When is a discussion an interview? And if someone talks to a journalist after insisting there won’t be an interview, is what that person says quotable?
News Corp’s decision earlier this month to publish a a conversation with Lindy Bryant, the younger sister of Port Arthur gunman Martin Bryant, has angered the family, as Bryant says she insisted she wouldn’t give News Corp reporter Sarah Blake an interview when the Daily Tele scribe turned up at her door a few weeks ago.
Lindy Bryant has never given an interview to the media since her brother made her famous almost two decades ago. And, a family friend tells Crikey, she had no intention of giving one to News Corp.
Joan Errington-Dunne — a decade-long friend of Lindy and her mother, Carleen Bryant, who has acted as an unofficial media adviser and go-between for journalists — has been arguing the issue with John McGourty, News Corp executive editor. The family wants a letter printed in Lindy’s local News Corp tabloid to let colleagues, friends and acquaintances know Lindy Bryant hadn’t agreed to an interview, but so far News Corp has not agreed on this point. Another point of contention was the title of the piece, “My life spent running from my monster brother”, which was not a direct quote from Bryant. This has since been changed to a less emotive heading online.
The Sunday Telegraph’s splash on December 6
In emails seen by Crikey, McGourty does not deny Lindy Bryant had been reluctant to speak to Blake. But he insists an interview of sorts did occur.
According to Errington-Dunne, Bryant went inside after a brief confrontation when Blake turned up at her doorstep. According to an email Bryant sent to Errington-Dunne shortly after the encounter, Bryant told Blake:
“Who are you? How the hell did you find me? I’ve even changed my name because of people like you. I’ve spent enough years already on the run hiding from journalists, changing jobs, changing towns. Why can’t you just leave it all alone? Why do you have to keep on reminding and hurting all of us victims? Can we do an interview? No we can’t. I have no interest. What can you do to earn my trust? Nothing. There will be no interview. There never has been and there never will be.”
While the piece run in the News Corp tabloids was billed as the first exclusive interview with Martin Bryant’s sister, its quotes from Bryant were very brief, and there is significant overlap with what Bryant recollects having said to Blake. Bryant’s only comments to News Corp as quoted in the piece are:
“I have had 20 years running away from this … I have changed my name, I have moved from house to house, job to job. I have worked so hard to put all of this behind me … as you can imagine I just don’t have anything to do with him … I have no contact at all … When you think about it, you know, my mother and I, we are his victims too.”
Not quoted is anything about Lindy Bryant not wanting to do an interview, or being reluctant to talk. Instead, it’s described as “the only interview she has given since Bryant’s deadly spree in April 1996”.
When Errington-Dunne emailed McGourty saying Bryant had not consented to an interview, he replied:
“I understand that Lindy feels she may not have given a conventional interview. From what I know, the conversation happened with Lindy on one side of a security grille and Sarah on the front step. Lindy opened the door and answered Sarah’s questions. Sarah had hoped to speak to Lindy in her lounge room but this was not possible. However, Lindy did say the things attributed to her. Lindy’s decision not to give a longer interview is understandable. However, she did speak to Sarah.”
Errington-Dunne says the family wants a letter or apology published saying that Bryant had not agreed to an interview. But after a pushing this point several times with McGourty, he responded over the weekend that this would not be possible. McGourty said he was partly reluctant as such a letter would make public Bryant’s home state, but Errington-Dunne says it is a risk the family is willing to take to set the record straight. But News Corp has yet to publish such a letter.
“If there is some way of helping Lindy make her friends and colleagues understand what happened I am happy to pursue that,” McGourty wrote in an email. “But it couldn’t be an apology as an interview did take place and Lindy did answer Sarah’s questions.”
Speaking to Crikey, Errington-Dunne says News Corp took advantage of Bryant’s inexperience with the media. She points out that in the journalists’ code of conduct it states one must “never exploit a person’s vulnerability or ignorance of media practice”, which she argues is exactly what News Corp did. She says when the interaction with Blake happened, Bryant was upset and angry to be approached by a journalist after doing her best to keep her identity and location secret.
“They’re fragile. They don’t want to know about the media,” she said. “The most important thing to Lindy now is that people, including her brother, would believe she said that and gave them an interview. And that was what was cutting her up.
“They’re traumatised by the media. Lindy didn’t stop crying for a whole day after this. She cannot speak to the media.”
Contacted by Crikey this morning, McGourty stood by the interview. “Sarah clearly identified herself, and who she works for, when she met Lindy. This is in line with the journalistic code of ethics,” he said.
“We respected Lindy’s request not to give a longer interview or to be photographed, and agreed to protect her privacy by not revealing where she lives.”