Sky News host Paul Murray says “it is not the first time” the ABC has “deliberately edited and deceptively edited something” after it was revealed a video of dancers twerking at a naval commissioning was doctored.
“The ABC dropped that in the middle of that footage making it seem like they were live-reacting to the dancing taking place, but guess what? It didn’t happen,” Mr Murray said.
“The media has the power not just to tell you what happened, but to give you a greater context, or a greater consequence of what can happen”.
“These little slights of hand don’t seem like much, but they are all over the media, especially over at the media you pay for whether you watch it or not.”
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ABC Heywire is proud to announce and celebrate the winners of the 2021 Trailblazers competition.
These young people have big plans for the futures of their projects and the impact they hope they’ll each have on their corner of Australia, from helping to keep Indigenous language and connection to Country alive, to driving social change for people with disability.
Here’s everything you need to know about them and their 10 projects.
Sam Wilson in South Geelong, Victoria
An educational online community to connect young people beyond the booze
Describing herself as a former “heavy social Aussie drinker”, Sam said she got to the point where she was no longer able to say no to a drink, anxiously watching her friends finish their glasses so she could order another for herself.
She eventually decided to become sober. But when she did, the 26-year-old struggled to find a community where she could discuss the issues of going sober in her mid-20s, which is how Sober Mates came about.
Sober Mates is an educational online platform that explores rural Australia’s relationship with alcohol.
It provides access to information and support services, tips on cutting down alcohol intake, advice on navigating social situations and empowering people to feel both comfortable and confident when socialising without alcohol.
Sam has already started planning sober events and panels in regional Australia. She hopes that Sober Mates will become an industry leader.
“When people want to explore their relationship with alcohol, I want people to know that they can come to us with all the information.”
Multicultural Youth Network
Panmarlar Pahthei, Kotnyin Bul Thon and Laila Hashimi in Bendigo, Victoria
Creating a refugee-led solution to racism and societal participation in regional Australia
Panmarlar, Kotnyin and Laila belong to Bendigo’s three largest refugee communities: Karen, South Sudanese and Afghan.
Their project, Multicultural Youth Network (MYN), aims to equip young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds with the community-building skills they need to establish new lives in the Bendigo region.
Their work includes organising community events, skill-building and problem-solving workshops, as well as translating videos with COVID-19 information in them.
“As a Hazara woman, I [wanted to help] my community to understand their roles during COVID-19 despite strict gender roles within the Hazara and Afghan communities. Being in the public symbolises the freedom and importance of representation of people from multicultural communities,” Laila said.
Panmarlar added: “This is reflected in our work with MYN. The family picnics, the movie nights, and the videos we make.
Kotnyin finished, saying she hopes the group “will continue to help our community feel connected and to feel that they can be able to speak up and say anything that they want, so they won’t be scared or afraid”.
“We want to be able to continue helping our community and work together.”
Concepts of Country
Marlikka Perdrisat and Harry Jakamarra in Broome, Western Australia
Keeping Indigenous language and culture alive through digital storytelling and workshops
When Marlikka, a Nyikina and Wangkumara woman from regional WA, moved away for study, she realised just how important connection to Country was.
Marlikka will next year start her PhD in First Law, as she has seen first-hand how Indigenous issues are undermined by the current legal system, education system and within the media.
This is what sparked the idea for Concepts of Country: a video storytelling series explaining the meaning of words that are vital to living with Country.
She and her partner, Harry Jakamarra, who is a cinematographer from her hometown, filmed five educational videos.
The first series of Concepts of Country has already been distributed and assigned as coursework for the Indigenous Peoples and Public Law unit at Sydney University.
“The students then had to come to class and discuss it, and it really meant that that conversation was opening up in an academic world. And we’ve also had it presented at a series of law firms,” Marlikka said.
“If Australia understands us more, we can be supported in protecting people and Country.
“And so I really want [Concepts of Country] to transform the legal sector and the academic sector to show the value of how we connect to Country.”
WCMX & Adaptive Skate/Accessible Skate
Timothy Lachlan on the Gold Coast, Queensland
Accessible skate and mobility workshops creating social change for all people living with disability
Tim spent a lot of his life being the only wheelchair skater at the skatepark — which was a lonely experience.
But when he started reaching out to other wheelchair users in his Far North Queensland community to encourage them to come and see what WCMX was all about, the people he approached were reluctant.
This is why he started WCMX, a skate and mobility training session that sees him teach wheelchair users how to do a 12-foot drop-in and wheelchair backflips (he’s the first in Australia to do so), as well as everyday mobility tips, such as getting up and down curbs, stairs and steep ramps.
Now based on the Gold Coast, Tim is passionate about helping people with disability all over Australia pursue adventure.
At the moment, he’s studying occupational therapy. Once he becomes a registered occupational therapist, he wants to continue raising awareness about the importance of making social spaces accessible for everyone.
He also wants to start his own business, using skating and wheelchair skating as occupational therapy. And he has his sights set on creating an online community.
“I think it’s something that can help every person with a disability — even if they don’t do backflips,” he said.
Rhiannon Mitchell in Korora, New South Wales
A mentoring program for Indigenous women and youth in ocean conservation, wellbeing, culture and values
Rhiannon’s love for the ocean and all things sea life is what influenced her to start Saltwater Sistas on Gumbaynggirr Country.
The proud Mununjali woman runs empowering workshops to educate and raise awareness of ocean conservation. Activities include beach clean-ups, lessons on marine ecology and human impacts on the ocean, exploring the coastal environment, learning from elders and other ocean warriors, as well as snorkelling.
“I’d love to go around to remote communities and teach kids who live near the ocean about ocean conservation.”
Rhiannon is also keen to create a three-month program with weekly meet-ups for young Indigenous women to learn more about ocean conservation and marine life.
“I think once you learn that stuff, you become someone who’s going to look after the environment as well,” she said.
Student Mental Health Tasmania
Matt Etherington and Cari Tan in Hobart, Tasmania
A mental health program delivering education and empowerment for international and rural students
With mental health impacting one in every four students in Australia, it’s no wonder Matt and Cari, who are from Hobart and Launceston, decided to try to do something about this.
Student Mental Health Tasmania is a student-led not-for-profit which aims to increase the wellbeing of students through training, awareness, calls to action, advocacy and consultations.
The group has taken more than 850 tertiary students through accredited mental health training, and reached many hundreds more through community events and advocacy, since it launched in 2017.
The group encourages peer support, self-care, community resilience, culture change and crisis preparedness.
The program has partnered with headspace, Lifeline, the Australian Red Cross and Beyond Blue to help young Tasmanian students build resilience and thriving futures.
When asked what he hopes Student Mental Health Tasmania will turn into, Matt said: “So many things!
“We’re hoping to translate that into an ongoing connection between international students and the community.
“We’re planning to run The Sunflower Project again, where we invite students to plant sunflower seedlings and reflect on self-care as well as build awareness about the impact of small positive actions over time.”
Mozzi: Always Remember To Stay Deadly!
Dre Ngatokorua in Port Augusta, South Australia
Multimedia workshops giving a voice to young people in the Port Augusta community
Dre is of Wnagkangurru, Adnyamathanha, Kuyani, Luritja, Deiri, Yankunytjatara, Cook Island and Maori descent.
He started out as a volunteer at Umeewarra Media and now has a permanent show on the radio station called The Straight Out.
Dre wants to encourage more young people to do the same and share his deadly skills with his remote community.
He runs workshops and mentorship programs through Umeewarra Media that cover everything from short filmmaking, interview skills and radio presenting to music-making. Next year he plans to run a workshop on teaching young women how to DJ.
He said it was important for young people to know their voices mattered and that was the focus of the workshops.
Dre wants to continue uplifting his community and to encourage other organisations to take on similar projects.
“I hope we get bigger in scale so we have a bigger outreach for people. It’s an ongoing process.”
Shennae Neal in Yarrabah, Queensland
A culturally safe and supportive fitness bootcamp to encourage and motivate regional communities to make healthy life choices
Shennae, a proud Gunggandji woman, remembers noticing growing numbers of people living in her community without work, struggling with their health and lacking purpose a few years back.
And so, in 2015, she opened up the Gilpul Café and made the decision to hire only young Indigenous people in need of work.
Shennae also ensured the café was stocked with plenty of healthy options to encourage her community to make healthy life choices.
She is eager to continue health education for people in her community and is currently running fitness sessions once a fortnight with a qualified personal trainer.
With 15-20 people attending the sessions, she hopes it will continue to grow so she can include general fitness, bootcamp, healthy cooking classes and health tests in the sessions.
“If I speak to five people, maybe one of them five people continue on to live a healthier lifestyle, or say, ‘OK, I want to follow my dreams now’.
“I want to give hope through this project … this project is just the starting point.”
Emma Serisier in Lowanna, New South Wales
Making STEM cool and inventing ways to reduce emissions to protect future food sustainability
Emma invented STEMpower as a way for farmers to manage their soil and water quality and help counteract their environmental footprint.
Eggshell waste is used as a bio-absorbent and can be used to decrease the phosphate run-off into natural waterways from agricultural fertilisers and animal manure.
Emma developed a mathematical model and website for farmers to calculate cost savings and application rates of eggshells on their soils, and won the Australian Stockholm Junior Water Prize with her invention.
Next on the agenda for Emma is kickstarting a mentoring program.
“I’m on the search for people who can participate and be involved in that, and start to bring that to life, making connections between mentors and mentees and helping them reach where they want to be,” she said.
As for the science part of her project?
“I’m working on putting an app together and making that more accessible to farmers and people who want to use it,” Emma said.
Mark Merrett in Kaniva, Victoria
A series of educational and tutorial videos showcasing daily farm life
Mark lives and breathes the farm life. Having grown up in western Victoria on his family’s mixed farm, it’s all he knows and loves.
But Mark knows not everyone has access to all that he’s learned living and working on his farm.
Enter Farm Vlogs: an educational video series that shares what really happens on Mark’s farm.
The aim? To promote agriculture to people in regional areas as well as in cities, and to increase the level of awareness and understanding that everyone has of farmers in Australia.
“In 2016 I started making some short farm videos for my nephews and niece in Melbourne to keep them up-to-date with what we were doing on the farm,” he said.
“Being kids, they weren’t quite as passionate as I was about the videos.
“They show some of the highs and lows of farming, as well as showing what the food we produce looks like before making it to supermarket shelves.”
Farm Vlogs’ success has already surpassed Mark’s expectations — it’s allowed him to connect with thousands of people across the globe.
But he’s not stopping there.
“I’d love to see these videos used in schools and on television, so if you have any ideas at all, please get in touch with me.”
This year’s Trailblazers are presenting the projects they have spent months developing to Members of Parliament, senators and community leaders today. You can catch a recorded version of the event on the ABC Australia YouTube channel from this evening.
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In recent weeks ABC Overnights host Trevor Chappell has been doing some research into his family tree.
He was going through a box of old documents and family heirlooms when his wife Cath made a shocking discovery.
“I’d never looked in the little sleeve of my baby book,” Mr Chappell said.
“In the sleeve was a little thing with my immunisation record, and in the immunisation record was the card from my hospital crib.”
Written in elegant cursive handwriting, the card reveals “Baby Chappell” was born on April 6 at 5:30pm.
He was “really shocked”.
He thought his birthday was on April 7, 1961.
“And which one should you believe?”
Prior to October 1, 1960 Victorians had to register the birth of their child in person, then new legislation allowed birth registrations via post.
Today when a child is born hospitals and midwives must notify the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages within 21 days; parents have 60 days to come up with a name and separately register their child’s birth, by post or online.
The registry will compare the information from the parents and the hospital; if there is a discrepancy the registry will follow up with both parties to confirm which details are correct.
Each state and territory has its own Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages with similar procedures.
If you can prove there is a mistake on your birth certificate you can apply to have it changed.
In Western Australia, where Mr Chappell was born, there were 1,327 corrections made to birth registrations during the 2019–20 financial year.
“These corrections would span births across various years,” a WA Department of Justice Spokesperson said.
When Trevor Chappell told his audience about the apparent mistake on his birth certificate, he discovered he wasn’t alone.
“There are people whose birth certificates are 10 years out, names are spelt wrong, there are all sorts of things,” Mr Chappell said.
“Lots of people think it is because fathers were generally the ones who registered the birth, and they messed it up.”
One caller, Gloria, said her certificate had her year of birth as 1932, even though she was born two years later in 1934.
Another caller, Bill, revealed his wife’s birth certificate said she was male.
When Sandra Hodgson applied for her birth certificate before her marriage she was shocked to see her date of birth was recorded as January 22.
“I felt devastated because for 18 years I was celebrating the 21st,” she said.
“It just threw me.”
When she confronted her parents about the discrepancy, her mum said she must have got confused about the date.
However Sandra suspects there was a problem at the registry office.
Mr Chappell intends to take full advantage of his recent discovery.
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It’s a challenge that’s been faced by many an ABC broadcaster over the past 12 months.
While the ABC is deemed an essential service, enabling key news and radio teams to keep coming into the studios during lockdowns, most staff have been working from home.
This has led to some creative makeshift studios.
Finance presenter Alan Kohler and News Breakfast’s sport presenter Paul Kennedy had pop-up TV studios in their home studies, federal political reporter Anna Henderson broadcast from her kitchen, and 7.30’s Leigh Sales hosted the program from her bedroom at one point.
But Antony Funnell, host of RN’s Future Tense, found the perfect place was his car.
“People think the car is a weird choice for a makeshift studio, but when you think about it, modern car interiors are designed with acoustics in mind — padded ceilings and seats, slanted windows, they’re designed to try and minimise outside noise and maximise your listening experience inside.
“So, they’re perfect. You just need to be off the road and in a garage while broadcasting.”
While technology has enabled home broadcasting, achieving good quality sound has been a bit more difficult when contending with interrupting children, barking dogs and noisy neighbours.
“The one lesson I learned was never to schedule a Skype interview on Tuesday mornings when the bin man comes,” Funnell said.
“And you really want to keep interviews short at the height of a Brisbane summer.”
On the flip side, Funnell said the now widespread use of Zoom and Skype has made it easier to secure interviews that might have been hard to get pre-COVID.
“It’s amazing how easy it has been to get international guests, because [many are] still locked down in Europe and America and bored to death, craving contact,” he said.
“I had a German academic a few weeks back who kept chatting and chatting.
“I quickly realised he just wanted someone to talk to.
“After 25 minutes of chat, I had to say, anyway Wulf, we probably should do this interview now.”
While many ABC on-air teams around the country have been gradually returning to the studio, Brisbane’s snap lockdown means Funnell is back in his car, Corolla-casting once more.
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Legal academic Professor David Flint says the ABC’s board has “absolutely no control” over the “fiefdoms within the ABC” which are out of control and have their own political agendas.
“The ABC is not independent, the board is there, but it exercises absolutely no control,” he told Sky News host Alan Jones.
“No board has been able to control the fiefdoms within the ABC, not all of the ABC, but there are political fiefdoms with their own agendas, and they embark on those agendas.”
Professor Flint said a “serious reform” of the national broadcaster “has to be undertaken”.
“I don’t go along with the idea that it should be sold off, because there are parts of the ABC that performs marvelously.”
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ABC journalist Russell Jackson has won the Melbourne Press Club’s 2020 Gold Quill for excellence in Victorian journalism for his article on the impact of racism on Aboriginal footballer Robert Muir.
Russell Jackson’s article on the long-term racial abuse suffered by Robert Muir was praised as “compelling”
Muir has experienced significant hardships since his playing career
The panel said the feature was a “superb piece of journalism”
The story published in August 2020, titled The Persecution of Robert Muir, outlines a decade-long campaign of racial abuse that pushed the 1970s St Kilda VFL star to the point of despair.
Muir played 68 games for St Kilda in the VFL in the 1970s and 80s, and was the victim of persistent and systemic racism.
Since his playing career, Muir has experienced significant hardships, including being homeless for long periods, while also making several attempts on his own life.
St Kilda chief executive Matt Finnis said he was left shocked by the story, and said the Saints had to accept responsibility for mistakes of the past and to do what was necessary to help Muir in the future.
The judging panel described the feature as a “compelling and confronting insight into the impact of racism”.
“As well, the impact of this superb piece of journalism cannot be overstated.
“It has transformed Robbie Muir’s life, sparked long overdue apologies, and contributed significantly to a wider community conversation. It is – simply put – outstanding.”
Jackson joined ABC News Digital in 2020, and has worked as a journalist, editor and publisher for the past decade.
The other Quill award winners included the Herald Sun’s breaking news team for their coverage of the deaths of four police in a traffic crash, while The Age’s online team’s coronavirus coverage won the coverage of an issue or event award.
The Quill award for investigative journalism went to Nick McKenzie and Chris Masters for their latest story on the alleged war crimes by Australian forces in Afghanistan for 60 Minutes, and ABC Radio Melbourne won the radio current affairs category for a radio feature into police-perpetrated family violence.
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ABC managing director David Anderson has defended the broadcaster’s coverage of the historical rape allegation against Attorney-General Christian Porter as journalism of the “highest quality” and in the public interest.
At a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday, Mr Anderson stood by the ABC’s decision on February 26 to report that an anonymous letter containing a historical rape allegation against a cabinet minister had been sent to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other federal MPs.
The article by investigative reporter Louise Milligan, published on the ABC’s website, triggered a deluge of reporting from other media outlets and Mr Porter outed himself as the minister at the centre of the allegation days later.
“No reputable media organisation could have ignored the existence of the letter or the fact that politicians on both sides of the despatch box had referred it to police,” Mr Anderson said.
He prefaced his remarks to the Senate hearing by declaring the defamation action launched by Mr Porter last week over the article would constrain his ability to discuss the issue. But he rejected claims that the ABC had selectively reported details from the letter.
“The Statement of Claim filed [by Mr Porter’s lawyers] includes alleged aggravated damages particulars that echo those kinds of allegations. As I said earlier: it is not appropriate that I be drawn on those issues now because many of them may be discussed in open court proceedings,” Mr Anderson told the hearing.
“But I will say this: those allegations are denied and I am confident that the journalism was of the highest quality and that this will be borne out in the court proceedings. We will defend the case and our reporting, which we believe is in the public interest.”
Mr Porter has vehemently denied the allegations. In documents filed in the Federal Court last week, lawyers for Mr Porter claimed the article, which did not name him, conveyed a series of false and defamatory claims, including that he “brutally raped a 16-year-old girl in 1988”, when he was 17, and that this contributed to her taking her own life.
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Sally Sara is one of the ABC’s most distinguished journalists and currently the host of radio current affairs program The World Today.
The multi-award-winning journalist has reported from more than 40 countries, including some of the world’s most dangerous hotspots, and was the first female correspondent to be appointed to the ABC’s Johannesburg, New Delhi and Kabul bureaus.
But covering conflict and people’s suffering took a toll.
Sara sought professional counselling after returning from war-torn Afghanistan and now she’s written a semi-autobiographical play, Stop Girl, exploring the challenges faced by foreign correspondents adjusting to normal life at home.
How did your play Stop Girl come about?
I’ve had a love of theatre, since I was a kid.
Growing up in rural South Australia, going to the theatre was a 350-kilometre round trip.
It was a big deal, very exciting.
I was always captivated by the magic moment when the lights go down just before the start of a show, that moment is so full of possibility.
I’ve always wanted to write the story that comes next, I’ve always wanted to fill that space.
I did some radio and TV scriptwriting subjects at university, along with some drama.
I was very interested in becoming a scriptwriter, but I was also desperate to see the world.
So, I was drawn to journalism.
But I always thought that when the time was right, and I knew I had a story to tell, I would write.
It felt like the only way to tell the story.
It has taken five-and-a-half years to get the play to the stage.
I spent the first year trying to teach myself how to write plays.
I was unable to do a formal playwriting course, because I was travelling overseas frequently for the ABC.
So I read, watched and listened to everything I could get my hands on.
I also contacted several playwrights, who were kind enough to answer my questions.
I wrote the first draft at the end of 2016 and sent it to nine different theatre companies.
Some were interested, some weren’t.
Some answered my emails, some didn’t.
The play was selected for development by Playwriting Australia (PWA) at the end of 2017.
PWA teamed with up with playwright and actor Kate Mulvany, who provided feedback and encouragement as I continued to re-draft the script.
What impact did reporting in Afghanistan have on you?
I always found sad stories much more difficult than scary stories.
The scary stories seem to happen so quickly, but the sad stories have stayed with me for a long time.
Any stories involving children being injured or killed were the hardest of all.
How did you deal with the emotional impact?
I did my best as a correspondent to look after myself, talk to my friends and family and download any distressing experiences with counsellors.
I dealt fairly well while I was in the field, but it hit me later when I got home.
The assignments I did as a solo video-journalist seemed to have a much bigger emotional impact later on.
Being alone on the road can make stories much more difficult.
The assignments where I was working with a camera operator were easier to deal with because there was a chance to talk about what we’d witnessed.
How did the process of writing a play compare to journalism?
Being a journalist has certainly helped me write the play.
I interviewed all the real life people who inspired the characters — that gave a me a foundation for the script.
All of that has been invaluable in writing the play. The big difference as a playwright is that I can change the dialogue.
Some of the story structure discussions we’ve had with the play feel very similar to script meetings at Foreign Correspondent.
It’s all about being able to shift blocks of the story to where they need to go.
As a journo, I’m also used to meeting deadlines.
I can organise my time and do the best I can in the time available.
The play has been an absolute lifeline. It’s given me a new focus, a big challenge.
It takes a lot of thinking time to solve problems in the script, so it means I’m not ruminating about other things.
Only a handful of family and friends knew I was writing it, I did it quietly, in case it didn’t happen.
It was just something lovely to have in my mind and my life.
One of the other joys of the play, is the humour.
Given the nature of my journalism job, I’m not often able to use much humour in public.
But parts of the play are great fun.
It’s such a relief to be free with the dialogue and let the characters really talk. I’ve loved that.
The way journalists speak on-camera and off-camera are very different.
Has it been a cathartic experience?
The rehearsal process is quite demanding.
I don’t think it would be possible to come into that process with a lot of unfinished emotional business.
It would be too difficult.
I have worked really hard with a psychologist, to resolve any ongoing issues.
That has given me the stability and insight to be able to push forward with the play.
But I think it’s important to speak up and tell the story.
Many of my colleagues have also been affected by what they have witnessed.
I hope the play can give a voice to the unspoken side of journalism, the cost of what we do.
Belvoir St Theatre Company has been so respectful, supportive and committed to the play.
Every promise they have made, they have kept.
It is a dream come true to bring the story to the stage.
It’s really hard to break into theatre from the outside.
I’ve spent years going to every play I can.
I observe very carefully and take it all in. I love it.
I read and listen and watch everything I can get my hands on.
There is huge competition to get a play on stage, so many writers are working hard and taking risks. I don’t take it for granted.
I’ve given it everything I have.
I’m nervous as we move closer to opening night.
It’s all such an unknown experience for me.
As the writer, I hope I’ve written it well.
As the person who has lived some of the experiences of the story, I hope I can handle it.
Stop Girl is being performed at the Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney from March 20 to April 25
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When Sabra Lane was a teenager, a doctor told her she wouldn’t be able to have children.
She was diagnosed with a hormonal condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), which is a leading cause of infertility in women.
35 years ago, it was poorly understood and the doctor’s grim prognosis was wrong — many women with PCOS do manage to have children with the help of fertility treatment.
But Lane didn’t learn that until much later, too late in fact, and the diagnosis had a profound effect on the way her life panned out.
“I was pretty devastated at the time,” recalls Lane, now aged 52.
“I think PCOS, has to a degree, shaped who I am — I’m pretty determined and cope well with pressure.”
Her experience would later lead Lane to fight for better awareness, diagnosis and treatment for women with PCOS and infertility — grief, she says, “you never really get over” (more on that later) — but her determination and ability to handle pressure has led her to become a highly respected journalist.
She’s been at the forefront of the ABC’s federal political coverage for the past 13 years and since 2017, has hosted the long-running morning current affairs radio program, AM — a program she first started listening to as a journalism student in the late 80s and hoped she would work on one day.
“It is a tremendous honour,” says Lane.
“I have always had a strong pull to radio and I love the program because I think it gives people a neat snapshot of major issues that are running in the day and I am well aware of how privileged I am to have this position.
Lane was also the president of the National Press Club — only the second woman to steer the organisation in its 50-year history and the first to be given life membership after stepping down at the end of last year.
“Sabra is one of the best,” says Misha Schubert, a longstanding senior journalist, speechwriter and communications director who’s been a vice-president of the Press Club for more than a decade and worked alongside Lane at the club and in the press gallery.
“She’s one of the kindest and most thoughtful humans there is.
“A superb reader of people, and someone who makes enormous contributions to the wider community.
“Her elegant kitten heels are big shoes to fill.”
Schubert believes what sets Lane apart as a journalist is how methodical she is with preparation and research.
“If Sabra interviews someone for AM or for a National Press Club broadcast, you can bet she’s read widely on that topic and has thought hard about how to frame questions that might actually get answers that illuminate rather than deflect,” she says.
“It’s an incredible skill and it involves a lot of work outside the studio.
“If you look at her National Press Club events in an ‘in conversation with’ format, the rigour and skill shines through.
“She was superbly on top of her brief, masterly in her handling of the event and demonstrated such skill.
“She knew when to press each leader further, when to let a point of debate play out and was impeccable in her even-handedness.
“It was a career-defining moment.”
Covering federal politics from outside Canberra
Lane has been “living and breathing” federal politics since arriving in Canberra in 2008.
She started as a reporter for ABC Radio Current Affairs (AM, The World Today, PM) before becoming the chief radio current affairs correspondent and moving to TV as 7.30’s political correspondent and then back to radio, hosting AM.
But last Christmas, Lane left the so-called ‘Canberra bubble’ and relocated to Hobart, from where she continues to host AM.
“It’s fantastic, meeting my expectations and beating them,” she says.
“It’s interesting because you get to hear views that are not Canberra views about big policies and ideas.
“So, you’re getting that input directly from people who are removed from Canberra about what they think is important and often what politicians think are important and what people out in other parts of Australia think are important are completely different things.
“I think the ‘Canberra bubble’ has become a term that politicians use when they just don’t want to answer a hard question.
“Sometimes politicians, their minders and the gallery are really interested in that inside beltway-type stuff but for a lot of stories it’s about ‘how does this affect the daily lives of normal people?’
“Generally, I think we are well-served [in political reporting] but sometimes that perspective is lost, not only with politicians but the gallery too.”
COVID-19 has forced many of us to reassess our lives and inspired many a tree or sea change but Sabra Lane had been pondering a ‘Tassie change’ for a couple of years, the pandemic just sealed it.
She’s had a strong affinity for smaller communities since growing up in the Victorian border town of Mildura, is a keen bushwalker and fell in love with Tasmania in 2017 after hiking the Overland Track.
It also reminded her of Norway, a place close to her heart, where she lived for a year as an exchange student in her teens.
Lane’s partner, Simon, had previously lived in Hobart for 20 years.
When she asked if he’d be happy to head back south it was a resounding yes — and also from the ABC, which is keen to decentralise its operations.
At the same time, PM presenter Linda Mottram relocated to the South Coast of NSW.
“Management has talked about relocating key roles out of the traditional broadcasting hubs of Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne and I think this shows they’re fair dinkum about it, that the corporation is absolutely serious about achieving its goal of being more relevant to more Australians,” says Lane.
‘I’m not into gotcha moments’
Political reporting is not for the faint-hearted.
It’s high pressure and the relationship between journalists and politicians can often be combative.
As an interviewer, Lane says she isn’t interested in simply snaring a politician in a verbal trap for the sake of a headline, rather she’s focussed on getting to the truth, which can be difficult when a politician is preoccupied with trying to stay ‘on message’ or worried about saying something that might come back to haunt them.
“I hate gotcha moments, I’m not into gotcha moments,” she says.
“But interviewing can be hard.
“I was accused of going for a gotcha moment last year with the Prime Minister.
“He’d just announced that he wanted unions and businesses to put down their weapons and sit down to try and talk about changes they could get on industrial relations policy.
“I had a question in mind about something that’s still running now, months later, the so-called Better Off Overall Test, which had been included in legislation to try to get unions on board and I simply wanted to get an answer about whether the government was still committed to that policy.
“I’d asked the question a number of times and I did want a yes or no answer to that question.
“The Prime Minister said, ‘We can’t have those old debates anymore’ and an observer said I was pursuing gotcha journalism.
“But I was genuinely just trying to understand where he was coming from.
“Perhaps he could have said, ‘Look, we’re not prepared to give a yes or no answer on that yet’ or ‘there is no yes or no’.
“Maybe it happens because we journalists are impatient for answers but sometimes politics isn’t black and white, it’s grey and we need to give politicians the opportunity to give us that nuance.”
When asked to nominate her memorable interviews, Lane mentions two you mightn’t necessarily expect, which revealed more about the person than politics.
“I did an interview when I was at 7.30 with former federal MP Barry Cohen, which initially was a pick-up interview for someone else’s story on Alzheimer’s,” recalls Lane.
“He was well aware his own faculties were going and he was really distressed, particularly about his wife and conscious of the burden that was being put on her.
“He kept breaking down and crying in the interview and I was just trying to reassure him that everything was alright.
“It was really powerful interview, so powerful that Sally Neighbour who was the executive producer at 7.30 at the time decided that should air as an interview in its own right because he was incredibly gracious and honest in giving people an insight into the insidious, horrible nature of dementia.
“Another interview that stands out for me was with Liberal MP Craig Laundy, who, also, started crying during the interview.
“He had been trying to agitate from within to change the Coalition’s policy to allow more refugees into Australia, which he ended up achieving, but just seeing the pressure of it on him, the fact that he was so moved by the issue and that he trusted me to speak about was also powerful.
“And I think both those interviews highlight that sometimes you’ve got to just let people say their piece, give them time and not interrupt them.
“I think if you let an interview breathe, sometimes you find that you get the best answers out of people.”
The enduring grief of not being able to have a child
While Lane has always preferred radio as a medium, she actually got her start in television at Channel 10 in Adelaide.
As a student, she spent Friday and Saturday nights listening to police scanners and weighing up whether it was a big enough drama to drag a camera crew out of bed.
“Police and fire brigades talked in codes, so, if I remember correctly, a murder was a 303 and you had to learn what was what and then ring or page a cameraman to head to the scene and I had to quickly discover good news judgment because if they got to a job that wasn’t newsworthy, they’d certainly let you know about it,” she says.
Ten then hired her as an assistant chief-of-staff, she moved to the ABC in Adelaide as an on-air reporter and then to Sydney to be chief-of-staff of the ABC’s TV newsroom.
In 1997, Lane joined Channel Seven as a producer, later working on the Sydney Olympics coverage and as executive producer of Sunday Sunrise.
She finally got a shot at radio in 2006, landing a low-level job at ABC radio current affairs after studying an audio engineering course at night school and then set her sights on Canberra.
But before she got there, she tried to start a family.
At the age of 35, she underwent fertility treatment but was unsuccessful.
“It was gut-wrenching at the time,” she recalls.
“I had to absent myself from family and friend’s gatherings where I knew that there would be young children because I just couldn’t cope with it.
While she doesn’t blame the doctor who told her as a teenager she wouldn’t be able to have children — there wasn’t much known about PCOS at the time, she says — had she been given better information earlier, maybe things might have turned out differently and her experience moved Lane to champion the cause of women with the condition.
In 2004, she joined the committee of a fledgling support group, the Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Association of Australia (POSAA) and ended up becoming president, sharing her story in a bid to raise awareness in the community and, particularly, amongst the medical profession and lobbying for national guidelines to improve diagnosis and treatment.
“I felt a need to discuss PCOS publicly because it encompasses so many social taboos, infertile women, women who are morbidly obese or overweight,” says Lane.
“At the time, so many GPs were not diagnosing it in a timely manner, or they were blinkered in their treatment or they were treating women for fertility issues but totally blind to the dangers around insulin resistance and diabetes or the other way around.
“Three out of four women with PCOS do go on to have children, some with medical intervention, others just by making changes to their lifestyle and losing weight, but you’ve really got to get on with it early.”
Gab Kovacs is a pioneer in fertility treatment and a PCOS expert who has known Lane for about 20 years.
He invited her to write a chapter from the patient’s perspective in his book, The Polycystic Ovary (3rd edition), to be released later this year and says her hard work in publicising the syndrome played a significant role in the federal Health Department funding an initiative led by doctors, Helena Teede and Rob Norman, to achieve international guidelines on the assessment and management of PCOS.
“I think she’s done a really good job, PCOS now has such a high profile,” says Professor Kovacs.
“The [international guidelines] is a landmark document and has been published in numerous journals.
“You could say the reason the Health Department was willing to fund this was because of public awareness and Sabra had a big part in getting that awareness going, so she was the foundation to that grant and these international guidelines.
Schubert says Lane deserves similar credit for her voluntary work leading the National Press Club, particularly in promoting women.
“Sabra’s presidency was a game changer,” says Schubert.
“She truly transformed the organisation in her time at the helm.
“She built on the huge strides the club has made over the past decade towards more equal representation of women on the board.
“And she actively curated lists of far more diverse speakers — spending hours and hours of her time each week coaxing a much broader range of impressive figures into standing at that awe-inspiring podium and delivering powerful speeches.”
When Lane first took over hosting AM in Canberra, with its horrendous 4:00am starts, she was “burning the candle at both ends”, working crazy hours and not getting enough sleep.
Then she had a major heart scare, her heart was racing at 230 beats per minute and she was diagnosed with super ventricular tachycardia.
There was no lasting damage but it forced her to reassess the work/life balance that is a constant challenge for many of us.
Now, in her new Hobart home, Lane thinks she’s got that balance just about right.
“I’m cognisant of the fact that I’ve got a really important job to do but I’m now in what I consider to be the best place in the world to be doing it,” she says.
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