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some appalling character assassinations in the past 12 months, Cricket Australia‟s and the media‟s attack on Greg Ritchie come to mind . But today‟s attack on James Hird is right up there. This issue is so damaging to a number of individuals, and the sport, you have an obligation to publish facts, not innuendo. According to you and M/s Wilson of the Age, Essendon will be charged by the AFL for alleged breaches, such as breaching “duty of care”, “bringing the game into disrepute” and “behaviour unbecoming”, which have nothing to do with WADA. To my knowledge WADA deals with doping infractions.
Item 1: “The AFL is expected to charge Essendon on Monday, together with the club’s coaching, training and medical staff, over abuse of its doping code – signalling tough penalties against coach James Hird, who condoned a program which multiple players received multiple injections of potentially dangerous drugs”. My Comment: 1. I haven‟t seen the AFL‟s doping code. However, as the Macquarie dictionary defines “dope” as a banned substance, I assume the AFL‟s code relates to the taking of banned substances. 2. At this stage I am unaware that ASADA has issued infraction notices against anyone. 3. “Over abuse of its doping code” implies Essendon players have taken banned substances. I think most decent reporters would have offered proof of such a claim. My understanding is no such determination has been made, nor infraction notices issued. This statement is in breach of the Press Council‟s code of conduct, and has undoubtedly damaged the Essendon players‟ reputations.
4. It implies that Hird condoned a doping program of banned drugs, and such comments are obviously severely damaging to his reputation, given no such findings have been made. 5. “Multiple injections” implies „injecting‟ is a sinister activity. It is no such thing as most diabetics would inform you. 6. “Potentially dangerous drugs” is a weasel‟s way of trying to nail Hird. I assume if the drugs weren‟t banned, they weren‟t dangerous, let alone potentially dangerous.
Item 2: “Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority sanctions against several Essendon players will follow but there is no end date.” My Comment: 1. This assumes ASADA has proof specific players have taken banned substances. If that is the case, why hasn‟t ASADA issued infraction notices? 2. If someone from ASADA or the ACC has leaked you this information they are more than likely in breach of the Crimes Act.
Item 3: On Friday, ASADA told its stakeholders the AFL would charge Essendon on Monday. My Comment: 1. A good journalist would have spelt out what Essendon players would be charged with. 2. Although I have only been briefed on the ASADA charter and haven‟t read it, I can‟t believe it allows ASADA to act as the communications arm of the AFL. Was Neil Sedaka‟s mate on leave? Why did ASADA stakeholders need to know what the AFL was doing? 3. Who are ASADA‟s stakeholders? I hope they don‟t include those two silly Labor Government ministers who grandstanded five months ago.
Item 4: This effectively means any weakness in ASADA’s legislation regarding penalties against “support people” can be covered by the AFL’s catch -all clause, “bringing the game into disrepute”. My Comment: 1. This implies that Essendon may not have breached any ASADA regulations, “but don‟t despair guys” (my guess at the quote), we have some mates at the AFL who will nail them anyway. 2. Any decent reporter would have defined what he thought “bringing the game into disrepute” meant, and then explained how Essendon was guilty of such a charge. 3. I believe the AFL has brought the game into disrepute. First, by agreeing to a joint investigation with ASADA when it was obvious there was a conflict of interest. Second, as Andrew Demetriou‟s comments about his conversation with former Essendon chairman, David Evans, differs from Hird‟s, the AFL has a major conflict of interest that makes it almost impossible for Hird to be seen to receive natural justice. Demetriou‟s comment that he was cleared by the ACC over this matter did damage to Hird‟s testimony. Furthermore, Demetriou‟s comment that Hird should consider resigning as coach also prejudiced Hird‟s position and is further proof of a conflict of interest. Once the AFL became aware of the conflicts of interest, it should have withdrawn from the joint investigation. Third, if the AFL did not follow the correct procedures when it allegedly found out over 12 months ago that Hird was looking into substances that may benefit his team, it has brought the game into disrepute. If the allegations are correct, Essendon would have either been given the go-ahead, or the AFL would have killed off the program in its infancy. Fourth, the ASADA-AFL articles written by Caroline Wilson in the Age imply at least one investigator has been leaking like Monty Panesar.
Item 5: For ASADA to make a case against Hird, club doctor Bruce Reid or football manager Danny Corcoran, it needs to establish the support person is guilty of drug administration (injecting banned drugs to players from its own stock) or trafficking (directly dispensing known performance-enhancing drugs to players.
My Comment: You have already implied in Item 1 above that Hird was guilty of this. Are you now retreating? If so, why didn‟t you state up front that ASADA has not found against Hird or the players.
Item 6: The recently released ASADA interim report on the Essendon investigation provides the AFL with enough evidence to charge the Bombers as a club, and their officials, leading to bans, loss of draft choices and fines. In-sofar as ASADA has not, at this point, established a doping infraction, a penalty of loss of premiership points for cheating may be hard to sustain. My Comment: 1. A student on work experience wouldn‟t have written two such contradictory sentences without explanation. Most of your readers would know that ASADA‟s charter is to identify infractions of the anti-doping regulations. According to your comment, ASADA hasn‟t done this. The evidence you talk about from ASADA for the AFL to charge the Bombers is based on alleged governance breaches. Few of your readers would know that such claims are not within the ASADA charter, and should have been told so. 2. If the AFL lays charges based on a report from ASADA, acting outside its charter, it will be bringing the game into disrepute. 3. Use of the word “cheating” is gutter journalism when no infraction notices have been issued.
Item 7: The 400-page document does not name one Bomber player because ASADA does not allow it to identify anyone until it issues a doping infraction. My Comment: This sounds like a feeble attempt to defend ASADA. It has had five plus months to ascertain whether there has been an infraction. Given the blustering by the two ministers at the media conference in February, it was reasonable to assume infractions would have been issued by now.
Item 8: “The AFL Commission’s response to the ASADA interim report is expected to reflect its concern at the duty of care over its most precious asset, its players.” My Comment: To make such a claim you must have had access to the AFL‟s operational procedures and human resources manual, not to mention having read the Essendon operational procedures and job responsibilities. Why didn‟t you include the relevant sections and the alleged breaches in your article so that we could make our own assessment of whether anyone has breached his duty of care?
Item 9: “While there is sympathy for Essendon players who complied with a doping regime condoned by Hird, they will not escape sanction simply because the WADA code demands an athlete be responsible for all substances he or she takes.” My Comment: 1. Your use of “a doping regime” is highly defamatory because it implies the Essendon players have taken banned substances. At this stage, ASADA hasn‟t issued infraction notices. 2. Suggesting the Essendon players will not escape sanctions implies the players have taken banned substances. What were the banned substances that the players took? 3. As it hasn‟t been proven that the players took banned substances it is gutter reporting to claim Hird condoned a “doping regime”.
Item 10: According to a source close to ASADA’s investigation, there will be several footballers in both codes taken to their tribunals. My Comment: 1. This is mealy-mouthed reporting. You have denigrated Hird against a background of him condoning a doping regime. At this stage there is no
evidence to support that allegation. At this stage, if Essendon is taken to an AFL tribunal it will be because of wishy-washy charges such as bringing the game into disrepute. It will have nothing to do with doping. 2. Why go after Hird before there is any evidence that he has done something wrong. You would be admired if you went after investigators who breached the Crimes Act, not to mention the respect you would win if you had the guts to name your sources. 3. Many people would cheer if you also examined statements by AFL officials to ascertain whether any had made comments that were prejudicial to Hird.
Item 11: Any soft sanctions will be appealed by WADA, which must maintain consistency with punishments in other sports and other countries, including stripping a gold medal from a 16-year-old Bulgarian gymnast at the Sydney Olympics because she tested positive to a banned substance. My Comment: 1. More underhanded reporting. Why link Essendon in the same paragraph to a gymnast guilty of taking a banned substance. ASADA hasn‟t issued infraction notices let alone found a single player guilty of taking a banned substance. 2. You have assured us the AFL will be issuing penalties against Essendon and Hird because of unsubstantiated breaches of duty of care and unsubstantiated charges of bringing the game into disrepute. What the heck have AFL penalties for those alleged actions got to do with WADA?
Item 12: As it transpires, the doping programs at both clubs (Essendon and Cronulla) were very different. Essendon’s being almost military with 30 – 40 injections each player, while Cronulla’s, the NRL’s poorest club, being ad hoc with four or five injections a player.
My Comment: 1. This is nonsense. Are you suggesting Cronulla should get favourable treatment because it is the NRL‟s poorest club? 2. The use of the expression “doping programs” implies Essendon players are guilty of taking banned substances. I must have missed that. When did ASADA issue infraction notices? 3. The only issue is whether the players are found guilty of taking banned substances. 4. If the substances weren‟t banned the number of injections is irrelevant.
Mr Masters, your article does a disservice to your profession. The only significant issue is whether the Essendon players took banned substances. Any other issue will be based on the need for the AFL to save face and demonise a scapegoat. You have damaged James Hird‟s reputation irreparably without any evidence or findings to support your case. You are supposed to be evenhanded. You have not attacked ASADA and nor questioned whether the AFL should be involved in a joint investigation when there are so many obvious conflicts of interest. You haven‟t even investigated whether the AFL, or any of its officials, have brought the game into disrepute. The Press Council‟s code of conduct outlines your responsibilities to the subject of your articles. Did you speak to James Hird before writing this nonsense? If not, you have breached your responsibilities under the Press Council‟s code.