60 Minutes ‘sincerely apologises for our serious mistakes’; review author Stone says sacking producer ‘unfair’

60 MinutesChannel Nine’s 60 Minutes last night again apologised for its role in a “child recovery operation” which saw crew of the current affairs program facing charges of kidnapping in Lebanon.

The segment, which aired at the end of last night’s program, saw host Michael Usher explain to viewers that: “Two months ago we set out on a story in Lebanon which ended up with our 60 Minutes crew and others being jailed in Beirut.

“Ever since we’ve been asking ourselves how things could have gone so wrong and tonight we face up to the errors we made  – we sincerely apologise for our serious mistakes.”

Usher also interviewed Gerald Stone, the founding producer of 60 Minutes, who led a review into the Lebanon kidnapping incident, which on Friday revealed major flaws in the story approval process that led to its 60 Minutes’ crew pursuing involvement in the story.


Stone: the 60 Minutes crew became “too involved” in the story

“Without a doubt the greatest misadventure in 37 years of 60 Minutes,” Stone told Usher. “There is just no doubt about that.”

Stone told viewers that he believed the 60 Minutes crew, consisting of reporter Tara Brown, producer Stephen Rice and cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment did not ask the right questions and became too involved in the story.

However, the former 60 Minutes executive producer also questioned Nine CEO Hugh Marks’ decision to sack Rice arguing it was “unfair”.

Asked what the biggest failing what happened was Stone said: “I don’t think they got their priorities right. The program has always taken risks from the very start… it was certainly not (worth the risks).

“There were ways of doing it that would have reduced those risks but to try to  cover a parental kidnapping in one of the world’s most heavily guarded cities/capitals in the world was just a bridge too far.

“As long as management was not completely in control of the program it seemed to me to be unfair – and I am a journalist – that a journalist was picked out and if one was going to be picked out it was going to have to be the producer of the program because things do rest heavily on the role of a producer.”

Stone was also asked if he thought she story of parents struggling to recover their children from partners across border was a legitimate one for 60 Minutes to cover.

“Very definitely,” he said. “Here we have one of the most multicultural countries in the world and so there is bound to be disputes between husband and wife… and so the issue is important. Everyone involved (in the story) seemed to be emotionally involved with the mother, they believed in her case and rights. They let their guard down and didn’t ask the questions that need to be asked.

“I have no doubt that their judgement was blurred.”

The TV network also for the first time publicly acknowledged that it paid former Australian soldier Adam Whittington, who remains behind bars in Lebanon, directly to conduct the “child recovery” operation.

Michael Usher

Usher: “Multiple, serious mistakes were made”

“Multiple and serious mistakes were made in the planning and execution of the story… the fact is there is a lot to learn for us in this experience at 60 Minutes and for the entire network,” said Usher.

“As a result of what went wrong we are now heavily reviewing our operations… sadly we have damaged the reputation of a great TV program what is important is to learn from the mistakes and we are committed to doing that.”


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