Some ABC staff members are wondering
whether the Chris Masters Jonestown book
is the first to have suffered in the face of legal threats by people close to
the Government.

In particular, there is talk of the book Australian Story – Behind The Scenes. The book, a compilation of stories about
key episodes of the show, was published late last year but only after more than
20,000 copies were shipped off to a sheltered workshop so that the binding
could be broken, one page taken out and a new one inserted in its place.

The offending page was part of the chapter
about the Australian Story episode on
former Governor-General, Archbishop Peter Hollingworth. The episode in question was the one in which Hollingworth made things a great deal worse for himself by
seeming to suggest that a teenage girl was in part responsible for seducing an

Rumour has it that there was “a big
storm” at senior management levels once it became known that the book was
to include the chapter on Hollingworth, who had sent some threatening legal
letters to the ABC. Some say there was
talk of taking the chapter out.

Nevertheless the chapter was legalled and
cleared, but late in the day it was decided that a single line on one page –
which mentioned the reaction of the cameraman and sound recorder to things that
Hollingworth had said – presented a risk.
The books were already published, hence the last ditch move to get rid
of the offending page.

So was this another example of intervention
by the Board? Or of pre-emptive buckle
by senior management?

Yesterday a call to the corporate PR person
at the ABC resulted in something more than “no comment” for the first
time in a week.

The head of ABC books, Stuart Neal, was
given permission to talk on this matter, and this matter alone. He confirmed
the facts, but said that in this case he had no reason to believe the decision was
anything other than routine and made on legitimate legal grounds “albeit a
bit late”. He doesn’t believe there
was Board or political intervention.

Peter Fray

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