ABC footage under fire

23 Sep, 2011 02:00 AM
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Michael Doyle and Sarah Ferguson
Michael Doyle and Sarah Ferguson

CREDIBILITY of the ABC Four Corners program, "A Bloody Business", has been deflated with a Federal Senate inquiry puncturing several major holes in its production processes, following critical questioning.

Four Corners reporter, Sarah Ferguson, last week appeared before the Senate standing committee on rural affairs and transport’s inquiry into Australia’s live export market.

She was asked about her role in the May 30 program which sparked a temporary halt in the live cattle trade to Indonesia on June 6, along with a fierce national debate about the future of live trade.

The month-long ban financially damaged many players in the beef industry across northern Australia.

Last week’s hearing revealed several major discrepancies in the way the ABC program was assembled.

Ms Ferguson appeared at the hearing with the program’s producer, Michael Doyle, and ABC News’ head of policy and staff development, Alan Sunderland.

With his opening question WA Liberal Senator, Chris Back, a veterinarian, gained an admission from Ms Ferguson of an error made in the final broadcast program which referred to the slaughter of "Australian cattle" in Egypt in 2006.

Ms Ferguson said the ABC had relied on another current affairs program, 60 Minutes, which had claimed the animals were Australian.

Senator Back asked: "You did not have the opportunity to verify it independently that they were not Australian cattle?"

Ms Ferguson said it took seven weeks to compile a typical Four Corners program and do the necessary investigation.

Given a delay of more than 60 days took place before the program aired, the inquiry chairman, Liberal NSW Senator Bill Heffernan, asked Ms Ferguson if they had evidence of serious cruelty, shouldn’t have they reported it to the appropriate authorities for action?

Ms Ferguson replied: "No - we are journalists".

It was also stated the program used a disproportionately high percentage of the animal cruelty footage supplied to Four Corners by Animals Australia.

Senator Back estimated the program showed about 15 minutes of abattoir footage, of which he could identify only about 35 seconds of filming in abattoirs using stunning prior to slaughter.

He was able to identify three minutes and 40 seconds of footage as being shot by the ABC.

Senator Back said he was unable to attribute another two and a half minutes of footage to any particular source, leaving about nine minutes most likely provided by Animals Australia - which gathered about 11 hours of vision from 11 abattoirs during a visit to Indonesia in March.

Ms Ferguson also repeatedly denied naming a WA cattle station in the actual production.

But the program and its transcript clearly shows the station was named while implicating its cattle in a gruesome scene at the Jalan Stasian abattoir where Animals Australia investigator, Lyn White, filmed "one of the most poignant images of all" - the animal allegedly shaking from fear while watching others being slaughtered.

Senator Back said the animal was instead suffering from transit tetany.

Senator Back said he was also concerned the ABC only allowed LiveCorp’s Cameron Hall about two hours to see footage from the Indonesian abattoirs in which to pass comment for the program, within days of its broadcast - whereas Ms Ferguson said LiveCorp had two days to see it ahead of the interview.

Senator Back also criticised the ABC for withholding the grotesque images from three key industry members interviewed in the production - Ken Warriner from Newcastle Waters, Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association president, Rohan Sullivan, and NTCA executive director, Luke Bowen - imagery upon which they were asked to comment.

The interviews had created the impression the industry members had witnessed the type of animal cruelty practices shown in the program, and were complicit with it, he said.

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READER COMMENTS

The Spectator
23/09/2011 3:48:15 AM

As I've always said, "Why wasn't this given a full investigation before the total ban?" Any Govt worth its salt would have investigated the film footage before making an enormous decision like stopping the live export trade! Millions of $ lost and thousands of people either out of jobs or financially ruined! Great for the Australian economy! Heads should roll, particularly those who were party to the inaccurate reporting and the decision to ban live exports! People should be made responsible for their actions.Maybe they won't be so hasty next time! Wake up Australia!
Jude
23/09/2011 5:46:20 AM

If these people from the ABC and AA truly cared about the animals they filmed they would not have withheld the information from authorities for so long.It is obvious that they were on a crusade to stop live export.They have totally destroyed the credibility of Four Corners and put a cloud over any balanced reporting coming from the ABC. Also they say they didn't feel they need report the cruelty as they are journalists.The same could be said for the cattle producers - they are cattle producers,not marketers or abattoir workers,how would they know what happens after stock leave Australia.?
Bushie Bill
23/09/2011 5:57:26 AM

Stand by for the Mutt missile, due any moment.
AMC
23/09/2011 6:43:40 AM

joke
foodforthought
23/09/2011 6:49:42 AM

Ms Ferguson said “No - we are journalists”. By this statement if a journalist witnesses and videos a robbery or a mugging or a murder, then it is quite acceptable to not give this information to the proper authorities until after the documentary goes to air- Does that sum up the morals of her profession, or just Ms Ferguson?
Ian Mott
23/09/2011 6:56:23 AM

It may well be the case that the letter of what the ScumBC calls its Code of Conduct has not been breached. But the fact remains that these people are public servants who, in the course of performing their duties, have acted with a callous disregard for the rights and liberties of the people they were dealing with. To ask someone to make a comment intended for public record on footage they have not been shown offends every notion of just and fair treatment. It also trashes any pretense that they were conducting an impartial examination of the issue. Sack the scum. and sack Ludwig.
IddyB
23/09/2011 7:04:35 AM

When there is a Senate Inquiry on live exports, it is sad to think that Federal Govt policy was based on reaction to a TV show instead of the outcomes of the inquiry.
Mrs E
23/09/2011 7:15:49 AM

What a shame that the majority of Australians who watched the confronting Four Corners presentation and were deeply shocked by it are extremely unlikely to read this report. Maybe it would put things into perpective for them, and make them realise that what they thought they were viewing was common practice, and factual reporting, was in fact a 'pseudo' documentary showing extreme bias.
John
23/09/2011 7:33:45 AM

I am so sick of this live export industry that - instead of being accountable to it's issues - is hell bent on shooting the messenger. The Senate enquiry has been an absolute farce, and if the livestock industry is looking to re-establish its 'social licence' with the community - it is well and truly failing.
Bruce Haigh
23/09/2011 8:00:02 AM

What is going here? Were cattle treated badly or not? Did the ABC make the whole thing up? Why the need to shoot the messanger with pedantry? I find Black, the article and the comments above as weak as water. How is any of the above helpful in addressing the very real issues of the live export of annimals from Australia? Bruce Haigh
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