Four employees of Australia’s Channel Nine News are on leave while the network investigates what went wrong in a reporting trip to Lebanon that led to them being charged with kidnapping. The network seemingly exploited children in reporting on their Australian mother’s attempt to take her two children from her husband in Lebanon.
Channel Nine has been embroiled in a controversy after its 60 Minutes reporting team was detained and accused of kidnapping in Beirut. The journalists have since been freed and returned to Australia.
The channel’s director of communications Victoria Buchan told iMediaEthics by e-mail “The review into the matters will take as long as they deem necessary and we will act on the recommendations when that happens. The review is being conducted by Gerald Stone, David Hurley and Rachel Launders.”
According to the Guardian, “Everyone involved in the story in Australia and overseas is being interviewed by the Channel Nine reviewers, who will then produce a series of recommendations.”
According to the Herald, the 60 Minutes team was supposed to report on the attempt to get the children back. However, the police found out about the situation after the children were taken and detained the mother, the children and the journalists before they left the country. More on the detaining of the journalists here.
The Brisbane, Australia newspaper Courier-Mail reported April 20 that the Nine Network “paid compensation to father Ali Elamine” and the 60 Minutes personnel were released on bail. “Ms Brown and her 60 Minutes producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson, sound recordist David Ballment and Ms Faulkner were locked up in Beirut for two weeks over a botched child recovery operation and faced charges including kidnapping and criminal conspiracy, which carry a maximum 20 year jail sentence,” the Courier-Mail reported.
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According to News.com.au, there are also allegations that the Nine Network paid for the story. “Though Nine has consistently refused to answer questions over whether it paid money for the story, now there’s proof the network paid $69,000 directly to the personal company of Adam Whittington, the imprisoned head of Child Abduction Recovery International. News Corp has previously reported the network made two separate payments totalling more than $115,000.”
Whittington, a former Scotland Yard detective, was hired to help get the children.
“We are not making any other comments around the matters to do with the story while there are still charges pending in Lebanon and the review is being conducted,” the channel’s Buchan told iMediaEthics. “Adam Whittington had a contract with Sally Faulkner to help her be reunited with her children in Lebanon and he travelled there on a British passport. He is being assisted by the British Embassy and has local Lebanese lawyers working on his case which we hope will be resolved soon.”
News Corp. journalist Andrew Bolt at the Herald Sun listed many questions it called on the station to answer including if it is true that the station paid Whittington, why it apparently broke the law, and how it got the charges against the journalists dropped.
The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen wrote that “60 Minutes’ Beirut sage is unlikely to inspire would-be journalists.” She argued:
“The critical flaw in 60 Minutes’ involvement in the Beirut saga is the hubris of editors, producers and ‘talent’ that they would suppose that paying a ‘child recovery’ team to seize Lahela, 5, and three-year-old Noah off the streets of a foreign city is lawful, let alone ethical.”
In its story, “Media ethics expert brands 60 Minutes saga ‘stunt journalism,'” Australia’s ABC quoted ethics expert Dr Dennis Muller criticizing the program.
UPDATED: 5/2/2016 3:16 PM EST With more information