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Nine Newspapers cock up op ed by Wing Commander (Ret’d): error or deception?

Update 2 December 2019: War Memorial website has been amended by addition of this para of biodata:

Retired wing commander Sharon Bown is a nurse who served in Afghanistan and East Timor and is a member of the Australian War Memorial Council. This article was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 29 November 2019.

Update 29 November 2019 pm: Nine Newspapers have fixed the incorrect spelling but have added nothing to the author bio. So, the error has been fixed but the deception remains. The War Memorial has put the op ed on its website, with no mention of where it appears – and no mention that Ms Bown is a member of the Memorial Council. Deception doubled-down.

Today’s online Age and Sydney Morning Herald carry an op ed by Sharon Bown, former RAAF nurse, supporting the proposed $500m expansion of the Australian War Memorial. The piece is written from the viewpoint of a recent veteran,  supports the therapeutic value of exhibits at the Memorial, bags the suggestion that the Memorial’s Mitchell campus could satisfactorily house retired military kit, and objects to the idea that service in recent small-scale conflicts is less deserving of recognition than service in larger wars. The article praises the management and staff of the Memorial.

The article concludes with a clever misrepresentation of opposition to the expansion project:

In our free and democratic society, individuals have the right to question the cost involved in supporting our service men and women, but may we never forget that the Australian War Memorial has already been paid for – with the blood of Australia’s finest.

To correct this furphy, those who question this expenditure do not question the cost of supporting service people; instead, they question whether the expansion expenditure will provide that support.

Now for the crinkly bits. The online versions of this story – and the hard copy in the SMH – misspell the author’s name as ‘Brown’ rather than ‘Bown’. That is down to the sub-editor and we pointed out the error to The Age.

More important is the way the author is described: ‘Retired wing commander Sharon Brown [sic] is a nurse who served in Afghanistan and East Timor’. There is no mention that Wing Commander Bown (Ret’d) is a member of the Council of the Memorial (reappointed this year), who spoke recently at the launch of the display of the proposed extensions.

That may be down to a sub-editor, but it looks more like deception. Of course, Wing Commander Bown is entitled to speak about her experience and how she believes the Memorial has helped her and people like her. But readers need to know about her affiliations as well as her personal story.

We drew the attention of The Age to the problem with the online version of the article but have heard nothing. We will mention it to the Memorial, also.

David Stephens*

29 November 2019 updated