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Name: Antony Loewenstein
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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Blair's liars and the lying liars who tell them

Tony Blair's New Labour lies? A British documentary tells all:

"Britain's Channel 4 documentary "Undercover in New Labour" includes footage from "a reporter wearing hidden cameras who volunteered to work on the party's election campaign and ended up being drafted to work at its national PR headquarters." The documentary shows Labour staff using "party supporters in key professions from medicine and the law to the armed forces and the police, who were prepared to appear on TV and in the papers and lie through their teeth that their support for this or that policy was entirely unsolicited," writes reporter Mark Borkowski. But "is singling out New Labour for criticism reasonable," Borkowski asks, when astroturfing "has been going on for decades in business, especially among the oil, pharmaceutical and tobacco industries?" Undercover reporters were placed with Britain's three main political parties, "but it was decided the strongest story was the way the Labour campaign was run," an anonymous source told the Guardian."

This gets me thinking. Why don't Australian filmmakers, documentary makers or current affairs programs more actively engage in undercover work? Gaining information through deception is ethically problematic, I agree, but sometimes the greater truth is much more important. Take this 2004 BBC documentary expose on Britain's far right party, the BNP. Perhaps our journalists lack the requisite fortitude?

3 Comments:

Anonymous michael said...

"This gets me thinking. Why don't Australian filmmakers, documentary makers or current affairs programs more actively engage in undercover work?"

Australian versions of Hunter S?

Umm, maybe because there would be no point in taking those sorts of risks only to see anything truly newsworthy or controversial you discovered sunk by your network management or legal department.

A couple of years back I had an interesting exchange with Stephen White of ABC TV about the possibility of showing The Secret Policeman in Aus. After umming and ahhing a bit, he ultimately told me that the BBC was not selling the series on the international market. Funny thing was, SBS aired it about six months later.

Couldn't have had anything to do with not wanting to encourage any unwarranted discussion about racism in Australian police forces now, could it?

Thursday, May 26, 2005 11:13:00 pm  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

I remember seeing the Secret Policeman, great stuff.
Of course the legal depts and network management are wary here, but i can't think of any undercover journo work.
I'm always one to believe that the powers that be would prefer to avoid the controversy...

Thursday, May 26, 2005 11:36:00 pm  
Anonymous michael said...

Come to think of it - I do know of one short piece of undercover journalism that was done in Aus a few years back. Never saw the light of day of course.

Refugee activist Marion Le was wired up with a hidden mike and camera by Ross Coulthart of Channel Nine's Sunday program. She then had a few drinks with a prominent SW Sydney businessman, during which time he admitted that it was him - not Phuong Ngo or his alleged accomplices - who had gunned down Cabramatta MP, John Newman. He included information about the number of bullets fired which contradicted stories released in the media, but was later confirmed by ballistics examiners.

What happened to the tape?

Marion Le was charged under Federal wiretap legislation and convicted (though she eventually had the conviction vacated on appeal). During the long, drawn out legal proceedings, the tape was covered by a suppression order and could not be aired.

But the suppression order was lifted years ago - and the tape is still gathering dust somewhere at Channel Nine.

Why?

Is it because by the time the courts had finished with Marion Le it was no longer considered newsworthy?

Or was it because after Phuong Ngo was finally convicted it became too newsworthy for the Aus media?

Friday, May 27, 2005 12:34:00 am  

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