Where does a journalists’ responsibility lie when a source goes rogue? How discerning do we expect our reporters to be when it comes to swallowing a line?

Today media writer Margaret Simons provides a forensic breakdown of the OPI report tabled in Victorian Parliament this morning entitled Crossing the Line.

It’s an extraordinary tale of how one ministerial adviser manipulated and conned a remarkably large circle of people as part of a personal and political vendetta against then Police Commissioner Simon Overland. A long list of members of the media used Weston’s services, but normally discerning types within the inner sanctum of police and government were also sucked in by a man who the OPI report suggests “lacked boundaries” and who may yet face criminal charges.

Former policeman Tristan Weston turned ministerial adviser was used by then Deputy Commissioner Ken Jones in his attempts to broker a secret deal with the Police Association. Needless to say, the decision to consort with Weston backfired badly for Jones, and no doubt that realisation began to dawn on the deputy as he watched Weston’s methods of feeding false stories to the media, then retracting them after Jones and others refuted the information and then offering reporters something juicier in return.

Weston was not, the OPI report says, the originator nor the sole member of the campaign against Overland. However his activities “almost certainly contributed to the course of events that led to the Chief Commissioner’s resignation. In the process, management of Victoria Police was undermined and public confidence in it diminished.”

The adviser conducted his campaign against Overland on “the thinnest of evidence heavily overlaid with rumour, speculation and prejudice”.

And the media, including journalists from the Herald Sun, The Age, The Australian and Melbourne’s 3AW, ate it up. Some journalists assumed Weston was speaking with the knowledge of Police Minister Peter Ryan, and he did not correct them on that assumption. He was not.

In a masterful understatement, the OPI report came to the conclusion that Weston’s appointment as a ministerial adviser while being a serving police officer amounted to an “irreconcilable conflict of interest”.

Crossing the Line doesn’t begin to cut it.

Peter Fray

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