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Bettina Arndt lays bare Fairfax’s double standard on sex abusers

Social commentator Bettina Arndt welcomes Fairfax’s gentle approach to reporting on Peter Roebuck but makes a powerful point that they have a history of not being so kind to sex-predators who work outside their organisation.

SEVEN years ago, the Fairfax media was up in arms about a NSW Scout leader who had been convicted of pedophilia. When the scout leader came up on trial, the courtroom was crowded with people supporting him, including former members of his Scout team and other Scout leaders.

The Sydney Morning Herald printed the names of all the Scout leaders who were present. This prompted Scouts Australia NSW to hold an inquiry into whether the man’s supporters had breached the Scout code of conduct in attending the trial.

We think Arndt minimises the depravity of this offender to make a point but it’s a good point. When the sex-offender is an employee of a conservative institution like the Scouts or a religious organisation, Fairfax reporting isn’t kind and gentle, it makes VEXNEWS look tame:

The man was harshly punished for his actions — eight years’ jail for mutual masturbation and some oral sex with four teenage boys in his Scout troop — but the newspaper clearly felt that wasn’t enough. It conducted a witch-hunt against his friends, the people who volunteered with him in the 24 years he gave to the Scouting movement and the boys who felt they had benefited from his leadership. Heaven forbid that anyone still supported the man, still valued him as a friend or saw him as retaining any good qualities.

Her praise for Fairfax is clearly meant tongue-in-cheek or as an expression of optimism unlikely to be ever satisfied:

It’s most encouraging to see the very different reaction to the tragic death of Herald cricket writer Peter Roebuck. Clearly there are differences regarding the alleged sexual activity with no suggestion that Roebuck had sexual involvement with minors, although before the allegations that led to his suicide he did have a conviction for assault involving beating the bare buttocks of 19-year-olds.

What is extraordinary is that the popularity of this esteemed cricket commentator has meant his colleagues are still willing to sing his praises, despite this aspect of his history.

There is indeed a cosy little club of sports journalists, that seems to even go beyond the two organisations too.

The Age ran no fewer than eight pieces on Roebuck in the days after his death, colleagues including the ABC’s managing director Mark Scott have lined up to praise him, with many barely acknowledging his troubled past. ABC cricket journalist Jim Maxwell was quoted on ABC news and AM praising Roebuck as a “very caring human being” who had a “strong motivation for a better world”.

Caring and better world through rape attempts and clearly sexually motivated physical abuse on young people, is more like it. Maxwell’s ‘solidarity forever’ tune with Roebuck is a disgrace in our opinion although Arndt’s perspective is that it should be the norm, we should keep these kinds of offences in proportion:

Commentators such as Gerard Henderson and Andrew Bolt have noted the irony in this new tolerance from politically correct media sources normally so keen to prove their squeaky-clean credentials by demonising anyone who can be labelled a sexual pervert. How different is their treatment of Roebuck from the glee with which they hound a Catholic priest caught with a straying hand on one of his flock?.

And that’s exactly why we have pursued this story. Fairfax’s hypocrisy has been breath-taking. We look forward to seeing their coverage of the next case involving claims that a person in a position of authority over young people has abused that power for their own sexual gratification. We suspect it’s unlikely Bettina Arndt will approve.

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