Social networking and the NYT – be careful what you sign-up for

February 3, 2009

Thanks to Poynter Online for posting the New York Times guidelines for reporters using social networking sites as a journalistic tool.

The first guideline is about politics or controversial groups and flagging your own political beliefs

If you have or are getting a Facebook page, leave blank the section that asks about your political views, in accordance with the Ethical Journalism admonition to do nothing that might cast doubt on your or The Times’s political impartiality in reporting the news. Remember that although you might get useful leads by joining a group on one of these sites, it will appear on your page, connoting that you “joined” it — potentially complicated if it is a political group, or a controversial group.

This kind of defeats the purpose of being on Facebook. Surely one of the benefits is being able to “meet” with like-minded people and to share your views. Also, if you don’t join a group, how are you going to find out what its members are thinking and doing?

I think this could lead to problems of another ethical variety — reporters using an alias to join controversial groups and not disclosing that they are working for a news organisation and then using material in the paper or in their journalistic work.

The constraints that the Times puts around its staff use of social networking seem a little overbearing. At the sme time they don’t seem to take into account the real journalistic abuses of Facebook and the other sites.

Read the rest of this entry »

NMHRC to investigate QUT-Noonan claims

September 27, 2007

Well, interesting.
In my previous post on the QUT shenanigans, there’s mention of the National Health and Medical Research Council – the peak body for research ethics in Australia, possibly investigating claims that QUT PhD student Michael Noonan may have breached protocols in relation to his research project “Laughing at the Disabled”.

I emailed the acting Director of Progam Assurance, Dr Gordon McGurk (see below)

Dear Gordon, I am writing as a concerned academic.
I would like to know if the NHMRC is investigating claims of unethical research practices made against QUT PhdD student Michael Noonan in relation to his thesis “Laughing at the disabled”.
I understand that Mr Noonan may well have violated well-established ethical guidelines for dealing with Indigenous people in some aspects of the video work he is compiling towards his thesis. There is an allegation against him that he has possibly misrepresented May Lulu Dunne and obtained a consent form/release form from her under false pretenses, or worse.
Drs Hookham and MacLennan are facing serious misconduct charges for raising some of these issues and from my understanding of their case, they have been badly treated by QUT for blowing the whistle on what they saw as poor supervision of Mr Noonan’s thesis and the ethical issues surrounding his work with both disabled persons and Indigenous Australians.
As a supervisor of postgraduate students I am familiar with ethics considerations in relation to thesis work and other research projects in Australia and elsewhere. I also know that in most cases they are stringently enforced. I can only wonder at what the breakdown was at QUT in relation to Mr Noonan’s thesis.
Are you in touch with QUT over this matter and do you intend to conduct any inquiries of your own, or to cause the NHMRC to investigate this matter further?

About an hour later I received a response:

Dear Martin

Following yesterday’s revelations regarding the alleged lack of consent or ethical approval before filming Ms Dunne, I am making this issue a matter of urgency. I have put together a brief for the Chief Executive to alert him and the executive to what may have happened.

The NHMRC had planned to investigate other alleged breaches following the conclusion of the legal action between QUT and Drs Hookham and MacLennan. However, this most recent information may precipitate some action sooner than planned.

Yours sincerely

Gordon McGurk

QUT sacks academics – update

September 27, 2007

I have just received this message from John Hookham regarding the ongoing disciplinary action against him and Garry MacLennan at QUT in Brisbane. You can find my previous posts on this case here.

Dear Colleagues,

Some months ago, I sent out a letter informing you about a PhD project entitled Laughing at the Disabled: Creating Comedy that Confronts and Offends. This was a project being carried out by Michael Noonan who is a PhD student at our university, Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

My colleague, Dr Gary MacLennan and I strongly objected to this project on the grounds that it set out to demean people with cognitive disabilities. We felt that the central thrust of the project was to mock and ridicule people with intellectual impairment. Furthermore, we questioned the fact that the university had given this project ethical clearance. We pointed out that the correct protocols for Ethical Research involving Humans had not been properly followed. We brought this to the attention of the university, (QUT) by writing to the Dean and by submitting a Formal Complaint to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof Arun Sharma.

All our objections were ignored. As a consequence we wrote an article in the Higher Education Supplement of the national newspaper, The Australian. In the article we were critical of the project, the supervisory team and the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) that approved the project.

As a result of writing this article, Dr MacLennan and I were charged by the university for Misconduct and had to face a Misconduct Investigation Committee. The Chair of this committee and the two academics on the committee were chosen by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Peter Coaldrake. We had no say whatsoever about who should be on the committee.

In my opinion, the Hearing that we faced was nothing other than a kangaroo court or Star Chamber. It seemed clear to us, from the outset, that we would be found guilty and that the verdict was pre-determined. During the process, we were not allowed to screen the film to show what we had objected to and the committee refused to view the material. This despite that fact that it was our response to the material that had prompted us to write the article. The committee also refused to examine the ethical clearance process.

In my opinion, during the Hearing, witnesses for my defense were threatened and intimidated. At the end of the Hearing, my representative, Dr Lisa Bridle, was frightened that the university might take some action against her for supporting me and immediately burst into tears.

The next day Dr MacLennan collapsed and had a nervous breakdown. He was treated by a medical physician.

The committee subsequently found us guilty of all the charges brought against us. There is no appeal process and the Vice-Chancellor decides on the penalty. There are no checks and balances in the system to limit his power. Prof Coaldrake decided to suspend us without pay for six months. He also informed us that he would be bringing a second series of charges against us.

Fortunately we were able to get legal counsel and we are currently in the process of contesting the manner in which our investigation was conducted. But we still have further charges hanging over our heads.

In the Hearing one of the charges against us was that we had misrepresented Michael Noonan’s work. There was a scene in the film involving an interaction between one of the disabled men (James who is autistic) and an Aboriginal woman. This took place in a country barroom. James was told by Noonan to enter the bar and ask if there were any young women in the town as he was looking for a girlfriend. In the scene we saw, the Aboriginal woman was inebriated and embraced James.

Noonan claimed that we misrepresented him as he never intended to screen that scene in public again. But now he has put this scene up on the web and said he is very proud of it. An Aboriginal friend of ours has gone to Boulia and made contact with May, the woman in the scene. Her name is May Lulu Dunne and she is a tribal woman from the Northern territory. She is horrified and feels shame that such images of her have been put up on the web. She emphatically denies giving permission for the filmmaking and her partner supports her version of the affair. It must be said however that Noonan claims to have a release form though no one has sighted it.

QUT has a policy of reconciliation with indigenous Australians. It has also signed onto the ethical protocols for research involving indigenous Australians.

Ted Watson who is acting for May Dunne has made an official complaint to the NHMRC, which is the body charged with seeing that university research involving humans is ethical.

I and he are convinced that QUT has acted in violation of the protocols for research involving indigenous Australians. These are as follows

National Statement for Research Involving Humans

Research involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

Six core values

· Reciprocity

· Respect

· Equality

· Responsibility

· Survival and Protection

· Spirit and integrity

The Clauses

The researcher should ensure that the research methods are respectful.

There should be evidence of support for the research project from relevant Aboriginal and Torrres Strait Islander communities and the research methodology should engage with their social and cultural practices.

The researcher should seek to identify any potential negative consequences of the proposed research, to design process to monitor them and to advise steps for minimizing them.

The research methods and processes should provide opportunities to develop trust and a sense of equal research partnerships.

The benefits… should include… research outcomes that advance the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

The described benefits from research should have been discussed with and agreed to by the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander research stakeholders.

The Statement makes it quite clear that researchers need to obtain permission from not only the participants but also the Aboriginal community. Aboriginal academics and elders have fought hard for these protocols to ensure that their people are not exploited. QUT is bound by these protocols but is clearly in violation of them here. Prof Rod Wissler has appeared on national television as a spokesman for QUT claiming that the scene with May is fine and does not breach research ethical protocols.

It is quite clear that Michael Noonan has ignored these research protocols. So not only are the disabled being laughed at in Michael Noonan’s research, he has also included a comical portrayal of an Aboriginal woman, who has done nothing to merit such ridicule and mockery.

Once again I ask you as concerned academics or citizens to make clear that such practices violate our ethical code and are unacceptable. Those concerned should write to of the National Health & Medical Research Council and ask him to investigate this matter immediately.

Please also write your concerns to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough at and the Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin at

Thank you once again for your support.

John Hookham

This message was also sent from Ted Watson

Dear Friends,

My Name is Ted Watson. I am an Aboriginal man. I have been granted power of attorney to act on behalf of May Lulu Dunne who was filmed by Michael Noonan in the Australian Hotel in Boulia Easter 2006 as part of his PhD Project. The project was called Laughing at the Disabled: Creating Comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains.

In Easter 2006 Noonan took two intellectually impaired men to Boulia to find girls and to ask about the Min Min Lights. He sent them into the pub and there they met May Dunne. She is a tribal woman from the Northern Territory and is a decent caring grandmother of 52 years of age. She had too much to drink when Noonan filmed her but this is an exception for her. On Noonan’s film she comes across as the stereotypical drunken indigenous woman that white people love to portray. In May’s own words she tells us

“At no time was I asked permission to be filmed or sign any paper…I was hurt and shamed to see my actions shown on the internet in [the] Courier Mail newspaper website at our local library by Mr Ted Watson on Friday 14//07. I watched ABC and SBS hoping I would not be see[n] by everybody especially my people and family in a drunken way. I am upset now and want my pictures taken of the website…”

Noonan and QUT have broken all of the protocols for doing research involving indigenous Australians. We the Aboriginal people of Australia fought hard for these protocols. They are

National Statement for Research Involving Humans

Research involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

Six core values

· Reciprocity

· Respect

· Equality

· Responsibility

· Survival and Protection

· Spirit and integrity

Clauses in the Protocol
The researcher should ensure that the research methods are respectful.

There should be evidence of support for the research project from relevant Aboriginal and Torrres Strait Islander communities and the research methodology should engage with their social and cultural practices.

The researcher should seek to identify any potential negative consequences of the proposed research, to design process to monitor them and to advise steps for minimizing them.

The research methods and processes should provide opportunities to develop trust and a sense of equal research partnerships.

The benefits… should include… research outcomes that advance the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

The described benefits from research should have been discussed with and agreed to by the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander research stakeholders.

I repeat that Michael Noonan has clearly broken all these protocols. Yet QUT set up an internal review following a complaint about his research and they found him not guilty. The academics who did this have betrayed my people and they have also shamed their own university.

May has also asked me to say that she thinks it is nasty to make fun of and rubbish people like Darren and James who do not understand what is going on. May herself is the guardian and carer of an intellectually disabled man. The Aboriginal people of Boulia were horrified when Noonan and Spectrum Organization put Daren and James into the rodeo ring and made them act being a bull and a matador so people would laugh at them. May and her family could not understand why people were being so cruel to James and Darren. But then we Aborigines have never understood why white Australians can be so cruel to other whites.

There is now an interview with me up on YouTube. The link below will get you there.

Please pass on the link to all interested parties especially indigenous groups all round the world.

We Aborigines are having a very hard time now, what with our rights being trampled on and our land being taken off us. We need help and support from everyone.

We need an apology from QUT to May Dunne, compensation for her suffering and the removal of Noonan’s footage of her from the Courier Mail website.

Yours in the struggle

Edward James Watson

This is now an international issue that hopefully will seriously embarrass QUT and vice-chancellor Peter Coaldrake. Here’s an interview with UCLA Professor of Philosophy Calvin Normore. He describes the suspension of Garry and John as a serious threat to academic freedom.

What’s happening at QUT?

July 9, 2007

Student blogs at QUT that have been commenting on the suspension of Garry MacLennan and John Hookham have been deleted by the administration.
So the defence of free speech means denying free speech. Phil Castles again puts his head up in this clip. How long before he too is facing disciplinary action?

There’s also an update (16 June) from the Courier-Mail newspaper in Brisbane, home of QUT.

The story has also raced around the world, here’s a link to The Gimp Parade blogged by Kay Olson of Minnesota, who describes herself as an overeducated, underemployed feminist with a disability.

Is the world barking mad for celebrity trash

July 4, 2007 – Paris Hilton’s Dog Food Can Sells for $305 on eBay; Toothbrush Goes for $305 – Celebrity Gossip | Entertainment News | Arts And Entertainment

What is it with people? Soft-core celebrity Paris Hilton’s trash is worth money.
Hey, if you want to buy some relics from my three cats, you’re welcome. Tilly, Josie and Lexie consume hundreds of cans of Purr, Dine and Mother’s Choice a month. You can have them all for $5.00 plus postage and handling.

QUT Acting Vice Chancellor defends actions in suspending academics

June 18, 2007

This is a response from Professor David Gardiner, acting V-C at QUT, posted at ABC Online. I’ve reposted it here in an effort to be “fair and balanced” about this debate.

First Posted: Saturday, June 16, 2007 . 2:38pm –>Last Update: Saturday, June 16, 2007. 2:38pm (AEST)
Facts missing
By Professor David Gardiner

There are some important facts missing from the current debate about a research project being undertaken by a PhD student in the Creative Industries Faculty at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).
The research project is in its early stages. A further two years of work will be undertaken on this project before it is completed.
As is usual practice in doctoral research, the student made an initial presentation to his confirmation panel about his project.
The seminar was presented under the working title, “Laughing at the Disabled: Creating Comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains”, which was subsequently formalised as “Laughing with the Disabled: Creating Comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains”. This latter title was the title of the project approved by the QUT Ethics Committee in October/November 2006.
Either title can be construed as provocative. Unfortunately, current concerns have focused on an interpretation of this title and not on the content or aim of the project.
Below is an extract of the student’s summary of the research work:
“Increasingly comedy writers and program makers are drawing on strategies which confront and shock an audience so that the humour arises from a mixture of audacious surprise, embarrassment and even outrage. Such humour drives the films such as Borat and TV series like The Chasers War on Everything, The Office and Extras.
“In our laughter we often laugh with those affected but at times a line is crossed and we can find ourselves laughing at the characters, their predicaments and the crass impacts they are having on others.
“This study is about that line, how it shifts and the difficulties that program makers have in negotiating it. It is an investigation of the principles of contemporary comedy on film and the way program makers balance confrontation with empathy, giving offence with the warm laughter of recognition, and entertainment with irony which exposes human complexity.
“My study does this by employing two remarkable men with disabilities and aims to create, through laughter, insight into their unique contribution to Australian society and the values we hold.
“The project was developed in consultation with the disability group, the Spectrum organisation, the parents and advocates of the two men, and the men themselves. It has also been overseen by an external disability consultant.”
Disciplinary action
Following the presentation and subsequent actions, a student and staff made formal allegations that two QUT academics had breached the university’s code of conduct.
The university convened a three-person committee comprising an external party and two senior academics to investigate the misconduct allegations.
The committee found that a breach of the code of conduct was proven in relation to each of the allegations made. The disciplinary action taken by the vice-chancellor is within the range of disciplinary measures available under the code for such breaches.
Research project ethics
Projects that involve humans require ethical clearance in accordance with the guidelines published by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
In response to complaints about the project, QUT instigated a review of the ethics approval process by the University’s Human Research Ethics Committee, which applied the NHMRC guidelines.
QUT convened an audit committee to determine if, in the initiation, structure or conduct of the research to date, any breaches of the ethics code have occurred.
The five-person committee included an independent member who was part of the Commission of Inquiry into the actions of Dr Jayant Patel.
The committee also comprised three senior QUT academics who were in no way connected with the student or the research, including two members with expertise in psychology and in human services.
The panel found “no evidence of harm, discomfort, ridicule or exploitation to the participants, (names withheld), as indicated by the letter of complaint”.
The panel noted “the positive enthusiasm of the participants involved, their treatment with dignity and sensitivity, and the warm way in which they were welcomed into the particular community where filming had occurred”.
The panel found “no major grounds for objection in either the manner of application, review and approval; or in the conduct of the project to date”.
Further, as part of this investigation, QUT asked an independent psychologist specialising in the disability field to comment on the cognitive abilities of the two disabled men.
On the basis of her opinion (derived from interactions with the two men), and the range of other evidence available, QUT is of the view that the men understand the project, are willing participants and are deriving benefit from their involvement.
It is also important to note that the individuals who are the key participants in the PhD study provided written consent to be involved in the project and had previously both appeared in a four-part documentary series called Unlikely Travellers which the PhD student directed and produced in 2005/2006.
The fact that the two individuals have wished to participate in the study and that informed consent has been obtained from them and their parents/guardians does not appear to have been widely publicised in any of the discussions regarding this issue.
QUT’s role
In its approach to the research and the subsequent allegations made by a number of parties, QUT has conducted itself in accordance with the rules and regulations that govern such matters.
It has done so in an impartial way and using appropriately qualified and unbiased people. Where allegations have been proven action has been taken in accordance with documented measures.
QUT is at pains to ensure that the rights of all students, staff and other people involved, are protected. QUT does not support the exploitation of any person or party. This is evidenced by the way in which the university has gone about its investigations and hearings.
Universities are places where research can be conducted that may be sensitive or controversial. Any such research needs to be balanced with legal obligations and ethical considerations, while providing scope for academic freedom and the democratic principles of freedom of speech.
Achieving this balance requires all parties to conduct themselves in a responsible, respectful and scholarly manner.
Based on the ethics committee findings, QUT believes the research project has been publicly misrepresented, to the detriment of the university.
QUT takes its role seriously and remains firmly committed to the principles of ethical research and freedom of speech.
– Professor David Gardiner, acting Vice-Chancellor, Queensland University of Technology

Another QUT academic speaks out

June 18, 2007

This commentary was posted at ABC Online by Phil Castle, a colleague of Hookham and MacLennan. I’ve reposted it because several comments on my blog so far have criticised the stand I’ve taken in support of two people who I respect immensely. OK, so I’m in Auckland and not close to the action, but Phil Castle is right there. The comments on Phil’s original post are also worth checking out from the link above.

Fear at QUT
By Philip Castle
Recently, I asked a Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Creative Industries colleague about the “Laughing at the Disabled …” debate. He said: “I can’t say anything.” I said: “Why?” “The MOPP doesn’t allow me,” he said. MOPP is the Manual for Policy and Procedures at QUT.
I said: “I don’t recall ever relinquishing my rights to free speech when I began working at QUT.” He said he couldn’t comment, but the facts hadn’t properly come out. I asked what facts? He was clearly reluctant to talk. The one he mentioned; he was wrong.
On June 8 two QUT senior TV and film academics Drs Gary Maclennan and John Hookham were found guilty of misconduct and given six months immediate suspension without pay.
Dr Maclennan has been at QUT (previously QIT) for 32 years. They criticised a PhD candidate’s footage about two disabled men at his confirmation in March and then wrote a joint article in The Australian on April 11.
They also criticised the supervising academics and the ethical clearance process for not engaging the disability community first. Dr Maclennan has since unreservedly apologised to the PhD candidate.
My colleague said QUT and the PhD student had not told their side of the story. I said the student has had many opportunities. I had even given his telephone number (from on-line) to journalists, with his knowledge and he still declined.
The PhD candidate won’t show his section of the film now either (I have asked) which he showed at his March confirmation and at two successive first year lectures to over 100 students in early May.
This was where the two men with mental impairment portrayed in the film were also present, unbeknown to the audience, until afterwards. He again showed the footage of an Aboriginal woman in an alleged amorous drunken state; three weeks after the critical article in The Australian.
International QUT Norwegian student Atle Nielsen was at the Foundations of Film and TV lecture in N Block on May 2. He said: “I didn’t and couldn’t laugh at the scenes and was very sorry for the two young men when they came down at the end. It wasn’t right. I work with handicapped persons in Norway and it’s wrong.”
QUT has unwittingly created a climate of fear where academics feel they either can’t or won’t be able to express a view. Obviously two who did, whether rightly or wrongly, have now paid a hefty price.
The punishment is not proportionate to the alleged offences and almost unprecedented in Australian universities. The penalty is about a $50,000 fine and an almost enforced resignation. It gave the story “legs'” as journalists say. An unpleasant legal stoush is almost guaranteed.
If as Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Coaldrake says, it is not about freedom of speech, but misconduct towards a student and colleagues, then certainly that message hasn’t reached my fearful colleague.
It is about free speech as The Australian’s article obviously upset QUT. A senior QUT academic said to me early in the debate, “…and they have done it twice” ie they have written twice to the newspaper and by implication now they have to pay.
QUT is a great university of which I’m generally proud. Its successful PR slogan is “QUT: The University for the real world.” I can’t judge if the “Laughing at the disabled …” clips are reasonable because I’m not privileged to view them.
The ethical processes used appear superficial. I know QUT could solve part of the damage if it engaged the disability community experts to assess the project.
If QUT doesn’t act soon, it will become internationally known as “QUT: the university which laughs at the disabled.” How very sad for such a fine university.
– Philip Castle is a journalism lecturer at QUT, former print journalist and former head of The Australian Federal Police PR

What to do with a drunken sailor?

April 27, 2007

From time to time you’re going to here from my mate Bruce. He’s on the first leg of a journey, short-handed sailing around Australia. Whenever he’s in broadband range he’ll be sending emails with lots of great photos of him and his yacht H2O. He’s got friends on board and – if fate hadn’t intervened (landing me in Auckland a few weeks before he sailed) – it would be me on the deck, beer in one hand, tiller in the other, as Bruce throws another mackerel on the barbie.
Here’s a grab from his last message, with his account of the night which sealed the unfortunate fate of three sailors who went missing from a catamaran in the same stretch of lonely ocean.

As the coastline between Bowen and Townsville was pretty uninteresting with
only one or two swelly anchorages, we made the decision to sail directly to
Townsville (about 120NM), sailing through the day and night, my first night
sail on H2O. Sailing in the morning got off to a slow start but by noon the
wind had picked up, pushing us along at 5-6 knots and we began to worry that
we were going too fast and might get to Townsville too early, arriving in
the night. So to play it safe, we reefed the main and after nightfall, took
3 hour shifts at the helm, keeping a good eye out for tankers, trawlers and
other travellers of the night. The night, however, proved uneventful until
about 3am when we heard a sea rescue plane asking if any ships were either
at or near Davies Reef. We were to find out the following morning that a
coastal surveillance plane had spotted a 12m catamaran drifting off the
reef, 80NM out to sea with no one on board. You may have read about this
rather unfortunate event in last Saturday’s papers – three men lost at sea
in mysterious circumstances. It turns out that they had left Airlie Beach
on the day we departed Hamilton and we probably just missed seeing their boat
as we crossed from Hook to Gloucester Island. Our biggest concern, however,
was contacting our families to let them know that it wasn’t us!

Bruce and Michael are fine, if a little shaken. Here’s a recent snap of Bruce with lunch (sashimi anyone?)

The difficult middle cat

April 14, 2007

This is Josie, sunning herself in the garden at Fernbrook

I should mention I like cats too

April 14, 2007

I’m a cat lover, so I may, from time to time add a post about my three furry kids.
Here’s a couple of pictures: Tilly in a box and Lexi on the balcony, to get the fur-ball rolling!