For accused cocaine smuggler Cassandra “Cocaine Cassie” Sainsbury, the media pile-on has well and truly started.

The immediate surface-level similarities to Our Schapelle quickly dissipated as Sainsbury’s stories changed and her innocence seemed less and less likely. They were both young Australian women arrested on drug-smuggling charges in a Third World country, and both immediately protested their innocence. But in the days following, there was none of the media speculation around Sainsbury’s guilt and innocence, like we saw with Schappelle Corby after she was arrested in Bali in 2004 with more than 4kg of marijuana in her boogie board bag.

And the speculation around Sainsbury has now turned into a full-blown race to the bottom for more sordid details about her.

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A 60 Minutes piece on Sunday, introduced without irony by Tara Brown, who 13 months ago was released from a jail in Beirut, had exclusive access to Sainsbury’s mum and sister. Channel Nine followed up with a grotty piece filed from Sydney, including confirmation of Sainsbury’s work as a prostitute in New South Wales. The source was an unidentified woman who said she’d worked with Sainsbury. The coworker’s face and voice obscured, and no reason was given in the report as to why Sainsbury’s perfectly legal job was relevant to the story.

Over at Seven, reporter Denham Hitchcock had the exclusive with Sainsbury’s fiance, Scott Broadbridge. The program was at pains to point out it had not paid its talent for the interview.

Hitchcock made good use of the drone Sunday Night used for a lot of its exterior shots in the program, inexplicably delivering a piece-to-camera from the roof of a building in Bogota.

Both programs raised many doubts over Sainsbury’s own story, and Seven included a strong denial from Sainsbury’s uncle he’d owned any business, in direct contravention to Sainsbury’s claim she had worked for his cleaning business.

And while the networks made it clear they didn’t pay for those interviews, 60 Minutes has said it helped the family with their travel costs for the reunion. It’s likely Sunday Night did the same at least for Broadbridge.

News Corp Australia’s reporter Sarah Blake, who has been reporting on the story from Bogota, took great pleasure in tweeting her scoop of the first interview with Sainsbury from prison — and pointing out she hadn’t paid for it.


In a piece for News Corp’s opinion website RendezView, Blake said she’d advised Sainsbury’s lawyers not to take money for their story, and said she thought it was interviews like hers that would help bring public opinion around:

“There is no doubt that over the past week of racing to get those around her stitched up in a deal, one person seems to have been forgotten: and that’s Cassie, the woman at the centre of it all. She was more than happy to talk to News Corp yesterday. It wasn’t easy to get her on the line — we spoke on a public phone shared by hundreds of inmates who only have access for a few hours a day, and we tried many dozens of times to get through. But over the course of four five-minute interviews, she spoke in detail about what her life is like now and what she hopes will happen. And it will be in genuine interactions like this, away from the bright lights of current affairs TV shows, that the real Cassie will have the chance to win that all-important public support.”

But outside that interview, the tabloid newspapers have also gone hard on “Cocaine Cassie”, running with the prostitute angles. Today, The Daily Telegraph has a named brothel owner telling the sad story of Sainsbury crying through her shifts as a sex worker in Sydney, which was picked up by Daily Mail Australia to be splashed as the lead story on its website this morning.

By contrast, during Corby’s trial and appeals in Bali, the Queenslander had high-profile support, with Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones declaring her innocent, and legal fees paid for by Ron Bakir, but who later cut ties with Corby and her family. Nine’s 60 Minutes managed to score the only interview with Corby herself, from her prison cell, with reporter Liz Hayes.

Then, in a special broadcast on Nine hosted by Mike Munro before the verdict, the studio audience used The Worm — usually reserved for election debates — to record Corby’s guilt or innocence. According to the program at the time, just 9% of the studio audience watching the program thought she was guilty.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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