Katharine Murphy June 07, 2012
The ex-prostitute who thought she had sex with Labor MP Craig Thomson, until she checked her passport.
MANY reputations have been tarnished in the Craig Thomson affair, and now a major commercial television network has joined the list of the accused.
A former prostitute claims Channel Nine aired allegations she made against the MP after she had told the network she was an unreliable witness and wanted to retract her story.
The woman last night apologised to Mr Thomson and his family, and argued it had been a case of mistaken identity. ''I feel absolutely terrible for Craig Thomson and his family.''
Nine's A Current Affair offered her $60,000 for an on-camera interview after she signed a sworn statement saying she had sex with Mr Thomson.
Last night she fronted Seven's Today Tonight program to say she believed she did not have sex with Mr Thomson, and would retract her sworn statement.
The woman said she told A Current Affair on May 21 via a text message that she was ''totally unsure'' she slept with Mr Thomson, and was therefore ''not a credible witness''.
She said Channel Nine broadcast the allegations anyway three days later without her knowledge, permission or consent. ''Once [reporter Justin Armsden] aired it, I felt really screwed over.''
A Current Affair reported on May 24 that it had a statutory declaration from a prostitute stating she had had sex with Mr Thomson.
Mr Thomson declined an offer by Nine to view the material, and next morning accused the network of gutter journalism.
The woman, who appeared on Seven wearing a wig and black-rimmed glasses, told Today Tonight her passport indicated she had been in New Zealand in May 2005, the time she was supposed to have been with Mr Thomson.
She said she had been unaware when approached by A Current Affair of the seriousness of Mr Thomson's political situation, and no one had told her the allegation might ''bring down the government''.
She said she had not received payment from Nine or Seven.
Today Tonight said last night the woman had been interviewed by Victorian police after her interview with the network.
Mr Thomson gave Today Tonight a statement saying he was relieved the woman had recanted the allegation. In a statement issued later through his spokesman, he said: ''In relation to tonight's interview on Channel Seven, the program speaks for itself.''
Labor MPs took to social media to blast the Nine Network and media standards. Victorian Labor MP Steve Gibbons said the imbroglio underscored the need for a media inquiry. ''Media outlets who print/put to air a story knowing it to be false should have their licence to broadcast/ print suspended for… ?'' Mr Gibbons tweeted.
A Current Affair executive producer Grant Williams last night defended his program.
He confirmed the woman had contacted the network indicating she was panicked and was no longer a credible witness. But he said that ''when contacted by reporter Justin Armsden she indicated verbally that she stood by her positive identification of Thomson.''
The woman told Today Tonight she was the prostitute at the centre of Nine's investigation, which covered an alleged transaction on May 7, 2005.
But Mr Williams rejects this. ''ACA have at no time asserted the woman featured on Today Tonight this evening was the prostitute involved in that transaction. To the contrary, ACA is aware that a prostitute other than the woman interviewed tonight was allegedly involved.''
This morning, chief government whip Joel Fitzgibbon said the tabloid treatment of Mr Thomson gave weight to proposed media reforms: "[It's] not the right path for Australia," he told ABC Radio.
"I would characterise what went to air last night as extraordinary," he said.
Mr Fitzgibbon argued that the Thomson TV saga should spur on media reforms already in the pipeline.
''[They are] the establishment of a tort of privacy and greater government regulations of the media,'' he said.
Mr Fitzgibbon said MPs expected journalists to hold them to account, but said this did not necessitate tabloid tactics.
"The sort of Fleet Street approach will be rejected by the community,'' he said.
With KATE McCLYMONT
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