Right to know? Phooey!

acl bomb vanNature abhors a vacuum and, once upon a time, journalism did too. Alas no longer, or so one gathers from the way an event that unfolded late of a Canberra evening a little over a month ago has been allowed to slide quietly down the memory hole.

Perhaps your memory is sharper than authorities might wish and you can still recall the incident, which made front pages from Cronulla to Cottesloe: a car loaded with gas cylinders rammed the headquarters of the Australian Christian Lobby and exploded when the driver struck a match. We we must assume it was a match, as details of his ignition system, like so many other still-veiled aspects of the case, have been withheld from public consumption by authorities  honouring the public’s right to know mostly in the breach.

Who is this midnight bomber? We don’t know because the ACT police refuse to release his name and details.

How did the grievously burned bomber stroll unnoticed 5kms through the national capital when its streets were abuzz with police cars and emergency vehicles, all dashing about in response to the explosion? A badly burned man in tattered, smoking rags attracted no attention? How could this be?

And most intriguing — although not, apparently, to the editors of the Canberra Times, or any other mainstream news organ for that matter — what was the bomber’s motive?

Some weeks ago now, Quadrant Online placed a call to the ACT wallopers in search of a few basic facts. The conversation with Canberra’s Finest, which isn’t saying much, went more or less like this:

QoL: Hi, I want some info on the ACL bomber.

Plod: What do want to know?

QoL: His name would be good.

Plod: That’s not being released.

QoL: Hang on, a lunatic, or maybe a fanatic, ignites a huge bomb in the heart of the national capital, destroys the office of a conservative political organisation and you’re telling me the public doesn’t need to know the who and why! You’re joking right?

Plod: No, I’m not. We don’t release names until the individual is interviewed and charged. He’s fighting for his life in hospital so we can’t interview him.

QoL: But you have interviewed him. The very next morning your mob said he had been quizzed and a firm determination made that the incident had nothing to do with terrorism.

Plod: But that wasn’t a formal interview. Only formal interviews can lead to charges being laid and names released.

QoL: Surely you realise the mystery surrounding this case is spawning fresh speculation, especially on the internet.

Plod: So?

QoL: Well some are saying he’s a an over-enthusiastic gay activist, others that his name is Mohammad…

Plod: So what if he’s called Mohammad, why would that matter?

The conversation ended soon after, before the officer could volunteer his name. In view of his final comment it is safe to assume he goes by something other than ‘Sherlock’.

QoL, a small news organisation, lacks the journalistic resources to keep digging, especially as the bomber has since been transferrred to the burns unit at Sydney’s Concord Hospital, which is on the SMH home turf (if you accept that its reporters sometimes venture further from the CBD than Newtown).

Why hasn’t the SMH Chief of Staff instructed a reporter to buy a bunch of flowers and wander the hospital corridors, posing as a lost visitor and trying, gently, to see what he or she can learn?

Why hasn’t a reporter hung out with nurses in the smokers-only area outside and done likewise?

Why haven’t contacts been tapped in the Health Department and minister’s office, the motivation being that it is unconscionable for police to draw their blackout curtains about the identity and motivation of a man who has been — and there can be no disguising this — a lethal threat to life and the cause of immense damage to property?

One can speculate about the reasons a police force might be at pains to conceal such details — indeed one can do no more than speculate due to the pointed absence of official guidance.  It could be, for example, entirely self-serving: departmental brass might not wish to acknowledge that inadequate tabs were kept on a known peril to public safety. If so, while reprehensible, the bureaucratic instinct to protect turf, budget and careers would be entirely understandable.

But there can be no understanding why the Fourth Estate has turned a blind eye to the events of that shattered Thursday night before Christmas. Actually, that’s wrong, for while there can be no excuse, there is an explanation: our mainstream media organisations are craven, spineless, incurious, easily cowed and, worst of all, infected with a cur’s yearning to roll over before authority, rather than bite it and bite it hard.

At the link below, a Miranda Devine column from several weeks go that poses many of the same questions. Her curiosity has not been satisfied; no one’s has. What a disgrace.

— roger franklin

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