Monday, October 10, 2005

Bakhtiari brothers used again

On Thursday, 6 October, The Australian published an article with the screaming headline:

Bakhtiyari boys sorry for the lies

The article was based on a transcript of an interview in Islamabad on the ABC’s AM program the previous morning, in which 16-year-old Alamdar and 14-year-old Montazar, the two teenage sons of the Bakhtiari family (who became Australia’s best known Immigration detainees before they were deported to Pakistan earlier this year), apologised to the Australian Government, with Alamdar apparently saying, “It was all caused by our lies.”

It emerged soon enough that the interview had been erroneously transcribed – the transcript has since been corrected – and that Alamdar had actually said, “It was all caused by our lawyers.” That is, it was the lawyers and sundry other supporters, say the boys, who had dragged out the process of the family’s asylum application and led ultimately to their deportation.

The logic of what the boy’s had to say seems a little awry. Alamdar was quoted: “I don't blame the Australian Government for all this” – presumably for deporting them and their family. Well then, case closed.

But Alamdar continues, “I blame those who said they were helping us but they were not.” Blame them for what precisely? For, by their support and advocacy for the Bakhtiaris, hardening the Government’s stance against the family? Well, doesn’t that suggest that the Government’s treatment of the Bakhtiaris was coloured by political considerations, and was therefore by definition blameworthy.

It all begins to make sense, however, when the boys talk about their wish to return to Australia on a study visa to complete their education. One is saddened at the abject prostration of these desperate young lads before the mercy of the Australian Government.

Alamdar and Montazar Bakhtiari have been through so much already in their young lives. In particular, there was the incident at the British consulate in Melbourne in 2003, where they were manipulated by refugee activists into seeking asylum. No-one should forget the infamous images of those little kids being manhandled and jostled by the consular official as they were pursued by the media pack.

But to return to the present fiasco, The Australian compounds its lazy, if inadvertent, error by incorrectly reporting that, after supposedly apologising for the “lies”, “the boys reiterated their claim that they had never lived in the Pakistani city of Quetta.” In fact the boys don't say any such thing according to the transcript; rather it is ABC reporter Geoff Thompson who says, “The Bakhtiaris maintain they have never lived in the Pakistani border city of Quetta as the Australian Government has claimed.” That’s the only part of the transcript that touches on the Bakhtiari’s country of origin. I’m assuming that when Thompson says “the Bakhtiaris”, he’s referring to the family as a whole.

On Friday the print edition of The Australian published the following tiny and obscurely-placed article (page 2):


The ABC has been forced to make an embarrassing apology for misquoting a teenage son of Australia’s highest-profile asylum-seekers, the Bakhtiyari family.

The national broadcaster issued a transcript of its AM radio program yesterday quoting 16-year-old Alamdar Bakhtiyari apologising for the “lies” that led to his family’s deportation.

The Australian, which published extracts from the transcript yesterday, listened to a recording of the interview and recognises that the pronunciation of the word “lawyers” by Alamdar Bakhtiyari does, in fact, sound more like “lies”.

So is the Oz suggesting that maybe the kid really did say “lies”? It might save having to make a retraction, but it’s not really satisfactory to leave it hanging there, I’d have thought, given the slander implied by their article on Thursday.

The “Clarification” was placed opposite a further article on the facing page 3, which dealt with further fallout from the brothers’ criticism of some of their supporters. This article, in the print edition, refers readers to the paper’s comprehensively self-righteous editorial, but not to the clarification.

I thought the Oz’s redress of their albeit inadvertent error was somewhat inadequate, so on Friday night I submitted the following letter to the editor.

Your “clarification” in your Friday edition on the cock-up over the Bakhtiyari brothers’ interview transcript is just plain wrong. Having listened to the audio, my verdict is that Alamdar Bakhtiyari definitely said ‘lawyers’, not ‘lies’. He utters the word with an accented drawl, but the transition between syllables is discernable despite the poor audio quality.

Moreover, it’s clear from the context Alamdar can only have said ‘lawyers’. The clear intent of the brothers’ interview was to blame the lawyers and sundry supporters, while absolving the Government, for the family’s deportation. This for the stated purpose of obtaining re-admission to Australia to complete their education.

Therefore a retraction or apology, or some word of regret even, would be in order from The Australian, in view of the slander implied by Thursday’s screaming headline, and Friday’s compounding obfuscatory ‘clarification’.

It’s not such a huge climb-down, after all, since you can pass the buck to Aunty on account of the incorrect transcription.

To date, the Oz haven’t seen fit to publish my letter. Must be a reflection on the quality of my offering, I guess.

Regarding the audio of the ABC interview, it may also be noted that Alamdar a few sentences earlier had drawled what sounds to me like “the lawyers”, but this appears in the transcript as “(inaudible)”.

In the editorial mentioned above, the Oz piously stated: “The Bakhtiyaris believe they were used – they were.” And still they are – this time, to sell Murdoch’s newspaper.


Blogger NiCandCo said...

The Bakhtiyari girls went to school with my daughters-one in each of their classes and I personally witnessed the hell this family went through. They were used in many ways but what bothers me more is the people, like my daughters who had no interest in them politically but as human beings whom they grew to love. All the hooha surrounding them made it impossible for my girls to say goodbye to their friends when they left. Even now it's virtually impossible for them to be able to get in contact with them because the supposed caring Catholic woman who does know how to get in touch with them refuses to give this information to the friends of the Samina and Nagina. As far as I can tell it's keep the monopoly on them, as if they are a group of prized pigs. It digusts me. Those girls loved this country, they wanted to be Australian and they just wanted to stay with their friends.

10/10/05 6:30 PM  
Blogger Jacob A. Stam said...

Hi NiCandCo, thanks for stopping by. Sorry to hear your girls have in their own way become collateral damage in this saga. I don't know if you saw this bit in the Friday article I referred to:

Jeremy Khong, 15, a former classmate of Montazar at St Ignatius College in Adelaide, said he had been in touch with his friend, who was "fine (but) a bit lost within himself".

So much heartache for all concerned. Clearly "the law is the law", but there should also be compassion. Minister Vanstone, like Mr Ruddock before her, has discretionary powers that should particularly be applied in cases where children are involved.

10/10/05 9:42 PM  
Blogger Jacob A. Stam said...

Readers Please Note: As at this time, the main article above has, since time of original publication, been augmented with a few items of additional material, and modified slightly for (hopefully) improved readability.

10/10/05 11:11 PM  
Blogger NiCandCo said...

Jacob, that was how viewed this situation. I think that all assylum seekers cases should be judged on their own merits but in this case they really screwed up. I doubt very much by letting this one family stay it would have done damage at all. Just on a side note, I took my girls to the Ministers office and she refused to speak to either myself or them to explain why she was taking their friends away. She's a horrible nasty woman.

11/10/05 7:47 PM  
Blogger Jacob A. Stam said...

Hi NiCandCo. I guess Vanstone would reply that each case is judged on merit, according to the law, etc. It's true that Ministers of the Crown are bound by the governing legislation, but immigration law gives the Minister some scope for exercising discretionary powers. However, as you'll be aware, the prevailing view is that if you let one case slip through the "defences", the floodgates are open. That's pretty compelling for many supporters of "strong border protection".

Would've been interesting had you actually met her. A friend of mine - a card carrying member of the Labor Party, no less - actually met Peter Reith at an official function when he was in the Ministry. She declared him one of the most charming men she ever met. I suppose he probably wouldn't have been in Parliament otherwise, eh? That's the way of it.

I'll bet Vanstone could be similarly charming when she wants to be. But I heard her interviewed on ABC Radio last week, the interviewer had a rather different experience. In fact, most interviews I see/hear with her lately have been a bit fraught, obviously due to heat from the latest scandal (Alvarez/Solon).

Amanda can be extremely resilient and feisty. Currently she enjoys Howard's support, because he won't give ground either, so things aren't so bad for her so far. She'll feel it in the unlikely event Howard decides to cut-and-run (excuse the expression, we know John doesn't c&r). Cheers.

11/10/05 10:43 PM  

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