RF: What an amazing story [Interviewee] thank you so much.
Interviewee: Thank you.
Voice Over: You’ve been listening to a podcast of Conversation with Richard Fidler. For more information and interviews visit abc.net.au/conversations.
The complainant submitted the following to the ABC on 19 December 2013:
[Interviewee] … is a liar who has created a total fantasy of childhood "memories" with which to commercialize herself as an aspiring writer/poet to make herself more appealing for public consumption.
[Interviewee] has defamed [the uncle]. In her interview she refers to an uncle who was pastor of the fundamentalist Christian church she attended within the closed religious community she was brought up in. She also claims this uncle routinely carried out exorcisms. Without naming names anyone who knows [her] family will know [who it is] she is referring to claiming he was a leader/pastor of a sect.
These are lies:
[Interviewee] has never lived in a closed religious community, she lived on a few acres of land in the township of [town] just north of Perth with her Mother.
[The uncle] has never been a Pastor, let alone the Pastor of a cult like church. He is just a lovely old Christian gentleman.
[The uncle] has never carried out an exorcism in his life.
[Interviewee] has never been home schooled she attended a private co-educational school in the [town].
[Interviewee] did not escape her mother to live with [her] grandmother for three years before going to university, she has never lived with [her] Gran....
The list goes on. [Interviewee] takes a small element of truth and grossly exaggerates and distorts the facts until it suits her story.
I seriously doubt the validity of any of [interviewee’s] ramblings. Her pathetic account of her time in New York as a Dominatrix was ridiculous. Anyone who types in DOMINATRIX on Google will get stories remarkably similar to [interviewee’s] account of "girl from strict religious background goes bad - now a Dominatrix with Wall St. Businessmen clientele!" […]
[Interviewee] is unfortunately a success driven fantasist who doesn't differentiate between fact or fiction but who will choose to lie to further her career […]
I guess I am disappointed with the ABC also, don't you do a background check on the guests you interview to check out the truth of their stories? Because ultimately the internet has made this planet a small place so people like [interviewee’s] mother or [the uncle] have effectively been irrevocably slandered.
The complainant submitted the following to the ABC on 15 January 2014:
I have received correspondence from [interviewee] who has advised, she contacted you about the podcast interview. "After I did the interview and the producer sent me the link, I was very upset. A whole lot of the stuff I said ... sounded like I was talking about [the uncle]. They also, in the text especially made a big deal about "my Uncle" starting the church, like he was a big part of it, he wasn't. The interview was originally 1 hour 26 minutes and they cut it down to the 57 minutes, a lot of my explanation about the church in the beginning was cut out. When I emailed the producer saying I wasn't sure about it; it sounded confusing as I wasn't using real names, she told me it wasn't going to air in WA anyway due to a daylight savings glitch. I forgot about it being on podcast and I expected no one to hear it.
I never said it was a closed community (that was added in the voice over by Richard Fidler at the beginning and in text - though of course I take the blame for this as obviously Fidler was under the wrong impression.) "
I am unsure of who is accountable. [Interviewee] has proven to be questionable in her accounts but she is pointing blame at your choice of editing and creating a false misinterpretation of the truth.
The complainant submitted the following to the ABC on 10 February 2014:
The material in this interview was grossly distorted and in fact inaccurate, involving defamatory statements concerning [the uncle]. Real names were not used as [interviewee] refers to "my uncle" throughout the early part of the interview, but anyone who knows [the] family will assume it is [the uncle] she is referring to.
I have included copies of my correspondence with [interviewee] who advises much of the inaccuracy of the programme was due to Senior Producer, [ABC staff name’s] editing of the interview, and Richard Fidler's insistence on sensationalizing [interviewee’s] church attendance as a child, into living in a "closed fundamentalist religious community".
I am unsure if [interviewee] has given false information as to "her uncle" [the uncle] being the leader of this "Closed religious Community", or if, as she is claiming, the Senior Producer/ and Richard Fidler have deliberately edited the interview to make for a more sensational story?
I have written to [ABC staff name] requesting an explanation on 15 January 2014. As yet I have not received a response.
I am grateful the original ABC interview has been deleted, but unfortunately this remains unsatisfactory, as the podcast has been downloaded onto other servers [...] and is still accessible to hear.
I am disappointed with the "Conversations team" for also not verifying [interviewee’s] accounts as factual truths. Because of this [the uncle] has irrevocably been slandered.
I would like the person responsible to be made accountable.
There is some doubt as to if the blame lies with [interviewee] for deliberately giving false information on a supposedly "real life accounts" programme or if in fact selective editing of this interview took place to grossly distort the truth? If this occurred then I am extremely disappointed with the ABC for the practise of misrepresenting the truth and the promotion of hurtful lies about [the uncle]. He is being portrayed as a self appointed religious wacko running a cult like community. This is a lie.
The complainant submitted the following to the ABC on 17 March 2014:
When I initially wrote to the ABC with my complaint I was incensed at the injurious lies made concerning [the uncle], and failed to fully convey my other responses to this broadcast interview adequately. My immediate concern was for [the uncle’s] loss of reputation, but on reflection there are other concerns I wish to express which have distressed me.
The portrayal of bible believing Christians in [interviewee’s] childhood accounts as strange cult like followers who shun society, living in "closed religious communities" awaiting the rapture in self righteous elitism is incorrect and extremely unfair.
On listening to [interviewee] and Richard Fidler I was struck not only by the hurtful lies destroying [the uncle’s] reputation, but disturbingly ,the faith based bigotry that seemed to be the agenda of the interview.
Both Richard Fidler and [interviewee] seemed intent on mockery and ridicule, with Fidler stating his own personal opinions in this interview with derisive comments like: " ... there's something quite mean spirited about Christians attitude concerning the rapture ... like nah nah nah nah I told you so!" How sad that it is not considered prejudicial to denigrate a faith which has at its' heart a message of pure love and forgiveness for all mankind not just a select few.
The stories told by [interviewee] are gross distortions. Sensationalizing small elements of truth to misrepresent the facts. [Interviewee’s] recounts painted all the Christian people she grew up with in a very poor light. The practises of home schooling, exorcisms and living in a closed religious community are all lies .[Interviewee’s] mother knew nothing about her time in New York as a dominatrix, but in her interview she stated her mother found out about her work in a phone call while she was with a client.
I believe this programme is supposedly "real life Stories?"
The ABC has lost all credibility as a medium delivering an accurate truthful presentation. The interview with [interviewee] was not truthful it was a prejudicial rant by an aspiring writer with obvious issues intent on fame. Unfortunately it is at the cost of people's reputations for the sake of puerile rubbish presented as real life experiences.
The complainant submitted the following to the ACMA on 28 March
My complaint in general being the content of this interview was inaccurate, involving defamatory statements about [the uncle](the uncle who founded a cult like closed religious community, practising exorcisms and home schooling, according to [interviewee].) As you will see from the correspondence when confronted with a "please explain" letter, [interviewee] points the finger of blame at the editing and Fidlers' insertion of "closed" religious community in his text. By her own admission [the uncle] was not involved.
I have been advised the ABC insist they will re-post this currently deleted interview after it has been re - edited, removing any references to exorcisms, and the word "closed" in closed religious community. So [the uncle] will remain the uncle who started this wacky weird community.
The ABC is operating within limits to prevent possible litigation. Defending the use of "[interviewee’s] Uncle" as it does not use names.
Religious Community implies a cult like sect, when in fact the "church" at [town] was a collection of approximately 15 - 20 Christian families who gathered together every Sunday at the local town hall to fellowship together.
These Christians came from the outlying farming areas of [place], [place], [place], and [place].This is a small percentage of the entire population of these semi-rural areas. How does this become a religious community?
[Interviewee] takes a small element of truth then distorts it to insinuate something entirely different. From the response I have received I now understand, and I quote from [ABC staff name]’s letter: “The Audience and Consumer Affairs are not in a position to ascertain the factual accuracy or otherwise of [interviewee’s] account. However it is our view that listeners will understand that it is one person's recollections of their childhood and like all such recollections it is likely to be imperfect and that other people will remember the same events in a different way. As noted on the conversations web page, listeners are invited to “spend an hour" in someone else's life. It does not purport to present a chronology of factually accurate events, the audience expect an entertaining and very personal story and that's what they get."
So in other words, it's my word against [interviewee’s]? Because she is sticking to the “substance of her story" it is now acceptable?
Interestingly when I first viewed the "Conversations "web page before I wrote my letter of complaint to [ABC staff name] in December 2013, I was positive the web page stated "real life stories". I have no way of verifying this as the text seems different on the current "Conversations with Richard Fidler" web page.
However this web page for www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/conversations states: "Conversations features real people telling true stories. They might not be famous but they have seen and done amazing things."
This contradicts what [ABC staff name] audience and Consumer Affairs has just advised. The stories are supposed to be true, accurate. This is not the case in [interviewee’s] interview. […]
If facts are inaccurate it is viewed acceptable practise as it is only implied and listeners will understand this. I think not! Most listeners believe they are hearing a "real life account". I am now led to believe all the interviews are fictitious accounts? Not factually correct? All the guests of this programme can present misinformation, but it is reliant on audience discretion to decide if this is a truthful account?
On reading the ABC "Code of Practise", to my limited knowledge of legal issues, this programme seems to have breached many of these "standards" as outlined in this booklet.
Section 2: Accuracy
2 : 1- Make reasonable efforts to ensure that material facts are accurate and presented in context.
2 : 2 - Do not present factual content in a way that will materially mislead the audience.
By [interviewee’s] own admission [the uncle] was not a big part of the Church, yet all references to him starting this "religious community" will remain in the re-edited interview. [The] family left [town] in 1983 when [interviewee] was 5 years old. [The uncle] did not start a Church, was neither a Pastor nor an exorcist, nor did he promote the practises of home schooling or discourage [interviewee] or her peers from formal education. So how has the accuracy of these facts not been breached?
Section 4: Impartiality and Diversity of Perspectives
4: 3 - Do not state or imply that any perspective is the editorial opinion of the ABC. The ABC takes no editorial stance other than its 'commitment to fundamental democratic principles including the rule of law, freedom of speech and religion, Parliamentary democracy and equality of opportunity.
In the original interview [interviewee] and Richard Fidlers' conversation seemed intent on mockery and ridicule against bible believing Christians. I feel strongly that impartiality has been breached on the grounds that this conversation was not giving Christian belief fair treatment or received with open mindedness as outlined in the codes of practise booklet. As [interviewee] tells her story Richard Fidler states his own personal opinions about Christians' belief in the rapture.
"Aside from the dagginess of it all, I think there's something really mean spirited behind it all, behind the whole idea of the apocalyptic rapture, you know, you all laugh at us good Christians now, but there will come a day where we will be raised up to the bosom of Christ and you will suffer the awful torments of the end times and then you'll go to hell for the rest of your life and you'll see you were wrong ... and we were right! So it's a kind of great “ner ner nerner ner” moment really in a way, something quite mean spirited in that!"
The tone is purely derisive. How is this not considered a bigoted prejudicial rant by an impartial presenter?
4 - 5 Do not duly favour one perspective over another
At this point of the interview [interviewee] and the presenter Richard Fidler scoff and laugh at Christian belief.
Also Fidler is in absolute error if he believes born again Christians want to smugly scorn people who are left behind during the tribulation. The message of the bible is love, forgiveness for all mankind, no exceptions. His tirade was unfair and portrays Christians as "mean spirited toadies" who want to gloat in self righteous pride. This is totally wrong; nothing could be further from the truth.
Section 7. Harm and Offence.
7 : 1- Content that is likely to cause harm or offence must be justified by the editorial content.
7 : 7 - Avoid the unjustified use of stereotypes or discriminatory content that could reasonably be interpreted as condoning or encouraging prejudice.
How does the whole scenario depicted by [interviewee]: living in a fundamentalist closed religious community, enduring forced exorcisms, no books, TV or radio permitted, wearing conservative clothing, home schooling and discouraging education, all under the authority of "[interviewee’s] Uncle", not breach standard 7 : 7 ?
How can I defend [the uncle] when the ABCs' position is "It does not purport to present a chronology of factually accurate events, the audience expect an entertaining and very personal story, and that's what they get.” Yet the original radio national programs "Conversations with Richard Fidler" text on the web page state “Conversations features real people telling true stories ... "
I respectfully request that the entire original interview be investigated as there appears to be differences now to the existing programme. All references to "closed" religious community have disappeared even on the other servers I had mentioned in my letter to the ABC [...] Are they connected to" Conversations"?
I am bewildered by the response from the Audience and Consumer Affairs. It appears they or [interviewee] are not accountable or have committed any wrong doing by re-editing and re-posting [interviewee’s] puerile ramblings. I feel it is morally wrong on so many levels:
To damage an innocent mans' reputation by insinuation
To denigrate a faith which seeks to offer love and hope to all not just a select few.
To dismiss and trivialize a complaint against an unfair, inaccurate portrayal of people who love Christ and his word the bible.
The complainant submitted the following to the ACMA on 30 March 2014
I wish to clarify the breaches to the ABC codes of practise which was the intent of my persistence in these letters of complaint. I am not seeking to pursue any legal action.
I believe the interview was discriminatory, prejudicial and the content inaccurate.
I wish to correct the inaccurate information [interviewee] has given out implying her interview a “true story" and express my offence caused by the ABC presenter Richard Fidler and [interviewee] in their unfair portrayal of bible believing Christians as pathetic, damaged, cold hearted and unloving. The offence caused by what I believe to be faith based bigotry when discussing her Christian upbringing was in breach of ABC code of practise:
Standards 7.7 - Avoid the unjustified use of stereotypes or discriminatory content that could reasonably be interpreted as condoning or encouraging prejudice.
Richard Fidler refers to the Christian people [interviewee] grew up associating with as “this apocalyptic form of human strangeness" then goes on to a derogatory rant about Christian belief in the rapture, which I quoted in my previous letter.
Again my intent in writing was never to pursue legal action, purely to “put right" the inaccurate unjustified portrayal of [the uncle] and all the Christian people [interviewee] grew up knowing. They are not the hypocritical wacko's she would have everyone believe. The “church" provided money for [interviewee’s] mothers house when she was in need of 10 – 15 thousand dollars to have electricity connected. This church also held busy bees to have her house built.
Far from being isolated as [interviewee] describes her childhood, she attended the local public primary school with many the majority of children being from non-Christian homes.
Her mother worked at [employee] as a secretary.
After numerous parent/teacher meetings at the [school], [interviewee] attended for secondary school she did not continue after year 10. Her mother was greatly distressed at [interviewee’s] refusal to continue schooling when offered another school.
[Interviewee] was not discouraged to continue her education by “her uncle".
[Interviewee] had employment until choosing to do a bridging course at [school] public high school for years 11 and 12.
This is not as described by [interview] as an innocent child living in a “closed" religious community having little contact with the outside world, no TV, books, radio and enduring forced exorcisms etc.
To suddenly find herself in a world full of “fleshly sins" to explore. This is pure sensationalism.
The truth of [interviewee’s] life may be a little more ordinary not so “amazing".
What she wants to say about herself is her decision, but to wrongfully include [the uncle] in the stories of her life is reprehensible.
[The uncle] would see [interviewee] and her mother at family gatherings or if they popped in for a visit.
This is fact. That is the sum total of [the uncle’s] involvement in [interviewee’s] life not as she has depicted in her interview.
The ABC’s response to the complainant
The ABC provided the following response to the complainant 8 January 2014:
I am so very sorry you were distressed by [interviewee’s] interview on 'Conversations'. [Interviewee] has also emailed me to let me know of the issues.
We have deleted [interviewee’s] interview from the website, as she requested.
The ABC provided the following response to the complainant 21 March 2014:
As your correspondence raised concerns of a lack of accuracy, your letter was referred to Audience and Consumer Affairs for consideration and response. The unit is separate and independent from ABC program areas and is responsible for investigating complaints alleging a broadcast or publication was in contravention of the ABC's editorial standards. In light of your concerns, we have reviewed the broadcast and assessed it against the ABC's editorial requirements for accuracy, as outlined in section 2 of the ABC's Code of Practice. In the interests of procedural fairness, we have also sought and considered material from ABC Radio.
The interview has been removed from the Conversations page while considering the complaint. The Conversations team advise that the complaint was not received until early January as the program was in recess over Summer. That the interview is available via other avenues is the nature of the internet, and unfortunately beyond our control.
[Interviewee] has indicated to the Conversations team that she stands by the substance of her interview. She has asked, however, for the reference to her living in a 'closed' community be edited out.
Radio also has decided that considering the seriousness of the allegation that forced exorcisms took place, to edit the interview to remove references to exorcisms.
In relation to other disputed elements of the story, Audience and Consumer Affairs is not in a position to ascertain the factual accuracy or otherwise of [interviewee’s] account. However, it is our view that listeners will understand that it is one person's recollection of their childhood and like all such recollections it is likely to be imperfect and that other people will remember the same events in a different way.
As noted on the Conversations web page, listeners are invited to "spend an hour in someone else's life". It does not purport to present a chronology of factually accurate events, the audience expect an entertaining and very personal story, and that's what they get.
[The uncle] is not mentioned by name and while some family members may associate him with some aspects of the story that was not intended by [interviewee] and would not be assumed by ordinary listeners.
In the view of Audience and Consumer Affairs, none of the disputed incidents are of a serious enough nature to warrant permanently removing the interview from the website. Accordingly, an edited version will be re-posted. We are satisfied that these actions adequately redress the complaint.
The ABC provided the following response to the complainant 7 April 2014:
Audience and Consumer Affairs was not in a position to determine the accuracy of much of [interviewee’s] story. While we accept that you dispute several aspects of [interviewee’s] story, it is her version of her life. As she does not make any allegations against any individuals, Audience and Consumers believes the interview should not be deleted from the archive in its entirety.
We do not agree that Mr Fidler was intent on ridiculing and denigrating a faith. [Interviewee] is entitled to express any view she wishes on her religious past.
Some considerations to which the ACMA has regard in assessing whether or not particular content is factual content for the purposes of the code
In practice, distinguishing between factual content and other content such as opinion, can be a matter of fine judgement.
The ACMA will have regard to all contextual indications (including subject, language, tenor and tone and inferences that may be drawn) in making its assessment.
The ACMA will first look to the natural and ordinary meaning of the language used.
Factual content will usually be specific, unequivocal and capable of independent verification.
The use of language such as ‘it seems to me’ or ‘we consider/think/believe’ will tend to indicate that the content is contestable and presented as an expression of opinion or personal judgement. However, a common sense judgement is required and the form of words introducing the relevant content is not conclusive.
Statements in the nature of predictions as to future events will rarely be characterised as factual material.
Statements containing hyperbole will rarely be characterised as factual content.
The identity of the person making a statement (whether as interviewer or interviewee) will often be relevant but not determinative of whether a statement is factual content.