TV presenter Karl Stefanovic has defended his colleagues involved in the 60 Minutes saga in a statement.
The co-host of Nine’s breakfast show and occasional contributor to 60 Minutes said Tara Brown – the reporter detained with three other crew members – is a friend and a “brilliant journalist”.
“Tara is a friend,” he said. “She is a colleague. She is a mother. She is a brilliant journalist. She has asked those questions over and over again. She has consistently broken stories, and forensically exposed wrong doing in society all around the world. She has religiously and without favour fought for the truth.”
See below for Stefanovic’s full statement.
Four employees of the current affairs show were detained in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, after a child recovery session went awry two weeks ago.
The foursome – reporter Tara Brown, producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment – are currently facing charges relating to kidnapping. Last week, the judge presiding over the case said there was no way the charges would be dropped.
On Sunday morning, the families of the 60 Minutes crew detained released a joint statement, saying they were in a “living nightmare”.
“Nine is sharing whatever it knows as they hear about it. It is a day by day proposition, complicated by the fact that there is so little to go on and of course none of us are familiar with the Lebanese legal system,” the statement said, per the Sydney Morning Herald.
“People forget that Tara, Stephen, Ben and Tangles were there doing a job; covering a story. As it turns out, a very important story. It’s what they do. It’s what they have been doing brilliantly for years. Obviously, this time, something went wrong.”
Journalist Tracy Grimshaw has also come to the defence of the detained.
“Those colleagues are our friends in jail on the other side of the world, and I’m going to be totally straight with you: I want them home,” she said.
“Our four friends are not ‘tabloid cowboys’. They are not a threat to society. That’s probably the biggest Captain Obvious statement you will read all day. They are good people who care about what they do, who love their families and friends and are loved very much back.”
The op-ed detailed human aspects of each crew member, from Brown’s amazing ability to keep a white shirt white, even when in the desert to Rice’s incredible cooking skills. See her full statement below Stefanovic’s.
Karl Stefanovic’s full statement:
My daughter Ava likes to ask questions. All day. Every day. Why this? Who is that? How did that happen?
This morning she’s just brought some eggs over the table and asks what I’m writing about. She notices the curser flashing on-off on-off. It happens a lot at the start of a story. I explain I’m writing about a friend who’s been locked up in Lebanon. She responds, “what for, why has she been locked up?” The questions continue. Like I said she loves to ask questions.
So does Tara Brown.
Journalism – by definition is the work of collecting writing and publishing news stories and articles. Who, what, when, where, why are the cornerstones of journalism. It’s brilliant in its simplicity and it’s so easy to remember. Armed with those tools we go out into the wide world and ask away. At its most basic, we inform. At its best, it’s powerful. We can expose the wrongs. We can make a difference. It all though starts with a question.
The truth though, as you find out later, can be complex and elusive. Not easy to explain. Sometimes the more questions you ask the more distance you get from it. Sometimes there’s so much grey, it’s hard to tell what’s black and white. But still journalists pursue. There’s something inside you that won’t rest until you have the answers. It’s an itch. We all know it. We all have felt it. As George Orwell said “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.”
Few in my experience have asked more questions on more complex subject matter than Tara.
Tara is a friend. She is a colleague. She is a mother. She is a brilliant journalist. She has asked those questions over and over again. She has consistently broken stories, and forensically exposed wrong doing in society all around the world. She has religiously and without favour fought for the truth.
In recent years she’s highlighted the plight of the female soldiers in Syria – during three separate trips and stories, pursued and exposed the hypocrisy of Cardinal George Pell, asked the toughest questions of a paedophile caught in a surrogacy scandal – and a cancer fraud in the middle of an elaborate wellbeing scam, not to mention following notorious paedophile Peter Scully into the most dangerous parts of the Philippines to help bring him to justice. Tara won Walkley for that story.
But in my opinion Tara’s most incredible story of recent years involved the four daughters of an Italian father and Australian mother, who were sent home to Italy. You might remember at the time all of the public sympathy was with the Australian mother as she used the protection of anonymity afforded by the Family Court to convince an entire country she was being wronged.
It took Tara’s tenacious investigative journalism to expose the Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandmother for the people they were, and show all of Australia that in fact the Italian father was in the right, and should have custody of his children. It was a complex story that Tara was determined to tell, and in doing so she revealed the truth of the matter.
I reckon that’s what she was doing in Lebanon. Trying to expose the truth of a story, fraught with legal hurdles that we can’t report on, and which usually protect the perpetrator.
The Family Court has taken the extraordinary step in this case of releasing the fact that an order was made last December in relation to the children, in favour of the mother. I’ll let you read between the lines on what detail might be contained within that order.
A mother had lost her children. Legally she had a right to be with them. What would you do ?
If there were mistakes made they will have to deal with the consequences. They know the risks and the rules. The truth in this story will emerge in time. The courts will decide our dear colleagues fate. I hope the public can be patient.
For the journalists at the Nine Network this story is very personal. One of our own and some of our best have made the news and become the story while chasing the story. We are all gutted how its turned out. We all feel it. We are all asking ourselves how this could have happened and none of us have the answers. They will come.
But it should not stop us from seeking the truth. Scratch the itch.
I admire good journalism. I support our team in the pursuit of it. I stand up for a show I know intimately with the knowledge they have always strived to tell stories someone else does not what printed.
And so back to the breakfast table the questions continue. My explanation is now layered and Ava is a little better informed. There are more questions in her eyes. They will come, like the answers, in time. For now she’s back to the “I phone” asking Siri what the weather in Cairns is like tomorrow.
You see, I want my daughter to ask questions. I want her to grow up asking questions about the world around her and the people in it. I want her to keep asking them even if people don’t like it. And if she ends up being a journalist I would be honoured if she was half as good as Tara Brown.
Tracy Grimshaw’s full statement:
This from our Tracy Grimshaw about her colleagues….
“Harden the f*ck up, darling. This is not a game for wimps”
So said one of my early mentors when I started in television 35 years ago. I’ve had cause to remind myself of his measured advice a few times over the years but never more so than in the past week and a half when I’ve had to watch a feeding frenzy by the Australian media on four colleagues in trouble.
Those colleagues are our friends in jail on the other side of the world, and I’m going to be totally straight with you: I want them home.
I want the big, boofy smiling soundo Tangles home on the couch with his splendid wife Laura, a mate of mine. I can’t stand to see her in pain, and she’s no good without the person she loves best in the world.
I want Tara, a good, kind woman whom I’ve known for more than 15 years – in the old days when we could still both do lunch – back here playing in the yard with her two gorgeous little boys, hearing about what they’ve done on school holidays while she’s been away.
I want cameraman Benny the Bear to walk in the front door of the home he shares with his childhood sweetheart Cara. The door will have a hand made sign on it saying “Welcome home Daddy” It’s a ritual his two little girls have whenever he goes away, to make that sign. I think this one might be bigger than usual, but it’s always been big enough for him.
And I want Stephen Rice – Ricey/Longrain/Bags – to be back home with his much loved wife Denise, hearing all about his kids’ Uni work and recent travels, and planning his parents’ upcoming 60th wedding anniversary in July.
Our four friends are not “tabloid cowboys.” They are not a threat to society. That’s probably the biggest Captain Obvious statement you will read all day. They are good people who care about what they do, who love their families and friends and are loved very much back.
Tangles’ mum passed away a few months ago. He took a long time off work while he nursed her, and 60 minutes supported him and understood he wouldn’t be around for a while. He’s a big softie, the favourite uncle of his three nephews who is still mates with everyone he’s ever worked with in television. No mean feat.
The man is Geneva.
Everyone loves Tangles. Seriously. Laura says so. They walk into a room together and everyone gravitates to the big fella with the grin, who has a thousand stories, but wants to hear all about YOU.
On a 60 minutes shoot with Fleetwood Mac a few years ago, Stevie Nicks – no pushover – was obviously a wee bit smitten. After the interview as the crew packed up she asked Tangles his favourite Fleetwood Mac song.
“Rhiannon” he said, no hesitation. So she sang it. Just for him. Poor girl’s only human.
Tangles worked for Getaway and A Current Affair before 60 minutes. The man has about a billion frequent flyer points. But on his annual leave every December all he wants is to head to Brooms Head beach in NSW with his missus.
And Tara….the notion of Tara in a jail cell is doing my head in. Seriously, I doubt this girl has ever had a parking ticket. She has a strong sense of right and wrong. And “wrong” offends her.
Tara won a Walkley award a few months ago for a searing bust she did on the nauseating pedophile Peter Scully. I watched her tear him apart in the interview and thought the bloke would be desperate to go to jail… anything for the interview to end.
She’s been to Syria three times in 10 months. Two of them were to report on the band of female fighters taking on ISIS.
Her husband John asked her why she would risk going back a second time and she told him the bravery and struggle of these women needed to be known.
But don’t get me wrong. Tara doesn’t come across as some commando. I’ve never seen her dirty. Or even remotely disheveled.
She could wear a white shirt in the Syrian desert and it would still be white and unwrinkled after three days. I’d get coffee on mine before I left the airport.
Her favorite place in the world is lying on the couch drinking milkshakes with her little boys. She would not spill the milkshake.
Ricey is a meticulous dude. An old school journo who once rode a donkey through the Burmese jungle to track down and interview a heroin-running warlord. If the Burmese government troops had seen him they’d have shot him.
Working with Liz Hayes on the Lindt cafe survivors story last year, he made her stay in the office until 2 or 3 am each night until it was done, living on no sleep and take away Chinese. She still loves him. But the takeaway part would have hurt, because Ricey believes in a nutritious, well balanced meal.
No one gets baked beans on toast in Ricey’s kitchen. Even if there doesn’t appear to be anything in the fridge, he can produce all the important food groups on a plate that would satisfy any Masterchef. And no matter how busy he is, he has the neatest desk in the office, which irks everyone a little.
Benny is pretty much the perfect cameraman. He’s also the guy who makes the little kids relaxed on every shoot. He plays with them, brings them toys, gives them a look through the viewfinder of the camera so they know what’s going on.
He’s a devoted husband and dad, so he’s a natural for stories about families.
But he’s also brave. When the Ebola virus was decimating Sierra Leone, a story that needed to be told but with significant risk to anyone who went there, Benny put his hand up.
He survived the Ebola story unscathed, but appeared at breakfast on another shoot with a nasty gash on his forehead. He’d worked all night on an edit, and had fallen asleep in the shower.
Oh, and one more important thing about Ben. Don’t get between him and chocolate.
If he’s gone quiet in the car on a shoot, he may be thinking about a shot he wants to get, or how he’s going to light it, or the best time of day or night to shoot it.
But he’s just as likely to be thinking about how soon he can get his hands on the piece of chocolate cake he saw in the shop window outside the hotel.
So you’ve no doubt figured out by now this is not going to be a reasoned, impartial analysis of what happened over there, and why, and how. That’s not my case to make. It’s for a Lebanese court to decide and I’ll be following the proceedings with my heart in my mouth and my fingers crossed.
But I am volunteering to be a character witness for them, starting here. And frankly after some of the malicious, ill-considered, rabidly self serving and in some cases manufactured rubbish that has been written and said about our friends in the past week, I think it’s time you heard something different.
This is certainly not a game for wimps, and goodness knows it’s competitive, but here’s an insider tip and you can take it to the bank: TV journos are not all a bunch of ratings mad cowboys. We don’t spend all our working time thinking about ratings.
Frankly that’s someone else’s job.
The number of times I can remember being with a crew heading to shoot a story discussing whether it will rate it’s socks off, is roughly nil.
Usually we talk about logistics. If it’s an interview we’re heading to, we might talk about the interview subject’s sensitivities; whether they are nervous and how best to calm their nerves; whether they are honest, and how best to prise the truth from them.
Very often they’ve been through a life changing event…the biggest event in their lives. They can be damaged, and traumatised, and we form a bond with people whose stories we tell.
How could you not?
We will talk about whether we like them; sympathise with them.
We will psychoanalyse them, maybe argue about them, express our admiration for them.
We don’t treat people like commodities, not if we have any heart and decency. There are a few bad apples in the industry just like anywhere else. But not as many as some of the gleeful commentariat this past week or so would have you think.
And none of them are sitting in a Beirut jail right now.
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