Wednesday, June 24, 2009


More to SAS-Dutch Afghan story.....

Some big name journalists at Fairfax newspapers have a "special licence" or media sheriff's badge to investigate but freelance journalists are not afforded the same privilege....

It is also called Selective Freedom to Scrutinise Syndrome (SFTSS).

read on...

Online opinion - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate

A special licence to investigate

by Sasha Uzunov
Wednesday 24 June 2009

Fairfax newspapers' self appointed defence expert Tom Hyland has made a very clever and subtle attack against the Defence Department over its refusal to divulge details about the heroic and ferocious battles being fought by the Australian Army’s elite SASR in Afghanistan.

However, it is a bit rich for Hyland to be complaining that freelance journalists/bloggers are on a “curious crusade” if they scrutinise or criticise defence experts, in particular journalists and writers such as Vietnam War draft resister Garrie Hutchinson.

Hyland’s piece ran in the Sunday Age and Sun Herald on June 14, 2009 and reveals the story of a brave Dutch commando Captain Marco Kroon who fought alongside the Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) in Afghanistan in 2006. Here’s the tone:

"The story of a Dutch soldier's courage reveals what our army keeps secret, writes Tom Hyland.

"A veil of official secrecy shrouding combat involving Australian SAS troops in Afghanistan has been lifted in Holland, revealing details of harrowing fighting that is still withheld by the Australian military."

Perhaps Hyland is not aware of the reason why the SASR remains successful: it is because it keeps away from the glare of publicity.

What is surprising is that it has taken Hyland three years to track the full details. Surely, with the bevy of highly paid defence experts in the Fairfax stable such as Paul Daley, Peter Hartcher, Hugh White, Nick McKenzie and Paul McGeough, all of whom have never served in uniform, they would have helped Hyland out? Ah, but perhaps this is a curious crusade …? We must not go there!

The reality is, for all its faults, the Defence Department bends over backwards to satisfy the whims of Australia’s big name journalists. But then again, the Defence Department now would probably be wary of dealing with Fairfax newspaper, The Age. The Age was recently found to be wrong in reporting that the Defence Department spied on the then Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.

Big name journalists, because of their power and influence, can become accustomed to getting their own way. They can also suffer from Selective Freedom to Scrutinise Syndrome (SFTSS): that is some of them believe they have a special licence, or a media sheriff’s badge, to kick down doors and investigate - but this does not apply to freelance journalists or bloggers or non-ABC TV journalists.

Ex-ABC TV reporter Max Uechtritz is a classic example of SFTSS.

Paul Moran, 39, was killed on March 22, 2003 by a car bomb while covering the war in Northern Iraq for ABC TV. He was an Adelaide-raised freelance cameraman who worked on and off for the ABC as well as US public relations firm Rendon, which had ties to the CIA and the Bush Administration.

Walkley Award winning Australian journalist, Mr Colin James, of the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper, was the first to break the story about Moran’s shadowy past when he attended Moran’s wake in Adelaide. He talked to relatives who revealed that Moran had a James Bond other life but the ABC did not follow up on this story.

ABC TV news boss Mr Uechtritz, in his reply to ABC program Media Watch aired on April 14, 2003, wrote: “The ABC is not in the habit of following up Adelaide Advertiser stories.”

The Media Watch program chastised the ABC and Uechtritz: “The story was followed up by some parts of the media, but not by the ABC. It should have been.” (“Death in Bagdad”, April 14, 2003).

The irony of all this is Mr Uechtritz complained to The Age newspaper on June 30, 2003 about freedom of speech after coming under attack from the then Communications Minister, Senator Richard Alston, for alleged biased reporting of the Iraq War by the ABC.

“It is the duty of independent journalists in a robust democracy to question everything,” Mr Uechtritz wrote. “The senator seems to think the media's duty in time of war is to fall meekly into line with the government of the day.”

But it appears this does not apply to non-ABC journalists scrutinising Paul Moran!

Another example of SFTSS is the bizarre legal case involving a reporter with the London Times newspaper, Patrick Foster, taking action to find out the name of an anonymous blogger NightJack, who turned out to be a Lancashire policeman, Richard Horton.

Legal Eagle who contributes to the blog Skeptic Lawyer (run by Helen Dale of Helen Demidenko infamy) wrote:

I can’t help finding the action of The Times rather petty and malicious. For some reason, some journalists seem to despise blogging and bloggers …

There’s a suspicion in my mind that this journalist thought to himself, Let’s bring down a blogger who is writing something that is interesting and exciting. Jean Seaton, the director of the Orwell Prize, said:

“… But, surely what matters is the accuracy and insight of the information. No one has disputed what this blog said: it was not illegal, it was not malicious. Indeed, in a world where local reporting is withering away as the economic model for supporting it disappears, we know less and less about our non-metropolitan selves and this lack of attention will surely lead to corruption. So this blog was a very good example of reporting bubbling up from a new place.”

Further confirmation of The Times story can be found here.

What is puzzling is The Times’ attack. The paper has made an intelligent use of blogs, and has been good at fighting the use of the courts to close down expression. NightJack was a source and a reporter. They would not (I hope) reveal their sources in court. Even odder is their main accusation against him: that the blog revealed material about identifiable court cases. The blog did not do this - cases were disguised. However, once The Times had published Horton’s name then, of course, it is easy to find the cases he was involved with. The Times has shut down a voice.

When Herald Sun newspaper reporters Gerard McManus and Michael Harvey were fined $7,000 for contempt by the Victorian Country Court over the publication of leaked documents, there was an almighty uproar about freedom of the press.

Once again the question is, whose freedom is it to scrutinise?

Rather than whingeing about the Defence Department not talking about the heroic exploits of the SASR, Hyland should examine two options open to him. First cultivate SASR soldiers as contacts or better still jump on a plane and travel to the frontlines of Afghanistan without a military escort. Respected Australian war reporter John Martinkus has been doing it for years in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps Hyland should be taking tips from him. Ah, better not suggest that it might be seen as a “curious crusade”.


About the Author
Sasha Uzunov is a freelance photo journalist, blogger, and budding film maker whose mission is to return Australia's national defence/ security debate to its rightful owner, the taxpayer. He also likes paparazzi photography! He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in 1991. He served as a professional soldier in the Australian Army from 1995 to 2002, and completed two tours of duty in East Timor. As a journalist he has worked in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. His blog is at Team Uzunov.

Other articles by this Author

» Science v sorcery: the risky business of predicting the future - May 22, 2009
» Vietnam nightmare ends with newsman’s death - April 24, 2009
» At war with his own Defence Department - March 31, 2009
» When politicians should step aside - March 19, 2009
» CSI Dubrovnik: the Britt Lapthorne mystery - March 4, 2009
All articles by Sasha Uzunov

Friday, June 05, 2009



Australia's Defence Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon resigned last night.

TEAM UZUNOV was the first to break the story of the war within Defence Department and Fitzgibbon when an "outsider" Tim Holding was floated to act as a troubleshooter in Afghanistan.
At war with his own Defence Department
By Sasha Uzunov - posted Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The Australian media have finally laid down their pom-poms and ended the cheerleading routine in reporting how tough the Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon was in his war with his own Defence Department.

In January, I first revealed on my blog, TEAM UZUNOV, about the worsening relationship between the Minister and his own Department when an outsider, Mr Tim Holding, a Victorian State Minister, was being floated as go-between or trouble shooter in Afghanistan to gather information not being passed onto the Rudd Government by the Australian Army Chain of Command. Suzanne Carbone, of The Age newspaper, quoted me in her “The Diary” column take down of Holding on February 3.

Paul Daley, in The Sunday Age, on February 1, got the ball rolling in Fitzgibbon’s war against his

"But there appear to be some serious Government doubts whether the facilities the young Australians are risking their lives to build are actually being used by the Afghan people.

"Anecdotal evidence suggests that through its proven methods of intimidation and murder, the Taliban punishes Afghans who dare to use such facilities. There are also stories that, for fear of Taliban reprisals, Afghans are reluctant to work in them."

During both visits to Afghanistan, the feisty Fitzgibbon had wanted more than just briefings. But despite his best efforts, sources are adamant Fitzgibbon has not been "outside the wire" - a euphemism for leaving the comparative safety of the Australian base - during either visit, much to his frustration.

Later, we had the SASR pay scandal with the Minister now officially at war with his own department over being kept in the dark.

Recently, we had Mr Fitzgibbon apologise for not declaring trips he undertook to China after the story was leaked allegedly by his enemies within the Defence Department.

I am not suggesting anything untoward in Mr Fitzgibbon's behaviour and respect his privacy. However, the sideshow has taken the focus off the real shooting war raging between the Taliban and Australian soldiers in Afghanistan ...

He can vent his “anger” as much as he likes through the media but it will not change the situation. With Australian soldiers fighting and dying in Afghanistan, the Defence Department cannot afford to be distracted by political squabbles over who controls turf.

The Defence Department is a universe of its own. Outsiders who do not know how to operate in this environment get chewed up pretty quick. Mr Fitzgibbon, through no fault of his own, lacks two things: he has never served in uniform and second, he does not hold the aces when it comes to playing political poker with his own Defence Department.

Only one man is capable of doing so: Colonel Iron Mike Kelly, Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support. “Iron Mike” Kelly is a former Army Colonel and lawyer who has served in Somalia, East Timor and Iraq.

He has the runs on the board: as an Army lawyer with the rank of Major he once wrestled and fought, in true Crocodile Hunter fashion, a warlord during the 1993 mission to African nation Somalia.

To demonstrate his political cunning, he turned the tables on his opponent, the sitting member for the New South Wales Federal seat of Eden-Monaro during the 2007 election.

Iron Mike, who was critical of the then Howard government’s decision to go to Iraq, was holding an election meeting and was heckled by Mr Peter Phelps, the chief of staff of the sitting Liberal member of parliament, Mr Gary Nairn.

Mr Phelps, criticising Iron Mike’s opposition to the Iraq War and the fact that he still served on the mission, said “… And you took part in it willingly because you weren't sent over there, you volunteered, didn't you?”

Mike Kelly: "No, I was a soldier, and I did what I was ordered to do."

Peter Phelps: "Oh, like the guards at Belsen, perhaps? Are you using the Nuremberg Defence? No, no, come on."

The Nazi Germany comparison would have lost a lot of public sympathy for Mr Nairn’s election campaign, which saw Iron Mike take the seat.

Moreover, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is no stranger to using military glory, such as the awarding of the first Victoria Cross medal for bravery in 40 years, to score political brownie points. So why not appoint Iron Mike Kelly as Defence Minister?

If this present government is serious about the Defence portfolio and in breaking with bad habits from the past, then it needs to practice what it preaches.

However, the underlying problem and largely ignored by some in the media with their own agenda is that when you place politicians who have never served in the Defence Forces as Defence Minister, they are too busy trying to make up for it by “acting tough”. We do not need those with emotional baggage to prove their manhood by risking soldiers’ lives.

The delicious irony in all of this is that a new war has emerged, that between the “Desk Warriors”: journalists, strategic analysts and defence experts who have never served in uniform but who hold a vice-like grip on the debate.

Daley, in The Sunday Age article “Unfriendly fire”, on March 29, wrote:

Fitzgibbon has polarised Defence in pursuit of his reform objectives, where a string of ministers before him have effectively surrendered. He has also upset those his allies call the "visiting fellows" - the many strategic studies and defence academics, journalists and think-tank commentators who are close to the generals but whose views Fitzgibbon has largely dismissed.
Up until recently, Daley was a charter member of the Desk Warriors, so why has he turned against his brethren? Maybe there is trouble in paradise?

As a freelance journalist I have, over the years, scrutinised why people without hands-on military experience dominate the defence debate. Daley, together with his Sunday Age colleague Tom Hyland, has dismissed such questioning as irrelevant. Hyland calls it a “curious crusade”.

Oh the delicious irony!

Friday, March 27, 2009

by Sasha Uzunov
It was a case of the Australian media finally laying down their pom-poms and ending the cheerleading routine in reporting how tough the Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon was in his war with his own Defence Department.What civilians cannot understand is the Defence Department is a universe of its own. Outsiders who do not know how to operate in this environment get chewed up pretty quick. Mr Fitzgibbon, through no fault of his own, lacks two things: he has never served in uniform and secondly, he does not hold the aces when it comes to playing political poker with his own Defence Department.

Only one man, TEAM UZUNOV points out, is capable of doing so: Colonel Iron Mike Kelly, Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Defence.

It was a TEAM UZUNOV blog that first revealed the worsening relationship between the Minister and his own Department when an outsider, Mr Tim Holding, was being floated as go-between or trouble shooter in Afghanistan.Later, TEAM UZUNOV revealed that because of the war between Mr Fitzgibbon and his Department that the only honourable thing was for him to fall on his sword.The media have now revealed that Mr Fitzgibbon has apologised for not declaring trips he undertook to
China,25197,25249324-601,00.htmlJoel Fitzgibbon admits woman friend Helen Liu paid for China trips

Brad Norington and Patrick Walters March 27, 2009
Article from: The AustralianTHE future of Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon was in doubt last night after he was forced to apologise for failing to declare two trips he made to China that were paid for by Chinese businesswoman Helen Liu.The admission drew an immediate call by Malcolm Turnbull for Kevin Rudd to sack Mr Fitzgibbon.Revelation of the trips came after it was reported yesterday a covert investigation by officials from Mr Fitzgibbon's own Defence Department allegedly unearthed security concerns about his links with Ms Liu. The Defence Department's internal security agency has begun its own urgent investigation into the allegations that Defence officials spied on the minister...

---TEAM UZUNOV is not suggesting anything untoward in Mr Fitzgibbon's behavior and respects his privacy. However, with a real shooting war raging between the Taliban and Australian soldiers in Afghanistan the sideshow has taken the focus off that...Mr Fitzgibbon was lightly rebuked by the Australian media when it was also revealed he had taken a mate on a joyride into a warzone on board a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) flight. defends friend's Afghan tripMaria HawthorneJuly 30, 2008Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon says he has no regrets about his decision to take a friend on an official trip to war-torn Afghanistan.University academic Scott Holmes paid his own way to accompany Mr Fitzgibbon to the Anzac Day service in Gallipoli, with the trip also taking in Ankara and the Middle East.But they made an unscheduled diversion to Tarin Kowt after Australian soldier Jason Marks was killed in Afghanistan on their last night in Ankara.The opposition has labelled the trip "Joel's joy flight" and questioned the additional cost and security risk of taking Professor Holmes, an economics specialist and part-time adviser in Mr Fitzgibbon's electorate office, into Afghanistan.-------------------------------------------------

It is a pity that the Australian media play follow the pack mentality when reporting defence issues. The recent change in that behaviour could be explained that Mr Fitzgibbon's position has become untenable so the media now feel safe to move against him, without losing the privileges of free embedded trips to the Australian Army base in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan.Such cynical behaviour by the media does not serve the Australian taxpayer and his or her right to know about the goings on with the Defence Department-------------------------------------

Thursday, March 12, 2009DEFENCE MINISTER MUST GO
By Sasha UzunovCopyright 2009
Regardless of the SASR pay dispute, you know it is time for Australia's Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon to fall on his sword when he publicly has to wage a media war to bring his department under control.So much has been made by some journalists, acting more like cheerleaders and unofficial spin doctors, about how tough, feisty and angry Mr Fitzgibbon is with the Defence Department.He has launched a well crafted media campaign where he has vented his “anger” at his department over being kept in the dark on a number of issues and the break down in communication of events in Afghanistan. In an unusual move, his predecessor, Dr Brendan Nelson, from the opposition, backed him up in Federal Parliament. Subsequent events, such as the SASR pay dispute, have confirmed what many have been saying for a long time, and that is Mr Fitzgibbon is out of his

Friday, January 30, 2009 -
ExclusiveTim Holding - Brumby’s man turned PM Rudd’s international man of mystery?

By Sasha Uzunov

Copyright 2009

Mr Tim Holding, a Victorian State government minister who is a former Australian Army Reserve Special Forces soldier, will not confirm nor deny speculation about him undertaking a short fact finding mission to Afghanistan on behalf of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

A prominent strategic analyst, who has the close ear of governments, and speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he wanted to “float the idea of Mr Holding undertaking a fact finding mission to the Australian base in Tarin Kowt province [in Southern Afghanistan].”read more:

The Age, Diary Column,
Tuesday, 3 February 2009.
Timmy, don't forget to pack the water canteen

TIM Holding was dubbed "Twinkle Twinkle" because he was considered a little star, and he's really made an impact in the water portfolio with those faulty four-minute shower timers that last for 40 minutes or four hours. But Dim's moment to shine may have arrived.Former Australian soldier Sasha Uzunov, now a photo-journalist, writes in his blog that Holding (below) could be destined for Afghanistan as Kevin Rudd's "eyes and ears" on the ground. You see, Holding is well credentialed as a former member of the Army Reserve in the 1st Commando Regiment - and he's Tourism Minister.A "prominent Canberra strategic analyst" told Uzunov: "Mr Holding is an intelligent young politician with links to special forces. The Australian media underestimate his ability, which is why he would be ideal for the mission: he would slip under the media radar."The analyst claimed the PM was not happy with the flow of information from Afghanistan so the analyst would suggest Holding embark on a "fact-finding mission" to the Australian base in Tarin Kowt. Diary asked Commando Holding about swapping a fluoro vest for a flak jacket, and he more