Flat White

The Uber confessional

6 April 2018

7:52 AM

6 April 2018

7:52 AM

If you ever wondered why the Catholic Church guards the sanctity of the confessional so zealously than you need look no further than the recent events involving the Stefanovic brothers. According to their Uber driver, nothing was sacred or off limits from their acerbic tongues. Not colleagues, other reporters and in particular their own bosses at Channel Nine.

Earlier this week that reality TV survivor, Sophie Monk, risked excommunication from breakfast shows by raising the episode again.

But we shouldn’t let her blasphemy obscure one of the more intriguing details to emerge from Peter Stefanovic’s Uber, brother Karl’s confession that:

60 Minutes is not what it was a couple of years ago — it has lost relevance and lost viewers. It’s often on at 8:45 pm — you draw your own conclusion on how it is going.

It was obviously a stupid thing to say, at least in front of a complete stranger while you’re on speaker phone. But the question I’d like to ask is, “Could Stefanovic actually be right?”

The reason I ask is that (putting aside the whole Lebanon kidnapping fiasco involving Tara Brown) one of 60 Minutes other star reporters, Ross Coulthart — himself a five-time Walkley Award-winning journalist — has been at the centre of one of the most embarrassing journalistic ‘over reaches’ in Australian TV history.

You see, according to Media Watch, way back in July of 2015, Coulthart did another “special investigation” in which he claimed:

ROSS COULTHART: Without question, the biggest political scandal Britain has ever faced will be exposed tonight.

It involves a secret network of the highest officeholders in the land: past and current members of Parliament, cabinet ministers, judges, diplomats, even one of the country’s top spies. These men are accused of some the most sadistic child sexual abuse imaginable on hundreds of victims, some as young as eight. (Channel Nine, 60 Minutes, 19 July 2015.)

It was an absolutely explosive claim to make. And I can still remember their flashy advertising promoting the ‘special’. What’s more, at the end of the piece Coulthart earnestly promised:

COULTHART: We’ll be sure to keep you updated on the progress of the police investigation.

But according to Paul Barry, there’s a reason why—almost two and a half years later—neither Coulhart or Channel Nine have failed to keep Australia updated on the “progress”. And that’s because the story has completely fallen apart. Indeed, the police investigation resulted in no charges whatsoever being laid. Well, at least, not against the people being accused of the heinous crimes.

You see, one of the men named ‘Nick’, who provided the key testimonial evidence upon which the entire case was built has been completely discredited. (Although, it should be noted that Channel Nine strenuously refute this) As Barry stated:

Without Nick, there would have been no Operation Midland. And police would never have described the VIP paedophile story as credible and true.

However, ‘Nick’ himself now faces prosecution and has been charged with sexually abusing children. As The Sun has reported:

‘NICK’ NICKED

A MAN who falsely claimed he had been raped and tortured as a boy by a VIP paedophile ring is to face trial for child sex offences.

Allegations by “Nick” against bigwigs Sir Ted Heath, Leon Brittan, Harvey Proctor and Lord Bramall sparked a £3 million witch-hunt by police. (The Sun, 7 February 2018.)

What’s more, according to London’s Daily Telegraph:

Prosecutors are considering whether he should be charged for allegedly lying about being abused as a child and then fraudulently claiming compensation for the ordeal. (The Daily Telegraph, 6 February 2018.)

The second accuser named ‘Darren’—who was personally interviewed by Coulthart—was later charged with making false statements to the police that he’d been shot at. [However, for some reason, these charges were later dropped.] But as Barry explained:

So, how credible were Darren’s allegations? Well, turned out they weren’t.

The police investigation into Dolphin Square, Operation Midland, whose lead officer had called Nick’s claims “credible and true”, collapsed in March 2016 without bringing charges and an official inquiry then found police had made 43 errors and fallen for false claims of abuse.

The following year, the Met £100,000 compensation to Leon Brittan’s widow.

But Darren’s credibility was demolished long before that, by this Telegraph report published two months after 60 Minutes went to air. And by this BBC Panorama program a month later, which investigated Darren’s past and reported:

DANIEL FOGGO: He was convicted in the 1990s of making bomb hoaxes. And he’s also falsely confessed to murder and rape. Two years ago, he sent an email to a social worker saying, “Leon Brittan never abused me or anyone I know”. So why name the poor man? (BBC TV, Panorama, 6 October 2015.)

Then there is the third accuser, Richard Kerr. When 60 Minutes reconstructed Kerr’s involvement in the abuse they had him played by a boy who appeared 11 or 12, while his age at the time was between 15-17 years of age. It’s subtle, but it’s a powerfully deceptive subtext nonetheless.

Unfortunately for Coulthart, a Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry has found in real to Kerr’s testimony relating to Kincora Boys Home in Belfast that:

There is no evidence to support his claim that he was “trafficked to London” aged seventeen. (Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, Vol 8 230:4, 20 January 2017.)

What’s more, Barry reported that the inquiry had also noted in relation to several other claims that Kerr made:

Having carefully examined all the material available to us we are satisfied that his more recent accounts are not to be relied upon. (Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, Vol 8 230:4, 20 January, 2017.)

But as if all of that were not damning enough, the credibility of Coulthart’s entire “special investigation” is dealt a final and fatal blow when Barry states:

The 60 Minutes report was built on a number of witnesses whose evidence is now disputed or discredited… the investigative website, Exaro News, on whose work 60 Minutes relied, was severely criticised and then shut down… Exaro’s editor-in-chief Mark Watts – who made similar claims to Coulthart on Russia Today – lost his job.

It is something of a gross understatement, then, when Barry concluded the segment with this:

We’re not suggesting for a moment this story shouldn’t have been reported.

But we are concerned about the manner in which it was done, acting as judge and jury without presenting sufficient challenge to the claims.

In our view, this was not 60 Minutes’ or Ross Coulthart’s finest hour. And we believe it’s time they updated their audience to tell them that the story has fallen apart.

All of which is to say, if what Media Watch has reported is true, then Stefanovic might just be airing publicly what a lot of people have perceived as occurring for quite some time. Just a quick look at the past reveals an honour roll of journalistic heavyweights: Ray Martin, George Negus, Jana Wendt, Jennifer Byrne, Richard Carleton, Paul Barry and Peter Harvey, among others.

But let’s face it, 60 Minutes is nowhere near the ‘gold’ standard of what it once was. And you don’t need a TV Week Gold Logie winner to point that out.

Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.

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