Lawyers don’t always make good public relations operatives, as demonstrated by the role of criminal lawyer Rob Stary in acting for his client, Jack Thomas.

Stary says that Channel Seven used deception to get an interview with his client. It’s not the first time Stary has made these claims about reporters. The Four Corners interview, for which Stary did give permission, may yet be used against his client. In that case, Stary accused ABC reporter Sally Neighbour of breaking an agreement over when the interview would be screened. Neighbour denies this.

Clearly allowing the interview at all was a mistake from Thomas’s point of view. But as is so often the case, the failure of spin may well mean the success of journalism.

The Four Corners transcript is both chilling and entirely consistent with a view of Thomas as a not very bright angry young man who got himself in to deep and dangerous waters. He does not emerge as a monster, but you can see why he was considered a threat.

As for the claims that Channel Seven was guilty of deception, how do they stack up against the fact that just the day before, Herald Sun reporter Mark Dunn got this interview complete with posed pictures of Thomas and his family? Versions ran in all News Limited tabloids. Dunn told Crikey yesterday that he arranged an appointment with Thomas, after talking to Stary.

There is a link to Dunn’s story from the “Justice for Jack” site run by Thomas’s brother. Clearly the family had no problems with Dunn’s conduct, nor the result.

The head of news and current affairs at Channel Seven, Peter Meakin, says Channel Seven left a message with Stary before heading out to Thomas’s house. The lawyer didn’t call back and “a researcher from Today Tonight talked her way into the house and the news reporter went with her.”

The interview, available in its fullest form on the Lateline site, shows Thomas taken by surprise by the arrival of reporters, who give an undertaking not to ask him anything that will get him into trouble. Thomas is then apparently not reluctant to talk, and says very similar things to what he told Dunn the day before. The interview is broadly favourable to Thomas, showing him as bemused, traumatised, but also a regular family man.

So did Channel Seven use deception as Stary alleges? Case not proven. As for Stary’s media skills, in the case of the Four Corners interview at least, they may yet convict his client.

Stary did not return a call asking for comment.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey