The cause of the Oakleigh riot was the cancellation of an Easter drag race at Calder Park sponsored by Bob Jane T-Marts. On 19 March disappointed fans took to the street to protest but became violent at a Bob Jane T-Mart store in Oakleigh. The store was torched and looted and the owner was lucky to escape with minor injuries. Hundreds of drag racing fans trashed the store, broke windows and stole car parts from inside, forcing bystanders to flee for safety. Although the three charged on 1 April were all middle-eastern, there was no suggestion the riot was racially motivated. However the Amrs felt unfairly treated by Channel Seven and Nine camera operators who followed them down the street after their court appearance. The camera operators’s behaviour may be unedifying, but is hardly unusual. The pedestrian parade is a staple of TV news court reporting often with the suspect / victim covering their face as they walk away from court. It was Simon Fuller’s job to follow the Amrs out of the court room and grab footage of Omar for that night’s Channel Nine news.When Gad Amr asked him to stop filming, Fuller’s reply was “I’m just doing my job”. Fuller was doing his job but the question is whether he was “just” doing that. In the footage of the incident dissected by Media Watch, Jonathan Holmes said “at most he needed a couple of shots of the pair. You’d think he’d have got enough by now.”
So why did Fuller keep shooting? It would appear from that moment on, it became personal. Amr came close to Fuller as if threatening (this was the only footage of the incident shown by an opportunistic Channel Seven whose own camera operator was also following the action). Fuller became defensive saying “You don’t touch me” and “You don’t touch people” before retreating to his Nuremberg Defence of “We’re just doing our jobs.” As Holmes said “You don’t touch people. But it’s fine, apparently, to stick a camera in their faces for minutes on end while they walk down a public street.”
The argument degenerated into a swearing match. The son Omar called Fuller “a fucking knuckle” to which Fuller replied “you fucking terrorist”. It is likely this insult cost Fuller his job. After Media Watch got hold of the footage and contacted Channel Nine, they were told Fuller was “stood down pending the completion of an investigation”. Two days later he was sacked.
Fuller was a scapegoat though he did wrong. He filmed the Amrs for too long but probably figured his employers would love the image of the aggressive middle easterners attacking an “innocent” media person. (This is exactly what Channel Seven and Ten did with the footage while Nine did not show any of it.) His racist attack of “fucking terrorist” was provocative though the Amrs’ own behaviour (particularly the son Omar’s) was aggressive also. Fuller’s obscenity was heat of the moment stuff that could have been dealt with a rebuke and a personal apology to the Amrs.
Fuller is now unemployed because his behaviour was publicly revealed. He besmirched Nine not because he overstepped the mark but because he was caught making a racial slur. Individuals need to be responsible for their actions, but their employers must be clear about what is expected of them. Fuller is a scapegoat for rotten corporate practices. Nine will feel good about themselves but they will continue to harass members of the public in the interest of news ratings.
For a vigorous rebuttal of my take on this, I am indebted to Jo White, an American-based Australian journalist, critic and researcher who goes by the online name of Mediamum. When I called Fuller a scapegoat on Twitter, White said he got what he deserved and it was people like him that gave journalists such a bad reputation. “What he did was unethical, reprehensible and about as bad as journalism gets,” wrote White. “He should have been sacked fifty times.” White said Fuller got involved in the story, abused his position and the “terrorist” slur was not a heat of the moment offence. “The problem is each journalist should take responsibility for their own actions and not hide behind employers,” she wrote. “Sacking Fuller won’t solve the problem. But it gets rid of one albeit small representation of it.”