By Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes

 

Watch Media Watch’s (Episode 37) view re Courier Mail’s reporting on the Italian girls from last night ABC TV:

http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/view/27390

The full transcript for the Media Watch coverage of

“A private dispute turned national spectacular”
 can be accessed here:

http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s3611123.htm

But let’s move the focus to Queensland, and a distressing family court case which has been dominating the headlines for months – and to the disturbing role the mainstream media has played in it.

The case had been before the Family Court for a year, with very little publicity, until the Brisbane Courier-Mail weighed in on May 12th this year:

Court rips daughters away from mother

Tuck Thompson

A Sunshine Coast family is being ripped apart by a Family Court ruling that is forcing four young girls on to a flight to Italy to live with a father they describe as a physically abusive workaholic.

— Courier Mail, 12th May, 2012

Ripper of a lead par, eh? So balanced, so sensitive. The story was completely one-sided: it quoted the children making allegations of violent abuse by the father, and gave a distorted impression of the facts of the case. For example:

Their mother, 32, secretly escaped from her marriage to the Italian man two years ago. They have not seen him since.

— Courier Mail, 12th May, 2012

The facts are that the mother had separated from the father in 2007, and an Italian court had given her shared custody of the children. Three years later, the Family Court of Australia has found, the mother obtained the father’s consent to bring the girls to Australia on holiday for a month. She then refused to return. That was in June 2010. The father has been trying to get them back ever since.

But the story obviously played well with the Courier-Mail’s readers. Three days later came this extraordinary front page.

Sisters on the run

— Courier Mail, 15th May, 2012

To escape being sent back to Italy, the girls were being hidden by a family member. What is extraordinary is that the Courier-Mail printed photographs on its front page, and named, all four girls. We’ve blurred the images and the names.

On the face of it, the Courier-Mail was in blatant breach of one of the best-known legal restrictions in journalism. ……..

Australian television news programs also joined the circus ……. 

Samantha Armytage: And a warning, some viewers may find these pictures distressing.

— Channel Seven, News, 4th October, 2012

Distressing they certainly were.

Georgina McKerrow: As one daughter is driven away, the next is being taken from the home. Mum turns, and runs…

— Channel Seven, News, 4th October, 2012

But worse was to come. The Australian media followed the girls back to Italy. When Nine News arrived outside the father’s villa. Sophie Walsh reported, the two older sisters rushed out of the house, calling for help.

Sophie Walsh: With tears running down her cheeks, one of the sisters grabbed hold of me saying she was scared she was going to be hurt and needed to be taken away. The eldest daughter was eventually dragged inside as her sister cried for their mum. The voice bringing them to tears.

(Mother on phone): It’ll be ok, come on baby be strong please …

— Channel Nine, News, 7th October, 2012

That’s right. Sophie Walsh has the girl’s mother on her mobile phone. Talk about a reporter becoming an active participant in a story.

It may well be worse than that. In one of several live crosses from Italy to Weekend Today, Walsh explained her relationship with the girl’s mother …

Cameron Williams: Have you heard from the girl’s mum?

Sophie Walsh: Yeah I have, look I’ve been in constant contact with her since I’ve been over here….

— Channel Nine, Weekend Today, 7th October, 2012

She’s been in constant contact. And when they arrived at the father’s villa, Sophie explained…

Sophie Walsh: The girls knew that we were there, and I think really they just seized the opportunity to try and escape, they came sprinting across the front lawn and through the gate.

— Channel Nine, Weekend Today, 7th October, 2012

The girls knew they were there? We wondered how? Here’s what the father’s lawyer told the ABC’s The World Today

Paul Donnelly: Apparently one of the older girls had a mobile phone, she made a call to Australia, she received a call back, with that her and her sister then ran out of the front yard of the villa, pleading for the press to help them.

— ABC Radio, World Today, 8th October, 2012…….

…….   It’s amazing isn’t it? As with any such story, there are two versions of almost every aspect of the case. The Family Court has heard, and weighed, both sides. The public, through the media, has overwhelmingly heard just one.

We asked Nine whether it had told the mother’s family that its crew was outside the villa. We got no response. But as Sophie Walsh says…

Sophie Walsh: Given what we’ve seen today it would seem this case still has a very long way to go until it is resolved.

— Channel Nine, Weekend Today, 7th October, 2012

…with the Australian media, helped by the mother, milking every extra day of these children’s distress. Frankly, it’s a disgrace.

Read more, and leave your comments, on our website. Until next week, goodnight

 

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