One desperate mother, two traumatised children, a gang of cowboy mercenaries, a celebrity 60 Minutes reporter with a six figure paycheque in her pocket and a cocked-up kidnap attempt in broad daylight on a busy Beirut street in a Hezbollah stronghold …
Where do you start with a story like this?
Let’s see. As of Sunday 17 April, we have one mother of two children in custody. We have one 60 Minutes reporter in custody. We have three 60 Minutes crew members in custody. We have one ringleader and a number of operatives of a “child extraction team” in custody.
We have two children at home with their father and grandmother in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Likely, two very traumatised children following their attempted kidnapping and the alleged assault of their grandmother. Knowing their mum is locked away in a Beirut prison probably isn’t helping either.
We also have family members of the 60 Minutes crew asking some unpleasant questions of Channel 9 executives, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
“Desperate family members of the 60 Minutes team held in Beirut have confronted Channel Nine executives as the child snatching drama enters its second week, amid claims that the network indirectly funded the botched child snatching attempt.
“According to a report of Wednesday’s meeting, the wife of one crew member asked Nine chief executive Hugh Marks: ‘Since when is Channel Nine in the business of child stealing? Is that what we do now?’”
Indeed, that’s an interesting question for a family member of an incarcerated crew member to ask of the Nine bosses. Apparently, however, this is not Channel Nine’s first foray into the business of child stealing.
Really? Channel Nine in the child stealing business?
None other than Channel Nine’s most revered of all journalists, Ray Martin, himself was involved in just such a case way back in the 1980’s as a member of the greatest 60 Minutes team that ever lived. That team was, of course, Ian Leslie, George Negus, Jana Wendt and Ray.
On Friday, 15 April, News Limited reported on Ray’s exploits:
“As one of the founding reporters of the award-winning current affairs program, Martin travelled to Spain with a Tasmanian woman whose 20-month-old son had been taken there by her estranged footballer husband.
“Hiding inside a Barcelona cafe, Martin and his camera crew risked imprisonment to capture the rescue on film before fleeing the country. The mother snatched up the boy while the father was in the bathroom and Martin said he then drove the car across Spain. ‘I ended up driving the car from Barcelona in Spain where the child was taken by the private detective and the woman’s father…and then we drove across Spain’”.
“Risking imprisonment to capture the rescue on film,” that’s real dedication from Ray and his camera crew.
In light of Ray’s own mercy mission, naturally he now defends the actions of the 60 Minutes crew currently held in Beirut.
Should journalists ever be involved in the child stealing business?
Child custody battles are always heartbreaking. Child custody battles are complicated. There are no winners, only losers. Children suffer, particularly when the battle turns nasty.
Naturally one has empathy for mother Sally Faulkner in this awful situation. This is not about judging the actions of a desperate mother.
This is about judging the media that exploited her for its own ends.
When Ray Martin was behind the wheel of that getaway car speeding across Spain with the snatched 20-month-old boy onboard all those years ago, he was doing it for the story.
And, the ratings.
Those all-important Sunday night prime time ratings. Yes, he may claim otherwise, but self interest drove him to drive that getaway car across Spain.
And, it’s the same for Ray’s contemporary counterpart, Tara Brown. She and her crew went to Beirut with a child snatching team for the story … and for the guaranteed ratings bonanza.
Entertainment before journalism
The Canberra Times Friday quoted Peter Manning, an adjunct professor of Journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney, and a former head of news and current affairs at ABC TV and Seven as saying:
“The competitive pressures of commercial television and a desire to be ‘cowboys for justice’ likely influenced 60 Minutes’ involvement in a story that led to its team being arrested in Lebanon.
“I do think this is an example of journalism standards being under pressure in competitive commercial environments and we may see much more of this. In general it’s the sort of cowboy behaviour … which is not what journalism should be about.”
He said the program failed to respect another country’s laws and culture.
“It’s not up to media programs to decide family law disputes, whether they’re on the ‘correct’ side or not; the law has to take its own path. I think what happened with the TV crew is that they fell in love with being cowboys for justice.”
Cowboys for justice
Nine’s own “cowboys for justice” are a fitting match for the cowboys of the CARI agency that, according to authorities, Nine paid $115,000 to to snatch back the children. This is what a detained member of the CARI team told Lebanese investigators at least.
On Wednesday, 13 April, News Limited published comments from a rival agency in The bitter feud between operators within the child rescue industry:
“Doing it in a busy street, underneath CCTV cameras … I don’t know if you saw the footage but that’s horrific what the kids were exposed to,” Mr Chapman told ABC radio.
“They were spear-tackled almost into the back of the car. I’m very critical of it, as you can guess. (It was) very amateurish, very dangerous.”
“He said the TV crew were lucky not to be shot given “guns are everywhere” in Lebanon.”
Chapman and his rival agency, however, have also come in for their own fair share of criticism.
The Australian Federal Police have previously questioned Chapman’s operations, which include tactics involving disguises, sedation, weapons and car chases, according to Fairfax Media.
CARI has also perviously called Chapman’s organisation “a bunch of cowboys”.
Pot calling the kettle black?
But what can we expect from an industry that makes its money in child abduction?
Well, according to the The Daily Mail, there’s this.
Problem is, this photo is actually from a 2006 police helicopter rescue in Oregon of a mother who became lost with her daughters on a remote snowy mountain.
And these are the cowboys, Nine’s “cowboys for justice” chose to do a deal with.
Stage set for Tara’s triumphant return
Whatever happens within Lebanon’s justice system over the coming days, weeks and perhaps even months, one thing we can all be certain about is that Nine execs are planning their strategy locked away in the war room at Nine HQ.
Planning for Tara’s triumphant return to Australian TV screens.
Exclusive and extended tear-jerking interview on the Today Show. Check.
Exclusive tear-jerking interview on A Current Affair. Check.
Hour-long 60 Minutes Special Report all about Tara. Check.
Cross-promotion opportunities on Nine’s Reno Rumble, The Block & Hot Seat. Check.