Why NSW Police never interviewed Christian Porter

NSW Police have revealed why they never interviewed former Attorney-General Christian Porter over a 1988 rape allegation and confirmed the alleged victim tried to deliver a statement via Skype during the coronavirus lockdowns.

Outlining new information about how the case was handled, police have confirmed the woman who accused Mr Porter of rape asked to deliver her witness statement via Skype during the COVID-19 pandemic – a request the NSW Police resisted and her friends and family were never interviewed after her death.

The woman ultimately decided to withdraw her complaint after COVID delayed the meeting with detectives and died by suicide at home just 24 hours later.

Mr Porter strenuously denies the allegations that relate to a 1988 debating conference in Sydney. He has launched defamation action against the ABC over the reporting of an anonymous letter sent to the Prime Minister setting out allegations against a member of Cabinet.

He subsequently self-identified himself as the target of the allegations.

RELATED: NSW Police never got letter outlining allegations

It was the woman’s decision to withdraw the complaint that resulted in police not interviewing Mr Porter after her death, according to NSW Police.

“It is current standard practice that once a signed victim statement has been obtained from a victim and further corroborative enquiries are made, the formal allegation can and should be put to the person of interest as per procedural fairness principles for investigators,” NSW Police said.

“On June 23, 2020 the (alleged) victim clearly communicated to investigators that she no longer felt able to proceed with the report. The NSWPF did not have a signed statement from the (alleged) victim, hence no formal allegation to put to the person of interest. In keeping with the (alleged) victim’s wishes no further investigation took place and the person of interest was not interviewed.”

NSW Police established Strike Force Wyndarra in February 2020 after receiving information from Mr Porter’s accuser.

Detectives from Strike Force Wyndarra were due to travel to Adelaide to take the woman’s formal statement in March 2020 but their trip was postponed after the COVID-19 outbreak.

RELATED: Accuser’s family begs media not to identify daughter

On Wednesday June 24, 2020, the woman’s body was located at a home at Adelaide by South Australia Police. She had committed suicide just hours after telling police she did not want to proceed with a formal complaint.

In answers to questions on notice, NSW Police confirmed the complainant did ask to provide a formal statement over the telephone or via video.

“Yes. On April 1, 2020, the (alleged) victim requested that she commence her statement by way of Skype,” the response states.

“Investigators consulted with the (alleged) victim on April 2, 2020 by way of teleconference. Options were presented to the (alleged) victim in relation to obtaining her statement. A joint decision by all parties was made not to conduct the interview remotely. There were a number of reasons which led to this decision. The (alleged) victim was understanding and supportive of this decision.”

NSW Police also confirmed they made six telephone calls to the woman which were not answered.

RELATED: Porter, Reynolds moved in Cabinet reshuffle

The alleged victim also made two telephone calls to investigators which were not answered. On both occasions the woman’s missed calls were returned within seven minutes and five hours and 26 minutes respectively.

NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge said the responses from NSW Police demanded further explanation.

“These answers raise yet more questions about the response of the NSW Police,” he said.

“When you speak to experienced investigators who have dealt with historical allegations they will tell you it’s not perfect but sometimes it’s the only option to take a statement by phone or video link.

“What is very distressing here is that this was an option that was requested by the complainant and open to police but for whatever reason was taken off the table.”

The answers provided also detail the Australian Federal Police decision to brief the NSW Police on the letter outlining the allegations rather than send it to investigators in full.

The letter requested urgent action be taken by the Prime Minister to investigate the 1988 alleged rape.

RELATED: Details of Porter’s ABC defamation suit

It urged the Prime Minister to set up an independent parliamentary investigation into the matter, similar to that commissioned by the High Court into allegations against former Justice, Dyson Heydon.

“When news of [the complainant’s alleged] rape becomes widely known to the public (as it most likely will), legitimate questions will be asked as to who knew what, when they knew and what they did,” the letter states.

“This is occurring today in relation to Brittany Higgins. The loss of respect for our political institutions will be exacerbated.

“There will be considerable damage to community perceptions of justice … and the parliament when this story becomes public if it is simultaneously revealed that senior people (like yourselves) were aware of the accusation but had done nothing.

“Failing to take parliamentary action because the NSW Police cannot take criminal action would seem like wilful blindness.”

The South Australia Coroner is yet to determine whether to conduct a public inquest into the woman’s death.

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Fact or Fiction: Are news reporters straying from the ethics and standards of journalism?

Long gone are the days where people stay up to date with worldly events solely from an evening newscast or a local paper.

A survey from the Canadian Journalism Foundation suggests 60 per cent of respondents get their news online. That’s not hard to imagine if you use platforms like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok or Snapchat — where you can easily stumble on real (and fake) news during your daily dose of scrolling.

But busy lives and shorter attention spans call for more compact news.

“I think anytime you have to compact complicated topics to fit within a particular time period, you have to leave out sometimes very crucial information,” said Kyle Wong, co-founder and CEO of Pixlee, a user-generated content and visual marketing agency.

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The rise of new media did not just mean journalists had to move to new platforms. They’ve also had to get creative in marketing their stories on those platforms to reach their target audience.

Think: call-to-action headlines, little snippets to tease a story, pictures and animated videos with subtitles.

After all, if you no longer have millions of families huddled around the television or radio every evening — how else will you draw the public in and make sure they stay informed?

In comes the effect of social media and online web pages.  Many news organizations now track, and depend on, web traffic and clicks to generate revenue and to make sure they’re reaching a wider audience.

Does that mean they’re resorting to questionable practices, like uninformative, vague headlines or click-bait, to rope readers in?

A large demographic certainly might think so, given that 49 per cent of Canadians think that journalists are purposefully trying to mislead them.

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“It’s an old debate on a newer platform,” said Nicole Blanchett, associate professor at the School of Journalism at Ryerson University, an expert in the changing boundaries and definitions in journalism.

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“I was studying some stuff about television, going back into the ’70s and ’80s… a lot of what is being described as digital journalism [today] is things that were being said back then. That it’s all about sensationalism.”

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Blanchett says the availability of time and money — or lack thereof — puts a lot of newsrooms in difficult situations of having to produce more content quickly, and mine for ways to attract readers. But she says it’s difficult to lump all news organizations into one, and to assume that many of them are suddenly abandoning their standards and resorting to frowned-upon practices like click-bait (though the true meaning of that term is contested.)

Using traffic data and analytics isn’t alarming to Blanchett. In fact, she says it’s a tool that helps news organizations understand what kind of content engages their audiences, and when and how they lose interest.

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The president of the Canadian Association of Journalists agrees.

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“What are people looking for? Why do they come to you?” asks Brent Jolly. “Is it investigations that draw people in? Do people come for the opinion section because you have interesting opinion writers [and] various takes on things?”

“I think that [information] is a good way to help you make data-informed decisions not data-controlled decisions,” says Jolly.

However, Jolly says — depending on the type of news or media organization — too much reliance on these technologies “definitely has a bearing.”

Could you imagine what would happen if journalists only produced the content that garnered the most views?

“There’s research that shows that you only base your choices on what an audience will want, and what an audience sees… some form of echo chamber or circles will form, and people will not be shown other types of content,” said Alexdandre Gravel, co-president of Toast Studio, a content marketing agency.

“It could be even more dangerous if journalists stop covering some subject matters because people don’t really seem to engage with them… it doesn’t mean people don’t need to know about [them].”

Numerous examples of literature have named confirmation bias as one of the reasons behind the polarization of individuals on social media, and sufficient grounds to call for unbiased, objective news reporting to be accessible to everyone.

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But Gravel says even if generating revenue by clicks may be tempting for a news organization, it’s not going to work for very long.

“What is shown on social media or the newsfeed needs to reflect what’s behind the click. That promise is very important,” said Gravel.

“The trust that is built between the audience and the news organization is very similar to the trust that is built between a parent and a child. It is built over time, and lost within five seconds.”

“That is also what can happen to news organizations, when that promise is broken — when there’s too many ads or the article is not as hot or hyped as what social distribution might have shown.”

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An influx of one-time visitors does not mean an increase in long-term, good quality readers, according to Wong.

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The experts also say some readers may confuse news coverage of lifestyle stories as just an attempt to fish for revenue. Do people really need to know about Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s divorce? Who cares if the dress is actually blue and black or white and gold? Is this really where news is headed?

But Blanchett says this was something that was always at the core of journalism — covering both stories that hold societal impact and societal interest.

“That’s all part of the news process,” said Blanchett.

“There has to be a certain level of transparency in a sense that not every single story a news organization does might be an award-winning investigative piece… that sometimes you are doing a story because you know that it might have a ‘feel good’ element to it or that your audience is going to be interested in it for a number of other reasons.”

Blanchett, Wong, Jolly and Gravel all agree that it’s hard to say whether the news really is blurring the line between fact or fiction to draw readers in.

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They say this strongly depends on what kind of morals and values the organization stands for, and what its ultimate goal is. Is it a content farm? Or a local current affairs paper? The ability of an organization to stick to its core values affects what kind of videos, pictures and headlines are produced.

But Wong says the pressure to perform is real, because the rise of user-generated content platforms means a need for more content, all the time, from everyone.

Still, there are ways journalists can use web traffic to their advantage, without getting lost in the sauce.

Blanchett says that means sticking to core values such as fact-checking, prioritizing accuracy of information over speed of dissemination, and engaging with your audience to find out why they choose to get the news from you.

It also means, according to Wong, finding other ways to generate revenue, rather than just relying on clicks and user engagement. Once you find a strategy, be patient. Results may come in months later.

And if we’re really going back to examine the basics, Jolly says since the tools that journalists use have evolved, the journalism standards need to be reexamined and brought up to speed.

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“I always think it’s important to continually have standards evolving. You know, journalism is not a monolith.”

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