Hard News by Russell Brown


A wretched editorial

As Toby Manhire pointed out in his Herald column on Friday, the decision to speak up of 22 year-old Tania Billingsley, the alleged victim of an assault with intent to rape that sparked a diplomatic scandal, drew foaming outrage from the usual blog-commenting suspects. But who would have guessed that they would all be trumped by an allegedly respectable newspaper.

Yesterday's Sunday Star Times editorial doesn't appear to be online (although there is a picture here), which is perhaps prudent, because it is a horrible piece of work.

We need only get as far as the second paragraph to establish that in the Star Times' view the real villain of the piece is the victim. She is, after all:

a 22 year-old self-confessed "activist"

I'm not sure what that the quotation marks around "activist" are meant to signify, but the implication of "self-confessed" is pretty clear: it's the 22 year-old woman who has a case to answer here.

The claim is driven home a couple of paragraphs later:

The interview, which was more of a confessional since no hard questions were asked of Billingsley -- such as whether she had any political affiliations, given her strong criticisms of the Natuonal Government in election season -- must have come perilously the close to breaching the law of sub judice around the diplomat's case.

Well, lord forbid any mere slip of a girl should criticise the goverment and its ministers over their handling of a matter of direct importance to her. The nerve!

Actually, Billingsley can talk to who she wants, when she wants. The idea that she should be forbidden to to do what half the country has been doing for the past week -- criticise the performance of the Foreign Minister and Prime Minister -- is absurd. But apparently she should withold any thoughts on whether Murray McCully bungled the matter because an inquiry "will determine that in due course". Of course, because journalists always do that.

The facts of the case itself were not traversed in the 3rd Degree programme that featured her interview. There have been any number of high-profile news stories that have run far closer to the line of sub judice.

The editorial moves on to bitch about 3rd Degree's "sympathetic portrayal" of Billingsley -- apparently, it is only proper to be unsympathetic to sexual assault victims.

There's yet more blathering about how terribly unfair all this for the government, before the editorial declares that while Billingsley is "entitled to her views" ...

... the time for her to speak out publicly on this case was after any trial was concluded, not before.

I presume she's meant to feel properly put in her place.

The irony is, of course, that had the Star Times and not Paula Penfold secured an interview with Billingsley, the paper would have been all over it. It would have been yesterday's lead story.

But it actually gets worse. I was told by Penfold yesterday that that Fairfax, the publisher of the Sunday Star Times, was "chasing" Billingsley for an interview -- and, indeed, Fairfax reporter Kim Knight eventually did get an interview. It's there in the Sunday Star Times, where she explains her decision to go public, which is an obvious follow-up angle. But the story doesn't put her in the dock the way the editorial does.

In the end this wretched editorial looks not only patronising and tendentious, but hypocritical too.

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