The First Week’s Overview (Or: Nothing To Report Today, Boss)


Caption Coverage of the Royal Commission at the end of the week

The Royal Commission into child sexual abuse has been much-anticipated. After almost a year, it finally began public hearings at the beginning of last week. To the surprise of many, it did not begin with matters relating to religious organisations, instead focusing on an old case where Steven Larkins was jailed for forging his “Working with children “ documents, and being in possession of child pornography. Associated charges of abuse of boys in his Scouts group attracted a suspended sentence.

Larkins was arrested when he was head of the Hunter Aboriginal Children’s Services organization, which receives funding from the New South Wales State government. His association with the Scouts was as a volunteer, but he was employed during that time, sequentially, by the New South Wales education department, the Lutheran Church and the St. John of God Catholic Church religious order. This order has had serious cases of abuse in Australia.

The enquiry heard evidence from Scouts, the Hunter organisation, the New South Wales government and local police. It did not hear evidence from his other employers.

At the beginning of the week, the hearings attracted widespread media attention, even though it only went back over matters revealed during Larkins’ court case. By the middle of the week, reporting fell off dramatically, so that, basically, only the public broadcaster, the ABC, carried the story at all. By the end of the week, even the ABC dropped coverage.

Media organisations generally reflect public interest in their level of coverage of a story. On this basis, there was not much interest. This is most likely due to the fact that religious organisations, where most abuse occurred, were not the subject of the enquiry. International coverage was non-existent for the whole week, for probably this very reason.

Even with regards to the focus on the Scouts, it would have been disappointing for those who had given evidence in private hearings, against other Scouts leaders. There was one prominent case, which at the time Scouts said had been referred to the Royal Commission, which was not mentioned at all. During hearings, at least ten cases in NSW alone were identified, but these, too, received no mention of the details.

Two police officers who were involved with the Larkins case were questioned at the enquiry. However, none of the government officials involved with the stuff-up on his “working with children” accreditation was quizzed. The government officials who were quizzed were those in charge today, but who were not in the job at the time of the Larkins’ case. They both said that things were wrong then, but are good now.

This is reminiscent of the “warm-up” NSW government and Victorian Parliamentary enquiries, where church officials blamed their predecessors (who did not appear at the enquiries personally due to ill-health or death) and said that things were so much better now (see previous postings).

Most people are aware that Public Relations involve getting attention for something. Some are no so aware that a function of PR is also to keep things from getting much coverage. From this viewpoint, the PR Unit set up by the Catholic Church to deal with the fall-out from the Royal Commission (see previous postings) can give themselves a big pat on the back.

TOMORROW: Churches and working with children checks

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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