A leading expert on media ethics has criticised 60 Minutes for what he says is “chequebook, stunt journalism” after reporter Tara Brown and her crew were arrested and charged with kidnapping-related offences in Lebanon.
Dr Dennis Muller, an ethics expert at The University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advancing Journalism, said the program overstepped the mark by inserting themselves into the custody dispute.
“They have gone too far,” Dr Muller told The New Daily. “This sort of chequebook, stunt journalism, Channel 9 have made an art form out of it, so have Channel 7 – but usually in the pretty safe confines of Australia.
“What’s happened here is they’ve got seriously out of their depth. They have embarked to this foreign country with a completely different legal system.”
Brown was in Beirut with Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner and members of ‘child recovery’ firm Child Abduction Recovery International (CARI), allegedly to reunite Ms Faulkner with her two children, Noah, four, and Lahela, six, who had been living in Lebanon with their father Ali al-Amin.
But the operation was botched, leading to Ms Faulkner, Ms Brown, 60 Minutes producer Stephen Rice, sound recordist David Ballment and cameraman Ben Williamson facing charges.
The 60 Minutes crew is accused of:
• hiding information;
• forming an association with two or more people to commit a crime against a person;
• kidnapping or holding a minor even with their approval; and
• physical assault.
The offences carry penalties of up to 20 years in jail.
Dr Muller said the group had “associated with a so-called child recovery agency of very questionable capacity as well as standards”.
“We have to ask the question, what sort of checks did they do on these people?
“The overarching question is what do they think they were doing. Inserting themselves into what is clearly a tragic and difficult family dispute?
“In doing so, they seem to prioritise the interests of the mother over everybody else.
“The paramount interests are the interests of the children.”
There has been speculation that 60 Minutes paid for the recovery operation, given Ms Faulkner’s financial state seems to be precarious.
“That whole issue of payment is absolutely central,” Dr Muller said.
“If they are players, if they are participants in this operation by paying, then they’re not just journalists – they are part of the operation.
“Channel 9 are dodging and weaving around this. They’ve not denied paying, but neither have they confirmed.
“That remains, in terms of their legal prospects, a very important question.”
Dr Muller took issue with the term ‘child recovery’ and said the phrase is a euphemism for criminal activity.
“Child recovery sounds like some sort of rescue,” Dr Muller said.
“It’s a euphemism for kidnapping.
“They may wish to dress it up as a rescue mission, but that assumes that there’s right on their side and the children are in danger. Well, there’s no evidence that either of those things is true.”