Not looking the other way : investigative journalism Reply

Kate McClymont

Kate McClymont

The nation’s wealthy and powerful often used threats to put the frighteners on journalists, according to investigative reporter, Kate McClymont.

McClymont was the keynote speaker at the Press Freedom Dinner in Sydney. She spoke of attempts to intimidate her as she reported on political corruption and crime.
She told of how even her photographer had been threatened when he attempted to photograph a crime family member outside a Sydney court. The “100 kgs of muscle, a bullet head, leather jacket and dark glasses” had told the photographer he would track him down and get him.

At this point I marched over to old bullet-head who was waiting to go through the court’s security system ‘‘How dare threaten my photographer!’’ I snapped. Of course he denied that he had done anything such thing.

I said, ‘‘Well, there are plenty of witnesses who heard you threaten him.’’

‘‘Listen, you stinking ugly old hag why don’t you piss off!’’ he snarled.
I was momentarily speechless. ‘‘Ugly, old hag’’ –  well I may have seen better days –  but the horrid suggestion of Stinking!
McClymont said that threats of legal action had longer term implications for journalism “With the media industry in such dire financial straits this legal threat can prove too much for all but the largest of media organisations,” she said.
Even then, with the bottom line to consider, the possibility a multi-million dollar law suit means press freedom has to dance a sorry jig with fiscal realities. For smaller companies, freelancers and bloggers – freedom of the press is a wonderful concept but the prospect of personally funding a court action against the coffers of a business tycoon is not realistic.
Five Australian journalists were currently being pursued through the courts to reveal their sources. Fairfax’s Richard Baker, Nick McKenzie and Philip Dorling were defending moves by businesswoman Helen Liu to uncover sources for a story detailing her relationship with former defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon. Last year’s Gold Walkey winner Steve Pennells, from the West Australian, and Fairfax business reporter Adele Ferguson were both being pursued by Gina Rinehart, who was not only Australia’s richest person but the 36th wealthiest person in the world.
The stakes were high.
“Right now, I am faced with every journalist’s most-feared nightmare: comply with a court order to hand over documents that I promised would be kept confidential, or face a jail sentence for contempt of court,” said Adele Ferguson.
For Pennells it’s been an intimidating and exhausting battle which has already been going for 14 months and shows no sign of abating. Rineharts’s actions against Pennells and Ferguson will be back in court in Perth on Tuesday.
Litigation can have the unfortunate effect of making other media players gun-shy. Journalists and their bosses become wary of ‘‘litigious’’ people and are often reluctant to take them on.
For society to enjoy the benefits of a free press, then its journalists must have the courage and honesty not to look the other way, McClmont said.
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