DAMNED: The Age condemned by Press Council in Theophanous case

theagevolcanoAndrew Bolt’s column on The Age’s misconduct in its false and misleading reporting on former Victorian cabinet minister Theo Theophanous is compulsory reading. His five points at the conclusion are worth framing and putting up in every newsroom:

First, this tyranny of the pointing finger must be resisted.

Second, we should be slower to grant anonymity to those making devastating allegations against public figures with no such protection from being named, shamed and finished.

Third, we should remember that the plural of rumour is not evidence.

Fourth, we must defy the modern convention that some allegations are so sacred that it’s a sin to question. These most notably include allegations of rape, racism and global warming.

And, lastly, we should never forget that every journalist has an agenda. It’s just that some do not declare them when it matters most.

We like Bolt very much and we wonder why it is that some Labor people – even the most patriotic kind – get freaked out by him. They should all read his piece on Theophanous. Bolt is definitely a principled conservative but he’s no partisan cheerleader and I think that comes through very powerfully in what he wrote today.

As he discusses, the Press Council has condemned The Age’ for the misconduct of its journalists in its reporting on the former Victorian cabinet minister.

VEXNEWS readers will recall our extensive reporting on their highly suspect reporting at the time.

Two of the Age’s journalists are left disgraced and another highly embarrassed after being damned by the newspaper industry’s own Press Council adjudication process.

Carolyn Webb has been found by the newspaper industry’s own independent panel to have had a conflict of interest in her reporting because she was a personal friend of the psychologically troubled rape accuser.

But it’s much worse that that, the Press Council has found that both Webb and the newspaper management were aware that the woman who falsely accused Theophanous of rape had inconsistent stories.

As Bolt points out, that didn’t stop them from reporting her false account.

So they knew there major inconsistencies in her story and it didn’t stop them. They knew about all this and didn’t tell the victim of her lies or the Victoria Police who were investigating them.

It’s almost beyond comprehension what the Victoria Police did in this case and our admiration for their courage and sacrifice is now tempered by the memory of seeing Detective Sergeant Doug Smith glare in such a psychotically hostile way in the court-room not just at Theo Theophanous and his loving family but even their supporters in the gallery.

His desire for a scalp went well beyond any interest in serving justice and truth. His active collusion with The Age in assisting them make their false reports is proof enough of that.

Whatever community interest Smith thinks he’s serving was junked the day he decided to suspend disbelief in the Theophanous case. This is not the forum for denigrating Police officers, even those who do the wrong thing, but he is clearly in the wrong line of work. We hope that the proper ethical standards authorities bring him and anyone else involved to justice real soon. Victoria Police enjoys a very high regard in the community, and on both sides of politics, and we hope that long continues, that cause would certainly be better served by Smith moving on to something more suited to his talents, perhaps assisting the door-bitch with security by beating up unruly patrons at a Warrnambool nightclub.

The newspaper industry’s own Press Council also made it clear that the Sunday Age’s Michael Bachelard had horribly misconducted himself too by not revealing his own conflicts of interest in reporting on Theophanous:

In the Council’s view, this article trod close to the line of fairness and balance through its degree of reliance on unattributed quotations and assertions as the basis for very severe criticism. The Council also believes that it is often unwise, and sometimes clearly unacceptable, for a newspaper to publish an article by a journalist who may be vulnerable to perceptions of a conflict of interest in favour of or against a person referred to in the article, at least if the relevant facts are not disclosed.

His colleague Melissa Fyfe had a go at writing a more balanced piece, only to have some very hostile and inaccurate commentary inserted by a person not named in the Press Council findings – but later revealed by Age insiders as Sunday Age deputy editor Mark Forbes. Forbes had a long history of promoting Socialist Left enemies of Theophanous as a former state political reporter. Forbes also edited out Fyfe’s description of Theophanous’s achievements as a minister for fear of making him look good. To her credit, we hear Fyfe registered her great displeasure about it. Forbes is not even named, let alone rightly condemned for his role.

There’s so much more that could be said about all this.

The injustice of it turns us white with rage. Bolt has put it very well and even the ponderous language of the Press Council’s adjudication makes it clear enough.

There was probably no vast left-wing conspiracy here. Probably. But nor was it a lone gunman. It took one vindictive crazy – dare we call a spade a spade and just call her evil – lady and a whole host of willing executioners in the form of agenda-driven left-wing journalists who hated Theo from the day he woke up, smelt the coffee and joined the Labor Right. If he’d stayed with the Left faction, we have no doubt The Age’s reporting would have been radically different.

Even more ominously, the machinery of the Victoria Police and the Office of Public Prosecutions in the form of the hot-headed and nasty Michelle Williams SC and her boss Jeremy Rapke – recently outed by the Sunday newspapers for promoting his close personal twenty-something female friend to a senior role within the OPP – seemed to sputter on without ever asking the fundamental question that must be asked of every accuser (regardless of the crime): Are they lying?

In all the circumstances, the final word should go to Theo who sent this email out today to his friends following the announcement of the ruling:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am writing  to bring to your attention the recent ruling of the Press Council following a complaint that was lodged by me some time ago.

I decided not to pursue legal action against The Age and to seek an adjudication from the Press Council.

Following a lengthy process the Press Council has made its findings and I urge you to read it.

The Press often calls upon people in public life to be brought to account but is not often brought to account itself.

The Age is obliged to publish the finding of the Press Council in a suitably prominent position. To date it has not done so despite it being able to publish from the 28th July onwards. The Age has now informed me that it will publish “in due course”.

As the ruling has now been released by the Press Council to all media I have decided to bring it to your attention directly.

The matters raised by the Press Council are very serious indeed.

Beyond the damning comments of the Press Council you may wish to know that it has now emerged that not only was The Age aware of an earlier version of the story which had been provided to their journalist by the woman but they failed to notify the Police of this. As noted in the Press Council the earlier version differed in key respects from the one published. The differences went to many alleged facts and even included a different year and location of the alleged incident.

It is an open question as to whether the Police would have charged had they been fully aware of all of these earlier versions.

It also emerged during the Press Council evidence that The Age was in close contact with the Detective leading the investigation over a protracted period. This explains the detectives comment in an email to the woman that he wanted any media coverage to be “on “our” terms”. Not only does this show collusion by the Detective with the woman but also now apparently with The Age.

When I look at all that has happened to me the unanswered question is whether once the allegation was made, an agenda emerged to “get” a high profile politician which coloured both the investigation and the reporting. If indeed such an agenda did emerge it must be of concern to all people in public life whatever their political persuasion as it would represent a gross misuse of power and would have profound implications for our democracy. I do not wish to make this the centre of my life but I think that unless we learn something from it, it is bound to be repeated to the detriment of other individuals and families.

In any case I urge you to read the Press Council’s findings and the article which reports on the findings by Andrew Bolt in today’s Herald Sun.

I hope now that people will allow me and my family to move on and that there will be no obstacles to us continuing to make a contribution in society.



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16 responses to “DAMNED: The Age condemned by Press Council in Theophanous case

  1. graham williams

    The scurrilous and baseless articles written by Webb and Bachelard highlight the dangers of uncontrolled journalism. ‘Freedom of the Press’ becomes a nightmare when people become fearful of its misuse of power. How can the media be prevented from airing whatever lies it chooses? Certainly not through the courts unless one is able to financially compete with its enormous wealth and influence. Not through the Press Council, which has no effective power. Not through the parliament, where politicians may be disgraced by the turn of a vicious pen. What a sad reflection on our democratic standards of fairness and impartiality.

  2. Former Age Reader

    It’s quite sad what has become of this once great paper.

    I hope when the life support machine gets switched off in a few years time that people remember The Age newspaper for what it once was and not for what it became in its undignified dying years.

  3. Dan Lewis

    It should be a worry for any newspaper when Indymedia starts to look credible in comparison.

  4. Anonymous

    The Reporting of the “Brimbank Scandal” should be next on the Press Council’s agenda.

  5. Marcia Jones

    I have never understood why the same sauce is not good for the gander as well as for the goose. This evil female has made her scurrilous allegations under the privilege and cloak of annonymity -while Theo Theophanous enjoyed no such luxury. A change in the law is needed to protect people from vexatious allegations of this kind – and to punish those who make them. I hope Theo will be suing The Age over their outragious and quite unfounded lies.

  6. Sophie Planson

    I am going to write to The Age to tell them what they think of ther journalistic standards – and why I’m not going to bother buying their rag any more. I urge everyone to do likewise.

  7. anon

    Whatever! They is NO denying that the Theophanous brothers are grubs.

  8. Pingback: Tweets that mention VEXNEWS 2010© | DAMNED: The Age condemned by Press Council in Theophanous case -- Topsy.com

  9. Adrian Jackson

    Good to see Carolyn Webb has come unstuck.

    The “silly bitch” (I called her that and a “fuckwit” too when I rang her) attributed a quote to me on an article on the Vineyard cafe, St Kilda, non-tender fiasco (The Age, 29 Jun 10) which I did not say nor did she check it with me at the Port Phillip Council meeting she and I attended in 28 Jun 10.

    I sent The Age a letter correcting the story but it was not published

    I hope she get Kevin Rudd’s illness and has to retire.

  10. The Star Chamber gazette

    Having been a victim of the Ages poor standard if journalism and lack of professionalism I can feel for Theophanous. The Age holds itself out as being the judge and jury without having considered the facts or evidence of any allegations before passing judement. They are reckless at best and outright irresponsible, fueling the Lynch mob mentality whilst denying the rights of natural justice and civil liberties.

  11. Little Blonde Choir Boy

    Mr Abbott why do you want me to bend over and hold my ancles when you ‘push poll’ me?

  12. Matted Hairy

    Andy, what happened to your story a while back that there were to be 8 redundancies at The Aged? Are any of these turds on the list?

  13. Anonymous

    Dear Vex, why don’t you run a death watch lottery: nominate the day the Age publishes its final edition and win a nice little prize. I’ll start the ball rolling with this prediction.

    The Age will be dead and gone by early in the new year. They will keep it going just long enough to snaffle the Xmas ads, then zap it in January when everyone cancels their subs to go on hols. Factor in 12-weeks notice and an attempt to find the bigger fool who might want to take it over and the Age will vanish from the melbourne mediascape on, oh, March 31, 2011.

    By the way, the prize could be a date with Margo Kingston’s sister, Gay Alcorn, who will no longer have the sunday edition to edit. She’ll probably appreciate a free feed around then.

  14. Fairfaxista

    Hey, we published the Press Council ruling on a left hand side page, buried in the Saturday paper. Of course nobody really bothers to get past the first few pages of the EGN section on a Saturday because the editorial and features are in the separate Insight liftout. Genius!!

  15. Adrian Jackson

    ABC TV Media Watch just did a piece on this Carolyn Webb disgrace

  16. Queen of Hearts

    Surely the more pertinent questions is why Jeremy Rapke has been allowed to get away with this scurrilous behaviour. Promoting his “close personal twenty-something female friend” is an utter disgrace. Kudos to Gavin Silbert for having the kahunas to at least try to do something about the situation. And shame on Hulls for allowing this!!

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