Does the ABC have a conscience or does it merely have expertise in what the vulgar call “arse-covering”? Witness the ABC-TV’s handling of the Pell vindication on its flagship 7pm news on Tuesday and Wednesday in Victoria, SA, Tas, WA, NT and ACT. The NSW and Queensland ABC-TV news teams were less culpable and/or less incompetent.
The Victorian team on Tuesday covered Pell’s acquittal without once mentioning that the High Court judges’ decision was 7-0 unanimous. This element surely by any professional journalist’s standards, was material to the story.
As I watched the comely Tamara Oudyn read her autocue, intuition alerted me that bad stuff was happening, professionally. Each time “Tam” and her sidekick, Sarah Farnsworth (a 15-year ABC veteran), mentioned the High Court decision, I shouted this addition to the screen, “Unanimous High Court decision!”
Wednesday morning I thought, “Damn them!” and at 6.50am fired off this formal complaint:
Subject: Material omission in Pell judgement by High Court
In the entire item on the High Court’s freeing of Pell, flagship ABC TV News 7pm Vic did not once say the seven High Court judges’ decision was ‘unanimous’. I am sure that if the decision was 4-3 the News would have mentioned it. But because the unanimity of the decision is severely damaging to the ABC’s long-standing crusade against Pell, it was deliberately omitted that the decision was unanimous.
It is impossible to believe that the word ‘unanimous’ was omitted for any other reason than bias.
The ABC charter says or implies that material facts should not be omitted.
Thanks for attending to my complaint.”
The equivalent Tuesday ABC-TV bulletins for NSW and Qld did not omit the word “unanimous”. Here’s how they opened:
NSW Anchor Juanita Phillips: In a unanimous ruling the High Court found the evidence didn’t establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Qld Anchor Matt Wordsworth: The judges were unanimous in their ruling, finding the evidence didn’t establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Naturally I became a keen observer of the next ABC-TV 7pm News (Vic) last night (April 8). Tam began,
On his first full day of freedom after being acquitted of child sex abuse, Cardinal Pell has travelled to a new abode in Sydney . His exact destination is still not known the day after the High Court unanimously quashed charges against him.
Goodness, this time it has taken “Tam” only 13 seconds to work in that elusive word “unanimous”. Could my complaint have galvanised ABC satraps into an urgent attempt to ameliorate their TV crime of 24 hours previous?
This morning I was half-way through this draft article when the ABC emailed me at 10.13am. Victorian News Editor Georgia Spokes spoke:
I am writing in response to your complaint regarding ABC News.
I agree, the fact the decision was unanimous should have been in the top story on the 7PM News on Tuesday. It was reported across other ABC platforms throughout the day and was included in last night’s 7PM coverage.
I have spoken to the reporter and producer and they have assured me the omission was not in any way intentional.
Has there ever been such a letter in the history of the ABC! Who is Ms Spokes? Says LinkedIn:
News Editor with more than two decades of broadcast and digital media experience. Accomplished journalist and editorial leader with strong management and communication skills.
The ABC likes to bill itself as Auystralia’s “most trusted” news source, so it was a pity that an “editorial leader with strong management and communication skills” didn’t prevent her team going to air Tuesday across most of Australia with an outrageous omission on one of the most important personal and legal stories in Australian history — our very own Dreyfus case, and one of particular sensitivity to the ABC’s internal agenda. Ms Spokes should tighten things up at Southbank or switch full-time to baking cupcakes. I’d be more charitable except that ABC-TV (Vic) has been green-leftist poison for decades.
Let’s look closer at Spokes’ team’s Tuesday output. The ABC show opened with a big graphic “George Pell Freed.” Then Tam began, “George Pell walks free after the High Court quashes his child sexual abuse conviction.”
Hey, Tam! About this bloke “George Pell”: is he a Cardinal? If so, would it be too much for the ABC to be courteous to a hideously wronged and innocent citizen and call him “Cardinal” George Pell? When I was a young reporter, circa 1960s, our style book said that legally accused males must be referred to as “Mr”, including alleged axe murderers and bank robbers. But “George Pell”, even after 405 days wrongfully in prison, mostly in solitary, was how the ABC opened about him.
“Tam’s” item began (and note the omission of “unanimous”):
Cardinal George Pell is free tonight after the High Court ruled there was a significant possibility an innocent man was wrongly convicted.
She then threw to reporter Sarah Farnsworth, who said:
The High Court ruled with that evidence [from the trial] a jury acting rationally ought to have entertained a doubt as to the Cardinal’s guilt… The court ordered his conviction be overturned.[i]
The Cardinal’s final recourse was last month’s High Court hearing leading to today’s acquittal.
The ABC item, as you would expect, is a melange of material selected to take attention off the monstrous injustice of Pell’s 405 days in gaol and to revive anything damaging and handy about the Catholic Church and its past child sex abuses, all of which are irrelevant to Pell’s criminal prosecution, unjust gaoling and vindication.
The producers’ tricks include hard editing of material favourable to Pell and long lingering on adverse material. For example, Pell’s all-important written statement on his release was chopped to 16 seconds, compared with a vast 158 seconds to ABC talking head Ben Knight, who threw everything conceivable into the anti-Pell and anti-Church narrative.
Farnsworth did a lovely ABC line, “His [Pell’s] friends have always believed Cardinal Pell was innocent” before cutting to Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli saying just that. Correction to Ms Farnsworth: Many people including legal experts, and not just “friends”, always believed, on the evidence and facts, that the Cardinal was innocent.
Archbishop Comensoli got 21 seconds. Conservative lawyer Greg Craven, Vice-Chancellor of Australian Catholic University, was chopped to nine seconds, managing only to get out, “The charge which always had a reasonable doubt a mile wide was pushed and hurried forward by sections of the media…” Down came the ABC chopper in mid-sentence so we’ll never know which media Craven was referring to. You’ll get an idea from the clip below, especially from two minutes in.
There was a great rollout of talking heads bagging Pell, the Church or both. Lisa Flynn of Shine Lawyers, speaking for the father of a deceased former choir boy in the case (17 seconds), said the father was “heart-broken” by the court’s decision. “He has expressed disgust at the outcome and he is really struggling to understand it and accept it,” Ms Flynn told ABC. The ABC didn’t mention that the same boy had denied being abused by Pell. And with all respect to the father, my own disgust is about an innocent Papal adviser being vilified as the worst of criminals. And via Victoria’s notoriously abased legal system, he was wrongly incarcerated for more than 13 months.
Then we get Farnsworth (13 seconds) peddling vaporware about possible civil actions against Pell: “The ABC understands at least ten civil cases are planned.” And I understand that at least ten civil cases are planned against Sarah Farnsworth, by my local stamp-collectors’ club.
To pad out the item and avoid including anything that might humanise the Cardinal and his withering ordeal, Tam spends 36 seconds on the arcane history of the prosecution, omitting of course VicPol’s public trawling for complaints to generate a prosecution from scratch.
The ABC’s Cheryl Hall reported, via Oudyn, that the case “continues to polarise public opinion”, a feeble weasel-worded excuse to continue the bagging of Pell). “His acquittal is a relief for his supporters,” Hall said. In ABC-thought, it’s not a relief to anyone else, like people who favour justice over injustice and prefer that prominent but innocent people are not jailed for 405 days. It’s just Pell’s cronies, like Tony Abbott (6 seconds), who are pleased. We now have only “friends” and “supporters” of the Cardinal who backed his innocence, according to the ABC, which at one point illustrated its coverage of the Child Abuse Royal Commission’s hearings in Ballarat with the photo below: George Pell, rock spider.
Then Hall brought us Chrissie Foster, parent of abuse victims. Hall: “The ruling has wounded those dedicated to supporting survivors of clerical abuse.” Why? Surely they prefer justice to injustice?
Hall next brought on Phillip Nagle, abuse survivor: “This [case] goes to that even when you have got a verdict, it can still be overturned.” Yes, Mr Nagle, the High Court can and does correct injustices.
Then the ABC brought on their favorite warhorse, ex-priest Paul Collins: “Many Catholics really have lost faith in the leadership of the church.” If you google “Paul Collins + ABC” you get 15,000 hits. Can’t you just feel the love? Collins gets two appearances totalling 26 seconds, which seems ample considering the ABC had only 16 seconds for Pell’s own statement. That is, Mr Whinging Ex-Priest’s views are worth 62 per cent more airtime than a Cardinal and Papal adviser unjustly gaoled for 405 days.
Continuing with the ABC’s “Look over there, a squirrel!” approach to Pell’s vindication, Hall continued, “Trauma services have already reported an influx of calls from child sexual abuse survivors since the High Court [unanimous] decision.” This is ABC smear-by-vague-proximity. Which trauma services? How many calls were in this “influx”? Three or 300? Why is this relevant to an innocent man’s historic vindication?
Next came the giant 158-second segment by ABC’s Ben Knight, who has no special church expertise (he’s just an ABC journo): “There are matters on the horizon that Cardinal Pell would be well aware of. One of course is those civil actions that you heard Sarah talking about earlier…” Huh? Vaporware upon vaporware? Who cares about Pell’s 405-day unjust prison trauma? Not the ABC, that’s for sure. Knight then waffles about what the Vatican might or might not do, including his absurd line, “The question is whether that investigation by the Vatican would start up again [now things aren’t sub judice].” He opines it won’t. Great deduction, Ben. What an ABC fixation on hypothetical ways to “get Pell”.
Knight then cranked up the ABC’s substitute narrative, about un-redacting bits of the Royal Commission about historic Ballarat church paedophiles, which were redacted because of the pending Pell case. Knight brings on yet another abuse survivor, Steve Blacker, a Risdale victim, saying, “Every day that report remains redacted is a day someone is potentially going to continue to suffer unnecessarily. That report needs to be released so we can move forward and get all that stuff out there.” This is fine, but is it appropriate in an item about a Cardinal having suffered 405 days of unjust gaol, and released a matter of hours previously?
The ABC had far from finished its wallow in anti-Catholicism. Knight: “Interestingly, Tam, tonight we have just seen a couple of people coming here to the monastery, one tying a ribbon to the front gate there which has become a widely recognised symbol of silent protest against abuse within the Catholic Church. But behind those gates is Cardinal Pell enjoying his first night of freedom in more than 400 days.”
Knight might better have said, “his first night of freedom in more than 400 days of unjust incarceration” but that would upset the ABC tone.
What to think? On the plus side, ABC Victoria’s news editor Georgia Spokes has been prompt and polite about my complaint, even if her claim about non-intentional omissions is at first sight preposterous. But indeed, such mistakes can happen (although always to benefit the Left) because an entire ABC news force is bathed in the same green-left Pell-hating mindset, with no devil’s advocate to say, “Hey, wait a minute, what about such-and-such?”
Tony Thomas’ new collection of essays, Come to think of it – essays to tickle the brain is available here as book ($34.95) or e-book ($14.95)
[i] The bulk of the program was syndicated from Victoria to all the other States’ ABC-TV News.