The Nine Network has admitted that 60 Minutes made “multiple and serious mistakes” while pursuing the Lebanon child abduction story.
During Sunday night’s episode, reporter Michael Usher “sincerely apologised” for the failed story that resulted in jail time for a 60 Minutes crew, an Australian mother and members of a child abduction agency.
The 60 Minutes team and desperate mother Sally Faulkner were arrested and imprisoned for two weeks in April after child recovery experts paid for by 60 Minutes seized Ms Faulkner’s two children – Lahela, 6, and Noah, 4 – from a Beirut Street as they were walking with their Lebanese grandmother.
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“Ever since, we’ve been asking ourselves how things could have gone so wrong,” Usher said. “Tonight, we face up to for our serious mistakes.”
Founder and inaugural 60 Minutes Australia executive producer Gerald Stone – who also led the review that led to the sacking of senior producer Stephen Rice and staff warnings – told Usher the story was “without a doubt in the 37 years of 60 Minutes the greatest misadventure”.
“There were ways to do it, but to try to cover a parental kidnapping in one of the most heavily guarded cities, capitals of the world, was a bridge too far,” Stone said.
“It’s amazing to me … their judgement was blurred.”
— 60 Minutes Australia (@60Mins) May 29, 2016
Usher said 60 Minutes was “carefully reviewing our operations”.
“What’s important is to learn from doing that,” he said. Usher admitted 60 Minutes paid for the abduction specialists services.
The story about the botched kidnapping came near the end of the 60 Minutes episode and ran for approximately five minutes.
The story’s producer Rice was sacked last week by the Nine Network after the independent review was conducted.
Journalist Tara Brown and other staff involved were given formal warnings. The review determined the team’s reporting to be “inappropriate” and “at odds with standard procedure”.
Stone said the producer had to be sacked because in a story like this the producer held most of the responsibility and “should be to blame”.
After two weeks in jail, a Lebanese judge released Ms Faulkner and the Nine Network crew on bail after Ms Faulkner’s estranged husband Ali el-Amin dropped all charges against them.
Child abduction specialist Adam Whittington and his assistants remain in a Beirut jail and still face charges.
Reports said a six-figure bail payment by Nine Network was exchanged for the freedom of the 60 Minutes crew and Ms Faulkner.
Mr Whittington’s wife, Karin Whittington, told The Project in April that 60 Minutes and the Nine Network had “mistreated” and “let down” her husband.
“[For] the management of the [60 Minutes] team just to dismiss everything and say they have no responsibility [for Mr Whittington], it is not very moral in my eyes,” Ms Whittington said.
No one who was jailed has made any public comments or faced any questions in public about what occurred in Beirut.