ABC Friends decries release of Four Corners footage

ABC Friends decries release of Four Corners footage

When the WA Police used the Order to Produce provisions of the WA Criminal Investigations Act to demand that the ABC hand over the footage from the 4 Corners program, Escalation, ABC Friends was gravely concerned. We joined MEAA and ABC staff in urging the ABC to not hand it over.

Activists outside the ABCActivists protest outside an ABC office. Photo: Disrupt Burrup Hub

We contacted the ABC and the WA Government to express our concern about the legal action and asked ABC Managing Director, David Anderson, for assurance that the footage would not be made available.

But in November, no doubt on the advice of its legal team, the ABC provided raw footage to the WA Police.

“We are deeply disappointed that the WA Government and Police have made this direct challenge to press freedom. And we remain concerned that this situation will undermine public trust in the national broadcaster," ABC Friends president, Cassandra Parkinson, said.

Ms Parkinson said ABC Friends will use the WA situation as impetus to strengthen its campaign for much stronger protections for press freedom in Australia.

Four Corners was filming members of activist group, Disrupt Burrup Hub, as it prepared to protest outside the home of Woodside CEO Meg O’Neill in late July. Police arrested several members of the group at the protest and then took legal action to require the ABC to hand over footage that wasn’t shown when the program aired on 9 October.

In late November, several days after the ABC handed over the footage, WA police charged Nicholas Doyle, Tahlia Stolarski and Joana Partyka with conspiracy to commit an indictable offence. In a video statement, Stolarski said that officers confirmed that her arrest was the result of the footage release.

She said the WA Government and Police action had required the ABC to provide confidential footage without the consent of the people filmed.

The ABC said there were no undertakings given that the footage would remain confidential. In a statement to Media Watch, a spokesperson said commitments to not reveal sources had been kept, with all material “otherwise filmed in the clear expectation that it could be made public by the ABC, including by national broadcast”.

The spokesperson said the activists had “agreed to be filmed for the story and willingly took part” and that the ABC does not “as a matter of practice, give participants editorial control or veto over material captured in the course of its journalistic activities”.

The ABC, the spokesperson said, had complied with legal orders, in line with existing guidelines.  

In a separate statement to Media Watch, a WA academic said that the protesters should have better understood the potential for the ABC to need to make its footage available.

Dr Michael Douglas, University of Western Australia Law School, said that the WA Shield Laws provide protection for news organisations such as the ABC when they maintain the confidentiality of their sources. The laws would not, however, “have an impact where there was no promise to protect the source's identity”. 

“The ABC are in a hard position. I wish they hadn't handed over the footage but I understand why they did,” he said.

Sophie Arnold
E-news Editor