As ABC managing director Mark Scott today unveils the broadcaster’s new editorial policy, he might like to take a look at the performance of his flagship current affairs program, The 7:30 Report. In particular, its story last Thursday on the Queensland’s Government’s handling of the Dr Death scandal, an issue that is currently causing some embarrassment to Queensland’s Attorney-General, Linda Lavarch.

Central in the current storm are claims that Lavarch was wrong to reject a proposal from lawyers for Dr Patel that would have seen him return from the US to face justice in Queensland – in exchange for some friendly media management.

In The 7.30 Report piece, reporter Peter McCutcheon asked: “Are there good reasons to reject a deal like this?” To answer that question he interviewed associate professor of law at the Queensland University of Technology, Geraldine MacKenzie, who observed there were some benefits in doing the deal but:

“I think there are some good reasons to reject it. I think there are very good reasons to let justice take its course.”

But there was one fact McCutcheon failed to mention – MacKenzie’s boss is Michael Lavarch, Executive Dean of Law at QUT, former Federal Attorney-General in the second Keating Ministry — and Linda Lavarch’s husband.

So why did ABC reporter Peter McCutcheon pluck the only legal expert in his story from a faculty where Michael Lavarch is dean? And why was this conflict of interest, at the very least, not clearly declared on air?

Peter McCutcheon declined to comment today, while 7:30 Report executive producer Ben Hawke hasn’t responded to two phone messages and an email from Crikey.

Peter Fray

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