The ABC did offer both the Department of Immigration and Peter Dutton a chance to respond to the allegations in Monday’s Four Corners program on the lives of asylum seeker children on Nauru, but these offers were either declined or conditionally accepted on the basis that the interviews be off-the-record, says ABC news director Gaven Morris.
At Senates estimates on Tuesday, Liberal Senator Jane Hume said the Department of Immigration had offered the ABC an interview on the educational issues for refugee children on Nauru that was rejected. But, Morris says in a public statement, this interview was offered “on background” on Friday afternoon. (A “background” interview generally means a journalist cannot quote or show footage of the spokesperson answering questions, nor can the journalist attribute the information given to them.) “[It was] not what had been requested and was not helpful”, Morris said. “Contrary to claims, the Department did not offer or provide any images or footage to Four Corners.”
The ABC has for the past two days been criticised over the report, first by the government of Nauru and then at Senate estimates, including for not airing an offered interview with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton live on the show. Airing a live interview, Morris said, was “not part of the Four Corners‘ format”. His statement reveals, however, that the minister was offered such an interview on Lateline, which airs immediately after Four Corners on News 24, as well as an interview on the next morning’s AM radio program. “He declined both.”
On claims the program didn’t show the new hospital operating on Nauru, Morris says there are reports it is not fully functional.
Only two visas have been granted to journalists to visit Nauru, and the Nauruan government has singled out the ABC as an organisation it is unlikely to view favourably. For its report, the ABC relied on footage filmed for it by a number of people already on Nauru, including a “freelance camera operator”. It also conducted footage of interviews with children that it “conducted remotely”.
“The program was made in this way out of necessity. Otherwise, the stories of these children would not ever have been told,” Morris said. His statements adds that Four Corners‘ verified information in a number of ways, including through the support of 2000 incident reports that “corroborate” the evidence of the young witnesses.
“ABC News stands by the reporting in the Four Corners program ‘The Forgotten Children’, which aired on Monday night and told the important story of the more than 100 refugee children who are living on Nauru in their own words and those of some of their teachers. Claims made by the Government of Nauru and the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection, which were also raised during a Senate Estimates hearing yesterday and uncritically repeated in The Australian today, are not correct. The Nauruan government and the and DIBP may “contest” Four Corners’ assertions but they have produced no evidence to cast doubt upon them.”
— Myriam Robin