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Where there’s a Will there’s a story – Mirabella, the QC and the $100,000 gift

by Matthew Raggatt

Sophie Mirabella in Parliament. Courtesy Kym Smith, The Australian.

Was the Age right to lead with the personal story of Sophie Mirabella and her relationship with the late Colin Howard QC?

Amongst the leading papers, there was general acceptance the story was news.

On the Age’s website comments were fairly evenly divided. Of those which took a clear position, 14 said the story had no public interest, with one suggesting it was a “very grubby article”. 17 posts however attacked the Liberal Member for Indi on her judgment and character.

Meanwhile Daily Telegraph editor and headkicker David Penberthy took what some may say was a hypocritical look at the issue. Acknowledging the story was one of public interest given its questioning of Mirabella’s morality, Penberthy proceeded to criticise those commenting on the article too harshly. Organisations needed to “lift their standard” for publishing views on news comment sections and opinion forums, he said.

Penberthy said the treatment of Mirabella “is merely the latest example of this modern trend towards abusing people first and asking questions later.”

Over at Crikey, there were fewer comments but a similar spread of views, divided between statements that the article unnecessarily covered a private matter to others that the issue went to the heart of the MP’s integrity.

The Age later reported that Mirabilla had not declared $100,000 worth of gifts Howard gave to allegedly assist her in her career-making 2001 election win. ”At the time, any contribution for an election campaign of $1500 or more was required to be disclosed,” Bachelard wrote.

An unfair targeting of a Coalition MP or just uncovering the grim details of another pollie’s shady acts?

Penberthy appears to have a short memory on such issues.

Last month the Daily Telegraph attacked Craig Thomson over the union credit card escort scandal, describing how the Gillard government would fall if he were forced to resign.

This month News Ltd reported NSW police findings there was no evidence Thomson had committed a crime.

It may be there is also no impropriety by Mirabella to be found.

“All declarable items have been declared,” she told The Age.

The articles however warrant further explanation from the shadow minister.

For Penberthy to  focus on the views of those commenting on websites rather than the actual issues at hand seems a surprising shift given his active participation in the recent torrid political environment.

Posted under: Media ethics
Dated: Sep 30 2011

60 Comments

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