Activists tell ABC: ‘Don’t betray climate protesters’

November 1, 2023
Disrupt Burrup Hub activists protest the ABC
Activists protest outside the ABC office in Boorloo/Perth on October 16. Photo: Disrupt Burrup Hub

Activists and community organisations have told the ABC not to accede to a West Australian police request for video footage of climate protesters.

“Alarming overreach” is how more than 40 civil society organisations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Law Centre and the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) have described it.

In a climate emergency, it is hardly surprising Woodside is under the spotlight. Rather than tackle the problem, most states are enacting laws to crack down on climate protesters. Unfortunately, it appears the national broadcaster is helping.

The ABC’s Four Corners filmed a handful of protesters outside Woodside boss Meg O’Neil’s house in August. They did not enter her house, but a mainstream media-inspired furore ensued. Several people were arrested, with Four Corners covering these in an episode on criminalising climate protests.

Woodside’s controversial Burrup Hub consists of the Scarborough and Browse Basin gas fields, the Pluto Project processing plant and liquified gas and fertiliser plans in the Pilbara region.

The MEAA petitioned the ABC not to hand its footage over, saying the request was a “direct threat to press freedom”. MEAA federal president Karen Percy said it “rides roughshod over the obligation of a journalist to protect its sources”.

WA police also complained about the Four Corners journalists, with WA Police Minister Paul Papalia claiming they should have notified police about the protesters’ plans.

Disrupt Burrup Hub, which organised the action, said on X on October 26 that the ABC had agreed to hand over the footage. It criticised the broadcaster saying it breached basic media ethics and jeopardized public interest journalism “by degrading trust in the ABC”.

Ballardong Noongar man Desmond Blurton, Disrupt Burrup Hub campaigner and deputy chair of the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee, who was filmed as part of the Four Corners program said he did not consent to have footage of himself handed to police.

“As a First Nations justice campaigner … I am deeply concerned that the ABC may cause the imprisonment of vulnerable people by surrendering source material to the police … if the ABC hands over any footage it will be a deep betrayal.”

Disrupt Burrup Hub media advisor Jesse Noakes, who faces trial on November 6 for refusing to hand over the footage, said he was told by the ABC before the action that sources would not be identified. This was “a precondition for their participation”.

“If the ABC release Four Corners footage to WA police, who would ever trust the ABC to tell their story again?”

ABC journalists took action outside ABC offices on October 26 in Boorloo/Perth, Naarm/Melbourne and Gadi/Sydney demanding it not release the footage.

ABC managing director David Anderson claimed the broadcaster “never have and never will” reveal its sources, but he also told Senate Estimates that he was negotiating with the police.

Surely the national broadcaster can see the real story here: government policy is helping deliver more catastrophic climate change and protesters are being criminalised.

The ABC should be helping climate activists, not helping the state criminalise them.

If the ABC has, or intends to, hand over the some or all of the footage, any remaining trust in the national broadcaster — especially by young people — will evaporate.

This sorry tale is a reminder that we need independent media more than ever. Green Left, the independent, ecosocialist media project, is committed to providing an alternative that supports, not undermines, movements for change and justice.

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