Published: May 4, 2013 - 10:42AM
(H/T Glenn Condell )
Published: May 4, 2013 - 10:42AM
(H/T Glenn Condell )
"Your 'exposé' of Torbay and his life has a nasty flavour to it. It also reflected on the poor state of journalism which has contributed to the corruption of good governance of NSW.
"For democracy to function we require a free and fearless press.
"If the standards of politics and politicians are to improve then so does the standard of the media.
"People like us would like to know what people like you have been doing over the last decade while Eddie Obeid has been perverting the Labor Party.
"Were you just 'standing by' until ICAC cleared the ground for you?" wrote Lorraine.
Although I was rather crushed by Lorraine's missive and my failure to properly investigate the Obeids, in other ways she was right. For democracy to function it is essential that we have a free and fearless press. But as Lorraine's letter makes abundantly clear, that doesn't mean the members of the press will be liked for it.
Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, recently spoke of the problem of freedom of expression in the face of threats to journalists.
"Because they help ensure transparency and accountability in public affairs, journalists are frequent targets of violence. We must show resolve in the face of such insecurity and injustices," Mr Ban said, speaking in honour of the 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day – May 3, 2013.
The theme of this year's World Press Freedom Day is “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media.”
Thankfully, journalists in Australia have not been killed on home soil while reporting. But that's not to say many of our number are not subject to intimidation, surveillance and threats. Four shots were fired into Hedley Thomas's Brisbane house in 2002.
Tonight I want to talk a bit about those behind-the-scenes threats and how difficult the "fearless" aspect of journalism can be.
It is our job to bring to light the things that those in power don't want the public to see. This means there are an array of very powerful people who will do almost anything to shut you up. These people loathe with a passion.
If you want people to applaud what you do, then my advice is to join the circus. If you want to be a decent journalist, accept that it is not a path to popularity.
Paul Keating once wrote a letter to the Herald saying: "Is this woman a stalker, or is she just underemployed? Will we find her next sniffing bicycle seats in nearby Darling Harbour?"
Only last week author Bob Ellis wrote: "Kate McClymont ruined my life and I do not like her. She is going after Craig Thomson lately, and she had better watch it."
Jockey Jim Cassidy once spat on my back, well, given his size, the back of my knees, saying: "You fucking bitch, you've ruined my life."
Tom Domican, who over the years has been charged with one murder, one attempted murder and five conspiracies to murder and acquitted of the lot – once had a message delivered to me. If I was a man he would have broken my jaw by now, Domican said.
But perhaps the most crushing was when I was at court to challenge a speeding fine. I was one of hundreds of people fined for travelling at the normal speed through the Cross City Tunnel when the "40ks roadworks" sign was showing, although there were no roadworks.
The late, great, genuinely eccentric legal eagle Malcolm Duncan was the duty barrister at the Downing Centre the day I appeared to argue my case.
He set his gimlet eye upon me and begged to let him represent me. I resisted but Malcolm wore me down.
I should've known better as Malcolm opened with a theatrical flourish and waving his arm dramatically in my direction, boomed: "Your Honour, my client is hated by thousands."
As if that wasn't bad enough, he then embarked on a constitutional argument about Kings Cross not being a properly gazetted suburb.
I relieved Malcolm of his duties and told the magistrate what had happened and she accepted it.
Being hated is one thing, but being threatened is quite another.
Take my colleague Linton Besser. What has happened to Linton recently is both disgraceful and really frightening.
For years Linton has been writing about the Kazal brothers. There are eight of them all up. Although they claim they are just an average family that has fallen victim to an evil press, this is a very connected set of siblings.
They have ties to ruling families in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, along with a friendship with the son of the late Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi now faces charges of crimes against humanity.
Back here in Australia, the Kazals have sponsored a string of federal and state politicians to visit the United Arab Emirates. They have also hosted former prime minister Kevin Rudd and his then deputy Julia Gillard at their restaurants.
The Kazals have also extracted favourable deals from government authorities for their nightclub and restaurants at the Rocks near Sydney's Circular Quay.
Meanwhile, in the Federal Parliament they have been accused of money laundering, branch stacking and receiving favours from the Labor Party.
In September 2010 the front page of the Herald ran a story by Linton under the headline "Secret favours greased Rocks deal" and "Harbour official took developers' junkets".
The Kazals came after Linton in a big way. They sued him personally, they sued the Herald, they sued Ray Hadley from 2GB who had interviewed Linton over the story.
Eventually the Kazals walked away from the lawsuits with nothing.
But while the Kazals were pursuing Linton through the courts, as a result of Linton's revelations, the Independent Commission Against Corruption was pursuing the Kazals. At the end of the inquiry, the ICAC found that Charif Kazal had engaged in corrupt conduct. Charif Kazal took action in the Supreme Court to have his corrupt conduct finding overturned. He lost.
Despite the backdrop of grief given to him by the Kazals, only a few weeks ago Linton had a cracker of a story in the Good Weekend about what the Kazals did to their former business partner Rodric David.
For starters Rodric David was thrown into prison in Abu Dhabi. When he returned to Australia, David said he was followed by two of the Kazal brothers. His wife later told police she was being followed by an unidentified man. The same man turned up outside the Davids' children's school. It turned out that man was a private investigator employed by the Kazals.
It was a frightening tale and the end result was that Rodric David and his family moved overseas. The story appeared on Saturday, March 16. On Monday morning Linton was told that some of the Kazals were in the Herald's foyer.
Linton arranged to meet them to listen to their concerns. At 2pm Linton met Adam and Oscar Kazal. The brothers were accompanied by their "muscle", who tried to film Linton during this meeting.
The Kazals told Linton that they knew all about him, they knew he had a young family and it might be advisable if Linton did not write about them any more.
"You write one more word and I'll make sure you and me are on the front page of every newspaper in the country," said Adam, not in a kindly way.
Several times the next day the Kazals came back to the Herald's office, again demanding to see Linton and threatening to bring 200 people to the building later that day. Fairfax called the police.
The Kazals were doing to Linton exactly what they had done to Rodric David in Linton's story. As Linton was telling the police about the Kazals, he got a message to contact his wife urgently. While Linton was speaking to the police in Pyrmont, Adam Kazal was buzzing the door at Linton's residence, where his wife was home with their two young children.
Linton was beside himself. The police sprang into action and rang triple 0. Apparently even for them it is the fastest way to get things done. When the police confronted Adam Kazal outside Linton's house, he claimed to be there on the off chance of catching Linton at home so he could speak to him.
Later that afternoon the Herald's editor-in-chief, Sean Aylmer, and I went with Linton to give a formal statement to police. After some hours of two-fingered typing, Constable Trevor was asked if there would be enough information for Linton to take out an AVO. Constable Trevor looked slowly down at his notes and then back at Linton. "Let's see, bothered by a fuckwit – tick," he said.
When the station commander popped in to see if Linton was being well looked after, poor Constable Trevor, a throughly decent chap, looked mildly alarmed. But when the Police Commissioner himself called Linton to make sure all was in order, Constable Trevor went green around the gills.
In the end the police spoke to the Kazals and Linton decided not to pursue an apprehended violence order. He didn't want to be intimidated into taking a court action that would have prevented him from writing about the Kazals in future.
This wasn't an easy decision. No journalist wants to put themselves or their family at risk. But if press freedom is going to flourish, journalists often have to make the difficult decision that puts the interests of the public's right to know before their own personal safety. Shaken yes, but shut down – no.
I don't want you to get the impression that the Fairfax foyer is a hotbed of intimidation and impending violence. The foyer is a wonderful place to meet and greet.
In the wake of the murder of Michael McGurk one person rang up with such crucial information that he could only deliver it in person.
As any journalist will tell you, you just never know how or in what form your next yarn will present itself.
My then colleague Vanda Carson and I arrived in the foyer to be greeted by the most bizarre sight. There was a gentleman of Mediterranean extraction, wrapped in a trench coat. Perched on his head was a blond wig . Think Warwick Capper or Rod Stewart. And the wig wasn't even on straight, it lurched dangerously across one eye.
His failure to make any mention of his disguise only added to the general weirdness of the situation. And I have to admit it was most unprofessional of me, but when he kept referring to the murdered man as Mr McGerkin and that he might once have driven this McGerkin person in a taxi, I could contain myself no longer. I had to apologise for laughing, saying it was because I was tired and emotional.
The forces of darkness can be very persuasive when they don't want something in the paper.
I was at the Downing Centre Court to cover the sentencing of Jamie Vincent, one of the notorious Vincent crime family. Their family motto should be: We do the crime together. We do the time together.
At one point the entire clan – Jamie's dad Tony and his two brothers – were in jail together for supplying drugs, possessing illegal firearms and the like.
This was to be Jamie's third stint in jail.
Anyway, Jamie Vincent arrived, 100 kilograms of muscle, a bullet head, leather jacket and dark glasses. I mentioned to our photographer that the Vincents were not particularly nice people and that they had been accused of murdering their mate Max Gibson, who was found dead in a ditch in Marrickville still wearing his suit from court where he was the co-accused in another Vincent brother's trial.
So if he was going to take a photo of Jamie Vincent, best not to get too close, I said, blithely heading off to get a coffee. I returned to find the photographer ashen-faced and shaking.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
Jamie Vincent had come over to the photographer and, leaning within inches of his face, said: "If you publish any photos of me, I will come after you, I will track you down and I will get you."
"Listen mate, I am just doing my job. Don't shoot the messenger," our photographer said.
"But I will shoot the messenger," said Vincent.
At this point I marched over to old bullet-head, who was standing in the queue waiting to go through the court's security check.
"How dare you threaten my photographer!" I snapped.
Of course Vincent denied that he had done any such thing.
I said, "Well, there are plenty of witnesses who heard you threaten him."
"Listen, you stinking, ugly old hag, why don't you piss off!" snarled Vincent.
I was momentarily speechless. "Ugly old hag" – well I may have seen better days – but the horrid suggestion of stinking! I am sure I was wearing the alluring Fairfax No. 5 cologne.
The next day we ran Jamie Vincent's photo (without the photographer's byline) and I included his threats to the photographer in the story. The best way to deal with bullies is to show them up as the thugs they really are.
Several months later I was trying to convince Felix Lyle, the head of the Hells Angels and a close associate of the Vincents', to talk to me. Felix had been to a number of Jamie Vincent's court appearances as Felix's own son Dallas was jailed over the same offence. This was the famous Ocean's 11 sting orchestrated by Tony Vincent snr from his lap-dancing parlour in the city. The Vincent gang hotwired Telstra phone lines in an audacious attempt to steal $150 million from JP Morgan bank.
Anyway, Felix had agreed to have coffee but stood me up. When I texted him to ask where he was, he texted back: LOL you are too scary.
A younger reporter had to explain that LOL did NOT mean Lots of Love but rather LAUGH OUT LOUD. Well I LOLed at the idea I was too scary for the boss of the Hells Angels.
In Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, when Mr Kurtz lies on his deathbed in deepest, darkest Africa muttering those immortal words "The Horror! the Horror!" I am utterly convinced he is referring to the arrival of a defamation action.
As that stalwart of investigative reporting Chris Masters said to me recently: "I would rather be hiding from shellfire or sniper attack in Bosnia than spending three more days in a witness box being cross-examined by a cold-blooded QC."
It was only weeks after I arrived at Four Corners as a fresh-faced researcher in 1987 that Chris Masters' story on The Moonlight State went to air. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
For weeks Chris, along with producer Shaun Hoyt and researcher Deb Whitmont, had been working on this amazing exposé of police corruption in Queensland. The office was full of talk of police turning a blind eye to illegal gambling and prostitution, and of money passing in brown paper bags.
Phil Dickie from The Courier-Mail had also uncovered a great deal about this high-level corruption. The Moonlight State was investigative journalism at its finest. I am sure even my dear friend Lorraine Osborn would agree.
The timing of the program was exquisite. Queensland premier Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen was away when The Moonlight State aired and before Sir Joh could kill it dead, his deputy had announced an inquiry. Within a fortnight the terms of reference for what became known as the Fitzgerald Inquiry had been drawn up.
Initially slated to run for six weeks, the Fitzgerald Inquiry ran for two years. Three former National Party ministers went to jail, as did the police commissioner Terry Lewis.
It also spelled the end of the road for Sir Joh.
But behind the scenes Masters was paying a huge personal price for his work. For 12 years he battled defamation actions brought by Vince Bellino, whose family was mentioned in the program in connection with the drug trade.
Over those long years, 14 judges dealt with Bellino's case and it went to the High Court twice. Bellino lost at every turn, except when the High Court ordered a re-trial, which once again Bellino lost. In 1999, 12 years after the program went to air, Bellino's second visit to the High Court was this time unsuccessful.
It was a hollow victory. The experience left Masters not only shattered and disillusioned but convinced that good journalism was the real loser in this case. "Journalists and broadcasters are just not going to do stories when defamation proceedings become as arduous and lengthy as this one was. It's what I call death by a thousand courts," said Masters.
The nation's wealthy and powerful have often used legal threats to stop journalists' inquiries or at least to put the frighteners on them.
With the media industry in such dire financial straits this legal threat can prove too much for all but the largest of media organisations. Even then, with the bottom line to consider, the possibility of a multimillion-dollar law suit means press freedom has to dance a sorry jig with fiscal realities.
For smaller companies, freelancers and bloggers, freedom of the press is a wonderful concept but the prospect of personally funding a court action against the coffers of a business tycoon is not realistic.
At the moment five journalists are being pursued through courts to reveal their sources. Fairfax's Richard Baker, Nick McKenzie and Philip Dorling are defending moves by businesswoman Helen Liu to uncover sources for a story detailing her relationship with former defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon.
Last year's Gold Walkey winner Steve Pennells, from The West Australian, and Fairfax business reporter Adele Ferguson are both being pursued by Gina Rinehart, who is not only Australia's richest person but the 36th wealthiest person in the world.
The stakes are high. "Right now I am faced with every journalist's most-feared nightmare: comply with a court order to hand over documents that I promised would be kept confidential, or face a jail sentence for contempt of court," Ferguson said.
For Pennells it has been an intimidating and exhausting battle that has already been going for 14 months and shows no sign of abating. Rinehart's actions against Pennells and Ferguson will be back in court in Perth on Tuesday.
Litigations can have the unfortunate effect of making other media players gun-shy. Journalists and their bosses become wary of "litigious" people and are often reluctant to take them on. With regard to Rinehart, Pennells said the mining tycoon's action against him was a "shot across the bows to warn other journalists and I have no doubt it has worked".
Even if Rinehart loses, she has an army of QCs ready to appeal and re-appeal.
It also affects your own coverage of a story and you start to second guess yourself. "This is a great story but if I write it, will it look like I am pursuing a vendetta?"
I have been there and it is not a pretty place.
In August 2006 The Daily Telegraph reported this: "An article in The Sydney Morning Herald, implying that former government minister Eddie Obeid was corrupt, was a 'scurrilous piece of tittle tattle', the Supreme Court heard yesterday.
"It was an 'absolutely disgraceful and dishonest piece of journalism, one of the worst of many in the Herald', Bruce McClintock, SC, acting for Mr Obeid, said."
What McClintock was referring to was a 2002 story that Anne Davies and I had written suggesting that Eddie Obeid had sought a $1 million payment to the ALP in return for solving the Bulldogs' problems with their Oasis development.
Then Bulldogs Rugby League Club president Gary McIntyre had allegedly complained to various people, including one of Obeid's colleagues, that Obeid had sought the payment. We lost the case and Fairfax had to pay $162,000 to Obeid plus his court costs.
I can't even begin to explain how devastating it was. You lose confidence in yourself and you swear you will never write a difficult story ever again.
But then you pick yourself up, you dust yourself off and you start looking at the Obeids afresh.
On one occasion I rang Eddie Obeid to put a question to him. This was his response: "I tell you what, you put one word out of place and I will take you on again. You are a lowlife. I will go for you, for the jugular."
In Parliament, Eddie Obeid said: "McClymont has been mixing with scum for so long that she no longer knows who is good and who is bad, what is real and what is made up. She has become the journalistic equivalent of a gun moll with glittering associations with the not so well-to-do.
"Despite this being well known, management of The Sydney Morning Herald continue to grant her prime, unscrutinised space.
"How many more times must my sons and I take action in the courts to redress the damage this journalist has inflicted?" Obeid said all this using parliamentary privilege.
Last year – six years down the track from his parliamentary tirade – it was Eddie's son Moses Obeid's fight with the City of Sydney over millions of dollars in licence fees – for streetpoles of all things – that led me to have another look at the Obeids' business dealings.
The Obeids tried to prevent my access to documents in court that were tendered as exhibits. It was these documents, showing millions of dollars flowing through a complex web of family trusts, which enabled Linton Besser and me to shine a light on the Obeids' dealings, including their secret ownership of cafes at Circular Quay and their mining deals.
Linton and I tried to interview Eddie Obeid at the family's headquarters in Birkenhead Point. The following day Obeid fired off a threatening legal letter in response to a set of questions that we left for him.
The questions included the following:
Did you have any prior knowledge that the Department of Mineral Resources would be calling for expressions of interest before you purchased Cherrydale in Bylong?
Did you organise for anyone else to buy property in that same area?
Did you have any discussion with minister Ian Macdonald or anyone within his department about the coal exploration licences in these areas at any time?
At any time have you or any of your family members had any interest – either directly or held beneficially on your behalf – in Cascade Coal, Voope, Desert Sands Holdings, Loyal Coal or White Energy?
Mr Obeid declined to answer the questions, which he described as "insulting" and "ill-founded".
"Ms McClymont and the Herald have conducted a long-running vendetta against Mr Obeid and members of the Obeid family. We have been instructed to take appropriate steps to bring those matters to a head and to prevent future harassment of Mr Obeid and the Obeid family by the Herald and its reporters," said the Obeids' legal missive.
The letter was penned by a partner at Colin Biggers & Paisley, the very same law firm that was later revealed at the ICAC to have been involved in setting up the necessary legal structures for the Obeid family to disguise their gains by subverting a government tender.
The rest, as they say, is history.
People often ask me whether I get frightened or if I get threats. The answer to both of those is yes. No one likes to be threatened or to find out that they have been placed under surveillance.
But we are the public's eyes and ears, we are their conscience. If we don't shine a light on serious corruption, who will?
Donald Mackay was a furniture shop owner in the NSW town of Griffith when he reported on the activities of the mafia and the grass castles which they built from their drug earnings. This stand was to cost him his life. Mackay was murdered in 1977. His body has never been found.
On his statue in Banna Street is the following inscription: "All that is necessary for the triumph of good over evil is for good men to do nothing. Donald Mackay was a man who had the courage and honesty not to look the other way."
For society to enjoy the benefits of a free press, then its journalists must have the courage and honesty not to look the other way.
While there are times when I feel like an endangered species – in more ways than one – I take great comfort in the fact that I am merely following in the footsteps of a long line of distinguished journalists who were fiercely independent and courageous in their pursuit of the real story. People like Brian Toohey, Marian Wilkinson, Paul Barry, David Wilson, Chris Masters, Evan Whitton, Bob Bottom, Colleen Ryan, Ben Hills, Gary Hughes and Wendy Bacon. They pursued their stories often at great personal cost. Despite the difficulties and uncertainties we face today, it gives me great heart to see this proud tradition continuing in the work of journalists such as Hedley Thomas, Steve Pennells, Cameron Stewart, Pam Williams, Ross Coulthart, Neil Chenoweth, Charles Miranda, Liz Jackson, Linton Besser, Sarah Ferguson, Nick McKenzie and Richard Baker, to name but a few.
All of you here tonight, who regard yourselves as serious journalists, the best way to ensure we have genuine freedom of the press in this country is for you to remember you are the custodians of a great legacy. You have a responsibility to look behind the spin, the press releases and the deals, so that Lorraine Osborn and other members of the public can have faith that we did not look the other way.
This speech was delivered by senior Herald reporter Kate McClymont at the Australian Press Freedom Dinner on Friday, hosted by the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance and Walkley Foundation for Journalism.