The Husar case: Journalist claims there’s 'no obligation' to respect natural justice

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"News" outlets such as BuzzFeed and The Guardian have been responsible for the public declaring Husar guilty without any supporting facts (Images via YouTube screenshots)

The ongoing story of Emma Husar is shining a spotlight on the mediocrity and flaws in today's journalism, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

YESTERDAY, LABOR MP Emma Husar announced that she would not be standing for re-election, after days of relentless media hounding.

Welcome to an Australia in which Barnaby Joyce, a male MP facing an ongoing confidential workplace investigation into harassment allegations is feted by the Canberra Writers' Festival while a female MP facing the same situation has been slut-shamed, subjected to lewd sexual slurs, humiliated and driven out of re-applying for her job.

This situation has been entirely created by the media, specifically reporter Alice Workman of BuzzFeed.

The irony, which will no doubt escape Ms Workman and other female journos who’ve leapt to her defence claiming she was only doing her job, is that Workman has herself been used because she’s a woman. No male journalist could have gotten away with leaking the list of allegations against Husar. No male journalist could have been used as Workman has, to get rid of a female MP for tortuous reasons known only to those who remain “sources protected” by the very woman they used.

Workman has been played and so have the journalists defending her actions.

There is nothing wrong with reporting the fact that allegations have been made. There is nothing wrong with reporting the fact that there is an investigation underway. There is, however, no justification for publishing a leaked, confidential list of unproven allegations made by anonymous complainants, thereby denying natural justice to the accused and derailing the internal investigation.

And yet journalists from Paul Karp and Van Badham of The Guardian to Dee Madigan from Sky News Australia have defended this, claiming it’s a journalist’s job to inform the public of unproven, confidential allegations. Karp went so far as to tell those who disagree that they ‘don’t understand journalism’.

And further, according to Karp, criticising Workman is ‘unhinged’.

Then there’s this from Dee Madigan:

I can’t wait until their workplace complaints process is replaced with trial by media.

Karp suggests that if Workman tells us something that is, in itself, a guarantee of truth.

I beg to differ, on the following evidence.

The core justification Workman made for publishing the allegations before the internal investigation is complete, is that the complainants (MOPS staff) told her they are not afforded any due process by their employer, the Department of Finance and they feared their complaints would be not be addressed. According to Workman, the Department told the complainants their issues “have nothing to do with us… we can’t help you”.  You can hear Workman say this about 26 minutes into ABCTV’s Insiders, Sunday 5 August. 

However, a quick search of the Department of Finance Website shows this:

Reporting workplace bullying or harassment to Finance

Making a report

A MOP(S) Act employee can report workplace bullying and/or harassment hazards or incident to Finance at any time, verbally or in writing, by:

Information related to each report made to Finance is shared strictly on a need-to-know basis; no information will be shared with individuals or groups that do not have a genuine working need to know.

Lengthy advice follows as to options.

This does not correspond with Workman’s justification for publishing.

If Workman’s sources are misleading her on this, what else might they be misleading her about?

If Workman is misleading the public about this, what else might she be misleading the public about?

As well, Workman did not speak to Jason Clare, the MP alleged to have been the target of the most scurrilous allegation of sexual harassment, used as one of BuzzFeed’s headlines. Clare had denied the story before Workman published. Workman made no mention of the denial, a denial that cast doubt on the most salacious allegation in BuzzFeed’s leaked report. If Workman withheld that denial from her report, why should we trust her? Because that sounds like selective reporting and bias.

The notion that because a journalist says something it must be true long since lost any credibility it might once have had.

What the fury expressed towards Buzzfeed and other journalists reveals is that many of us “unhinged” critics who “don’t understand journalism” want to see natural justice, not trial by media. Many of us are a bit more decent than a lot of journos and we want people to be justly treated when they’re accused of something.

According to Karp, natural justice is not the concern of journalists:

A journalist has no obligation to respect natural justice, says Karp.

Natural justice is an essential aspect of a liberal democracy. Denying that right is contrary to democratic principles. Natural justice is the rule against bias, but, according to Karp, journalists are not required to respect that rule. According to Karp, it’s perfectly fine for a journalist to interfere in an ongoing confidential workplace process by publishing a list of unproven anonymous allegations against an accused. What should happen next, according to Karp, is that the accused should give their side of the story, not first to the investigation in which they are involved, but to the media. It is in the public interest, he claims, not for a workplace investigation to follow its course, but for the media to take it over.

Of course, the media then decides what it will and will not publish, so if they happen to omit something vital to your defence of yourself, tough. That’s the thing about trial by media. You only get their version. That version is influenced by the biases of the journalist, the editor and the owners, but hey — it supersedes a workplace investigation.

If you don’t get that, you don’t understand journalism. If you complain about that, you’re unhinged.

You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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