Manipulative Distortions & Duplicity in ABC Programme on Nauru Detention Centres

Carolina Overington & Rosie Lewis, in The Australian, 19 October 2016,  where the title runs “ABC’s Four Corners slammed over old, selective Nauru footage.” Go to for Blog comments from Aussies and note the Caustic Summing up by The Editor, Thuppahi at the end of this post.

The ABC has endured excoriating criticism of its flagship current ­affairs program, Four Corners, after Monday’s episode about refugee children on Nauru was found to include old photographs of facilities no longer in use, and random footage of brawling adults, previously published on YouTube by a user known only as “NoRulz”. During intense questioning at Senate estimates yesterday, ABC editorial director Alan Sunderland admitted the ABC did not film the footage that went to air on Monday night, but said he was satisfied the vision was “appropriate” for a program devoted to the lives of refugee children on Nauru.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton last night accused the ABC of irresponsibility and said Four Corners had declined to use new photos and videos, offered by his office, of schools upgraded at a cost of $8.3 million. The Australian has established that the program included what appears to be random footage of a group of men on Nauru hitting each other with steel poles that can also be found on a YouTube channel run by NoRulz. On YouTube, the footage is in a video called “Who Let The Dogs Out”. It is one of a series of fight videos posted by NoRulz, who has also posted clips called “Nauru Shit Shit Fight” and “Batud the Deadly”.abc-11

The ABC used the footage to ­illustrate the Four Corners argument that Nauru is a violent ­society where refugees feel unsafe, because they have witnessed and been subjected to acts of violence.

abc-22The rundown hospital Four Corners showed.

abc-33The refurbished hospital it did not show

It carried a voiceover from a former Save The Children teacher on Nauru, saying of the island: “It’s not a safe space. You see scary things. You’re not safe.” Another voiceover says: “There’s no incentive for police to help the asylum-seekers.” At least one photograph used, of an unsanitary Nauru school ­toilet, appeared on The Guardian’s website more than 18 months ago.

Mr Dutton said that if the government followed “the ABC and The Guardian’s line, we will go back to a situation where people are drowning at sea.. At the moment these advocates dressed up as journalists, frankly at the ABC and Guardian and some parts of Fairfax, are compounding these people’s problems because they are telling them ‘don’t accept settlement packages, don’t go back to your country of origin’ — even though hundreds of people before them have and many other people have been able to start a new life fresh,” Mr Dutton told Sky News.

The use of the punch-up ­footage attracted the ire of some ­Twitter users, including comedian Dave Hughes, who said: “Well done #FourCorners on using ­random YouTube clips of blokes punching on to imply every Nauru local is a sadistic animal. #ethical.”

ABC managing director ­Michelle Guthrie and Mr Sunderland were grilled for more than 20 minutes about who was responsible for compiling the footage used by the program. Liberal senator Jane Hume asked whether “all we heard on this program were the representatives of Save the Children and Amnesty (International) and the stories they wanted to tell, and selected stories from the young people on Nauru?”

In a statement, the Nauru government said the program did not seek its comment before broadcast, misrepresented facts and made “wild and unsubstantiated claims”. It said the program showed “incorrect pictures of schools in a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the facts”The Nauru government said educational facilities across the Pacific nation were “similar to Australian schools” and criticised the ABC for “not speaking to any Nauruan educators or principals, and not showing the new school that was recently completed”. “If Nauruan schools are good enough for our children, why are they not for refugee children?” it asked.

abc-44An 18-month-old image of an unsanitary school toilet that the program ran.

abc-55The new school that was not shown.

Mr Sunderland said the report was balanced and complied with editorial policies but conceded he “didn’t believe” the ABC approached Nauru for comment for the story. “I believe that’s because we felt the issues the story raised were particularly relevant to the Australian government, who of course we did approach,” he said., Mr Sunderland was unable to say who was responsible for the material, because he did not know, and suggested there may be a “degree of sensitivity” surrounding the vision.

In a statement to The Australian, the ABC said: “ABC News does not customarily comment on the specifics of production of stories. As journalists and TV crews are routinely banned from visiting Nauru, Four Corners ­relied on a range of sources for footage.”

The ABC said the footage of the men fighting was “provided to Four Corners by sources who had been on Nauru”. The program used approximately 25 seconds of this video material. “Four Corners checked and verified the veracity of all footage used in the story,” it said.

The Nauru government said: “There are fights in Australian schools on a daily basis (and) the Australian news shows acts of crime each night that are far more violent that anything Nauru has experienced. This report was an embarrassment to journalism. From start to finish it was denigrating, racist, false and pure political activism.”

The Four Corners program was based on an Amnesty International report that claims that Australia’s regional processing regime on Nauru amounts to torture. Malcolm Turnbull denied this on ABC radio yesterday, saying: “I reject that claim totally. It is absolutely false.”

The episode can be viewed in full below =  ...

***  ***


Threading the presentation of the Four Corners Programme from the ABC is a form of imperialism that replicates the attitudes of the Christian missionaries who bestrode the world in the 19th and 20th centuries in order to save the souls of the poor benighted natives in Africa Asia and the Pacific. Swathed in the certainties of their civilizing mission, their appraisals of “native societies” could sometimes be skewed. The human rights advocates of the Australian world seem to have the same certainties of superior Australian capacities embedded within their appraisals of native societies — in this instance that of Nauru. The Government spokesman in Nauru (above) seem to have hit the nail on the head. What we see in the Four Corners presentation is a form of “Orientalism” in the manner clarified by Edward Said. 


In this instance the declamatory stance  and moral heights adopted by the ABC is sundered further by its readiness to mould data in ways that suggest duplicity and concoction. As with some tales about Sri Lanka, it seems that certainties about the righteousness of one’s cause generate the production of lies and/or distortion. Needless to say, the marketing of book or news item seems to kick in and encourage exaggeration and distortion. That which is “sensational” sells better.

Illustratively visit the following essays that have been penned over the years.

Roberts 2016 “A Puzzle: When Weiss, Amnesty International and Aussie Greens LIE,”  16 June 2016.

Roberts 2016 “Righteous Blindness. In Cricket and In War,” 19 February 2016,

Roberts 2016Crunched In-Between the Sinha-Le Activists and the Self-Righteous International Cabal,” 9 February 2016,

Roberts 2015 A Drama in Four Acts: Dishonest Reportage by Amnesty International and Aussie Journalists remains Unmasked,” 2 September 2015,

Roberts 2015One-Eyed Zealousness: Extremist Australians For and Against the Tamil Cause in Lanka,” 1 October 2015,

Roberts 2014 “The War in Sri Lanka: Ravi Nessman’s Slanted Story for USA on the Tavis Smiley Show, 18 February 2009,” 31 January 2014,

Roberts 2014 Truth Journalism? Marie Colvin hoist on her own Petard,” 5 November 2014,

Roberts 2012 “Blackmail during the endgame of Eelam War IV,” 12 April 2012,

Harshula 2011 “When allegations become evidence,” 6 June 2011,

Roberts 2011 “People of Righteousness march on Sri Lanka,” The Island, 22 June 2011 and

Roberts 2011 “Amnesty International reveals its Flawed Tunnel-Vision in Sri Lanka in 2009,” 10 Aug. 2011,



1 Comment

Filed under accountability, asylum-seekers, atrocities, Australian culture, australian media, centre-periphery relations, cultural transmission, disparagement, doctoring evidence, fundamentalism, Indian Ocean politics, landscape wondrous, life stories, news fabrication, politIcal discourse, power politics, racist thinking, self-reflexivity, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, world events & processes

One response to “Manipulative Distortions & Duplicity in ABC Programme on Nauru Detention Centres

  1. Pingback: Returned Tamil Asylum Seekers Today: A Jaundiced and Gullible Australian Reporter’s View | Thuppahi's Blog

Leave a Reply