Ticky Fullerton’s 4 Corners report on Tasmania’s forest has sparked
debate – with the accuracy and balance of her journalism called into
question.

Four Corners cops it from all sides


It’s been a week since Four Corners, er, controversial report on
Tasmanian logging – and the general view is that Tim Blair and co may
as well hang up the boxing gloves if reports like Ticky Fullerton’s
continue to go to air.

The Devine Miranda is the last person to weigh into the ABC’s flagship
current affairs program, with this effort in the Sun-Herald: Green worm infesting Tassie’s golden apple

The political ineptness of the ABC’s senior current affairs producers and management is astounding.

Already there are reports that ABC watchers are pouring back over
programs to see just how many stories were obviously sourced from green
groups. More criticism is yet to come.

Allegations are flying that the broadcaster is building an unhealthy
reliance on getting “investigative stories” from shrubhuggers – or, in
other words, are being spoon-fed. It doesn’t just smack of laziness.
The ABC must surely realise that with friends like that they don’t need
enemies.

This response from a Tasmanian subscriber is characteristic of the
views of many readers who don’t sleep with a chainsaw but were still
angered last Monday:

“The problem that many Tasmanians had with the Four Corners program was
that it ‘sexed-up’ the facts somewhat – as is always the case when
dealing with Greenified commentaries on the forest debate.

“Ticky Fullerton’s introduction which Greg Barns quoted in your Sealed
Section is a typical example. Quite apart from being sickly polemic, as
Greg quite rightly pointed out, even those few lines are full of
factual error.

“Trees, some 90 metres tall, some well into old age by the time Van
Diemen discovered Tasmania, and still standing. Rich hardwoods of
myrtle, blackwood, sassafras and Huon pine mingle with common eucalypts…

“Any number of viewers have pointed out in talkback calls etc that ‘Van
Diemen’ did not discover Tasmania – it was Abel Janszoon Tasman who was
the first well-documented European explorer to view our shores – that
statement, of course, is also erasing any Indigenous exploration of the
island.

“It IS the ‘common eucalypts’, the tall eucalyptus regnans stands that
have been the focus of much of the battle over places such as the Styx
Valley in Tasmania – not the specialty timbers (conjuring up pictures
of beautifully crafted wooden bowls, tourist souvenirs etc) that
Ticky’s introduction uses to grab at the heart-strings early in the
piece. Has ANYONE seen a ninety-metre tall sassafras?

Tasmanian Sassafras is an understorey species that can, in all reality,
only live a maximum of between 150-200 years – and is not related to
any trees known as sassafras on the Australian mainland. It’s just
simply false to suggest that any of this species seen by ANY white
explorer would be still alive.

“ ‘”Tasmania’s State forests are unique…’ Why, then, were pictures of
clearfelled private softwood plantations used in the report – rather
than State Forest?

“And the inaccuracies go on, and on…

“With the use of heavily-emotive language from the opening like ‘every
autumn mushroom clouds dominate the horizon’ and ‘A scorched-earth
policy in preparation for new planting’ and the distortion of facts (as
above) occurring even in the introduction, it’s little wonder that the
Four Corners program copped criticism, and is the subject of formal
complaints.

“If the discussion is to be about ‘an industry that is self-regulated,
self-serving and unaccountable’, as the reporter stated in the
introduction, then keep inaccurate hype out of the reporting.”

Gunns, Tassie Labor and Paul Lennon  vs 4 Corners

Sealed Section – February 17

ABC Tasmania morning host Tim Cox revealed during Crikey’s regular spot
this morning that there has never been a bigger response to a story
than what his listeners thought about the 4 Corners program on
Tasmania’s forests last night.

Cox said that the majority of callers believed the program was biased
in favour of the Green agenda and Crikey certainly felt Ticky Fullerton
used unnecessarily provocative language when the facts alone tell a
compelling and quite scandalous story.

Read the transcript in full here.

It was the first time a national audience has been exposed to deputy
premier Paul Lennon, Liberal leader Rene Hidding and Gunns CEO John Gay.

Gay and Lennon came across as thugs and it is well worth reading the transcript of their interviews:

Paul Lennon interview

John Gay interview

After watching 4 Corners, Crikey is more convinced than ever that Gunns
is rapaciously slaughtering Tasmania’s forests at record levels with
the quite outrageous green light from the Bacon Labor Government,
supported by the Liberal opposition. They are out of step with the rest
of Australia.

The rehabilitation of homophobic Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan took a
few steps forward last night on the back of his logical and sensible
position arguing that Gunns should pay more for its water and should
not be exempt from FOI.

The Tasmanian forestry industry is clearly conflicted, out of control
and benefiting massively from secret take-or-pay contracts with
Forestry Tasmania.

We were surprised that 4 Corners did not point out that Gunns is
generating more than $600 million a year from its tree-lopping and that
Mark Latham is poised to visit the Styx with Bob Brown.

With Paul Lennon the public face of the Labor Party’s approach to old
growth Tasmanian forests, the Greens have a big electoral asset.
Afterall, how can you vote for Labor given what they are allowing in
Tasmania.

Muscle-man Latham needs to knock Lennon into shape pretty quickly.

If John Howard is looking for a wedge against Labor, how about opposing
the Bacon Labor government’s approach to Tasmania’s forests? With no
Federal reps seats and a rump of a state opposition, what have they got
to lose?

Sloppy Journalism?

Sealed Section – February 18

A Tasmanian Liberal subscriber writes:

“Why doesn’t Christine Milne tell people watching the 4 Corners show
that she is an adviser to Greens Senator Bob Brown? And is also a
Senate candidate for the Greens in Tasmania, and is using programs like
this (and a clearly sympathetic ABC journo) to rebuild her political
profile for her Senate run – a process which is very much a part of the
Greens political culture!

Why wasn’t the CURRENT leader of the Tassie Greens, Peg Putt,
interviewed about this – rather than a has-been MP (who is a now a
Greens staffer with recycled political ambitions)?  Sloppy
journalism – whatever the contentious details of the yarn.”

Greg Barns attacks Ticky Fullerton

Sealed Section – February 19

Australia’s most determined Green-basher, Liberal-turned-Democrat Greg Barns writes:

The ABC’s role in 4 Corner’s is not to deliver a polemic.  It is
to report facts in a balanced and measured way.  That’s what the
program did so well in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.  Ticky Fullerton’s
opening to the program on Monday nights about forests in Tasmania was
an exercise in self-indulgent polemic and nothing more.  Consider
this:
 
TICKY FULLERTON: Tonight on Four Corners, the fate of a national
asset…now in the hands of an industry that is self-regulated,
self-serving and unaccountable. Tasmania’s State forests are unique.
Trees, some 90 metres tall, some well into old age by the time Van
Diemen discovered Tasmania, and still standing. Rich hardwoods of
myrtle, blackwood, sassafras and Huon pine mingle with common
eucalypts. Vast tracts of this rich forest are now marked as timber
coupes to be clear-felled. Over 80 per cent of the wood taken will fall
under the indiscriminate blades of the wood chipper. Left behind as
waste, up to three-quarters of the forest, pushed into windrows for
burning. So intense are the fires, every autumn mushroom clouds
dominate the horizon. These burns are designed to kill everything above
and below the surface. A scorched-earth policy in preparation for new
planting. Native wildlife returning from nearby to feed on new
seedlings is also targeted. First coaxed with cinnamon carrots, later,
carrots laced with 1080 poison. It’s pictures like these that have
caused public outrage – the poison crashing the metabolism.”
 
As statement that would be ok if it were an op-ed or a polemical essay.  But not as reportage.
 
Ms Fullerton’s professionalism came unstuck on Monday night.
 
Greg Barns

—————————————————————

Fullerton “sexed-up” the facts

A Tasmanian subscriber writes:

The problem that many Tasmanians had with the Four Corners program was
that it “sexed-up” the facts somewhat – as is always the case when
dealing with Green-ified commentaries on the forest debate.

Ticky Fullerton’s introduction which Greg Barns quoted in your Sealed
Section is a typical example. Quite apart from being sickly polemic, as
Greg quite rightly pointed out, even those few lines are full of factual
error.

“Trees, some 90 metres tall, some well into old age by the time Van
Diemen discovered Tasmania, and still standing. Rich hardwoods of
myrtle, blackwood, sassafras and Huon pine mingle with common eucalypts.”

Any number of viewers have pointed out in talkback calls etc that “Van
Diemen” did not discover Tasmania – it was Abel Janszoon Tasman who was
the first well-documented European explorer to view our shores – that
statement, of course, is also erasing any Indigenous exploration of the
island.

It IS the “common eucalypts”, the tall eucalyptus regnans stands
that have been the focus of much of the battle over places such as the
Styx Valley in Tasmania – not the specialty timbers (conjuring up
pictures of beautifully crafted wooden bowls, tourist souvenirs etc)
that Ticky’s introduction uses to grab at the heart-strings early in the
piece. Has ANYONE seen a ninety-metre tall sassafras? Tasmanian
Sassafras is an understorey species that can, in all reality, only live
a maximum of between 150-200 years – and is not related to any trees
known as sassafrass on the Australian mainland. It’s just simply false
to suggest that any of this species seen by ANY white explorer would be
still alive.

“Tasmania’s State forests are unique…”

Why, then, were pictures of clearfelled private softwood plantations
used in the report – rather than State Forest?

And the inaccuracies go on, and on…

With the use of heavily-emotive language from the opening like “every
autumn mushroom clouds dominate the horizon” and “A scorched-earth
policy in preparation for new planting” and the distortion of facts (as
above) occurring even in the introduction, it’s little wonder that the
Four Corners program copped criticism, and is the subject of formal
complaints.

If the discussion is to be about “an industry that is self-regulated,
self-serving and unaccountable”, as the reporter stated in the
introduction, then keep the inaccurate hype out of the reporting.

Forrestry in Tasmenia

One of the issues addressed by Ticky Fullerton was that forestry is
exempt from conditions of the EPBC, which was an accusation made by
several of the anti-loggers. When confornted with this, the Pro-loggers
simply denied it. At no stage did Ms Fullerton present any evidence.
After 90 seconds on Google I came up with a press release from Senator
Ian McDonald, 3 May 2002:

“The Regional Forest Agreements Act 2002

The Act’s main provisions are:

  • RFA forestry operations are excluded from Commonwealth
    legislation relating to export controls, the environment and heritage
    (because these matters were comprehensively assessed during the RFA
    process, and the RFAs contain an agreed framework for ecologically
    sustainable forest management);
  • the Commonwealth is bound to the termination and compensation provisions of RFAs;
  • information about RFAs is published;
  • RFAs and related reports and reviews are tabled in the CommonwealthParliament;
  • there is a comprehensive and publicly available information sources inrelation to Australia’s forests;
  • the Forest and Wood Products Council continues as an industry consultation forum, to be reviewed in 2004; and
  • the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act)is amended so that both Acts have identical provisions relating to theapplication of the EPBC Act on RFA forestry operations.”

Now, I would have thought that an investigative journalist worth their
salt would have found this in no time at all, assessed it, and given
the pro-loggers the chance to explain. Instead, Ms Fullerton painted a
picture of a green light for environmental destruction. Do the loggers
have a case to answer? Yes.
Was Ms Fullerton biased? Absolutely. Has a complex issues been boiled down to a simplistic Good vs Evil debate? Certainly.

By the way, am I a crazy conspiracy theorist, or are the Richard
Flanagan-Bulletin article, ABC expose, Greenpeace/TWS treesit and
upcoming protest rally in Hobart all somehow connected in a protracted
PR campaign?

Timothy

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.