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ABC acknowledges error in story about alleged rape of five-year-old on Nauru -

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MARK COLVIN: The ABC has admitted that it got a story wrong last week about the alleged rape of a five-year-old boy on Nauru.

The ABC director of news Gaven Morris acknowledged the mistake in a statement this afternoon. He said the source quoted in the story - a paediatrician - had been wrongly quoted.

Statements she made about the alleged rape of an older child had been mistakenly taken as referring to the five-year-old.

The top bureaucrat at the Immigration Department had earlier questioned the story and accused journalists of "unacceptable" bias.

Tom Iggulden in Canberra.

TOM IGGULDEN: In a statement issued late today, the ABC apologised for an error in a report on its website about allegations a five-year-old boy had been raped on Nauru.

The report was based on an interview with Dr Karen Zwi, a paediatrician who has been treating two children from the Nauru detention centre who'd been sent to Australia for medical care.

The statement acknowledges the report confused the two cases.

EXCERPT FROM ABC STATEMENT (voiceover): ABC News acknowledges an error. Our source, the treating doctor, told our reporters about two cases: one was an older child.

The doctor stands by her statement that this child was allegedly raped on Nauru. She also told our reporters about another of her patients, a five-year-old, who was allegedly sexually assaulted on Nauru.

Our story incorrectly used quotes about the older child in referring to the younger child. In addition, on at least one occasion the incident was referred to as a rape instead of an alleged rape.

ABC News apologises for the errors and confusion.

TOM IGGULDEN: The back-down comes after the secretary of the Immigration Department, Michael Pezzullo, questioned the story's accuracy at a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra this morning.

MICHAEL PEZZULLO: There is no five-year-old child. It's a figment.

TOM IGGULDEN: He told the hearing he was concerned after being told of the report. He then dispatched assistant secretary Cheryl-Anne Moy to speak with Dr Zwi.

Ms Moy also appeared at today's hearing.

CHERYL-ANNE MOY: The child was not five. The allegation was of a sexual assault from another child, who was about two years older, which was a physical skin-to-skin contact, it wasn't an allegation of rape by child.

The child is more than double the age of five.

TOM IGGULDEN: Dr Zwi this afternoon issued a statement through a lawyer standing by her claim that the older child was raped.

EXCERPT FROM STATEMENT BY DR ZWI (voiceover): As a paediatrician I have provided information which was factually accurate.

I do not wish to be drawn into the age of the child concerned, for confidentiality reasons, but all children have a right to expect safe and nurturing environments.

TOM IGGULDEN: Mr Pezzullo told the estimates hearing he was concerned that factual inaccuracies were made as a result of journalistic bias.

MICHAEL PEZZULLO: We've gone beyond journalism when you've got certain segments of the media undertaking essentially pamphleteering of almost political nature, and then in that context, the facts just get bent, and it's completely unacceptable.

TOM IGGULDEN: Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the dispute over the accuracy of the story should not be a distraction from the harm done to children on Nauru.

SARAH HANSON-YOUNG: The department secretary wants to squibble [sic] over how old this child may now be.

I mean I think that's a pretty low blow for looking after and looking out for the welfare of a child and other children.

And the truth is the department secretary has confirmed this child was brought to Australia from Nauru because he was suffering.

MARK COLVIN: Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, ending that report from Tom Iggulden.