News, Culture & Society

Tara Brown’s job was on the line before botched Beirut child abduction

Reporter Tara Brown’s job was on the line before Nine Network bosses decided to sack 60 Minutes producer Stephen Rice over the botched child abduction scandal, it has emerged.

According to The Daily Telegraph, Nine chief executive Hugh Marks was in serious discussions with the company’s board last week over the fate of up to four of their senior employees.

The four ‘names’ in question were the show’s executive producer Kirsty Thomson, the network’s director of sport Tom Malone, Ms Brown and the now-sacked Mr Rice.

However, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment did not play a significant role in the organisation of the child abduction so were not considered for disciplinary action.

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Tara Brown was arrested alongside senior producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment. The 60 Minutes crew is pictured with Nine news boss Darren Wick (second right) after their release from jail last month. Mr Rice (second from left) has been sacked after 32 years with Nine

Discussions in January between 60 Minutes executive producer Kirsty Thomson (right), former executive producer Tom Malone (left) and sacked producer Stephen Rice  on January 18 outline a detailed plan

Kirsty Thomson

60 Minutes executive producer Kirsty Thomson (right) and former executive producer Tom Malone (left), who is now the director of sport, were facing disciplinary action over the botched child abduction scandal

This week, an email chain was leaked, revealing how Ms Thomson and Mr Malone had outlined a plan to grab the children from the streets of Beirut and take them on a boat to Cyprus.

Ms Brown and the 60 Minutes crew could still be extradited to Lebanon and face three years behind bars for their role in the bungled child snatching.

The 60 Minutes crew along with Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner had spent two weeks behind bars in Lebanon.

The Channel Nine team will likely learn their fate this week, as Judge Rami Abdullah looks over the Australian network’s internal investigation of their conduct before making a call on the charges.

According to The Daily Telegraph, the entire crew could still be hit with the felony charge of kidnapping, regardless of whether they ‘organised, financed, were drivers or made the kidnapping’.

The entire 60 Minutes TV crew (reporter Tara Brown, producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment - all pictured) could still be charged with kidnapping

The entire 60 Minutes TV crew (reporter Tara Brown, producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment – all pictured) could still be charged with kidnapping

If charged and found guilty, the team could face extradition back to Lebanon with a maximum penalty of three years jail time 

If charged and found guilty, the team could face extradition back to Lebanon with a maximum penalty of three years jail time 

The Channel Nine team will likely learn their fate this week, as Judge Rami Abdullah (courthouse pictured) looks over the Australian network's internal investigation of their conduct before making a call on the charges

The Channel Nine team will likely learn their fate this week, as Judge Rami Abdullah (courthouse pictured) looks over the Australian network’s internal investigation of their conduct before making a call on the charges

If found guilty of those charges, the 60 Minute crew could be extradited back to Lebanon.

That extradition can be blocked by the Office of the Attorney General if it uses its discretionary powers, but the office remained tight-lipped on it’s protocol when questioned by the Daily Telegraph.

‘As a matter of longstanding policy, the Australian Government does not disclose whether it has received an extradition request from another country, or otherwise comment publicly on extradition matters,’ a spokesman for the AG’s office said. 

It comes after an email chain confirmed that the top executives of 60 Minutes knew of the plan to abduct Sally Faulkner’s two children in Beirut almost three months before the foiled attempt in April. 

Discussions in January between Ms Thomson, Mr Malone and Mr Rice on January 18, outlined a plan to grab the children and take them on a boat to Cyprus, according to The Daily Telegraph.

The executives reached out to a Nine Network legal counsel the next day asking to ‘draw up a contract with [Faulkner], which would involve payment to CARI’ – Child Abduction Recovery International, which is run by Adam Whittington.

Thomson wrote to Malone and Rice interested in taking over a story involving the abduction of Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner's children (pictured) that was put on the back-burner another Nine Network show

Thomson wrote to Malone and Rice interested in taking over a story involving the abduction of Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner’s children (pictured) that was put on the back-burner another Nine Network show

The email chain began when the chief of staff at the time, Thomson, wrote to Malone and Rice interested in taking over a story involving the abduction of Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner’s children that was put on the back-burner by Inside Story – another Nine Network show. 

‘Sally Faulkner has been talking to Adam Whittington for months about the possibility of snatching her four and six yo children from their father in Lebanon. Father lives in Beirut and runs a surfing business. Classic ‘the kids aren’t coming home’ after holiday,’ Thomson said, according to The Daily Telegraph.

‘[Inside Story] were going to pay $115k ($69 up front) for CARI to snath the kids, escape via water (jetskis) to a boat and then on to Cyprus,’ she said. 

Stephen Rice (right) pictured with Tara Brown on their return to Australia on April 21 after being released from jail in Beirut after facing kidnapping charges over the botched child 'recovery' operation. Mr Rice has been sacked, according to a statement by the Nine Network 

Stephen Rice (right) pictured with Tara Brown on their return to Australia on April 21 after being released from jail in Beirut after facing kidnapping charges over the botched child ‘recovery’ operation. Mr Rice has been sacked, according to a statement by the Nine Network 

The veteran producer reportedly enlisted the help of workplace lawyer John Laxon when he was sacked from Nine  - despite an internal review recommending that no staff member should be singled out for dismissal

The veteran producer reportedly enlisted the help of workplace lawyer John Laxon when he was sacked from Nine – despite an internal review recommending that no staff member should be singled out for dismissal

Thomson said she wanted to get in touch with Faulkner about continuing with the plan, despite Inside Story backing out.

The snatch was planned for the last week in February but occurred in April.  

On January 19, Rice emailed the legal representatives for the network asking to draw the contract with Faulkner and presenting them with an order by the Family Court issuing Faulkner full custody.

The legal counsel returned an email soon after acknowledging Rice’s request. 

On April 21, the team walked free from a Lebanese prison along with Ms Faulkner after her estranged husband, Ali Elamine, agreed to drop the charges.

Nine Network's review of the failed 'recovery' of Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner's (pictured) two children has been completed and made public on Friday

Nine Network’s review of the failed ‘recovery’ of Brisbane mother Sally Faulkner’s (pictured) two children has been completed and made public on Friday

The budget for 60 Minutes has reportedly been cut after the report on Sally Faulkner's broken family incurred huge costs, including compensation to Faulkner's estranged husband Ali Elamin (pictured centre) with children Lahela (right) and Noah (left)

The budget for 60 Minutes has reportedly been cut after the report on Sally Faulkner’s broken family incurred huge costs, including compensation to Faulkner’s estranged husband Ali Elamin (pictured centre) with children Lahela (right) and Noah (left)

THE 13 RECOMMENDATIONS OF AN INTERNAL REVIEW INTO THE 60 MINUTES DEBACLE IN LEBANON

Recommendations

The review panel does not recommend that any staff member should be singled out for dismissal given the degree of autonomy accorded to 60 Minutes. However, it recommends that management censure, in the strongest terms, those most directly involved in the events

Approval of stories 
 

Tara Brown is bundled into a police car in Beirut

Tara Brown is bundled into a police car in Beirut

The Executive Producer of 60 Minutes should approve all stories on the basis of a precise, written briefing on the nature of the 60 Minutes team’s proposed activities and the extent of reliance on third parties, to implement the story, before any contract is signed relating to the story or any material steps are taken to commission the story.

The Director of News & Current Affairs should approve any story requiring overseas travel or any stories which are rated as ‘high risk’

The Executive Producer of 60 Minutes should be given a precise, written briefing on any material changes which occur to the proposed scope of activities of the 60 Minutes team or the reliance on third parties over the course of developing and producing a story.

The Executive Producer of 60 Minutes needs express authority to cancel a story at any time (even during filming) if it is considered that the risks of proceeding with the story outweigh the benefits of proceeding.

An objective framework for assessing risk relating to stories needs to be developed, based on Nine’s existing safe work procedures. The risks to be considered include location, security, proposed activities of the 60 Minutes team (eg risk of injury), possible effects on the reputation of Nine, financial cost, risk of legal or regulatory action, and public interest in the story

Risk assessment 

That framework must be applied to any stories which 60 Minutes is proposing, to identify whether further risk assessment and risk management is required.

Nine should obtain appropriate external risk assessment advice on any proposed activities:

Nine should ensure that its training plan includes risk assessment techniques to assist producers and other relevant team members in identifying the ‘red flags’ which should be investigated further, before proceeding with a story.

Sally Faulkner and Tara Brown walk from free from prison in Beirut on April 20

Sally Faulkner and Tara Brown walk from free from prison in Beirut on April 20

Approval of contracts 

Nine’s Delegation of Authority Policy should be reviewed and, if considered appropriate, amended, to clearly specify the appropriate dollar value thresholds that apply to the Director of News & Current Affairs and Executive Producers.

Nine should educate all relevant staff on the level of delegated authority which is held by different categories of staff members, and who is authorised to sign particular types of contracts.

Any payments to third parties (i.e. not the party to the contract) should be approved by the Executive Producer and the Director of News & Current Affairs, after consultation with the legal team. The producer must provide details of the 60 Minutes team’s planned activities, to allow others to make an informed decision on this issue.

Cultural issues 

Nine needs to consider further the steps required to ensure that all staff at 60 Minutes feel empowered to express their concerns (e.g. to safety or reputation) about participating in a story or about 60 Minutes producing a story.

Nine needs to encourage open communication across the whole 60 Minutes team about the stories which are being planned and risks which should be considered, so that there is a better culture of risk consciousness and risk management



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