How far should journalists go to keep their sources happy? It’s a question that makes the news today with this story in today’s Australian,
detailing the latest in the C7 v The Rest court case. As part of the
evidence tabled in court, a number of email exchanges between Kerry
Stokes, Seven spokesman Simon Francis, and a number of prominent
journalists, have been made public.
And they contain some interesting revelations:
Mr Francis, Seven’s director of corporate development, told
Mr Stokes in one email that he was about to contact two journalists to
divulge details of Seven’s submission to the Foreign Investment Review
Board opposing the Singtel takeover of Optus in 2001.
“Target journalists already lined up: Anne Davies at the Herald (The Sydney Morning Herald), Alan Kohler at AFR (The Australian Financial Review),”
Mr Francis wrote in June 2001. “Both hate Optus.” The court was told
that Davies, a Walkley Award winner, later sent Mr Francis a copy of
her proposed story about Seven’s submission.
Mr Francis critiqued Davies’s draft by saying: “These are not quotes from Seven. Can you put it as ‘believed’, ‘understood’?”
If the emails are to be believed, then Anne Davies was tailoring her
copy to suit Seven’s spin. We spoke to Davies this morning – who told
us she had no recollection of the specific incident, which occurred in
2001. But she did say that “occasionally, when dealing with complex
legal matters, it’s advisable to make sure you get the facts right” –
and this can involve sending a draft to a source to verify the facts.
she does deny is the claim that she “hates Optus,” saying the finished
article referred to in the email included quotes from Optus and
Singtel, both of whom she maintained good working relationships with
while working as the SMH’s media writer.