ABC skirts public duty to fairly cover Pell, analyse Victorian justice system

The Australian
April 13, 2020

Were it run by a real editor, as its managing director is meant to be, the ABC would have given more prominence to last Tuesday’s High Court rejection of a jury verdict against Cardinal George Pell.

Yet on Tuesday on ABC local radio, News Radio and Radio ­National it was hard until noon to find a mention that the High Court’s verdict was a unanimous 7-0. Coverage on ABC TV news and 7.30 was far from fulsome in acknowledging the failures of the Victorian judicial and law enforcement systems, let alone the corporation’s own missteps. ABC 7.30 ran a once-over-lightly, six-minute item. The 7pm TV bulletin in Melbourne failed to mention the verdict was unanimous.

Managing director David Anderson and head of news Gaven Morris should have made sure in advance that news editors knew they were expected to treat the judgment with appropriate weight. They should have expected the decision from the moment they read the powerful dissenting Victorian Appeals Court decision by Justice Mark Weinberg.

Yet on Twitter that afternoon ABC journalists were insisting the ruling did not make Pell innocent. It most certainly made him innocent of the charges laid by Victoria Police: that the nation’s most senior Catholic cleric, in his first months as archbishop of Melbourne, abused two choirboys in the sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral after either his first or second Sunday mass there as archbishop and weeks later in public grabbed the genitals of one of the boys.

The lack of grooming and public nature of the alleged crimes should have raised alarm bells for editors, reporters, book publishers and police investigators. Where was the evidence of the long-term grooming of a child that usually occurs before abuse by a trusted priest? Why would Pell, having just ascended to high office, risk everything with two boys he did not know? Their parents could have been police for all he knew.

Andrew Bolt in the News Corp tabloids on Thursday discussed false allegations against Pell that have fallen over in court. Some were first aired on ABC 7.30 by Louise Milligan as early as 2015. Others were made by people who had simply seen alleged incidents mentioned on 7.30.

In the lead-up to Pell’s acquittal, the ABC ran a three-part series, Revelation, by Sarah Ferguson. Promotion for the series claimed, falsely, that its third episode included many new revelations about Pell. This episode was removed from ABC iview and its website last week to be re-edited.

Guardian Australia media writer Amanda Meade wrote last Thursday: “The broadcaster responded to the decision by the High Court to quash Pell’s convictions by pulling the third episode …” Meade quoted an ABC spokesman saying, “the ABC has temporarily removed episode three of Revelation from its platforms while updating its content”.

“The ABC has — and will continue to — report accurately and without fear or favour on stories that are in the public interest, including this one. We stand by our reporters and our stories.”


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