Michael Mullins


Culture Conflict Between Journalists and Clergy



This project looks at mainstream media reporting of religion, and religious leaders' reaction to it.

Clergy facing media questions often look upon journalists as "the enemy". Former Governor-General Dr Peter Hollingworth said as much during an interview with ABC Radio National's Peter Thompson: "Like the enemy camped round about… we had the media stake-out". This was similar to an account given by Cardinal George Pell's of his "ambush" by Channel 9's 60 Minutes in 2002.

A contrasting media episode involved a 2003 Walkley Award winning two-part story on the 7:30 Report in which journalist David Hardacre prompted Jesuit head Fr Mark Raper to cease stonewalling, apologise to a sexual abuse victim, and concede that "the [Order's financial] assets are not as important as the people that we seek to serve". Presenter Maxine McKew called it a "genuinely transforming moment on television", and the Walkley judges commented that the story had "forced an elite order of the Catholic Church to admit its failings and confront the demons in the legal profession who had convinced them to abandon their duty of care".

The historian of cultures Greg Dening has applied to his histories of Catholic religious institutions in Australia, insights gained from his research into contact between Europeans and Indigenous people in the Pacific. In his original work Islands and Beaches, he speaks of the islands people make by means of "the reality they attribute to their categories, their roles, their institutions". His counterpoint is the beaches they "put around them with their definitions of 'we' and 'they'".