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EDITORIAL EXCERPT: The Barnaby Affair and the Media Watch debacle

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Media Watch sold us all out (Image screenshot

How did ABC Media Watch get it so wrong? Completely ignoring the role of Independent Australia and other independent media outlets in reporting the truth about Barnaby Joyce months before the mainstream media. Managing editor Dave Donovan details his complaints to the ABC about Monday night's program as well as the broadcaster's totally unsatisfactory response.

WHAT DO YOU DO when the very show set up to report on poor reporting and bad ethics in the media gets its own facts entirely wrong? And then, when it is asked to correct, refuses to do so and responds in the most haughty and insulting fashion?

Because this is exactly what ABC Media Watch did in a grievously erroneous Monday night segment on Barnaby Joyce this week (12/2/18). In that piece, ‘The Barnaby Affair’, it wrongly claimed ‒ like many in the mainstream media, though not all* ‒ that Sharri Markson and the Daily Telegraph had broken the story of Barnaby Joyce’s affair with a young staffer and her pregnancy to him last week.

As all readers of Independent Australia know very well, the news of this was, in fact, reported well before the 2 December by-election last year by IA, along with at least one other publication. Moreover, Ireported in November several other disturbing allegations about Joyce’s activities — ones that are only now slowly trickling their way down into mainstream media reports. So, Markson and News Corp didn’t break anything and were, indeed, months behind.

If you haven’t already risked dangerously elevating your blood pressure by watching ‘The Barnaby Affair’ from Monday night’s Media Watch, you may do so on the ABC website by clicking HERE.

If you can’t bring yourself to do so, here’s a taste; the first two sentences [IA emphasis]:

But now, to a story the media cannot get enough of, if only to complain that we shouldn’t have reported it at all:

The Daily Telegraph went where no one else had dared to go and revealed the worst-kept secret in national politics: that the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the National Party was expecting a baby with his former media adviser, Vikki Campion.

In fact, as you know, others had dared to go there and others had revealed that the staffer was pregnant to Barnaby Joyce. 

So, at 11.03am (Queensland time), Independent Australia sent off the following request for a correction and apology to ABC Media Watch host Paul Barry:

Dear Mr Barry,

In your ABC Media Watch segment last night (12/2/18) entitled ‘The Barnaby Affair’, you incorrectly claimed that last week, "The Daily Telegraph went where no one else had dared to go and revealed the worst-kept secret in national politics: that the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the National Party was expecting a baby with his former media adviser, Vikki Campion."

Further in the piece you described the story as “scoop” and that “Sharri Markson … broke the story”.

All these claims are false and require immediate correction.

In fact, the Daily Telegraph and Sharri Markson did not break the story of Barnaby Joyce’s affair with a staffer.

The story of the affair was broken by Serkan Ozturk in his publication True Crime News Weekly on 24 October 2017:

The opening line from Ozturk’s 24/10/17 article: "EXCLUSIVE: Embattled Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, has been conducting a clandestine sexual affair with a female staffer for up to 10 months this year while at the same time grandiosely lecturing the Australian public about how gay people wanting to get married threatens the institution of marriage."

It then goes into more detail.

True Crime News Weekly then reiterated these and revealed even more disturbing claims in a subsequent article the following day:  

Some of the other claims also now appear to be becoming confirmed by the mainstream media — “confirm” being the correct terminology for what Sharri Marson and the Daily Telegraph did last week, not “scoop”, “reveal” or “brreak”.

The claim that Barnaby had gotten his staffer pregnant was also not first revealed by Markson or News Corp.

This was first mentioned in the media by our publication in an article published on 19 November 2017, after we had sent our Sydney bureau chief Ross Jones to Tamworth to investigate a plethora of sensational allegations we had been receiving, including those first reported by True Crime News Weekly.

You can read this article here:,10942

The only thing the Daily Telegraph revealed was the name of the staffer, something Independent Australia knew but had kept out of the public domain for ethical reasons. The story was not really about her and we saw no public interest in her privacy being breached. Obviously, News Corp held no such compunctions.

We would appreciate a correction in your publication and an apology for this very poor reporting on the part of ABC Media Watch. You got it wrong and you should own up to it.


The request for a correction out the way, Ithen made some more general points:

The other more general aspect that should be noted is that the real story was not whether the affair and pregnancy should have been reported — the public interest in this is obvious, as you rightly confirmed in your segment. The real question is why the mainstream media chose to wait until after the December 2 New England by-election to reveal something they already knew. If the mainstream had simply reported and not concealed information from their readers, they may have saved New England voters another by-election this year, as now seems likely.

Some people have suggested to me that, when it comes to your programme, if an event doesn’t happen in the mainstream media, it doesn’t happen at all. Except, that is, if there is a chance to beat up on independent publishers. That is what we expect from our competitors in the mainstream, but not from the organ in the public broadcaster tasked to report on media misreporting.

Despite what you may have heard, or may think, Independent Australia is not a small, insignificant or fringe organisation. IA is a member of the Australian Press Council and has a seat in the Canberra Press Gallery. The list of stories in which we have led the mainstream media is long — including our exposés on James Ashby and Kathy Jackson. We published a book about the former; the latter is now facing gaol. We consistently break stories the mainstream media ignore or overlook. We receive around 70,000 unique visits per week. We have never suffered a defamation action or been censured by the Press Council.

Perhaps it is time for you and your show to truly start watching the media — all the media, that is, not just the ones with whom you are familiar, have worked at, or are friends with.

We look forward to your earliest response.

Yours sincerely,

David Donovan

Managing Editor

Independent Australia

The response was not too long coming — Media Watch took just five minutes to consider and reply to our complaint. It came from “Story Editor” Jason Whittaker — host Paul Barry evidently too busy and important to respond to a lowly aggrieved independent publisher.

As it happens, IA has known Whittaker for a number of years. From 2012 to 2017, he was the editor of Crikey — another online publication and one of Independent Australia’s main competitors. (Incidentally, it is notable how often Crikey is referenced by Media Watch, even in this matter, which it ignored until last week like the rest of the media.) During his time at the helm of Crikey, Whittaker’s publication took every chance to diminish and disparage Independent Australia for any possible reason, especially for rightfully pursuing two crooks — James Ashby and Kathy Jackson. We all know how that turned out — with vindication for IA and egg all over the face of Crikey and others. 

Bearing all that in mind, let’s go through our old-mate Jason Whittaker’s reply in detail [IA emphasis throughout]:

‘We’re well aware stories were circulating earlier. We referenced this.’

This is false. The only mention in the segment about any previous stories was a comment about "the worst-kept secret" in Australian politics.

'Phil Coorey in the AFR, too, reported an affair in December. We didn’t rake over this or any other tweeting/gossiping/blogging/reporting.'

Phil Coorey made an oblique reference to “infidelity” by Barnaby Joyce in a 19 December article. This is not the same as an affair with a pregnant staffer and was also safely well after the December by-election that could have brought down the Turnbull Government.

The inference Whittaker made by his comment about 'tweeting/gossiping/blogging/reporting' would appear to be that our report was just a rehash of tweets and gossip by a report in a blog. Not that it would make any difference – a blog is still a publication – IA is not a blog but a genuine news website that has been in operation since 24 June 2010. As for reporting gossip, we sent Sydney bureau chief Ross Jones to Tamworth for a week to verify the allegations.

As for the photographic proof:

‘The Daily Telegraph offered photographic proof of the staffer’s pregnancy and confirmed through multiple sources that Barnaby Joyce was the father. Clearly, this has triggered a wider investigation and forced Joyce to confront it. Nothing that came before had managed to do this.’

Independent Australia, of course, also confirmed its report through multiple sources. The very suggestion we didn’t is insulting and wrong.

IA have been informed that this so-called "photographic proof" obtained by the Daily Telegraph was gained by papparazzi climbing onto an adjacent roof and snapping the pregnant lady completely unawares. Does a photo of a pregnant woman who may or may not be Vikki Campion really prove paternity? Does Media Watch regard only low-grade paparazzi journalism as being the only method of revelation?

Secondly, the the only way Joyce was able to avoid confronting this story in November was because the Government arrogantly dismisses anything not in the Murdoch Press as “fake news” — exactly what our sources in the National Party tell us Barnaby Joyce called our earlier reports. They are allowed to do this by Australia's compliant and complicit mainstream media (as discussed last week).

‘That’s very different to earlier reports, which not only lacked cut-through but in some cases, we’d argue, were reckless and irresponsible with what was said.’

So, to be first to a story at the ABC, you need to have “cut-through”? What that means in this case, apparently, is that the allegations need to be reported by the mainstream media and responded to by the Government. The fact that tens of thousands of ordinary people had read our story and knew the truth about this affair and the staffer pregnancy is irrelevant to Media Watch, it seems. In other words, if the mainstream media don’t report it, it simply didn’t happen. At least, that is what Paul Barry from Media Watch was telling ABC viewers. This is, to be blunt, absolute crap.

As for being “reckless and irresponsible”, all of IA’s information is now being shown to be accurate by the mainstream media. We knew it was accurate at the time because we were diligent in our research — research the mainstream could easily have done themselves, if they had been slightly interested in rocking the boat. We were also careful how we presented our story, because we – unlike the Daily Telegraph and News Corp publications in general – are careful not to defame people or breach their privacy if we can avoid it. On the other hand, the Daily Telegraph completely intruded upon the pregnant lady’s privacy in photographing her and revealed her identity to the world. So, who was being reckless and irresponsible again?

‘By any measure, The Daily Telegraph had a scoop on this issue. Which is not to say they were first on the internet with every piece of information. We didn’t say this and therefore we don’t believe there is anything to correct.’

By any measure, based on his career offerings at Crikey, Whittaker probably doesn't know much about scoops. Let’s be generous and say that, as he seems to be arguing, you don’t you need to be first to publish a report about an issue to have a “scoop”?

But that doesn’t matter, because it was the claim by Paul Barry on Media Watch that the "Daily Telegraph went where no one else had dared to go and revealed" that we were complaining about. This claim no-one else had dared to publish and reveal the truth about the affair and staffer pregnancy was false — and Whittaker openly admitted in his reply to IA that it was false. 

The only things the Daily Telegraph really reported first was a grainy photograph of a pregnant lady taken from an adjacent rooftop, along with her name — something irrelevant to reporting the Deputy Prime Minister’s arguable misdeeds and something that totally compromised her privacy. So much for Media Watch upholding media ethics. Like Whittaker's reply to IA, the whole Monday night report by Media Watch 'The Barnaby Affair' was a diabolical failure.

'If you’re unhappy with this response you’re able to take a complaint to ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs where it will be assessed independently.'

We were unhappy and we were going to take it further.

* Mainstream media that have acknowledged Independent Australia as being months ahead of the mainstream media include, among others, Tim Dunlop in Meanjin, Steve Austin on ABC BrisbaneAndrew Clennell in The Australian and Amelia Lester in the New York Times.

Managing editor David Donovan also did a Drive Time interview with ABC WA Statewide Drive where host Barry Nicholls generously allowed him to refute ABC Media Watch’s misinformation, as well as with John Jiggens at Bay FM, Byron Bay.

This is only half the story! Read IA's complaint to ABC Audience Affairs about Media Watch and Jason Whittaker by subscribing to IA. The rest of this editorial, originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly subscribers' newsletter, may be read in the IA members only area, available to all subscribers. It takes less a minute to subscribe to IA and costs as little as $5 a month or $50 a year — such a tiny sum for such an abundance of quality journalism and many other great extras! 

Subscribe to Independent Australia HERE.

IA subscribers can read the rest of this article HERE.

You can follow managing editor Dave Donovan on Twitter at @davrosz.

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