Exclusive: Fresh Murdoch Sexual Harassment Claims - 'Victim Shaming' News Corp Tabloid PROMOTED its own Pest
Today, Byline Investigations shines a light on the sexual harassment culture at News Corp’s leading newspaper in Australia – the Herald Sun – which came under fire this week for running stories “victim shaming” a mother, who alleges lurid behaviour by the former Lord Mayor of Melbourne.
“After resigning and reporting sexual harassment and indecent assault, the perpetrator despicably attempted to degrade me through his misogynistic media mates at the Herald Sun"
Our investigation reveals: -
* New evidence that Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is flawed on sexual discrimination issues – despite passing a "fit and proper" test in UK.
* Sex scandal allegations are going global, as claims spread from Fox News in the US to the Herald Sun in Australia.
* Acting editor of the Australian tabloid made indecent proposals to several females in the newsroom, after being let-off for a previous incident.
* The same paper was criticised this week in Australian media for “destroying” a woman who has claimed workplace sexual harassment allegations against her former colleague.
* Latest revelations at top-selling News Corp paper fuel concerns about Murdoch’s Sky bid.
'Blatant Victim Blaming'
In January, Herald Sun editor Damon Johnston ran two front-page stories undermining a former city councillor, Tessa Sullivan, who is alleging that she was sexually harassed by the former Lord Mayor of Melbourne. The stories – including a photo of the woman in a bikini – wrongly implied that she had been suggestive.
Tessa says untrue front-page Herald Sun stories, including one with a bikini holiday picture, suggested she encouraged the alleged abuse and left her “destroyed and scared.”
Sullivan, whose allegations led to the resignation of the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, has spoken in the last few days of the trauma she has endured at the hands of the Herald Sun.
The mother-of-three, a lawyer, told Guardian Australia: “My whole life has been ripped apart.”
Her treatment by the Murdoch tabloid was also reported by The Age newspaper and the Australian Financial Review.
Evidence has emerged that the former Melbourne mayor, Robert Doyle, 64, engaged a PR firm, which supplied pictures and texts messages to the Herald Sun, in a botched attempt to give the impression that she was the instigator.
Sullivan, 34, was elected as a councillor in 2016 on the “Team Doyle” ticket, but alleges that Doyle touched and harassed her repeatedly – claims now backed-up by an official probe.
Doyle strongly denies all the allegations against him.
Tessa says that untrue front page Herald Sun stories – one of which included a photo of her in a bikini on holiday – suggested that she encouraged the alleged abuse.
The smear left her “destroyed and scared,” she said.
Spotlight on the Herald Sun
Now Byline Investigations can confirm the newspaper’s own scandal, in which several women were subjected to unwanted sexual advances on the newsroom floor at the Herald Sun.
The allegations concern Shane Burke, a long-serving night editor, who was left in charge by Johnston when he went on holiday in December 2015 and January 2016.
"The seriousness of the first incident should have made the paper fire him on the spot - not just promote him and leave him alone to edit the paper knowingly putting the female staff at risk.”
Burke is believed to have made multiple sexually suggestive propositions to younger female staff in the office, while leading the large team of editorial staff producing the newspaper. Burke had previously been caught propositioning young reporters in 2008.
But, Peter Blunden, the managing editor of News Corp in Victoria, allowed him to keep his job. Not only that, Blunden then promoted Burke to acting editor when Johnston was absent.
A source close to the story told Byline Investigations: “The seriousness of the first incident should have made the paper fire him on the spot - not just promote him and leave him alone to edit the paper knowingly putting the female staff at risk.”
Following an HR investigation into the latest incidents, Burke finally resigned in February 2016. A short, gossip story on the scandal was reported by Australian media website Crikey.com in December 2016. But, the paper failed to own up to the incidents, simply stating Burke had resigned.
The Herald Sun made no apology to the staff involved in the Burke case.
Another Murdoch Scandal Hits Sky Bid
The Australian incident is more evidence of a global network buffeted by multiple sexual harassment allegations, at a time when the #metoo and #timesup movements are sweeping the entertainment and media industries.
It is also the latest sexual harassment controversy to come out of the Murdoch stable, after several unrelated scandals dogged the media tycoon’s bid to take over Sky TV in London.
The Murdoch corporation is already under fire for a high-profile sex scandal at Fox News in the US, which led to the ousting of its CEO Roger Ailes.
In April last year, the New York Times reported that another woman had come forward with sexual allegations against Bill O’Reilly, with dozens of advertisers withdrawing from the channel's flagship show, The O'Reilly Factor, before he himself was forced out.
According to the New York Times, O'Reilly and Fox News have settled five sexual harassment lawsuits since 2004, with payments reportedly reaching £10.4 million.
The Sun Herald story is the latest sexual harassment controversy to come out of the Murdoch stable, after several unrelated scandals dogged the media tycoon’s bid to take over Sky TV in London. Campaigners have opposed the £11.7 billion deal, arguing that his family empire is not fit to own the whole of Sky, on public interest grounds.
The Australian media dynasty is using its American subsidiary, 21st Century Fox, to buy-up remaining shares in the European pay-per-view giant. The UK's broadcasting watchdog, Ofcom, had previously given the deal the green light, judging Murdoch to be a ‘fit and proper’ owner. But, a High Court judge said the activist group Avaaz would have its case for a judicial review of the decision heard before 30th June this year.
Avaaz has brought several current and former Fox News employees to the British Parliament, to blow the whistle on sexual and racial discrimination allegations, in a bid to make MPs see past the corporate spin that Murdoch has 'cleaned-up his act'.
In addition, Murdoch's British newspapers are being increasingly mired in yet more phone hacking and blagging allegations – 12 years after the scandal first erupted.
This year, The Sun found itself in the High Court, with around 100 claimants alleging that their phones and medical records were illegally obtained. Holding company News Group Newspapers (NGN) denies the claims.
Last week, private investigator John Ford told Byline Investigations, in a world exclusive, that he had "blagged" confidential records of high-profile politicians for 15 years at Murdoch's prestigious The Sunday Times broadsheet.
Two months ago, at the same time as the Herald Sun was slurring Tessa Sullivan, the Competition and Markets Authority – a UK government body that oversees mergers and acquisitions – raised concerns about media plurality in Britain should the Fox bid go through.
What would be the biggest takeover in the UK media industry was called into question, but a final decision will be made in May, upon which new Culture Secretary Matt Hancock must act.
Meanwhile, 10,500 miles away in Melbourne, Tessa Sullivan told Byline Investigations she was speaking out now because of the anger felt by her, and other women, who had given evidence to an investigation into Doyle’s alleged behaviour.
“After resigning and reporting sexual harassment and indecent assault, the perpetrator despicably attempted to degrade me through his misogynistic media mates at the Herald Sun, publishing false information, texts and photos,” she said.
The independent report found that Doyle's conduct could constitute sexual harassment and gross misconduct.
“My family was targeted unfairly to compliment blatant victim blaming. These cruel and callous portrayals of me at a time of great vulnerability reflect a complete lack of morals by all involved. I am shocked with the institutionalised assumption that caring for the accused is somehow more important than caring for the victim.
“I did not need to hire a PR firm, create lies or use the press because I knew I had something undeniable: I had the truth.”
Doyle was hospitalised for stress and resigned as Melbourne's Lord Mayor after being handed a draft of the investigation's interim findings in February.He was given a final opporutnity by the council last week to respond to the evidence against him. However, his lawyer said he remained too ill to respond to questions.
Today, the independent report found that Doyle's conduct could constitute sexual harassment and gross misconduct. The dossier made four adverse findings against him. Though he has repeatedly denied the accusations, the probe by lawyer Ian Freckelton QC found that Doyle deliberately placed his hand on Tessa Sullivan's breast while his driver was taking them both home one night.
Doyle has also been accused of groping another woman at an event, and "questionable behaviour" by two students at Geelong College, at which he taught from 1978 to 1982. Geelong College has passed information to Victoria Police. However, Doyle's legal team has said it knew nothing about the allegations relating to Geelong College.
Herald Sun Climbdown
Editor Damon Johnston told Guardian Australia early last week that the Herald Sun stood by its coverage of Sullivan, including publishing the texts.
“We have sought to give readers the arguments from all parties, as far as possible, rather than giving just one side, in order to provide readers with a balanced coverage of the scandal,” he said.
But, by Wednesday, the Herald Sun had pulled stories damaging to Sullivan, including the bikini photo. Johnston said it had done so after a request from Sullivan: “As an act of good faith, we agreed to remove them.” He was pushed into deleting the articles after Sullivan began tweeting about the distress it had caused her.
But, the unusual climb-down has not been enough to appease the Australian media.
In a damning segment on ABC’s Media Watch programme, broadcast across Australia on Sunday night, presenter Paul Barry blasted the Herald Sun for its stories on Tessa Sullivan. He said it was good the newspaper had finally taken down its untrue stories, saying: “Well, it’s good they’ve done so. Just a shame it took them so long. Because whatever the final judgement on Sullivan’s allegations – and a special meeting of council may make it public tomorrow – those stories clearly crossed the line.”
An influential journalist on the Australian Financial Review suggested that Johnston should resign. Myriam Robin wrote: “After nearly six years atop the Herald Sun, he's had a good run for a News Corp tabloid editor. But you can't say he's covered himself in glory with this episode. And it's not like News Corp's senior management ever needs much encouragement to shake things up.”
Byline Investigations has given the Herald Sun two opportunities to comment on the Burke incidents – once last year, and, again, earlier this week. It has failed, as yet, to respond.