Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Where There's Muck (2)

Putting together a precis of Senator Santoro's various charges and innuendos about bias at the ABC is turning out to be more work than I realised I was getting myself into. Take this little exchange between Senator Santoro and Russell Balding:

Senator SANTORO: I am grateful for your assistance. I want to perhaps take up the challenge of my esteemed colleague Senator Conroy and talk about other issues relating to bias and balance. On the issue of balance and objectivity in ABC news and current affairs, I would like to get your comments on a number of issues. On 15 April last year, Four Corners ran a story that it headlined "To deter or deny." The program aired allegations that electric cattle prods had been used in a detention centre. What evidence did Four Corners have that cattle prods had been used on detainees? Did the ABC verify this allegation with the relevant authorities? Does the ABC today stand by that allegation?

Mr Balding: Can I take that on notice.

Of course I couldn't resist taking a look at the program transcript, where you will indeed find allegations of the use of electric batons, but not in detention centres. The precise allegation, made by a number of asylum seekers, was that they were used by the Australian Defence Forces during Operation Relex:

MAN 4 (translation): When the commandoes came into the ship, they covered their faces.

They put electric batons against the badges on their shoulders.

When the wires touched them, there was a spark so we could see they were electric batons.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: This family refused to leave.

They say they were hit with an electric baton.

WOMAN 3 (translation): It was like a black stick.

About this size.

(Indicates a point up to her elbow.)

When they pulled it out, they first hit the shoulders.

They had badges on their shoulders.

When it hit, it gave off electricity.

Immediately after this segment, the program included these remarks from Defence Minister Robert Hill:

SENATOR ROBERT HILL, MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: At your request, I asked the Defence Force whether they use such equipment and I have been advised that they neither have it nor use it.

As for the ABC's current position on these allegations, there's this update page on the 4 Corners web-site.

I'll have to be disciplined about this, otherwise even the most perfunctory background checks on Senator Santoro's allegations are going to seriously interfere with my inadequate work ethic. Still, there's a certain perverse pleasure in finding a senator who's a worse committee performer than George Brandis who played such a memorable part in the Senate Inquiry into a Certain Maritime Incident.

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