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Wednesday, 10 May 2000
Page: 16232

Mr PROSSER (7:35 PM) —I rise tonight to speak about an incident of great concern to me in relation to the ABC and the program Foreign Correspondent. I am sure you will all recall the `chase for Skase' incident that occurred on Channel 7's Today Tonight program. If it is possible, the ABC crew in Zimbabwe appear to have done something similar. But, unlike the Skase incident, it has the potential to endanger innocent lives and inflame an already delicate situation. Allegations have been made that an ABC news crew, allegedly from Foreign Correspondent, paid locals from nearby towns to stage a farm invasion in Zimbabwe. One white Zimbabwean farmer has made at least one compliant about the ABC's practices in regard to this to the Australian embassy in Harare.

On Foreign Correspondent on 10 April a story on the situation in Zimbabwe was aired. A part of the story was an interview conducted with Mr Rory Hensman, a white Zimbabwean farmer. Mr Hensman agreed to the interview. The following day while Mr Hensman was out, his wife, alone in the house, saw about 150 people coming into the gardens and surrounds brandishing sticks and chanting while being filmed by an ABC crew. On the actual story, these people were interviewed—depicted and captioned as farm squatters. The allegation has been made that the people shown were paid to stage the farm invasion and to pretend to be war veterans and squatters when they were in reality just people brought from the nearby township of Chinoyi.

I have personally confirmed with the Australian Embassy that a complaint in relation to this incident has been made. I understand that this is not the only incident where the ABC have been filming and war veterans or squatters have turned up wanting to or pretending to invade a farm, shouting and brandishing sticks. The situation in Zimbabwe is very dangerous. These white farmers, their families and their workers are already suffering in what is a very volatile political environment. People have been beaten and killed. Just what did the ABC think they were doing? The Foreign Correspondent report showed footage of whites that had been badly beaten at the opposition protests. Basically, was this not graphic enough for the ABC? Did the reporting team feel they had to spice things up a little by paying a hundred-odd locals to stage a mock farm invasion? These are people's lives and it is not truthful reporting. Who knew about the incident? I know the Managing Director of the ABC knows about the incident. What I would like to know is what he is going to do about it.

For my part, I have referred the matter to the ABA for investigation. I suspect the ABC are in breach of their much touted code of practice which they have lodged with the ABA. I also suspect, just as importantly, that paying these people to stage farm invasions is a breach of the ABC editorial policies, which I note the ABC claim are freely available to the public. When I tried to check, I found the 1995 version of the editorial policy was indeed freely available on the ABC web site. But the 1998 version, which was updated after it was revealed that Jana Wendt's Uncensored was making payments for interviews, is not accessible on the ABC's web site without a password. As our national broadcaster, they could not possibly stage an invasion and pass it off as genuine news—surely? We need to find out, which is why I have referred the matter to the ABA. Brian Johns, Managing Director of the ABC in 1998, said in a letter defending the payments for interviews on Uncensored:

Occasionally, modest payments to individuals will be appropriate when they are inconvenienced because of the ABC's news gathering requirements and when the public interest and right to know are involved and access to information can be gained by no other means.

Whether this makes what the ABC did ethically okay, I am not sure. Whether this is contrary to the ABC's editorial policies, the ABA will find out. The question that should be asked is whether this piece of footage has been made available to other news outlets and passed off as being genuine. Aside from the ethics and the politics of this—and the public morality—what the ABC crew is alleged to have done is reprehensible, and one can only hope that they have not escalated this very delicate situation in Zimbabwe.