New Matilda Statement On Bettina Arndt’s Defamation Of Nina Funnell

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A statement from New Matilda editor Chris Graham regarding defamatory comments and articles about journalist Nina Funnell by Bettina Arndt AM.

Late yesterday, the federal Senate supported a motion condemning Bettina Arndt’s comments that a Brisbane man who slaughtered his wife and three young children earlier this month might have been “driven to it”.

All Senators supported the motion, with the exception of two – One Nation’s Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts. 

Obviously, given the history of One Nation, that is not surprising. However, nor should it be surprising to anyone that Ms Arndt suggested a man could be ‘driven’ to setting his entire family on fire.

For decades, Ms Arndt has been peddling precisely this sort of appalling, attention-seeking obscenity masquerading as ‘social commentary’. She’s done so with the enthusiastic support of innumerable media outlets, all of whom now appear to be distancing themselves from her at a startling pace.

With that in mind, also late yesterday, New Matilda tweeted details of an apology issued by Spectator Australia for publishing an opinion piece written by Ms Arndt. It was in response to last month’s New Matilda investigation which revealed Ms Arndt has been misleading people about her professional title for three decades.

That opinion piece took aim squarely at one of the authors of the New Matilda feature: Nina Funnell.

The text of The Spectator’s apology will send a chill through the spine of any self-respecting publisher. It is, to put not too fine a point on it, one of those statements you never want to have to make because, at first blush, it looks like the sort of apology that no amount of defamation insurance could ever cover.

The apology issued by The Spectator Australia, for an opinion piece written by Bettina Arndt AM about new Matilda contributor Nina Funnell.

It’s worth remembering that that description of Nina Funnell – “unethical, unprofessional, motivated by animus or dishonest or her work as lacking credibility and integrity, biased or partial or motivated by animus or vendetta” – is from the publisher of Ms Arndt’s article. It’s their description of what they accept their author wrote. And it’s their admission that what was written and then published was false and defamatory.

Unfortunately, Ms Arndt’s attacks were not just limited to The Spectator. Numerous media outlets published Ms Arndt’s attacks on Nina Funnell in various forms. Like The Spectator, New Daily, 3AW and News Corp-owned publications have also pulled down highly defamatory remarks made by Ms Arndt against Nina. 

However, other media outlets, including the ABC, have so far refused.

As we all know, there’s nothing more the media likes talking about than itself. Since yesterday’s Senate motion, Nina has been fielding multiple media requests for comment. In response, she has decided to issue a public statement about Ms Arndt’s numerous attacks on her.

Statement by Nina Funnell

The New Matilda investigation published in January is a meticulously researched 5,000 word feature which comprehensively demonstrates that for the past 30 years Bettina Arndt AM has unlawfully allowed herself to be called a ‘psychologist’ and ‘clinical psychologist’ including in the media, on the back of her 2009 book, and at multiple events including medical conferences.

The New Matilda feature also includes a table of 179 examples from print and online media where Ms Arndt has wrongfully been portrayed as a ‘clinical psychologist’, ‘psychologist’ or ‘doctor’, along with a video montage of 40 television and radio interviews where Ms Arndt has failed to correct her title.

Crucially, 2,000 words of the feature are dedicated to Ms Arndt, who acknowledges that for the last three decades it has been unlawful for her to be called a psychologist. 

When the New Matilda feature was published last month, it attracted considerable public interest, and several other media outlets piggy-backed off the story, offering Ms Arndt an open mic. 

Ms Arndt used those media opportunities to level personal attacks against  me. That is, rather than address and respond to the substantive allegations made in the New Matilda feature, Ms Arndt chose instead to ignore the message, and shoot the messenger.

And I do mean messenger, singular. Because despite this being a co-authored feature written with Chris Graham – who is the editor of New Matilda – Ms Arndt has directed almost all her attacks at me, individually. 

Across several interviews – including one with the ABC – Ms Arndt called my personal character, professionalism and motives into question.

On one level this attempt at character assassination is a classic damage control strategy. By muddying the waters and turning her attention on me personally, Ms Arndt is clearly trying to pull focus from the mountain of factual evidence published in the New Matilda feature. This ‘misdirection’ tactic not only distracts readers, but it also pulls the debate into emotive terrain – terrain on which I will not engage.

But sadly, because the mainstream media loves nothing more than a cynical cat-fight between two women, several media outlets have allowed themselves to become complicit in sharing Ms Arndt’s attacks on me.

Rather than stepping back and analysing Ms Arndt’s methods and tactics for what they are, others have played right into Ms Arndt’s hands. Unfortunately for them, in doing so, they have also allowed Ms Arndt to defame me.

I will not sit back and allow my professional reputation to be trashed because some media are more interested in clickbait than truth and responsible reporting. At the moment, a number of major media organisations are still publishing Ms Arndt’s fictitious and defamatory statements against me.

They have not published or even sought a reply from me. I categorically deny the outrageous and demonstrably false statements made about me and will take action as needed.

So what’s Nina really like?

Nina and I first crossed paths in mid-2017, after New Matilda was being threatened with a defamation suit from Channel 7, for describing Today Tonight as ‘gutter journalism’. Channel 7 backed down, of course, truth being a complete defence to any defamation action. But Nina enjoyed our response, and we’ve worked together on numerous major investigations since, including the Charles Waterstreet series, the first major Australian exposé in the wake of #MeToo movement.

As you read this, Nina and I are working together on another five major investigations. In that time, not only have I never had cause to question Nina’s ethics, but I’ve also been guided by them on many occasions.

Nina is, without question, one of the most thorough and prosecutorial investigative journalists I’ve ever worked with. That’s evidenced by the fact that in just four years of working full-time as a journalist, Nina has won numerous accolades for her reporting, including an Our Watch Walkley Award, a United Nations Media Australia Award, and a Walkley Freelance Journalism grant.

Late last year her #LetHerSpeak campaign was named News Corp’s ‘News Campaign of the Year’. Additionally, in 2018 Nina was named one of the 100 most influential women in Australia by the Australian Financial Review and in 2019 she was named Journalist of the Year at the B&T Women in Media awards.

Point being, Nina is a very, very good journalist.

She’s also quite a bit more than that. In her ‘quiet time’, Nina is an advocate for sexual assault survivors, which is perhaps how she is best known. She spends countless hours working for free, and has volunteered on many boards and committees including the NSW Premier’s Council on Preventing Violence Against Women, the board of the NSW Rape Crisis Centre and the board of End Rape On Campus Australia. She’s also published a book, undertaken academic research on sexual violence, and has trained NRL players on issues such as sexual consent. 

But Nina herself is also a survivor of sexual violence. She came to prominence in 2007, when she spoke publicly about it. That experience – and her basic make-up – has informed her work as an advocate and a journalist ever since. Indeed how could it not?

This community work appears to be ‘the problem’. Nina might be a recognised, acknowledged, awarded journalist, but in the minds of some media outlets she mostly just does ‘other stuff’, and that makes her ‘fair game’ for media to accuse her of everything from being unprofessional and unethical to biased and unbalanced in her approach.

Speaking of ethics and professionalism… After we released the New Matilda investigation, Nina twice asked me to turn comments off on the story, concerned that people would subject Ms Arndt to the same thing Ms Arndt was subjecting others. I refused – New Matilda has always had a very ‘liberal’ policy on allowing debate – but as usual I moderated the threads to ensure the more extreme comments were deleted.

Nina even went out of her way to ensure fairness to Ms Arndt in other publications. When one of the 80 outlets that had mistakenly identified Ms Arndt as a ‘psychologist’ publicly corrected their misreporting, they incorrectly suggested that Ms Arndt had lied about her educational background (the New Matilda feature was careful to acknowledge Ms Arndt had completed a Masters and a psychology degree).

Nina contacted the publication and alerted them to their error. This is just one example of the considerable effort she puts in to being meticulously fair to the people she writes about.

Nina also added her own name to the database of journalists who had misidentified Ms Arndt as a psychologist, quite unnecessarily in my view. The day after Ms Arndt’s Australia Day honour was announced, it was Nina who broke the story featuring Rosie Batty and Grace Tame criticising the decision.

That story was published on news.com.au on January 27, while Nina and I were literally putting the final touches on the 18-month investigation into Ms Arndt’s qualifications. 

News Corp sub-editors attached two images to Nina’s story, both of which – believe it or not – falsely identified Ms Arndt as a psychologist in the image captions. These captions were not seen or approved by Nina prior to publication.

Nina saw the error, briefly fell about laughing from the ridiculous irony of it all, and then quickly arranged for it to be corrected.

The error was live for only a brief time – no-one would have been the wiser, except Nina. But she felt her news.com.au story should now be included in the New Matilda database of published errors, albeit with a note that Nina had corrected the error, not made it.

Obviously, these are the actions of a journalist focussed not only on doing the right thing, but being actively seen to do the right thing.

Contrast that with the actions of Bettina Arndt who, consistent with her conduct for the past 30 years, saw it as an opportunity to further mislead and smear.

It’s worth noting that Nina has maintained this level of professionalism in the face of a brand of antagonism that doesn’t just include blatant falsehoods by Ms Arndt, but extreme vitriolé and abuse by her supporters.

Some of these comments (which I have Nina Funnell’s permission to reproduce) include:

“I call BS on being a rape survivor, look at that face, make (sic) me want to vomit. If a guy did rape that thing, she should be thanking him. Couldn’t imagine any man willingly having sex with it though.”

“Rape survivor… I call bulls^&t…hilarious… she survived because the guy couldn’t get it up and gave up after attempting consensual sex even after taking 3 viagra, and she got pissed off… who would have sex that tripe (sic)… lol…”

“One begins to wonder if this feral Nina Funnell lady was actually a rape victim or has just been severely delusional all along as she obviously is now.”

For the record, Nina was not raped. She was bashed, strangled, held at knife-point and indecently sexually assaulted. 

This image has been digitally altered to protect some identities, and to remove the headline and link to the defamatory post Ms Arndt was promoting on her Facebook page.

Perhaps the greatest evidence of Nina’s professionalism in the face of this onslaught is her conduct during the now infamous Sydney University protest against Bettina Arndt’s ‘Fake Rape Campus Crisis Tour’.

Nina attended the protest as a journalist. In a video Ms Arndt subsequently uploaded to YouTube, Nina is filmed approaching Ms Arndt.

This occurs at the 21 minute mark. You can see Nina extend her hand, shake Ms Arndt’s and then lean towards her to speak.

Audio recorded on Nina’s phone shows that she introduced herself by her full name, and stated clearly that she was there as a journalist. Nina then says ‘Are you okay?’, followed by ‘Would you like to do a vox pop interview?’ at which point Ms Arndt declines and walks away.

These are clearly not the actions of someone trying to ‘silence’ Ms Arndt, as Ms Arndt has repeatedly claimed. Nor are they the actions of someone trying to run a campaign against Ms Arndt, nor settle some imagined vendetta.

By contrast, they are clearly the actions of a journalist doing her job, professionally and calmly, in the face of relentless antagonism by Ms Arndt and her small army of men’s rights activists, not to mention an ongoing betrayal by members of Nina’s own industry.

New Matilda is in the final stages of preparing a second feature – an ‘Arndt Investigation 2.0’, if you like – on Bettina Arndt and the Australian media. We’ll publish it as soon as we’re able.

In the meantime, please enjoy a video Nina and I produced for the original investigation, which features some of the media figures who boosted Ms Arndt for years.

Unlike Ms Arndt, I’ve never been an advocate for ‘shooting the messenger’. But I do wonder who will hold to account the ‘media professionals’ who gave Ms Arndt such a considerable platform for so long, and under such demonstrably false circumstances.

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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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