These days The Australian's Hedley Thomas always has something interesting to say.
Here are his comments from an article "Judged Guilty in the minds of the mob" in today's Oz about the ABC's Australian Story report into the death of Tina Watson and subsequent investigation and trial of her husband Gabe Watson in a diving accident on the Great Barrier reef in 2003. Thomas' article raises important questions about the media's handling of the matter, in particular the ABC, drawing parallels with the Lindy Chamberlain case.
In late 2010, in one of several stories about how the public was being repeatedly conned over the Watson case, I described how the ABC's highly regarded Australian Story made one of the most damaging contributions. (Ed eg. here Death on the reef: evidence slanted-see notes below)
The program, called "Unfathomable" and screened in two parts in August 2010, was even used in evidence by US prosecutors in their bid to bring a murder charge in Alabama.
This occurred after Watson had already voluntarily returned to Australia to plead guilty and take responsibility for her accidental death, or manslaughter, for which he went to prison in Queensland.
Australian Story helped paint Watson as a homicidal murderer. The program was months in the making, yet it omitted reams of evidence that proved the fallacy of its angle and misleading script.
Despite the urgings of Watson's defence team, which declined to take part in the program, Australian Story did not highlight the findings and comments of three justices of the Queensland Court of Appeal (the State's highest court).
Those judges concluded in 2009 that Watson had been wrongly accused of murder; he was devastated by the death of his wife; the so-called many versions he gave about the circumstances were not, as police claimed, that unusual or inconsistent; and that the death of Tina was the result of him making a shockingly poor decision in a hostile environment when under extreme pressure.
The Court of Appeal's findings were markedly different from those of a 2008 Queensland inquest. Despite evidence that the police had misunderstood the dive computer, a crucial feature of the case, it was found the detectives "produced to my inquiry as detailed and complete a picture as I have seen as a coroner".
Lessons can be learned from the Watson case so that other travesties do not occur
The rest at the link above. In his report of 15/12/2010 (link above) Hedley Thomas states:
The key evidence was misstated as recently as four months ago in a two-part special by the ABC's Australian Story, in which Gabe Watson was depicted as a cold-blooded and sociopathic murderer of his wife of 11 days, Tina, an examination by The Australian shows.
The program, strongly slanted against Watson, omitted facts and findings which would have shown his actions in a different light. It has added momentum to a powerful public push for Watson to be tried for murder in Alabama where he will this morning face a bail hearing.
Odd that the ABC's Australian Story have never thought to update content of their website to reflect recent events. I have asked them to do so.
The Executive Producer of Australian story provided this email this evening:
Dear Mr Hendricks, thank you for your email about the Gabe Watson case.
The relevant page on our website has been amended to incorporate the court’s decision in Alabama last week.
(hey where's the X!)However as of this evening appears to be no change. Guess it's been held up. Will check again.
28/2/2012 Further Comments from Exec Prod Australian Story:
Hi Marc, because it was a two part episode the update is posted on the web page for the concluding episode. It was placed there last night.
But I agree it might be a good idea to duplicate the information on Part One as well, just to be completely clear, so I will ask our broadband producer to do that.
"2012 Update: Last week in Alabama Judge Tommy Nail acquitted Gabe Watson of murder stating that prosecutors had failed to present enough evidence to send the case to jurors."