SYDNEY - The producer behind an Australian television program's involvement in a mother's botched child-snatching operation in Lebanon has lost his job, as the show's founder on Friday dubbed the debacle “the gravest misadventure in the program's history.”
The comment by Australia's “60 Minutes” founder Gerald Stone came amid the release of a damning internal review into the incident, in which the program paid a so-called child recovery agency to snatch an Australian woman's two children back from her estranged Lebanese husband.
Sally Faulkner said her children's father, Ali al-Amin, took them from their home in Australia to Beirut on a holiday last year and never returned. In April, Faulkner and a “60 Minutes” crew covering her story went to Beirut in a bid to get back the children. But after agents hired by “60 Minutes” grabbed the children off a Beirut street, the four-member TV crew, Faulkner, two agents from the Britain-based Child Abduction Recovery International company and two Lebanese men were jailed on kidnapping charges.
Stephen Rice, the producer of the story, will leave the company effective immediately, while other staff involved in the piece received formal warnings, according to a statement by the program's network, Channel Nine.
“We got too close to the story and suffered damaging consequences,” Nine CEO Hugh Marks said in a statement.
The review, conducted by current and former Nine executives, cited a series of failures, including violating company policy by directly paying the child recovery agency to snatch the children. The review also said the producers and reporting team involved in the story failed to raise critical questions such as whether their behavior could be seen as encouraging Faulkner to commit an illegal act in Lebanon and whether the TV crew itself was breaking the law.
“This has been the gravest misadventure in the program's history,” Stone, a member of the review panel, said in a statement. “It's clear from our findings that inexcusable errors were made.”
The children were snatched from their grandmother - al-Amin's mother - and a domestic worker while on their way to school in Beirut. Security camera footage showed assailants knocking the grandmother to the ground before driving off with the children. A man was seen filming from the car.
Faulkner and the TV crew were released on bail and have returned to Australia, but the judge in the case has said they will be expected to return to Lebanon to stand trial if the charges against them are not dropped.