Why We Published The Nova Peris Blackmail Emails, And Why There's More To Come

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New Matilda is currently investigating a series of stories associated with News Corporation’s reporting of the ‘Ato Boldon-Nova Peris Sex Scandal’.

We have already published one story (on Friday) which questions whether the statement provided to federal parliament by Labor Senator Nova Peris is supported by three emails she selectively quoted.

New Matilda stands by that story.

Senator Peris alleged in parliament that the release of the Ato Boldon emails was an attempt by family members to extract money from her. The available evidence put forward by Senator Peris, and other available evidence, does not support that claim – indeed it contradicts it.

We had intended to publish further information yesterday. However, we are delaying our reporting because of the extremely complex nature of the issue, the large quantity of documents that need to be checked, and the significant ethical, legal and privacy issues associated with the issue.

In the interim, New Matilda acknowledges that like many, it also found the initial coverage of this issue by News Corporation both vulgar and gratuitous.

In focusing on the salacious nature of the Ato Boldon emails, News Corporation has seriously damaged the public’s confidence in the capacity of media in Australia to responsibly balance private matters against the public interest.

However, there does exist a clear public interest – no matter how uncomfortable – in the accusation that Senator Peris sought public funds in order to bring Mr Boldon to Australia for the purposes of an extra-marital affair. The Northern Territory News was right to pursue that issue as a matter of public interest, but by focusing so heavily on the ‘sex and celebrity’, News Corporation seriously undermined its case in the court of public opinion.

At the same time, News Corporation has made it substantially more difficult for any other outlet to report the broader issues associated with the story, given the widespread – and understandable – outrage at the way in which it exposed this issue.

As it turns out, there are other matters of substantial public interest contained in the information obtained by News Corporation. New Matilda has also obtained that same material, in addition to other documents. We are trying to work through that information methodically, fairly and as quickly as possible, and sort ‘public interest’ from ‘private gossip’.

That same public interest has been significantly boosted by Senator Peris herself. Her decision to make a statement about the matter under the cover of parliamentary privilege compels greater scrutiny.

While New Matilda acknowledges the right of Senator Peris to respond to the salacious reporting of News Corporation, no politician should be allowed to use parliamentary privilege to attack other people without supporting evidence.

Senator Peris could have simply told parliament that she rejects the allegations of corruption (and we agree that the available evidence supports her assertion). However, Senator Peris – with the assistance of the Australian Labor Party, home to a small army of spin doctors – went further by accusing extended family members of seeking to “extract money” from her over the release of the Boldon emails.

While New Matilda acknowledges that family matters are private – and very often messy – and that blame can almost always be sheeted home to all sides of a family dispute, the use of parliamentary privilege to advance one side of that conflict is grossly unfair, and gives rise to a substantial public interest.

It appears to be lost on the many people who have rushed to condemn New Matilda for weighing in on this issue that the family members attacked under the cover of parliamentary privilege are also entitled to a voice. How can people on the one hand condemn News Corporation for attacking Senator Peris with sensationalised claims, while at the same time ignore Senator Peris’ sensational parliamentary attack on others without providing supporting evidence?

Equally, the same people who argue that Senator Peris’ private family life should not have been dragged into the public domain this way, must surely also accept that Senator Peris opened that gate further by using her parliamentary privilege to slander family members with accusations they attempted to extort money from her.

There is no evidence to support those claims in the emails which Senator Peris relies on in parliament to substantiate her allegations. There is, however, evidence that appears to show an attempt to influence the settlement of a deceased estate, via threats to members of the extended family.

It also seems lost on some of our readers that we have not reported one syllable of the salacious Ato Boldon emails. While we do intend to extend our reporting to correspondence between Senator Peris and Mr Boldon, our reporting will be restricted to the content which directly relates to the statement Senator Peris made in parliament – ie. matters that are clearly in the public interest, as opposed to matters that some members of the public might be interested in.

While our readers await the story, we’d ask you to remember that New Matilda does not enjoy the luxury that some other news outlets exercise of exposing misconduct in people whose political views clash with our own, while ignoring the conduct of those with whom we often agree.

New Matilda discovered information of a substantial public interest in the course of researching this story. If we chose to suppress that information simply because Senator Peris is a respected Aboriginal woman, then we would rightly be subject to the same stinging criticism we frequently level at other media outlets.

We reject the assertion by some that we have ‘joined the attack’ on Senator Peris in order to ‘balance our reporting’ and claim a scalp on the left. What we are seeking to do is practice journalism, without fear or favour. That is the fundamental basis on which new Matilda was established a decade ago. It is the basis on which we will continue to operate. Readers who expect New Matilda to turn a blind eye to matters of public importance involving anyone but a member of the Liberal Party have been laboring under a misapprehension (pun intended).

We also reject the ridiculous assertion that we are attacking Senator Peris because she is ‘a successful Aboriginal woman’, just as we reject the speculation by some outlets that News Corporation’s reporting is ‘payback’ for our coverage of the Professor Barry Spurr emails. While we’ll likely never know all the motives of News Corporation for its reporting, the fact is, News Corporation journalists began investigating this matter before the Spurr story was broken by New Matilda.

And on that, there has been considerable commentary in the media by journalists and others who have put forward all sorts of theories and speculation about this issue. What has been stunning to watch has been that otherwise credible media figures have been prepared to walk so far out on a limb, without access to all the information.

By contrast, New Matilda will report fairly and accurately, based on solid research. Our job, no matter how uncomfortable it may sometimes be, is to pursue the truth within the bounds of public interest, and to hold those in power to account.

Senator Peris is a very powerful woman in the public eye. And she has not been truthful.

New Matilda expects the feature to be ready for publication before the end of the week.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting. He lives in Brisbane and splits his time between Stradbroke Island, where New Matilda is based, and the mainland.

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