Media Watch last night focused on the superficiality of the three commercial networks’ news bulletins. But as always, there’s another side to the story. Cue Media Watch Watch music.

On Wednesday night, Melbourne’s Ten, Nine and Seven news produced vision of a claimed disturbance at a bottle shop in the suburb of Noble Park in order to highlight the problem of Sudanese gangs. The story traded on Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews’ announcement that the government was cutting Australia’s African refugee intake due to integration problems.

But the use of the footage was a stretch at best — and “dishonest” and a “serious disservice to African migrants”, according to MW presenter Monica Attard. Media Watch notes that most of the people involved in the violence caught on film are not actually Sudanese. In fact, the most you can clearly see is one Sudanese man stealing a bottle of alcohol. The footage does however show the Sudanese man who would later be bashed to death by two white men.

It seems like a sound debunking of the Channel Seven news intro which promised “Sudanese gangs caught on camera”. But Channel Seven is standing by its story today despite the MW attack which Seven News director Steve Carey says was ”absolute nonsense. We didn’t get [the story] wrong. We were completely fair and accurate in the way we portrayed it.” Senior reporter Peter Morris says he is “most unhappy” with the Media Watch report. “I think there was a great effort placed on trying to discredit me and the news service to suggest that we had misrepresented the story.”

The footage was first mentioned on Wednesday morning, 3 October, by Neil Mitchell on Melbourne radio station 3AW. It was sent to him by a local business owner from Noble Park. Mitchell said at the time that the owner didn’t want the video distributed to TV networks. He later changed his mind. By that night, the TV networks had it.

On the program, Mitchell also spoke to Geoff Heffernan who works at a local bottle shop. When asked if the “gangs [are] based on ethnic groups?” Heffernan responded, “yes and no … they’re mostly Sudanese and islanders. It’s not exclusive to that. There’s white people in the gangs as well that I’ve been harassed by.”

By the time the story went to air, Seven News anchor Peter Mitchell was introducing the story thus: “If you can, put racism claims aside for a moment…tonight we can show you the terror experienced by a Noble Park shopkeeper at the hands of an ethnic gang. They’ve been identified by police as predominantly Sudanese youths caught on camera stealing and striking fear into those around them”.

A Victoria Police spokesman today told Crikey that none of the networks had contacted the police prior to screening the footage. ”We didn’t see the footage before it went to air,” he said. As for the race issue, he refused to buy into it. ”They’re just sh-t-bag criminals.” Morris refutes this. He says he showed the footage to police contacts from the local area who confirmed the story’s portrayal. So why didn’t the footage reflect the purported Sudanese-heavy composition of the groups? Morris explains it as an “unfortunate” result of the fact that in order to protect the store’s identity, sections of the tape featuring groups of African men had to be edited out. “The original 40-odd minutes of video clearly showed a number of African men inside and outside the store, but the pictures could only be aired on the proviso we protected the identities of the staff and the bottle shop itself which meant much of what we’d seen couldn’t be used.” To present a more “nuanced” approach than that provided by the “sensationalist” commercial networks, MW spoke to bottle shop employee Heffernan, who told the program he thinks it’s a “gang issue rather than a race issue”. However, Heffernan today told Crikey that while MW didn’t misquote him they also, “deliberately ignored anything that stood in the way of their argument”. Among other things, they neglected to include the line where he said the “gang” make-up in the area was “80% Sudanese, 10% islander, and the rest was a mix”.

Morris also notes for the sake of balance that there was no inclusion in Media Watch of the follow up story Channel Seven did on the Thursday to show the Sudanese community are “not all bandanna-wearing youths!”