Correction to misrepresentations by Samantha Maiden (Sunday Herald Sun)

This correction to the record notes and corrects significant misquotation, misrepresentation, sensationalism and other unprofessional reporting by Samantha Maiden of News Ltd. Given the detailed explanations of the ADA position provided to her we believe the extent and nature of the subsequent misrepresentation in her "story" could not have been anything other than deliberate.

21 April 2011

Email to Damon Johnston,
(Editor of the Sunday Herald Sun)

Dear Damon,

The email [to Samantha Maiden] below is largely self-explanatory.

I would be happy to discuss this matter in more detail, especially as the misquotation and misrepresentation has now appeared widely in other News Ltd publications (including an unfair, unbalanced and untrue editorial in last week’s Sunday Telegraph based on the misquotations and misrepresentations).

The misquotation and misrepresentation in Samantha Maiden’s article is frankly inexcusable in its lack of professionalism and in its patent dishonesty.

This is compounded by the fact that when she rang me a few days before publication she confirmed what I had told her (not what was published), and agreed as to the context of my explanation of a complex and nuanced set of circumstances, but then still misquoted and misrepresented me out of such context in the published version.

Even allowing for Samantha’s obvious lack of knowledge on defence subjects — hence my detailed explanations to help her with the background and the concepts involved with the ADFA incident — it is therefore hard to believe that such misquotation and misrepresentation could be in any way accidental.

Her very brief and arrogant email reply to my complaint below merely claimed her notes supported her “interpretation”. This could not possible be true.

Anyway this unsupported denial ignores the other aspects of my complaint regarding the biased description of the ADA as somehow denying what we had clearly not done, and where the denial we had not done so had actually come from the Minister’s office, and the biased descriptions of the Association as somehow “right-wing” and as a “lobby” in the pejorative sense.

Please publish a correction with the same prominence as the original misquotation and misrepresentation. I would appreciate it if the wording of the approval was discussed with me beforehand.

Regards, Neil

Neil James
Executive Director
Australia Defence Association

To: Samantha Maiden (News Ltd)
CC: Chris Mitchell (editor, The Australian); Neil Breen (editor, Sunday Telegraph); Lauren Wilson; Michael Owen
Subject: Misquotation and misrepresentation of the Australia Defence Association
Date: Monday, 18 April 2011

Dear Samantha, 

The ADA is very disappointed in your Sunday Herald Sun article (17 April 2011, p.33) and subsequent articles (and broadcasts) based on its misquotations and misrepresentation. 

First, you misquoted and misrepresented what I said and the ADA stance on the ADFA sexual assault issue:

  • I was clearly discussing ADFA's no-fraternisation rule when I pointed to several of the additional difficulties that ADFA faced compared to civilian tertiary institutions in preventing sexual harassment and other sexual misbehaviour.
    • Chiefly that the cadets lived together closely 24 hours a day, it is a high-pressure environment because of the military training and associated expectations, and they are generally more physically fit than most university students.
    • I never said, suggested or implied that sex was somehow an excusable or the only outlet for them. 
    • I did stress that under such conditions the Academy's no-fraternisation policy is both essential but very difficult to police (and that views on the policy among the cadet body are quite polarised between its supporters and those who think it is unenforceable because of human nature).
    • You misused my quotes out of context and inaccurately. This has seriously misled many readers.
  • It is also incorrect and very misleading for you to report that the ADA has "... denied any role in the whispering" being undertaken about the background of the female victim.
    • You were advised, off the record, that we wrote to the Minister for Defence asking for his confirmation that no-one working for him was spreading the lie around the press gallery that the ADA was somehow smearing the female cadet involved.
    • On Friday (15 April 2011), the Minister's chief-of-staff assured the ADA, on the Minister's behalf, that they were not behind these untrue and defamatory allegations.
    • It was the Minister's office that denied the matter. We had nothing to deny because we have not done anything that would need denying.
    • You knew the whole story but still reported this aspect in terms that implied that the ADA had something to hide when the opposite is clearly the truth.
  •  It is incorrect again to write that the ADA was "... unaware of allegations of the woman's sexual history being raised to discredit her and said he [meaning me] didn't regard it as relevant". This is both contradictory to what you wrote earlier in the article and wrong in that the use of the word "it" does not impart clearly enough that it is the previous sexual history, if any, not just the the allegations that the ADA does not consider relevant.

These misquotations and misrepresentations were unfairly and inaccurately repeated in a "Sunday Telegraph" (17 April 2011) editorial and in "The Australian" in an article by Michael Owen and Lauren Wilson on Monday 18 April 2011. They also enabled the editorial to thoroughly misunderstand ADA policy and actions in this matter, and then make numerous factually incorrect or confused remarks about the ADA's role and competence as a public-interest watchdog that painted the exact opposite of the ADA's efforts to bring objective and informed views to public debate on this matter. 

Second, to describe the ADA incorrectly as somehow a "right-wing lobby group" is absurd.

  • The Association is fiercely independent and staunchly non-partisan and this has long been widely acknowledged by both sides of politics as numerous references in Hansard, for example, will attest.
  • Our guarantors have always included equal numbers of retired senators and MHRs from Labor and the Coalition. Among recent Ministers for Defence, both a Liberal and a Labor Minister joined the ADA immediately on retiring as Minister because they respected our objective and non-partisan input to public debate — including our extensive submissions on reform of the Department of Defence.
  • Our Board of Directors includes a former senior ALP official, a former senator from the Australian Democrats and a former chief-of-staff to a Liberal state premier.
  • No serious observer of defence issues, or "player" in the defence debate, would regard the ADA as either "right-wing" (or indeed as a "lobby" in the pejorative sense). 

Third, the ADA is a public-interest watchdog, not a lobby. Again our long record of contributing to informed public debate on defence issues, and objectively and critically monitoring the performance of all connected with defence policy and its execution, is widely acknowledged by those who keep up with such issues. 

Could you please ensure corrections of your misquotations and misrepresentations are published as soon as possible in order to prevent further public confusion and to prevent further misconceptions about the ADA being wrongly publicised.

Neil James
Executive Director
Australia Defence Association 
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