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Outing and media ethics

Sat 29 May 2010 In: Features View at Wayback View at NDHA

David Campbell On May 20, former New South Wales Transport Minister David Campbell (50) was filmed leaving Kens, a Sydney gay sauna. He resigned his portfolio, but it hasn't ended there. Why? Well, the Australian LGBT community appears to be in an uproar about it. Speaking to an audience of business and political leaders at a sporting conference, former Australian High Court Justice Michael Kirby slammed Channel Seven News' Adam Walters for 'serial homophobia' after he broke the story. Justice Kirby reminded his audience that Seven News had earlier made defamatory charges against the late John Marsden, Sydney solicitor, out gay man and former Law Society of New South Wales President over pedophilia charges. Marsden was awarded almost six million dollars damages in 2001, but died from cancer in 2006. It hasn't helped Seven's case that it has shifted tack since Walters filed the original story. He claimed initially that this was a matter of taxpayer-subsidised sleaze, except the only 'misdemeanour' appears to have been personal use of a subsidised car. He has now argued that it was exposure of alleged 'hypocrisy.' The New South Wales Civil Liberties Association and Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby deplored the outing, according to ABC News. But was Walters conduct entirely disinterested? Seven News' Adam Walters has been previously involved in a long-standing relationship with dumped ALP State Government Health Minister Reba Meagher, which soured, and the newsroom had previously been stonewalled by Campbell over his whereabouts during a twelve-hour Sydney metropolitan traffic holdup, according to the Crikey news commentary website. From being an involuntary disclosure of a former State Cabinet minister's sexual identity, this has become a gripping debate over the ethics of 'outing'. Was Walters acting in a prurient and sub-professional manner, out of personal animus? Should Campbell's sexual identity have remained a private matter- especially given that his wife is reportedly battling cancer and the stress involved cannot have been good for her health at this difficult time? Can outing ever be justified if the subject of outing hasn't behaved in a malicious or hypocratical manner toward other LGBT individuals or our community? According to Michelangelo Signorile (The Advocate), it can be justified if the individual in question was a prior active homophobe. He notes the cases of Californian State Senator Pete Ashburn and former US Idaho Senator Larry Craig, both of whom had prior antigay voting records but were protected by the 'right to privacy' beforehand. However, in the case of David Campbell, the 'outer' wasn't gay, and Campbell doesn't seem to have been an active homophobe. Amongst journalists, opinion is divided. New Zealand 3 News Sydney correspondent and blogger Amanda Gillies questioned why Campbell should be supported in this context. She argues that he 'lied' to the 'public' through 'passing' as a 'caring loving family man' while he was having gay sex 'on the side' for the last twenty years. He used a ministerial car. She asserts that it is the closetry that is 'questionable'. Was Campbell ever blackmailed due to his closeted sexual identity, she ponders? One wonders why she described Campbell's plight as a 'dirty secret'. However, Sydney Morning Herald blogger Jason Akemanis argued that Campbell should have been judged on the basis of his operational competence as an NSW State Cabinet Minister and not his sexual identity. Certainly, the NSW ALP State Government is probably suffering from terminal incumbency fatigue and is riddled by incompetence and corruption, he concedes, but the Campbell outing saga has nothing to do with concrete questions of far greater public concern than what two consenting adults do legally in a private setting. And certainly, it must be conceded that Campbell has come under legitimate criticism for his arguable 'mishandling' of Sydney's CBD Metro rail transit project (2009/2010), but this sorry case had nothing to do with such questions of ministerial operational conduct or competence. In current developments, NSW ALP State Premier Kristina Keneally has stated that she is open to welcoming Campbell back into her Cabinet at some future point. The debate over outing, journalist ethics, the right to privacy and whether involuntary disclosure of sexuality is justifiable continues... Recommended: Larry Gross: Contested Closets: The Politics and Ethics of Outing: University of Minnesota Press: 1993. "Kirby: Seven News filled with serial homophobes:" Digital Spy: 22.05.10: Andrew Cook: "The Minister, the Gay Sauna and A Reporter with Scores to Settle" Crikey: 21.05.10: Amanda Gillies: "Dirty Secret Lies" 3 News: Jason Akemanis: "Channel 7 report on David Campbell and Gay Sex Club a disgrace" Sydney Morning Herald: 25.05.10: Michelangelo Signorile: "A Case for Outing at All Levels" Advocate: June/July 2010: 24-25. Craig Young - 29th May 2010    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Saturday, 29th May 2010 - 11:37am

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