ABC reporter accused of sabotaging whistleblower's communication

Court scrutinises ABC reporter's alleged attempts to monopolise source in a high-profile defamation case.

ABC reporter accused of sabotaging whistleblower's communication
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A senior ABC reporter told a confidential source not to talk to News Limited journalists about his allegations of war crimes because “Murdoch’s people are tabloid bottom feeders”, a court was told.

The comment, in an email from investigate reporter Mark Willacy, was read to the court during a defamation hearing in which former soldier Heston Russell is suing the ABC and two of its reporters.

Heston contends that two stories published in 2020 and 2021 made it look like he was being investigated for shooting an unarmed Afghani prisoner.

The stories, written and produced by Mark Willacy and Josh Robertson, aired on television, radio and online in October 2020 and more than a year later on November 19, 2021.

The court has been told the allegations of war crimes came from a US Marine known only as 'Josh', who contacted Willacy about his time working with Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

Sue Chrysanthou SC, who is representing Mr Russell, read to the court an email Willacy sent to Josh.

“Let me know if you hear from any Aussie journos! But as suggested, I'd just say I stand by my account, read the ABC story, and I won't answer any other questions,” the email said.

“Murdoch's people are tabloid bottom-feeders,” the email continued, the court was told.

Ms Chrysanthou asked Willacy if the comment was to “encourage” Josh not to have anything to do with other media outlets.

“You were saying don't trust them trust me,” Chrysanthou said.

Willacy denied this. He insisted that the source didn't have “great trust in certain sections” of the media.

“I want to suggest to you the reason you didn't want Josh talking to any other media is because you were concerned his story wouldn't stack up if asked questions,” Chrysanthou said.

She said Willacy “scared him off” by calling other journalists “bottom feeders”.

She told the court Willacy knew there were flaws in the story because he had engaged in some “pretty serious artistic licence with the truth when it came to what Josh had actually told you compared to what you reported”.

“That's not correct,” Willacy replied.

The trial continues.

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  • By Avi Yemini

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