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A special licence to investigate

By Sasha Uzunov - posted 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 McGeogh, 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.”

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About the Author

Sasha Uzunov graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia, in 1991. He enlisted in the Australian Regular Army as a soldier in 1995 and was allocated to infantry. He served two peacekeeping tours in East Timor (1999 and 2001). In 2002 he returned to civilian life as a photo journalist and film maker and has worked in The Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. His documentary film Timor Tour of Duty made its international debut in New York in October 2009. He blogs at Team Uzunov.

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