Residents of Mutitjulu, the community at the centre of the June 21 Lateline broadcast on s-xual abuse, have lodged a formal complaint (read the full document here) with the ABC today, accusing the current affairs flagship of an “extraordinary attack on the community” that has “continued with a series of self-serving reports and adverse comments”. 

Dorothea Randall, a community member and one of the signatories to the document, told Crikey that the Mutitjulu community feels defamed and betrayed.

Randall told Crikey that since the Lateline broadcast aired, the community’s funds have been frozen, an administrator has been appointed and Mutitjulu’s reputation is in shreds.

“A lot of it’s not true, that’s where we’re shocked,” Randall told Crikey. “And it’s very stressful out here because it’s affecting the people emotionally…”

“We’ve just had enough of it and …no-one ever came out here…,” says Randall. “We’re just angry…We had no idea the story was going to air, it was a shock.”

Some of the charges in the 55 page document include:

Lateline used old file footage of Mutitjulu without identifying it as such, including old vision of petrol sniffing, a scourge which has now been eliminated from our community.

Lateline made no attempt to visit the community of Mutitjulu before or after the broadcast of its June 21 story. To exacerbate this, Lateline falsely claimed publicly that it had unsuccessfully sought permission to enter Mutitjulu on several occasions…

…The alleged paedophile at the centre of the Lateline program was forced out of the community by residents and his employer long before Lateline aired its story (at least seven months). This fact was well known to Lateline

Lateline misled its viewers by falsely describing Greg Andrews as a “former youth worker” in its original June 21, 2006 broadcast. Mr Andrews has never worked as a youth worker neither at Mutitjulu nor anywhere else, a fact eventually conceded by Lateline and Mr Andrews…

…Some of the witnesses portrayed in the Lateline story have not lived in Mutitjulu for many years but are depicted as people who are aware of the situation on the ground today, when clearly they are not…

Of public servant Gregory Andrews, who was granted anonymity by Lateline and labelled a “youth worker”, Randall said, “Greg never lived here, we hardly saw him…”

“One family member couldn’t believe what Greg did to her…she trusted him… she said he said stuff out of context, made it a mixed story… she felt betrayed…she recognised pieces of her story…but they were taken out of context,”says Randall.

Lateline Executive Producer Peter Charley told Crikey this morning: “I can’t comment until I see the complaint in full but I totally and utterly stand by the story that Lateline put to air and I reject any assertion that we’ve breached codes of ethics or acted in any self serving way in what was a genuine and important story that needed to be told.”

CRIKEY: The ABC’s Independent Complaints Review Panel released their findings on this matter on May 26, 2008

The finding states:

The Independent Complaints Review Panel (ICRP) has upheld one part of a complaint made against a number of editions of Lateline and other programs dealing with the Mutitjulu community, broadcast during the period June to October 2006.

The state of the Mutitjulu community received broad coverage across ABC outlets in the time identified by the Complainants, namely 21 June to 11 October 2006 and has been the subject of regular reporting over the last five years. Reporting has included the topics of petrol sniffing and drug taking in Mutitjulu and, particularly, of young women petrol sniffers trading s-x for petrol.

The complainants lodged their complaint as “community members of the Mutitjulu Aboriginal Community, the traditional custodians of Uluru” who live adjacent to Uluru in a world-renowned tourist area, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

The complainants allege the Lateline programs were “poorly researched and full of lies and misinformation”. In its report, the Panel has reviewed the complaint and has identified 30 allegations for consideration. This report has set out each of these allegations together with the Panel’s findings on each of them.

In its conclusion, the Panel has found no breach of the ABC Editorial Policies 2002 to have occurred, except to the extent that file footage of young people sniffing petrol in one broadcast should have been identified as such. The Panel noted that although there was a body of evidence to the effect that petrol sniffing was a continuing problem, there was sufficient lack of clarity as to its prevalence in Mutitjulu at the actual time of the broadcast to render it necessary for the ABC to identify that file footage was being used. The Panel considered this to amount to a breach of the standards of accuracy for news and current affairs content.

To read the full ICRP Report click here.

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