The former High Court Justice Michael Kirby has waded into the debate over the media's treatment of NSW's former transport minister David Campbell, describing Seven News' journalists as "serial homophobes" for their coverage of the story.
During a speech at the TEDx Sydney conference, an event attended by several "Australian leaders" across multiple industries, Kirby dismissed the Seven Network's claims that the story was in the public interest. In its story earlier this week, Seven broadcast footage of Campbell leaving a sex venue, identified as a gay club called Ken's at Kensington.
[UPDATE, 13 June | TSR has obtained the text of Kirby's address on 22 May, including his excoriation of Seven News. The entirety of his remarks pertaining to the Campbell story is printed following this article.]
"The newsroom at Channel Seven, who conceived this pathetic snooping, should hang their heads in shame," he said. "They are serial homophobes, at Sydney's Channel Seven."
Kirby also cited stories by Seven in the 1990s impugning John Marsden, the late Sydney solicitor and president of the Law Society of New South Wales, saying that the network had "hounded him to death". Marsden won a defamation action against Seven in 2001 after the network aired allegations that he had sex with minors, and later received an out-of-court settlement estimated to be worth more than $6 million. He died from cancer in 2006.
Seven News appeared to alter its justification for the Campbell story - and its framing in terms of Campbell's sexual preferences - after it aired. Adam Walters' original report contained numerous references to Campbell using a "taxpayer-funded car", but Seven's news chief Peter Meakin later admitted that there was no ethical breach as Campbell had driven himself to and from the club.
Walters has since argued that hypocrisy with respect to family values was the source of the "public interest" behind the story. Campbell is married and has two adult children.
"It's blindingly obvious that since 1999, Mr Campbell has purported to be a family man. He's represented himself to the people of Keira as a family man, even going to the extent of sending Christmas cards to his constituents highlighting the fact that he is a man of family values.
"This is about pretence, it's about integrity, it's about character."
But Crikey's Andrew Crook claimed on Friday that Walters' own personal motives, rather than the public interest, may have guided the production of the story.
Kirby, who is openly gay, has been outspoken on gay rights issues since declaring his sexual orientation in 1999.
Media Spy discussion: David Campbell and the "public interest"
In his speech, entitled "Beware the God Botherers", Kirby engaged in a lengthy critique of Seven News. That critique is published here.
"And then, the last straw, was to watch a media organisation sending its snoops to invade the private life of a State Minister.
"To film him exiting a gay sauna. To humiliate his wife who is battling cancer. To hurt his sons and to destroy his career. The news room at Channel Seven, who conceived this pathetic snooping, should hang its head in shame. They are serial homophobes, at Sydney’s Channel Seven.
"I will never forget how they hounded John Marsden, the first openly gay President of a Law Society in Australia, to his death, with false accusations. In the end, it cost them millions for the defamation. But they don’t care. And they’ve learnt nothing.
"Their feeble excuses for last week’s snooping collapse on analysis. This had nothing to do with the Minister’s public life. If you wanted criticism of his work as Transport Minister, then go for it. Telephone me. I now travel by bus and train. I could tell them something.
"But this was an act of naked homophobia. Well, I’ve got a message for Channel Seven. In Australia, we’ve gone beyond that. Or most of us have. Your action was shameful.
"As Alfred Kinsey showed 60 years ago, human beings are not all rigidly divided and safely locked in a binary division on sexuality. Many have explored diverse elements of their personalities and feelings. They should not be put in the electronic stocks by a spiteful media.
"What Channel Seven did last week demonstrates another reason why, in Australia, we need a charter of rights. To uphold the civic right to privacy from such gross abuses of media power."
[Courtesy: Michael Kirby. Speech delivered at TEDxSYDNEY, Everleigh Carriageworks, Sydney. Saturday 22 May 2010.]