This week, the ABC’s Mark Scott announced new editorial standards which will ensure a “greater emphasis to the need for impartiality” in an effort to take all complaints about the ABC seriously. There’s certainly one group who aren’t satisfied with the current arrangements – the community of Mutitjulu. They spoke up by lodging a formal complaint, all 55 pages of it, to the ABC’s Audience and Consumer Affairs Department on the 30th of August that labelled Lateline‘s June 21 broadcast on sexual abuse in Mutitjulu and subsequent reports as an “extraordinary attack on the community.” The community members say they “made a detailed and measured complaint…about Lateline’s tabloid journalism as the report was poorly researched and full of lies and misinformation.”
But the ABC’s Audience and Consumer Affairs Department has now refuted that complaint:
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The members of the Mutitjulu community who lodged the complaint have told Crikey that they felt the Audience and Consumer Affairs Department have “insulted and patronised” them instead of providing a fair and independent response. They’re also concerned that the ABC still asserts that Lateline’s witnesses “are part of our community when none of them actually live at Mutitjulu.”
And while Lateline and Mark Scott have admitted that senior public servant Gregory Andrews, who appeared anonymously in the report, should never have been labelled as a “youth worker”, the ABC’s Audience and Consumer Affairs Department doesn’t seem to agree:
Lateline believed that “former youth worker” was a fair reflection of that work with children and young people which did not disclose Mr Andrew’s identity and risk placing him and his team in danger…The ABC is satisfied that Mr Andrews’ views were credible and relevant to its coverage of this matter, and that the attempt to preserve his anonymity was reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances.
Dorothea Randall, one of the signatories to the complaint and a resident of Mutitjulu, confirmed to Crikey that the community are now lodging a complaint with the ABC’s Independent Complaints Review Panel.
In their new complaint, Mutitjulu community members write:
The fact that we question the conduct of ABC journalists and Lateline’s spurious allegations does not make us apologists for paedophiles or violence. Since when is it appropriate for a liaison officer to attack a complainant in this way?
Randall also referred Crikey to a Sydney Morning Herald article that speaks on behalf of the women and children of Mutitjulu, and which reports that the women:
…rejected unequivocally the allegations on Lateline that a pedophile ring, child sex slaves, petrol warlords, murder, kidnappings, gangs, arson and “cliques of violent Aboriginal men” are part of life at Mutitjulu. And they complain that Lateline has not heard the views of Mutitjulu’s women….The Mutitjulu women feel the report was neither fair nor balanced…
That’s two sets of voices that the ABC is dismissing in this story.
The ABC “may not agree with us on every point but there is most definitely a problem when the facts on the ground bear no resemblance to those described on Lateline,” the new complaint reads.
Back in August, reporter Suzanne Smith wrote in The Walkley Magazine, “There are still those who regard Lateline as public enemy number one and the controversy continues. I’m left wondering whether it is a case of ‘shoot the messenger.'”
It seems reasonable for the community of Mutitjulu to request the ABC to properly review their complaint instead of questioning their motives as they go coat-trailing for awards. After all, it’s their name and their community at stake.
Meanwhile, The National Indigenous Times is reporting that Lateline’s website has changed the headline on its Walkley nominated story from “Sexual slavery reported in Indigenous community” to “Sexual abuse reported in Indigenous community”.