Is it ethical when the media make people angry, perhaps stepping over the mark to get a reaction, then make that reaction page three news?

Today there is a royal stoush going on between former Prime Minister Paul Keating, his daughter Katherine Keating and News Limited over what did or did not happen at a publicity party held by Absolut Vodka last Thursday night.

The Sydney glitterati are a buzz with it, and Keating is on the warpath, calling for the rewriting of Australia’s privacy laws after the Sunday Telegraph alleged that his daughter kicked and threatened to kill one of its photographers.

Meanwhile people who were at the function are convinced that the story was at best a beat up and at worst a fabrication — part of an unpleasant modus operandi in which a news team provoke a reaction, then make that reaction the news.

Absolut Vodka is now ordering all of those involved in the organisation of the event to meet media queries with a firm ‘no comment’. After all, a stoush between a former Prime Minister and a major media outlet has no upside for the peddlers of upmarket grog.

Nevertheless, among the Sydney glitterati there is a lot of talk, and none of it is good for the Sunday Telegraph. This morning I have spoken to two people who were at the party and who were with Katherine Keating immediately before and after the alleged event.

Both regard the claim that Keating kicked photographer Ella Pellegrini as false.

Both say that the journalist, Jonathon Moran, and Pellegrini were provocative. One asserts that Moran did not actually witness the exchange in which he asserted the kick and the threat were delivered.

Moran, on the other hand, insists he did witness the event. He referred all other inquires this morning to News Limited’s Director of Corporate Communications, Greg Baxter, who did not return calls before deadline this morning.

Pellegrini could not be contacted for comment, with staff at the News Limited picture desk declining to give out her mobile number. They were asked to pass on a message so she would have an opportunity to put her side.

Party attendees say that after having her photo taken, Keating was angry and “stepped away” into a stairwell to speak to the photographer. Party-goers did not witness what happened next.

They believe, however, that while she may have spoken angrily, there was no kick and no threat to kill. “Knowing her, I would be very surprised indeed if that is what happened,” said one.

Meanwhile, another Sunday Telegraph staffer has contacted Crikey off the record this morning to assert that the story was suspect.

Paul Keating has accused Moran of “wilful misrepresentation”. Meanwhile News Limited CEO John Hartigan has backed Moran in strong terms, and attacked Keating as “a man calling for a new law so that people like him can use their wealth, power and privileged positions to avoid scrutiny when it suits them, while remaining happy to exploit the media for their own gain at other times.”

Whatever the details of what did and did not take place, in the ongoing battle over privacy laws, it is another unedifying stoush.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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