HOLD THE PRESSES – a new contender, from right-field, has slipped into contention for worst media story from Tony Abbott’s royal commission against trade unions.

For nearly two years, it seemed the race would be fought out by runaway leaders Naughty Nick McKenzie and Slippery Stephen Drill.

McKenzie, racing under the joint ownership of Melbourne’s Age and the new-look ABC, had strung together an impressive series of results for those who wield political and economic power.

Playing fast and loose with ethical requirements for “fairness” and the “disclosure of all essential facts”, McKenzie used his twin platforms to amplify the voices of the dodgiest witnesses the trade union royal commission could find.

McKenzie’s shtick appeared to be running lengthy “investigative stories” based, almost entirely, on contentious anti-CFMEU claims that would soon re-emerge as royal commission witness statements.

Given royal commissioner Dyson Heydon’s repeated assurances that his commission did not leak to the press, we are left to wonder how this could possibly be.

McKenzie kicked off with sensational allegations from Melbourne Liberal Party donor and property developer,  Peter Chiavaroli.

Even in a debut 1000-word piece, co-authored with Mark Baker, McKenzie could find no room for the name of Thomas Kelly – the 46-year-old husband and father whose horrific death on a Chiavaroli-operated site provoked all the arguments and accusations that followed.

Royal Commission senior counsel, Jeremy Stoljar, would prove similarly reluctant to acknowledge Kelly, his life or death. 

McKenzie also ran anti-CFMEU tales run by convicted heroin importer Jim Byrnes, and introduced Andrew Zaf to a national audience.

Indeed, unsupported Zaf allegations that later turned to dross, helped McKenzie to a share of one of journalism’s prestigious Walkley Awards.

Zaf was a key “whistleblower” in a two-part series McKenzie presented for ABC Television’s 7.30 Report that also featured anti-union activist, Nigel Hadgkiss. 

Worthies associated with the Walkely Foundation must have squirmed as Zaf’s credibility, and key elements of McKenzie’s award-winning piece, were publicly shredded.

A former Zaf business partner told the royal commission McKenzie’s source had stabbed himself in an attack commissioner John Dyson Heydon was eager to see sheeted home to the CFMEU.

More than a year after Heydon made those views clear in his infamous “not like Toorak” intervention, his senior counsel told him police documents suggested Zaf’s injuries had, in fact, been “self-inflicted” and likely amounted to a “false report”.

This time around, Heydon listened in silence.

Witness, Gary Cheetham, said he had written to The Age and Sun Herald in a bid to alert them to the truth about Zaf but had been ignored.

Zaf RC 2pg Zaf, himself, then coughed to falsely invoicing for tens of thousands of dollars, and receiving stolen property – a phone said to have belonged to Victorian CFMEU secretary John Setka – which he said he had delivered to his “friend” McKenzie.

People try to con reporters all the time which is where the media’s code of ethics is supposed to kick in. Properly applied, its principles should protect journalists, as well as the potential victims of shonky stories.

And, there was enough information on the public record to sound warning bells with the greenest cadet.

To give him his due, McKenzie conceded deep into the Byrnes “exclusive” that the source was a “deemed” heroin importer who had twice been banned from running public companies and had been a financial adviser to crooked businessman Alan Bond.

Brynes RCMcKenzie, and his writing team, did not, however, mention that Byrnes had also been named by a coroner as a “person of interest” in a grizzly murder case, nor that she had labelled him “a liar, a bully, and an unreliable and manipulative witness”.

But, hey, even multiple award winners can’t cover all the bases.

The “investigative journalist” mantle was really wobbling , though, when Byrnes later admitted a multi-million dollar conflict of interest also hung over the story McKenzie’s team had swallowed.

With Zaf, the failure to do basic leg work was glaring.

His key corruption allegation against Setka was more than 20 years old. Neither it, nor a series of increasingly wild allegations, was supported by witnesses or documentary evidence.

Against that, big question marks over Zaf’s credibility sat on the public record for anyone who cared to look.

It only took a few hours to dig up the information in the second story here https://jiminnsw.wordpress.com/2015/11/04/knife-attacks-and-threats-to-the-australian-state/

Zaf also reeled in counsel assisting the royal commission but that is no excuse for investigative journalists. They are supposed to hold power to account, rather than cheerlead for it.

Reproduced from Jim Marr’s superbly written website. First published 17/1/2016 at https://jiminnsw.wordpress.com/2016/01/17/low-bar-no-bar-to-media-hacks/