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ROTTEN: Fairfax falsehoods have real world cost

disgracedkate The results of the ICAC investigation into the McGurk tapes is damning — for The Sydney Morning Herald writes Alan Jones

On Thursday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics issued figures on housing approvals for the December quarter. Sydney, in comparison with other capital cities, was a disastrous last.

In the final month of 2009, only 748 dwellings were approved. For the same period, Melbourne had 1865 approvals.

But for the whole of 2009, look at the figures: Melbourne, 23,813; Perth, 12,833; Brisbane, 8543; Sydney, 7090 — one of the lowest approval rates for new housing in NSW history.

It is inescapable that the central component in such disastrous results lies with the fact that a culture has developed in New South Wales which sponsors the notion that developers are poison.

They’re crooks, they’re doing deals with government, they’re paying off planners, they’re ripping off customers.

And that means axiomatically that the NSW Government is crook, the Planning Minister is no better, and the Planning Department is headed by seedy people who dance to the music of developers.

It’s a sickness from which this city and this State will take a long time to recover.

Make no mistake, the campaign against developers has succeeded…

So insidious is the culture that banks have swallowed it hook, line and sinker. They don’t want developers on their books.

On Friday a new ICAC commissioner, Justice David Ipp, hopefully gave cause for pause in this unrelenting campaign.

ICAC would not have been conducting a peripheral inquiry into the McGurk affair were it not for headlines generated by two Sydney Morning Herald journalists, Kate McClymont and Vanda Carson.

And with all the authority that newspaper has historically been able to muster, a front-page story on September 14 last year said: “The murdered standover man Michael McGurk illegally recorded conversations he had with five State Labor MPs and one former federal minister, a long-term colleague of the murdered man has told the Herald . . . the associate who transcribed the tape for McGurk provided the Police Integrity Commission with two written statements regarding this and other allegations about the loan shark’s corrupt relations with senior police, crime figures and politicians last Wednesday . . .” And the game was on.

The headlines screamed, “Revealed: Labor ministers on new McGurk tapes.” [VEXNEWS: This false story continues to be published by the Sydney Morning Herald online including with audio asserting that developers and politicians “crawl out from under rocks”]

And the anonymous source for the claims was “a long-term colleague of McGurk.”

And the long-term colleague apparently told McClymont: “I have no doubt that should their content be made known, the State Government would be unlikely to be able to continue to govern.”

Not a word from McClymont that the so-called source was a jailbird, sentenced in 2007 to four years and 11 months for fraud.

So we know the tactic. Don’t name your source, even though it’s a tactic, but whack in a picture of a planning minister (it might be Frank Sartor), a Labor lobbyist and former high-profile cabinet minister Graham Richardson.

Mention the fact that should all this confidential material be made known, and the rotten and corrupt Labor Government, handmaiden of developers, “would be unlikely to be able to continue to govern.”

Not a word from McClymont that the so-called source was a jailbird, sentenced in 2007 to four years and 11 months for fraud.

Well, rightly, the matter was referred to ICAC, at massive expense to taxpayers.

Mr Richardson was the only person to have heard the tape before McGurk’s death, and argued at the outset the claims were nonsense.

But a “good” investigative journalist would simply reply: “He would say that, wouldn’t he?” So the Honourable David Ipp AO, QC went to work and on Friday issued a statement of his findings and a summary of his reasons.

Justice Ipp acknowledged that this was not normal practice, because he would be issuing a full report on the inquiry to Parliament.

But he argued, rightly, it was in the public interest “that the commission’s findings be made public without delay.”

Justice Ipp highlighted why a public inquiry was held because of “media reports” of a recording made before McGurk died that could “bring down the government.”

Justice Ipp said: “This was reported, and a headline to this effect appeared on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald. This allegation was widely disseminated . . . the allegations generally gave rise to a mass of rumour and speculation concerning corruption in the public administration of NSW.”

In detail, the commissioner investigated a meeting between developer Ron Medich and the now deceased Mr McGurk in February, 2009. McGurk brought with him a digital voice recorder to record the conversation.

As the commission found, this was “to trap Mr Medich into making statements that he could use against him.”

Medich, the commission found, wanted to make McGurk think Medich had his own connections in government and could get everything done that he needed “through paying those connections.”

And in the conversation with McGurk, the commission found Medich “had made admissions involving bribes paid to persons at the highest level of government.”

The commission satisfied itself that Medich had said those words and that McGurk had told McClymont and Carson he had a recording of the conversation in which Medich said them.

But, the commission found, “The statements that McGurk made to McClymont, Carson and others to the effect that the recording contained material that could bring down the Government deserves to be described as nonsense.”

But McClymont and Carson printed it.

Sam Haddad, head of the Department of Planning, has had his name dragged through the sewer. No doubt his family was distressed by the allegations about him. He was named in the recording as a person who allegedly performed corrupt acts.

The commission found: “There is not a scrap of evidence that Mr Haddad was guilty of such acts. The allegations against him should also be described as nonsense.”

Basically, as the commission found, both McGurk and Medich had attempted, “by dishonest conduct, to gain advantages against the other in regard to commercial disputes between them.”

ICAC  found: “The statements that McGurk made to McClymont, Carson and others to the effect that the recording contained material that could bring down the Government deserves to be described as nonsense.” But McClymont and Carson printed it.

So the allegations — most of them about Mr Haddad, as the Director-General of Planning, or people within the Government, accepting payment as inducement for favours — were paraded.

The commission found those suggestions also to be nonsense.

Regarding Mr Haddad’s evidence, the commission found it “had the ring of [such] absolute truth that no party sought to cross-examine him” and found “no evidence has been led that is capable of casting any reflection on the propriety of Mr Haddad’s conduct.”

Similar allegations were rehearsed against Mr Richardson, who was supposed to have made payments to various ministers of the Crown and Mr Haddad, “as an inducement for favour.”

The commission found the same way: “There is no truth in what’s being alleged.”

Indeed, Justice Ipp is very specific.

”The notion that . . . money was paid to ministers, Mr Haddad or anyone else in the department to obtain zoning approval is simply not plausible.”

And then the allegation that McGurk, at the direction of Medich, “offered a Member of Parliament a corrupt payment as a reward for persuading Mr Haddad to recommend the rezoning of the Badgerys Creek site.”

The source of the allegation? “A correctional centre inmate serving a sentence of imprisonment for four offences of use of a false instrument and one offence of obtaining financial advantage by deception.”

Well, this bloke knew no limits to his allegations. He said he kept copies of the transcripts “at a correctional centre where he was being held, at his family home and at another identified property.”

ICAC describes the source of an untested allegation that appeared repeatedly on Sydney Morning Herald front pages: “A correctional centre inmate serving a sentence of imprisonment for four offences of use of a false instrument and one offence of obtaining financial advantage by deception.” Oh dear.

It’s just that “searches were conducted at all these places by commission investigators, acting under search warrants, but they could not find any transcripts.” Add to that, “The fact that persons to whom he said he gave the tapes denied they had received the recordings or transcripts and denied any knowledge of their whereabouts led to the inference that [the] allegations cannot be relied on.”

The allegation that Medich made corrupt payments to a former planning minister was made to McClymont by a jailbird who was asked whether the allegations he was recounting were just idle gossip.

He replied: “Quite possibly.”

The commission found the allegation about corrupt payments to a former planning minister was “not supported by any evidence that is remotely reliable.”

In its conclusions, the commission found that “the spreading, without verification, of unsubstantiated rumours and speculation of public corruption can lead to unfounded, but significant, loss of confidence in government and public administration. Unwarranted loss of confidence in these circumstances is harmful to our society. The proper discharge of the commission’s obligations, even when the commission’s findings are that no corrupt conduct has been established, is to make findings to that effect. That is in the public interest.”

The public interest indeed.

But where do the journalistic standards of some now stand?

There are many people who have been victims of this kind of treatment.

And it raises legitimate questions about editorial supervision.

Did the editor ask about sources, or was the editor prepared to run with an incorrect story seemingly designed to damage individuals and damage the NSW Government?

And at what cost?

But what action now could ever repair the damage done to people recklessly defamed in these attacks?

It is to be hoped that the people who have been personally damaged by these unfounded allegations can now walk with a new spring in their step.

However, their self-esteem, in the face of their colleagues, will remain broken for some time to come.

It should not be like this.

Published off-line in the Sunday Telegraph

Discussion

Comments are disallowed for this post.

  1. Since when has the SMH been known for printing true and correct information?

    Posted by Blind Freddie | February 8, 2010, 11:56
  2. So does that mean that Kate McClymont and Vanda Carson may not get their Walkley Award for investigative journalism?
    Tre sad.

    If there were any standards in journalism these two would be run out of town on rail. The damage that has been done to the public confidence isn beyond estimation. There are stories that truly cry out to be covered but nothing beats lazy and vindictive does it?

    Posted by bluepoles | February 8, 2010, 12:14
  3. This is an outrage – I agree with Alan Jones!

    Posted by Darren | February 8, 2010, 15:36
  4. In a democracy we the people rely on an independent media for news.

    The Chinese government run CCTV is more truthful in its reporting than these two clowns at the SMH.

    Posted by Anonymous | February 8, 2010, 18:11
  5. Where there’s smoke there’s fire, and Richo has form…

    Posted by LeftRightOut | February 8, 2010, 19:14
  6. Surey Ipp is not suggesting that the NSW ALP govt is NOT corrupt… there’s not a sole alive you would buy that. Perhaps these specific allegations may prove false, but there’s no doubt that there have been massive rorts with planning permits up there.

    Posted by LeftRightOut | February 8, 2010, 19:16
  7. Regardless, the NSW ALP government is corrupt and in the pocket of developers.

    Posted by The Truth | February 8, 2010, 19:42
  8. Hey guys,

    Ease up a little on Farifax, it’s not like any of us have never told a lie.

    Posted by Alex Honk | February 8, 2010, 21:11
  9. Self righteous, pompus Fairfax intellectuals are not answerable to anyone, don’t you know..?

    It’s a good thing the public have these hard-working, hard-hitting investigative journalists out there uncovering the truth, and if the truth isn’t found, just making sh*t up so it sells a paper or two.

    I mean, all the public do is vote the politicians in, don’t they? Not that democracy is THAT important.

    Posted by Komrade Kaput | February 8, 2010, 23:08
  10. If journalists are meant to have a role in the function of democracy – how are they accountable? Who elects them?

    Answer is, unaccountable and a menace to society.

    Posted by Anonymous | February 8, 2010, 23:15
  11. Cop this for contrition:

    http://www.smh.com.au/national/mcgurk-and-government-caught-up-in-deception-20100205-ni4e.html

    “McGurk and government caught up in deception” screams the SMH headline of 5 February.

    Seems it was the SMH that was caught up in McGurk’s deception, but it still wants to pin something on the government and make it look like the SMH was vindicated.

    And nobody is even game enough to put a by-line to this tripe. If it was a government media release, they’d be screaming “cover-up”!

    If there was even one skerrick of truth to the allegations originally printed by the SMH they would be calling for ministers and premiers to resign.

    It’s time for McClymont, Carson, the Chief of Staff and the Editor of the SMH to fall on their swords.

    Unfortunately, some of the so-called investigative journalists, and the media that employ them are too ready to believe that nearly everybody in politics (or at least those who are not members of the Greens Party) and business is corrupt and it’s their job to expose them. Even if the facts don’t stack up, print it anyhow. Doesn’t matter whose lives and reputations you destroy. And when you are proven wrong, never, ever apologise and set the record straight.

    I can understand that every investigative journalist’s dream is to a Bob Woodward or a Carl Bernstein, but not every politician is a Nixon; not every staffer is a G. Gordon Liddy. To tear dowen the reputation of an innocent individual to advance one’s own career is, in every sense of the word, corruption. Sometimes the hunters need to become the hunted.

    Is it time for ICAC’s brief to be expanded to journalistic corruption?

    Posted by Perry White | February 8, 2010, 23:43
  12. It’s now nearly three weeks since this was posted; and I still wait to hear if there is any referral to THE AUSTRALIAN PRESS COUNCIL. We all know that they are usually toothless, but in this circumstance surely even they could not disagree with the ICAC’s findings.

    At least Sydney has an ICAC; it was implemented by NICK GREINER in the early nineties to investigate allegations of corrupt actions by him, and created such s furore that he resigned as Premier during the actual investigation, making way for JOHN FAHEY. Yet barely a week later, the judicial findings about these allegations, initiated, fuelled and fed continuously by THE SMH for weeks on end, exonerated GRIENER completely. BUT THE DAMAGE OF THIS DIRTY ROTTEN AND SCURRILOUS REPORTING was already done- a man’s reputation had suffered irreparable damage; something which took him years to recover from. Why; I hear some people ask. because many people believe ‘that where there’s smoke there is fire”. WRONG AGAIN.

    Let’s hope that this time they are made to pay with legal action against them. Certainly the two so-called “journalists” concerned should be fired; never to grace an Australian newsroom again. But, the way that FAIRFAX operate; that would be too much to ask for. So the other question remains; what does the BOARD OF FAIRFAX have to say about this scandal – one of their own creative and selective reporting of unchecked facts. I haven’t seen any comment to date. Has anybody else? And will the BOARD report to their next AGM about how and why this calamitious situation was allowed to occur; where the “checks and balances” were done, by whom, and when.

    Not bloody likely in the lifetime of a million Muslim prayers.

    Posted by Graeme - Prahran | February 27, 2010, 20:13
  13. Posted by Adam | February 28, 2010, 7:54
  14. Posted by Adam | February 28, 2010, 7:56
  15. Hi everyone; any further REAL ACTION taken on the SMH bullsh&$journalists or the Editor who allowed this to get published. I await advice with interest.

    Posted by Graeme - Prahran | February 28, 2010, 14:25
  16. History repeats itself once again. Which “Gold Walkley” award winning journalist was said to have written a “deliberately inaccurate” and “unsubstantiated” newspaper article in 2002 that cost publisher John Fairfax more than $1 million in damages and legal costs?

    Posted by Fair Media | March 23, 2010, 16:23
  17. An Australian Centre for Independent Journalism investigation for Crikey found that during five weekdays in September 2009, more than 50 % of stories analysed in ten Australian newspapers were driven by some form of public relations or promotion.

    http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/03/15/whos-really-controlling-the-media-message/

    Posted by Whos really controlling the media | April 23, 2010, 7:21

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