In a development which makes it even more difficult for the network to claim that its 60 Minutes team were only in Lebanon to document events, not to be part of them, an email published by The Weekend Australian shows that the network insisted reporter Tara Brown should be “involved at critical moments”.
And assuming the email is genuine, any hope for the network to claim that it accidentally paid the child recovery company thinking it was actually the bank account of the mother also appears to have disappeared, with the same note asking the company to invoice the network $46,000.
The disaster, one of the worst moments in Nine’s 60 year history, occurred at the beginning of this month when a Nine crew travelled to Beirut to film the kidnapping led by Adam Whittington of Child Abduction Recovery International.
Although the children were violently snatched from their grandmother on the street, Lebanese authorities caught up with the recovery team and the four person 60 Minutes crew before they could leave the country with the children by boat.
They were then locked up for a fortnight before Nine reportedly arranged an expensive settlement with the children’s father to free its crew and flew them back to Australia. Whittington remains behind bars.
Whittington appears a likely source of the leaked email, to back his claims that Nine was complicit in the operation.
Last Sunday, Brown appeared in an onscreen interview on 60 Minutes with colleague Michael Usher and appeared to still be in denial that the team had crossed any ethical boundaries. She said of her time in custody: “I really thought: ‘We’re journalists, we’re doing our jobs’- they will see reason, they’ll understand that, you know, that we are here just to do a story on a very, very desperate mother,” she said. “And I just thought that reason would prevail, and it didn’t.”
The interview – in which Brown appeared apparently without makeup despite being in the Nine studio – has since been much derided including in a recut of her giving interviewees a far harder time by The ABC’s The Weekly.
Afterwards Nine announced an inquiry which has since drawn fire for lacking independence. It is being run by former 60 Minutes producer Gerald Stone who himself once authorised a child recovery operation; former A Current Affair executive producer David Hurley who until recently was a spin doctor for the network, and the company’s legal adviser Rachel Launders.
The name of the Nine executive who wrote the email to Whittington has not been revealed. The story producer – who was among the crew arrested – was Stephen Rice, while the boss of 60 Minutes is Kirsty Thompson.
The email insisted that all four of the 60 Minutes crew needed to be on the getaway boat, adding: “Our stories are based on the reporter being involved at critical moments and that’s how I’ve been able to get approval here for the story.”
If the note was written by Thompson, then it implies that people more senior than her within the network had approved the payments and understood what the crew was complicit in. It has previously been reported that the network’s director of news and current affairs Darren Wick did not know details of the operation ahead of time.
The Weekend Australian also reports that Nine has cancelled plans to air a 60 Minutes special tomorrow night because of legal issues. The crew could still face charges in Beirut while the newspaper also reports that senior Nine executives in Australia could face conspiracy charges under the NSW Crimes Act.
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