A Seven Network journalist has defended himself after a storm of criticism erupted following the network’s broadcast of remarks made by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
The reporter, Mark Riley, denied he ambushed Opposition Leader Tony Abbott over his “shit happens” remarks made about the death of a soldier in Afghanistan, AAP reported.
He said he gave Mr Abbott’s office more than two hours’ notice before confronting the opposition leader with footage of the exchange, taken during a visit to Afghanistan in October.
Media commentators, the RSL and Defence Association backed Mr Abbott, while on Twitter, the hashtag #shithappens accompanied hundreds of tweets over the morning, with a majority criticising Seven’s decision to air the remarks.
Others questioned not only Abbott’s language, but his ability to handle the situation.
The soldier’s father, and the Sydney Morning Herald’s media editor Tim Dicks, were in no mood to back Mr Abbott.
Yet Mr Riley said Abbott had time to forumalate a response. He said that after discussing the matter with Mr Abbott’s press secretary, the opposition leader’s office organised the meeting, which was recorded.
“I briefed Mr Abbott’s office on exactly what I was going to ask him, and with two-and-a-half hours notice they nominated a place … to have the interview,” Mr Riley told ABC Radio on Wednesday.
“It wasn’t an ambush. It was an organised interview and they had two-and-a-half hours’ notice,” Mr Riley told ABC Radio on Wednesday.
Mr Riley said the network obtained the vision of the exchange in Afghanistan between Mr Abbott and military personnel under freedom of information laws.
When told that no single factor was to blame for the death of Jared MacKinney, Mr Abbott said: “It’s pretty obvious that, well, sometimes shit happens, doesn’t it?”
One of the soldiers then says: “It certainly does, yeah.” Those comments were not broadcast in the initial report on Seven.
Have your say on the comments and broadcast
Speaking about Seven’s coverage of his comments, Mr Abbott said: “A lot of people would have seen that broadcast. They’ll make their own decision about what TV channels choose to broadcast.”
On his refusal to answer some of Mark Riley’s questions on the issue, the opposition leader said: “As a general principle I think as dignified a silence as you can muster is sometimes the best response.”
Liberal frontbencher Andrew Robb said Channel Seven should apologise to Mr Abbott, claiming the broadcaster ambushed the federal opposition leader over the “shit happens” remarks.
“It was a desperately low act,” Mr Robb told ABC Radio.