In an interview with United States whistleblower Chelsea Manning, Triple j Hack host Tom Tilley locked horns with her press minders after asking a question Manning says she could not answer because of legalities.
The former soldier, who was jailed for seven years after leaking classified military documents, was supposed to appear in Australia this week as part of her speaking tour. However, when her visa was effectively banned – a decision Manning described as “political” in her interview with Tilley – she decided to appear at her events via video link.
The activist is currently in New Zealand after being granted a working visa.
The first half of the phone interview with Tilley discusses Manning’s visa ban, her belief in the reasoning behind it, and national security. The conversation takes a turn when Tilley asks about the documents Manning released.
In particular Tilley wanted to know if Manning felt any regret about some of the documents being found in Osama bin Laden‘s compound after his death.
Manning replies, “I can’t really talk about the specifics of my court martial – the record of trial is still classified.”
However, Tilley pushes Manning asking why she couldn’t just answer if she felt any regret or such.
At this point in the interview, the press minders get involved
“I’m sorry to intervene -“
“You can intervene but it will go to air so go ahead,” Tilley immediately says. Another press minder hops on and Tilley repeats, “If you guys jump in, I’m going to put it on radio.”
The press minder responds that the interview will now end and Tilley demands an answer why. What follows is a minute of back and forth as Tilley asks what was wrong with the question.
“If you guys are talking about transparency and openness then surely we can do this interview.”
Then, a third voice joins the conversation.
“What’s a priority to us is being quite respectful to our talent and so at this point we do feel – I understand that there might not be anything wrong with your question but we just really want to be respectful to Chelsea because she’s given up her time to have this conversation -”
Tilley interrupts saying, “But don’t you think you should be respectful to the Australian people – a taxpayer-funded government broadcaster. We’re giving her the platform to come on and report her views, surely she can answer some reasonable questions.”
The interview wraps up seconds later.
Afterwards, Tilley explains the voices we heard were of Manning’s US agent and two press minders. Upon reflection, Tilley says it was “a tricky situation to handle” and explains his reasoning for the direction he took.
Tilley asked the question because he “believes that if someone with a controversial history is going to get the opportunity to speak on a national broadcaster with their political views, they also need to be prepared to answer some accountability questions for their actions.”
“As journalists, we can’t let a precedent be set where media minders can interrupt interviews whenever they want. It would mean they can do it all the time and they have too much power to manipulate the messages.”
Manning will speak via video link at two last events in Melbourne and Brisbane. She is scheduled for more speaking events in both Auckland and Wellington, this weekend.