Did Four Corners repeat the error? Last night Four Corners aired a deeply moving report by the BBC’s Martin Sixsmith on the forced adoptions and maltreatment of tens of thousands of mothers and children in Ireland by a combination of Irish governments and the Catholic Church.

Sixsmith has enormous credibility from his researching and writing the story of Philomena Lee, which was made into the hit movie Philomena. The documentary aired last night is a follow-up from people who have contacted him since he first told Lee’s story. It was the 10th most-watched program last night across Australia, with an audience of more than 1.2 million people, but host Kerry O’Brien made an odd choice when he set up the report with this: “The sense of the callousness of it all hit the headlines earlier this year with the revelation of the skeletal remains of 800 young children had been buried in the grounds of one such institution run by Catholic nuns.” (You can check the iView recording at the ABC website here.)

You might remember that story. The headlines blared of 800 babies found in a septic tank, but that claim was never proven. As Crikey reported back in June, a story followed up by the ABC’s Media Watch, there is little evidence that any bodies are in that infamous septic tank, and no skeletal remains have been found.

This review of the Sixsmith story from Britain’s Telegraph from September retells the “deeply disturbing discovery of 800 children’s bodies in an unmarked grave” story as fact, despite no such grave ever being discovered.

But The Irish Times, in a story run four days after the 800 babies claims emerged in early June, quoted the woman who was said to have found them. “I never used that word ‘dumped’,” Catherine Corless, a local historian in County Galway, told The Irish Times. “I never said to anyone that 800 bodies were dumped in a septic tank. That did not come from me at any point. They are not my words.”

Asked about whether Four Corners, in Kerry O’Brien’s introduction and elsewhere, had given its viewers the wrong impression, executive producer Sue Spencer said that at no point did Four Corners repeat the claim about the septic tank. “The program reported the allegations of local historian Catherine Corless, that nearly 800 young children who died from natural causes were buried in an unmarked common grave between 1925 and 1961. This is now the subject of an Irish government investigation,” Spencer told Crikey.

The 800 dead babies figure comes from a 2012 report by Corless, who deduced that 796 children had died at St Mary’s. She was unable to find all of their death certificates, burial records or their plots in local cemeteries. In her article, she concludes many might have been buried in an unofficial graveyard towards the back of St Mary’s.

The script of last night’s Four Corners quotes the voice-over saying the following:

“Catherine discovered that the young children died between 1925 and 1961 from common diseases whilst at the home. And she believes that the nuns buried many of them in the unmarked mass grave on the site.”

This is accurate. But given O’Brien’s introduction referred to earlier reporting on the issue, even if he made no reference to septic tanks, the earlier, erroneous stories would have been confirmed in the minds of viewers who weren’t aware this claim were false. — Glenn Dyer and staff reporters

Buy one, get one free. Yesterday morning, a Crikey reader from Armidale, NSW got quite a shock while reading his AFR.

A fan of Fairfax’s business tabloid, this reader picked up his copy at the newsagent in Armidale, and to his surprise, on two double pages, he was served one page from the Financial Review, and another from the Sydney Morning Herald. “I’ve seen some good printing errors from Fairfax lately but this takes the cake,” he told Crikey.

On Twitter, we found another customer who’d been served the same dual-paper situation, in Canberra this time.

Asked how this could have happened, AFR editor-in-chief Michael Stutchbury said it was caused by a “human error” picked up part-way through production. “A relatively small number of editions of both the Financial Review and the SMH went out with the wrong page,” he said.

This morning brought with it another error in a Fairfax paper — The Age this time — where quotes to break up a story weren’t filled in before the paper was taken to print.


At the Fairfax AGM last week, Stephen Mayne asked Roger Corbett about the errors in Fairfax papers. Corbett’s answer was that survival required deep cuts. — Myriam Robin

Happy birthday, Daily Review. Crikey’s Daily Review celebrates its first anniversary today so indulge us for feeling a little bit proud. The site spun out of Crikey’s Weekender Friday edition, but the grand plan last November was to create a free arts, entertainment and culture website that was appealing to arts audiences by not only reviewing shows around the country, but also by publishing entertaining, accessible and informative opinion, news, interviews and commentary.

The aim was to encourage interest and discussion across all art forms from film to theatre to video games and television. Judging by the huge amount of readers’ comments we publish we think we have uncovered a rich vein of engagement in a wide range of issues affecting audiences, artists and cultural leaders.

Some of the stories we’re most proud of and have attracted the most discussion include Boom Crash Opera musician Peter Farnan’s superbly written (and very funny) account of INXS and their part in his downfall and Guy Rundle’s paean to Kurt Cobain as he visits the musician’s down at heel home town in Washington. Helen Razer continues to entertain and enrage –and she has been at her vituperative best in this review of a stage show celebrating Barbie.

Jason Whittaker took it to Opera Australia for casting Alan Jones in one of its productions, Peter Green asked why Australia is so lacking in political satire on television and visual arts writer Patricia Anderson told us about the treasures in a Sydney museum most of us have never heard of.

Our film critic Luke Buckmaster gave his only five stars in his very personal review of Boyhood while he also covers the film industry as in his piece on Australian film is still big, it’s the audience that got small.

Fotis Kapetopoulos interviewed writer Christos Tsiolkas in a revealing exchange and our reporter extraordinaire Ben Neutze has done pretty much everything from reviewing theatre and opera to his interview with Cold Chisel’s Don Walker about the art of song writing.

We hope you read some of these stories from our back catalogue —  if not there’s plenty more new stories in today’s Daily Review which is free and updated daily. — Daily Review Editor Ray Gill.

Ex-MPs and their wives. It’s true most former MPs are male. But certainly not all of them! From page 13 of today’s Herald Sun

Front page of the day. Well, is there?


Peter Fray

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