Or, let’s make Mark Riley accountable.

In a previous post (which you should read to get a grip on why this should piss you off) I went into some length and detail about the conduct of the Seven Network’s “Chief political reporter” Mark Riley and his public humiliation and character assassination of Tony “shit happens” Abbott – who really doesn’t need any assistance. He is perfectly capable of ruining his own reputation and credibility without any outside interference, thank you very much.

As an example of gutter, or yellow, journalism it is unfortunately a drop in the ocean. What makes it stand out is Riley’s senior position at the Seven Network and the sheer cheapness of the sleight of hand perpetrated in order to create a piece of headline hogging trash. Witnessing this poisonous nonsense, it may come as a surprise that there actually is such a thing as the Australian Journalists Association Code of Ethics, but there is [pdf – MEAA_ethics]. It is worth reviewing Mark Riley’s conduct in terms of this code. You can’t get past the preamble really without wondering if Riley has even seen it –


Respect for truth and the public’s right to information are fundamental principles of journalism. Journalists describe society to itself. They convey information, ideas and opinions, a privileged role. They search, disclose, record, question, entertain, suggest and remember. They inform citizens and animate democracy. They give a practical form to freedom of expression. Many journalists work in private enterprise, but all have these public responsibilities. They scrutinise power, but also exercise it, and should be accountable. Accountability engenders trust. Without trust, journalists do not fulfil their public responsibilities. MEAA members engaged in journalism commit themselves to

  • Honesty
  • Fairness
  • Independence
  • Respect for the rights of others

The real killers are the first and third items –

1.  Report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts.  Do not suppress relevant available facts, or give distorting emphasis.  Do your utmost  to give a fair opportunity for reply.

The ice-pick in Abbott’s ear is this blatant failure to disclose “essential facts” by suppressing “relevant available facts” and adding “distorting emphasis”. What has been excised from all of Riley’s coverage was that this was a free flowing conversation between Abbott and some US and Australian army officers about the late Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney, and that the immediate comment following “shit happens” from one of the officers was “It certainly does. Yeah”. It flowed as part of the conversation and was made without hesitation or offense. The comments were neither flippant nor callous. Anyone familiar with Australian language use would readily be able to comprehend that the statements were those of the typical vernacular – they were indicative of gravity by understatement.

3.  Aim to attribute information to its source.

Riley also entirely omitted who Abbott was speaking with – US commander Jim Creighton who prompted Abbott by saying “Was it tragic? Absolutely. But we’re all in the knowledge that all the stuff (firepower support) you see here and more was available on the day”, and Major General John Cantwell, the commander of Australia’s Middle East forces, who responded with “it certainly does”. These were not lightweights, and if anyone was going to have an issue with Abbott for disrespect or trivialisation of a soldier’s death it would be these people. Both they and their defense departments are on record as not having any issues with Abbott’s conduct.

Item 9 just summarises the above –

9.  Present pictures and sound which are true and accurate.  Any manipulation likely to mislead should be disclosed.

and demands disclosure of the manipulation and deception from Riley. Item 11 is a no brainer –

11.  Respect private grief and personal privacy.  Journalists have the right to resist compulsion to intrude.

Translation: Have some respect for the dead and their families. Do not concoct vile, slanderous nonsense which drags them into a media circus that only rubs salt in their wounds.

All of this is lost on Riley, who’s only priority is being a headline whore for no apparent reason other than self-promotion first, and the Seven Network’s promotion second. This vulgar publicity stunt for personal benefit has multiple items in the ethics code –

4.  Do not allow personal interest, or any belief, commitment, payment, gift or benefit, to undermine your accuracy, fairness or independence.

5.  Disclose conflicts of interest that affect, or could be seen to affect, the accuracy, fairness or independence of your journalism.  Do not improperly use a journalistic position for personal gain.

6.  Do not allow advertising or other commercial considerations to undermine accuracy, fairness or independence.

The question remains – why is this even news to begin with? Riley has not addressed this in any way other than with sophist distractions to justify the tawdry sensationalism. No matter how you view this, there isn’t a single positive aspect to it anywhere. It is of benefit to no one other than Riley. It is yellow, gutter journalism at its worst.

This was no accident – this was a premeditated manipulation of reality for personal benefit. Riley –

  • requisitioned the video from the military via FOI
  • selectively edited the video to strip context
  • added subtitles to the video

This is a deliberate abuse of journalism that in the process spits on Tony Abbott, spits on the memory of Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney and his family, spits on our military and spits on the general public.

The Australian Journalists Association claims to have a complaint process for members who violate its code of ethics, but you have to be a detective to find it. The best complaint process I have been able to find is for the following [pdf – ethics complaint]

Snail mail (probably more effective) –

Attn: Christopher Warren
Federal Secretary
Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance
PO Box 723
Strawberry Hills
NSW 2012

or via email to the Australian Press Council –


For the latter, you can use this form. A template complaint is below it that you can paste and modify as you please (don’t forget to sign off at the bottom). The postal address and phone fields are typically required for these types of correspondences. When you hit “submit” it will show a copy of your email that’s lost formatting. It’s OK, it looks fine at the other end –

Complaint template –

Suite 10.02, 117 York Street

To whom it may concern,

I am writing in regard to the conduct of Mark Riley, Chief political reporter at the Seven Network. I believe he has breached the AJA Code of Ethics by his conduct in reporting on Tony Abbott’s visit to Afghanistan and the “shit happens” incident regarding the death of Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney. He has specifically violated the code of ethics as detailed at http://wp.me/p1hBgT-8T and the breaches are summarised as follows –

  • Guideline 1 – failure to report the events accurately and honestly and suppressing essential facts by removing key elements of the conversation reported.
  • Guideline 3 – failure to attribute sources. At no point was it mentioned that the senior commanding officer of Australian armed forces in the Middle East was a party in the reported conversation and that they raised no objection to the reported statements.
  • Guideline 9 – “Present pictures and sound which are true and accurate.  Any manipulation likely to mislead should be disclosed.” The entire incident was manipulated to the point it had no relation the the reality of the situation.
  • Guideline 11 – “Respect private grief and personal privacy.” The family of the deceased soldier has needlessly been drawn into the public spotlight for the sake of Mark Riley’s sensationalist fabrication.
  • Guidelines 4-8 – Using a story devoid of substance in a false and sensationalist manner to promote both himself and the Seven Network.

I consider these breaches to be of a very serious nature and that they bring the journalistic profession into serious disrepute. At the very least I feel that Mr. Riley, as per your own guidelines, publicly and with the same degree of visibility, disclose all of his manipulations for the purpose of misleading (guideline 9) the viewing public and misrepresenting all parties concerned. Further, he should apologise for his disgraceful conduct and undertake to in future perform his duties as a journalist to acceptable standards and within the AJA Code of Ethics.


[your name here]