your f—d up articles and office and say your shit in Lakemba if you had any balls, which you don’t. You’re a piece of shit that gets your frills by bragging about Islam every time. May Allah the Almighty God bless someone to burn you and have your head on display without your body intact and feed you to dogs. Burn in HELL.”
The death threats to journalists in Sydney and Melbourne come against the backdrop of the murders of 11 Charlie Hebdo staffers in Paris in January.
The media anxiety in Sydney contrasts with the insouciance with which the media deal with organized crime and bikie gangs. Underbelly-style reports are often treated as low-life comedy. Crime groups are aware that killing a journalist would be stunningly bad for business. This was demonstrated when a drug-syndicate hitman killed whistleblower Donald Mackay in Griffith in 1977. Mackay was a furniture retailer, not a journalist, but keen to expose corruption.
By contrast, the murder of a journalist would be “good for business” in the eyes of hard-line Islamists, even more so than a random slaying. When ISIL beheaded journalists Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff in Syria a year ago, ISIL posted triumphant videos of the acts as a warning to America.
At last night’s Press Club function, a former Age editor told Quadrant Online that tensions with the Muslim community were fiercer in Sydney than in Melbourne. In Sydney, he said, it was easy to find marked anti-Muslim sentiments, especially in the western suburbs where he divined a sense of displacement because of refugees taking up scarce housing and government services including health. It was much the same syndrome exploited by nationalist Pauline Hanson, he opined. “You don’t get those sentiments in Northern and Eastern Sydney,” he said.
Quadrant Online was slightly taken aback by this analysis, not least because Reason in his speech described Islamist threats but said nothing about any anti-Islamism.
Tony Thomas blogs at No BS Here (I Hope)