ben moretti on Thu, 18 Apr 2002 17:25:48 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> refugees are non-persons, double plus good

Refugees denied human face
By Mark Forbes, Kerry Taylor
April 18 2002

Taking photographs that could "humanise or personalise" asylum seekers was  
banned by former defence minister Peter Reith's office, the Senate inquiry
into children-overboard claims was told yesterday.

Defence officials said Mr Reith's staff did not want to allow photographs to
create sympathy for asylum seekers.

The director of defence communication strategies, Brian Humphreys, told the
hearing that Mr Reith's media adviser, Ross Hampton, ordered last September
that military photographers not take pictures of asylum seekers. The
military was given guidelines to ensure "no personalising or humanising
images" were taken.

Later, defence media liaison director Tim Bloomfield described government
restrictions preventing any military comment on last year's asylum
seekers operation as a form of censorship.

New evidence also revealed that the Prime Minister's department was told that
claims that photographs purportedly showing children being thrown overboard
were false the day after the pictures were released. Prime Minister John
Howard has claimed he only heard of "some doubts" about the photographs a
month later.

The navy director of operations, Commander Piers Chatterton, told the hearing
that he told the Defence Force's prime ministerial liaison officer, Commander
Stefan King, on October 11 that the photographs - released by Mr Reith as
proof of the overboard allegations - were in fact taken during a rescue
from a sinking ship.
Commander Chatterton said he passed on the details as "official information".
He had expected the story to be corrected, but did not know what action
Commander King took.

The inquiry is now certain to call Commander King to determine who he told of
the error.

Mr Bloomfield said restrictions imposed by Mr Hampton preventing defence
officials from answering questions on asylum seekers were "a form of
censorship" preventing misinformation from being corrected. All questions
on the asylum-seeker operation were to be referred to the minister's
office, Mr Bloomfield said.

Defence communication head Jenny McKenry said she told Mr Reith's senior
adviser, Mike Scrafton, that the photographs his minister released last
year were misrepresented. She sent him clear evidence of the
misrepresentation on October 11, she told the hearing.

The former chairwoman of the Prime Minister's people-smuggling taskforce,
Jane Halton, earlier denied she had been advised of doubts about the
claims that children had been thrown overboard.

Ms Halton said she never saw a Defence Strategic Command report on the incident
received by the Prime Minister's department on October 8 and that it
might have been destroyed.

Ms Halton also said she had never seen a defence chronology of events
that arrived at the Prime Minister's department in early October, despite
ordering it. It included a footnote saying there was no indication that
children had been thrown overboard.

Meanwhile, RAAF chief Air Marshal Angus Houston denied that excessive
force had been used against asylum seekers as claimed on ABC's Four
Corners. He said cattle prods were not issued to officers and capsicum
spray was used only once when a group of people tried to disable a boat's

ben moretti

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