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`Inexcusable errors` by Australia TV crew in Beirut kidnap

The team from Channel Nine`s "60 Minutes" current affairs programme were detained last month. 



Sydney: An Australian television crew involved in a botched child kidnap story in Lebanon made "inexcusable errors", a review found Friday, with a producer leaving the company and others reprimanded.

The team from Channel Nine`s "60 Minutes" current affairs programme were detained last month and accused of aiding Australian mother Sally Faulkner snatch her son and daughter in broad daylight on a Beirut street.

They were all charged "for kidnapping the two children and for taking part in the crime" and spent almost two weeks in jail before being released after the woman`s estranged husband agreed to drop personal charges.

Evidence presented to a Beirut court showed Nine paid Child Abduction Recovery International more than Aus$100,000 (US$72,000) on behalf of Faulkner, who had sought 60 Minutes` help in her family battle. In return, the crew would exclusively film the story.

"It`s clear from our findings that inexcusable errors were made," said veteran journalist Gerald Stone, who conducted the review on behalf of the broadcaster.

He found the crew formed an emotional attachment to Faulkner and "in this case, it led to 60 Minutes grossly underestimating a number of factors, not least being the power or willingness of a foreign government to enforce its laws".

Stone, who founded 60 Minutes Australia 37 years ago, lamented the team`s poor judgement, its failure to adhere to Nine`s usual procedures on safety and security risks and pointed to too much autonomy for producers without adequate management oversight.

Stephen Rice, producer of the Faulkner story, stepped down but star reporter Tara Brown, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment all escaped with formal warnings.

Nine chief executive Hugh Marks said the story exposed the crew to serious risks and the company to significant reputational damage.

"We got too close to the story and suffered damaging consequences," he said.

"As a result of the review, we are expanding and upgrading our processes related to story selection and approval, how we approve contracts and payments and the way we conduct risk assessments."

Faulkner has said that her ex-husband Ali al-Amin took their children for a holiday to Beirut and then allegedly refused to return them to Australia.

Her lawyer Ghassan Mughabghab told journalists last month his client had since struck a deal with Amin granting him full custody of the children in line with Lebanese law.

mp/mfc/jah
 

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