The ABC’s flagship investigative program Four
Corners
has got itself into some hot water over claims its
cameras were the first into New
South Wales’s notorious “Supermax”
prison.

Just for the record, that’s absolutely not the case.
Network Ten’s state political correspondent Paul Mullins and cameraman
Craig Hansen entered the ultra high security facility on December 19, 2003.

Mullins interviewed inmates without obscuring or
pixelating their faces in his two-part special on ‘Supermax’, which is housed
within the Goulburn Correctional Centre complex.

But that didn’t seem to worry Four Corners, who
promoted their report on Supermax in details released for TV guides, in ABC
TV advertisements and in radio spots, with the line: “For the first time,
cameras go inside Supermax, Australia’s
toughest jail, home to killers and suspected terrorists.”

Let’s give the ABC the benefit of the doubt – maybe
it was an honest mistake?

Unfortunately, a blurb on the
Four Corners website
lands them in an even stickier situation.

“After persistent requests to NSW
Corrective Services authorities, Four
Corners
finally obtained permission to
film inside this secretive and forbidding place,” it explains. “Since it opened
in 2001, media have been locked out of Supermax – until now.”

Despite the claims of a scoop by Four
Corners
appearing to be fairly explicit, a spokesman for
the program tried to offer an explanation.

“From our understanding we were the first crew
allowed in there while prisoners were housed in Supermax,” he said.

“If in fact, that’s not the case then we admit we
were wrong.”

But Crikey’s not interested in shooting
the messenger. We’re more interested in an explanation from Four Corners’ experienced
executive producer, Bruce Belsham, who had earlier been unreachable.

An angry Mullins has meanwhile broken his
silence on the scoop claims.

“It’s a load of rubbish,” he told Crikey. “It’s disgraceful, it’s outrageous and I
don’t know why they promoted it that way. Everyone knows we were the first in
there. People are interested in the first guy
who climbed Mt Everest, not the 25th.”

He said it took 12 months of negotiation
and lobbying to finally get permission to film inside Supermax and adding
insult to injury was what seemed like an identical quote in the Four Corners report
to one that aired in his two-part special.

“He told me ‘my officers don’t get paid
enough to become punching bags for thugs’,” Mullins recalled.

And according to the Four Corners transcript, here’s
how the same comments resurfaced in Monday’s report:

RON WOODHAM, COMMISSIONER, NSW CORRECTIVE SERVICES: If you can
introduce chemical agents into a situation when it escalates to force being
used, you minimise injuries to both sides – to the inmates and to staff, and
particularly staff. I don’t want my staff being knocked around. They don’t get
paid enough money to be punching bags for thugs.

And in August last year, Melbourne-based reporter
for Nine’s A Current Affair, Martin King, put together a report on gangs in
jail using the same Corrective Services-supplied footage as the Four
Corners
report.

Despite the controversy over the scoop claims, the
broadband offering on the ABC’s website, featuring extended interviews,
transcripts and other information, is impressive.

The NSW Corrective Services media unit declined to
comment.