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Issue #1729      May 4, 2016


Money, arrogance in child abduction attempt

It was the “story” that had everything. A man of Middle Eastern background has fled to Lebanon taking his two children and leaving his wife in Australia without access. Lebanon is almost synonymous with turmoil in the corporate media. Hezbollah is a major force in the country and is currently fighting alongside Syrian forces defending the legitimate government of President Assad. The opportunities for Channel Nine’s Sixty Minutes program to sensationalise the issues surrounding this family’s strife and boost ratings proved too hard to resist.

As a result, Nine paid $70,000 to Child Abduction Recovery International (CARI), a UK-based outfit claiming to specialise in such cases, to snatch the children of Ali Elamine off the streets of Beirut and smuggle them back to Australia. The operation was botched. The children’s grandmother was knocked to the ground and CCTV footage shows it to have been a very forceful attempted kidnapping. The children’s mother, Sally Faulkner, CARI staff and members of the Channel Nine crew were taken into custody and brought before a court in Beirut. CARI chief, Adam Whittington, remains in custody with other crew members in Lebanon awaiting trial. He accuses a rival child recovery company of tipping off authorities and sabotaging the operation.

Channel Nine’s reputation took a hammering in the rest of the media in the weeks that followed the incident. Prime Minister Turnbull described the actions as “very unwise” and reminded Australians that they are obliged to obey the laws of countries they visit. Channel Nine is reported to have reached a settlement with the children’s father in which, in return for a payment of at least $500,000 to the family, the charges against the Nine crew and the children’s mother were dropped. The tabloids took up the “Lebanese justice for sale” theme with gusto.

While the senior journalist covering the story, Tara Brown, sounds largely unrepentant about the Nine crew’s involvement, the network is in damage control. Chief Executive Hugh Marks said, “You should know that the crew has asked me to thank the officials in Lebanon who were involved in their detention for their professionalism and for treating them with dignity and respect.” Not what a public brought up on the relevant stereotypes would have been expecting!

Nine is to hold its own inquiry into how it became “part of the story” and caught up in what most would people see as an unethical piece of cheque book journalism. The very messy saga still has some way to go as the would-be abductors come before the courts again. Nine is planning to air a program giving its side in the matter.

The events contain a number of lessons. The number of international custody disputes is reported to be growing. Reporting on the issue and citing examples is perfectly legitimate journalism but capitalism and the pursuit of profits poisons everything it touches. In this case, the public’s perceptions of the Middle East were in play. Decades of prejudicial reporting of struggles in the region are at the base of these attitudes. The engagement of a company to seize the children from the custody of the father, obviously in violation of the law of the country in which this was to take place, was considered appropriate. How could this be justified? One can only conclude that the country and system of law are not held to be worthy of respect.

More than one commentator has asked the hypothetical, rhetorical question about how Australians would react had a Lebanese citizen attempted such a thing in Australia. The lack of reciprocity when it comes to these questions is written large when it comes to international relations. Countries like the US, Britain, France, Canada and Australia demand respect for their sovereignty but seek to exert influence, if not control, over the territory of countries far distant from our borders.

“Regime change” is seen as legitimate. The government of President Assad is only the latest government to be listed for elimination by the world’s imperialist powers. As long as capitalism and imperialism exist, genuine respect and cooperation among all countries will remain a pipe dream.

Next article – Offshore detention claims another life

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