The ABC plans to screen a controversial doco called Jihad Sheilas at 8.30pm tonight. It’s powerful and evocative. But it could be a program prepared and sold to the two participants under false pretences.

A story in this morning’s Australian reports:

Two Muslim women say their participation in an ABC documentary pitched as a ‘bridge-building’ exercise between Islam and the wider community has left them fearful for their safety…

The two women told The Australian that they were approached separately by an ABC documentary crew last year and invited to participate.

They said they were explicitly and repeatedly told the material would be used on the ABC’s long-running Australian Story … She said she was told the focus of the program would be the women’s conversion to Islam, not their alleged links to extremists.

The ABC’s head of national programs, Alan Sunderland, who yesterday met the women, said while they may have been told their interviews would air on Australian Story, it would have been mentioned as one of several possibilities: “I have spoken to the two reporters and they are adamant that they weren’t repeatedly told it would be an Australian Story project.”

Mr Sunderland said the reporters, Mary Ann Jolley and Renata Gombac, worked for the ABC’s News and Current Affairs division, but it was not uncommon for reporters to work across different programs. Gombac worked for the ABC’s Investigative Unit, Mr Sunderland said.

He did not know if that fact had been disclosed to either woman.

I understand that the story was never an idea from Australian Story and the program never pursued it. Australian Story employs a group of full time and casual producers and reporters to develop programs and it has no reporter’s voice or questioning, as there seems to be on Jihad Sheilas.

The ABC should provide more explanation. Have Sunderland, the head of ABC Newscaf, John Cameron, or ABC TV boss, Kim Dalton, taken steps to check if Australian Story was involved, and if there is any hint of misrepresentation?

Peter Fray

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