What’s next in the torrid business of The Australian, the rest of the media, the Victoria Police and the Office of Police Integrity? It’s hard to say. Several things could happen.

First, it is possible that federal agencies will indeed decide to investigate Victoria Police Commissioner Simon Overland. And who can doubt that the state opposition will continue to make hay while The Australian’s sun shines upon this issue.

It is possible The Australian will come up with further stories, likely again to contain at least kernel of legitimacy, whatever the rest.

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But leaving those possibilities to one side, the next step may well be the charging of journalist Cameron Stewart’s alleged source for his scoop on Operation Neath terrorism raids. This will see the battles shift to a new forum — the criminal courts.

For the moment, let’s recap. Over the long weekend The Age and the Sunday Age bought in to the fracas, with The Age running its extraordinary leak of a letter from The Australian editor in chief Chris Mitchell, in which he appeared to threaten the OPI, while describing its actions as corrupt.

The Media section of The Australian yesterday had a go at me, among several others, and there was a wrap from Media Watch last night. This morning The Australian again has the story on the front page, although one senses some of the heat is departing.

Meanwhile, a few other points are worth noting. First, the News Limited paper the Herald Sun seems notably unfussed about the Australian’s “scoop” concerning Overland, having barely covered it at all. When it has reported the fallout, it has been placed well back in the paper. This anti-Overland campaign is being conducted by one masthead in the stable, not by the organisation as a whole.

Second, Melissa Fyfe, of the Sunday Age, who was the reporter who broke the story about Overland’s role in the whole affair last September, wrote a very balanced wrap of what the issues are and what they aren’t this weekend. Sadly, I can’t seem to find her piece online.

Thirdly, given the distortion that is around, I feel like I should recap what I have and haven’t said about all this. I said The Australian had been selective in its use of evidence, and that its story was basically old news. I said:

“There are kernels of legitimate stories in some of The Australian’s long-running campaign on this issue, but evidence has been used selectively, other evidence has been pushed way too far and what is missing is understanding and context. The final result is something warped and dangerous in journalism.”

I stand by that.

And I also said that Overland had done something questionable, and that everyone, not least him and the OPI, would be in a more comfortable position if it had been more publicly and independently investigated. I stand by that, too.

Now for The Media section of The Australian, and what it said about me. The author of the piece, Geoff Elliott, did try to contact me over the weekend. I was out of email and mobile phone coverage in a place where, I am glad to say, this storm seemed a long, long way away.

The correspondence between Elliott and me can be seen on my blog.

The background to this attack is my reporting, first on the so-called Ozleaks case (see here and here) and more recently my long piece for the Crikey email on Thursday.

Those who are following this affair are doubtless able to make up their own minds on the rights and wrongs from the wealth of material now on the public record, so I will address only the important inaccuracies in Elliott’s piece. First, I have never been “on the drip” from the OPI.

Those pieces of information I have about the OPI investigation have been variously gleaned from what has been said in open court, from those parts of the court file that are open to public access, and from other sources.

It’s a dangerous business, saying who your source is NOT. It can narrow the field. But in this case the virulence of the campaign against the OPI, and the way this is being used in that campaign, means that I feel I should say that my sources for the non-public pieces of information Elliott draws attention to were not the OPI, and not the Victoria Police.

For more detail, see the blog.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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