There’s good reason people criticise News Corp publications

News Corp

Students identifying as cats, political leaders claiming they’re not woke, and attempts to link the gay community to a horrific murder.

What do they have in common, they’re all stories that appeared in News Corp publications that have been questioned about how true they actually are, or as in the last case, proven to be a complete beat up.

This week Christopher Dore, Editor-in-Chief at The Australian gave a lecture at the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas where he complained that activist journalists are tarnishing the newspaper’s reputation with “an irrational and tireless obsession with tearing down News Corporation journalism”.

Dore has had a long history with News Corp having edited The Daily Telegraph, the Courier Mail and Perth’s Sunday Times – back when it was in the media conglomerate’s stable. While those publications have done many great stories and won countless journalism awards, there are also times when readers and audiences have been mislead by News Corp’s print publications and broadcast news.

Last week OUTinPerth questioned a story in the ‘opinion’ section of the Courier Mail that reported a Brisbane School had multiple students who were identifying as cats. The story has strong similarities to a well documented urban myth designed to alienate transgender and non-binary people, but it’s author Kylie Lang and the newspaper are sticking by the report and insist it’s 100% true. Even though the school denied any knowledge of cat students.

By Sunday the story has spread to News Corp owned Sky News, where it was retold without any of the school’s denials, and footage of a mother in the USA claiming schools now had kitty litter trays for students was included in the reporting – even though this claim has already been proven to be completely false.

More information has come out about the Courier Mail story. It’s been revealed that Lang first approached the school back in November, when they denied any students were identifying as cats or foxes, but the story was not published until last week. The School has shared that even after an additional four months, there is no evidence the claim is true.

Later in the week the front page of The Daily Telegraph in Sydney featured the claim that Anthony Albanese was “Not Woke”, there is no evidence that Albanese ever used this phrase to describe himself, but within a few hours it was being presented as a quote on most Sky News programs. Paul Murray, to his credit, acknowledged that Albanese’s actual quoted statements did not use the phrase.

Far more serious though is some of News Corp’s past performance.

Former Senator, and LGBTIQA+ rights advocate, Brian Greig, recalls another incident back in 2006 when the The Australian falsely linked the gay community to the site of a horrific Perth murder.

In 2006 The Australian falsely claimed “Child murder scene listed on gay website”

At 4.00pm on 26 June 2006, Dante Wyndham Arthurs (22), snatched eight year old Sophia Rodriguez-Urratia Shu from the corridors of the Livingston Shopping Centre in Canning Vale. Dragging her into the disability toilet, he sexually assaulted and brutally murdered her.

All this took no more than about five minutes. Sophia’s uncle, brother and sister were waiting nearby for her to return from the Ladies bathroom unaware of the horror that had just unfolded.

Arthurs had strangled little Sophia with such force her larynx was crushed. Both her legs were broken and an arm dislocated. Her brother found her naked body on the floor of the toilet just 10 minutes after she went missing.

Arthurs had fled but police were quick to question him. He was an employee at the centre and had sexually assaulted an eight year old girl in the same area three years prior.

Arthurs lived with his parents close to the centre. After searching his home police arrested him. He was later charged with murder, two counts of sexual penetration and deprivation of liberty.

This appalling crime received national media attention and howls of community outrage. Then it took a strange turn.

On 7th July, less than two weeks after the murder, The Australian ran a page 5 story headed Child murder scene listed on gay website.

Without providing proof, the paper claimed that;

“The toilets where eight-year-old Sophia Rodriguez-Urratia Shu was killed last week was a hangout for gay men. On Friday the Livingston Marketplace Shopping Centre in Perth’s southern outskirts was taken off the Canadian-based website While police have not found any link between Sophia’s alleged killer and the website, a police spokesman said the newly formed ‘Cyber predator team’ would add the site to those it regularly monitored.”

I smelled a rat. This story didn’t make any sense to me. I couldn’t understand how or why an anonymous member of the public could seemingly monitor a gay cruising site with such fixation they knew when listings were uploaded or deleted. This story had all the hallmarks of the dishonest attacks on LGBT people by sections of the religious right.

It looked to me like homophobes were trying to associate gay people with the murder of Sophia, and trying, once again, to link homosexuality with child sexual abuse. The claim lacked credibility and the reporting due diligence. It was just a hit job trying to turn the outrage over Sophia’s death into revulsion against gay men.

I decided to take a stand. I contacted the website’s manager in Toronto, Mr Gaudet, and asked if he knew about the murder of Sophia and the anonymous allegations against his website in our national newspaper. He was unaware of the murder, told me that Livingston Markets had never been on his site and was appalled that it was being associated with rape and murder.

On this basis, I advised him that I proposed to lodge a formal complaint to the Press Council (vilification), and asked if he would provide me with a statement confirming that the allegation was untrue. He did so without hesitation.

Through his lawyer, Mr Addario from Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP, Gaudet provided a letter confirming that the claim was untrue, that no-one from the Australian media had contacted him and that the listing for the shopping centre had never been on his site.

Armed with this I lodged my complaint with the Press Council against The Australian and The West Australian – which had repeated the allegations on 8 July. Through the following conciliation process I was seeking a retraction and apology from both papers. They refused.

The West did agree it would publish a letter from me explaining that the report was untrue, but wouldn’t apologise or accept responsibility. It did however note under my letter that, “The West Australian accepts that the Livingston Marketplace was not listed on the Canadian website.”

The Australian was much more belligerent. It refused to apologise and would not consider publishing a letter from me. It begrudgingly agreed to publish a “correction”, in small print, on the bottom of page two of the paper on July 22nd. It read:

On July 7, The Australian along with The Age and West Australian and various Perth television news programs, reported that the Livingston Marketplace shopping centre toilet block where a young girl was murdered was listed on a website called Squirt as a gay cruising location. The editor of Squirt, who has not given his name and is apparently based in Canada, denies that particular toilet block was ever listed on his site.”

But here’s the thing – it transpired during this complaint process that the allegation came from a JP who lived in Sydney yet claimed to know the details of Perth’s gay beats. And despite being asked repeatedly to put his allegations in writing he refused, claiming that he had “been threatened and feared reprisals.” But how could this possibly be given that no media outlet published his name? And why did no editor ask that question of him?

This was shoddy journalism. It didn’t do its homework. It facilitated extreme homophobia. It caused harm by throwing hateful mud.

Meanwhile, Dante Arthurs has been in jail for 16 years and eligible for parole in July. Attorney General John Quigley has said, “The wishes of Sofia’s family will weigh heavily in any decision I might make regarding this shocking case.”

Brian Greig

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