Today Show host Karl Stefanovic and his A Current Affair counterpart Tracy Grimshaw have come to the defence of their Channel Nine colleague Tara Brown, speaking out as Brown and her 60 Minutes crew remain behind bars in Lebanon in the wake of last week's bungled "child recovery" operation.
60 Minutes and the ethics of journalism
Professor of Journalism Peter Manning says it's not up to media programs to decide family law disputes.
After the families of the detained 60 Minutes crew released a statement on Sunday morning, Channel Nine released a missive from Stefanovic, who said for the journalists at the Nine Network, the story is "very personal".
He opened his statement saying he had been trying to explain to his daughter about "a friend who's been locked up in Lebanon". His daughter, he says, "liked to ask questions".Today Show host Karl Stefanovic says "brilliant" journalist Tara Brown was "trying to expose the truth of a story" in Lebanon. Photo: Supplied
"So does Tara Brown," he said.
"Journalism – by definition is the work of collecting writing and publishing news stories and articles. Who, what, when, where, why are the cornerstones of journalism," he continued in the statement.
"It's brilliant in its simplicity and it's so easy to remember. Armed with those tools we go out into the wide world and ask away. At its most basic, we inform. At its best, it's powerful. We can expose the wrongs. We can make a difference. It all though starts with a question."
Stefanovic goes on to talk about the truth being "complex and elusive", but still journalists pursue it, before quoting George Orwell: "Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations."
He said few in his experience have asked more questions on more complex subject matters than Brown.
"Tara is a friend. She is a colleague. She is a mother. She is a brilliant journalist. She has asked those questions over and over again. She has consistently broken stories, and forensically exposed wrong doing in society all around the world. She has religiously and without favour fought for the truth."
In recent years, he says, Brown's stories for 60 Minutes have highlighted the plight of female soldiers in Syria, exposed the hypocrisy of Cardinal George Pell, and followed notorious paedophile Peter Scully into the most dangerous parts of the Philippines to help bring him to justice. "Tara won a Walkley for that story," he says.
"But in my opinion Tara's most incredible story of recent years involved the four daughters of an Italian father and Australian mother, who were sent home to Italy. You might remember at the time all of the public sympathy was with the Australian mother as she used the protection of anonymity afforded by the Family Court to convince an entire country she was being wronged," he said.
"It took Tara's tenacious investigative journalism to expose the mother, grandmother and great grandmother for the people they were, and show all of Australia that in fact the Italian father was in the right, and should have custody of his children. It was a complex story that Tara was determined to tell, and in doing so she revealed the truth of the matter."
And that, Stefanovic said, is what he believes she was doing in Lebanon: "Trying to expose the truth of a story, fraught with legal hurdles that we can't report on, and which usually protect the perpetrator.
"The Family Court has taken the extraordinary step in this case of releasing the fact that an order was made last December in relation to the children, in favour of the mother," he said, adding: "I'll let you read between the lines on what detail might be contained within that order."
The truth, Stefanovic said, will emerge in time. "The courts will decide our dear colleagues' fate," he said. "I hope the public can be patient."
Tracy Grimshaw adds her voice
Grimshaw also leapt to the defence of her "mates", saying the 60 Minutes crew had not behaved like "cowboy journalists".
"I am volunteering to be a character witness for them, starting here," she wrote in The Australian.
"Frankly after some of the malicious, ill-considered, rabidly self serving and in some cases manufactured rubbish that has been written and said about our friends in the past week, I think it's time you heard something different."
Grimshaw praised Brown's appearance when on assignment, including on three recent trips to Syria.
"Tara doesn't come across as some commando. I've never seen her dirty. Or even remotely dishevelled," Grimshaw wrote.
"She could wear a white shirt in the Syrian desert and it would still be white and unwrinkled after three days. I'd get coffee on mine before I left the airport."
Grimshaw praised the rest of the crew as passionate newsmen committed to their families.
She said not all TV journos think solely about ratings but did not address the key unanswered issue of whether her network funded the botched operation that landed her colleagues in jail.
- with Latika Bourke