On Wednesday last week, Channel Nine Melbourne sacked one of its news cameramen Simon Fuller after an incident on the streets with a man named Gad Amr on 1 April. On that day Gad’s son Omar Amr, 19, was released by Melbourne Magistrates Court on strict bail conditions after being accused of a riot in the suburb of Oakleigh last month in which drag-race fans trashed a Bob Jane T-Mart store. Amr and two fellow defendants Hussein Alameddine and Aziz Elbayehare are due to reappear in court on 27 July. (photo: ABC)
The Oakleigh riot was instigated by the cancellation of a proposed Easter drag race at Calder Park which was sponsored by Bob Jane T-Marts. On 19 March Disappointed fans took to the streets to protest the decision but became violent when it came upon 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 in any way racially motivated. However it is likely the Amrs felt they were being unfairly treated as Channel Seven and Nine camera operators followed them down the street after their court appearance. Such behaviour by camera operators may be unedifying, but it is hardly unusual. The pedestrian parade is a staple of TV news court reporting usually with the suspect / victim covering their face as they walk away quickly from the camera.
It is difficult to say exactly why this case differed from the thousands like it that have taken place near Australian courthouses. Occasionally they turn violent if the victim feels the camera crews have taken too many liberties but mostly people just try to get away from the situation as quickly as they can. The situation is unlikely to change any time soon as news directors insist on footage from this charade as part of their court coverage. It was Channel Nine cameraman Simon Fuller’s job to follow the Amrs out of the court room and grab footage of Omar for that night’s news.
When confronted by Gad Amr and asked to stop filming, Fuller’s automatic reply was “I’m just doing my job”. Fuller was mostly right. In following Amr down the street he was doing his job. 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 for Amr and Fuller. 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.”
As the argument continued, it degenerated further into a swearing match. The son Omar, called Fuller “a fucking knuckle” to which Fuller replied “you fucking terrorist”. It is likely that 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.
In my view, Fuller was a scapegoat. There was much 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. (The irony is that this is exactly what rivals Channel Seven and Ten did with the footage while Nine did not show any of it.) His racist attack on the Amrs of “fucking terrorist” was incredibly stupid and unsurprisingly provocative though the Amrs' own behaviour (particularly the son Omar’s) in the incident was not beyond reproach either. However it could be argued Fuller's obscenity was heat of the moment stuff that could have been dealt with a rebuke and a personal apology to the Amrs.
I believe Fuller is now unemployed not because he did all those things but because his behaviour was publicly revealed. He besmirched Nine not because he overstepped the mark but because he was caught making a racial slur. I very much doubt Channel Nine no longer condone camera operators “just doing their job” when they invade the privacy of people walking down the street. Individuals need to be responsible for their actions, but their employers must be clear about what is expected of them. Fuller, in my view, 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 he got involved in the story, abused his position and denied the “terrorist” slur was 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.”