Media booted off island for reporting on shark attacks
TV Journalist Hamish Macdonald has revealed his crew was kicked off Hamilton Island after being told they were "not welcome" by the island's management.
Macdonald and his film crew for The Sunday Project was escorted off Hamilton Island in Queensland in an apparent heavy-handed attempt at censorship, the broadcast journalist tweeted today.
MacDonald was in the Whitsundays earlier this week to record a story about a recent spate of shark attacks, with three serious incidents in two months. The segment is set to air this weekend.
Melbourne doctor Daniel Christidis was killed earlier this month after being savaged in Cid Harbour - the same spot where a Tasmanian woman and a 12-year-old girl from New Zealand were bitten.
Having covered war zones and terrorist attacks abroad, Mr MacDonald told news.com.au he was surprised at the nervous reception the Network 10 crew received.
"There have been suggestions that people were closing ranks and not talking about the issue and we knew that before we went there," he said.
"The people who did talk to us spoke of their feeling they had been silenced by the local tourism body. They've all been told not to talk and make the issue worse."
Operators of Hamilton Island forbid The Sunday Project from filming on its property and Mr MacDonald said they obeyed the directive.
He returned to Sydney late on Tuesday and the film crew was due to depart on Wednesday afternoon, transiting from a nearby location to Hamilton Island to fly home.
"The crew had to flew out of Hamilton Island and so there was a need to travel there," Mr MacDonald explained.
"We were informed the crew would be met at the boat and escorted to the airport. As it happened, no one was there waiting at the boat.
"But Hamilton Island staff appeared at the airport and gave the guys the distinct impression they were being monitored, as it were.
"They wanted to make sure the team was leaving and was on a flight out of there. That's the impression they got."
The bizarre response, despite the crew not being in the wrong, was consistent with the mood elsewhere in the Whitsundays, he said.
"It was difficult just getting anyone to take us out on a boat. A lot of operators are terrified of stepping a foot wrong with the local tourism body," he said.
"No one wanted to take us out on a boat, the islands didn't want us there, people were sensitive about our presence."
The Whitsundays region relies heavily on tourism and the run of shark attacks, after a period of no incidents, has had an impact on confidence.
Those who have defied gag orders from the local tourism authority are doing so out of frustration, Mr MacDonald said.
"There's a growing sense of frustration that they need to do something about it," he said
"The Queensland Government has put in place a policy that doesn't include drum lines or more costly measures that locals might've expected.
"That's what has led some people to speak out about how unsatisfied they are. They're worried about the longer-term impact on tourism."
Mr MacDonald said the kind of tactics employed by Hamilton Island staff were rarely encountered in his journalism work around Australia.
"You expect in a country like ours, where there's an open and free public debate on important issues that journalists can go about their work without restriction and communities being told not to talk."
It highlights the sensitivities and deep division in the community, he said, which seems at odds over how to approach the issue of sharks.
"Shutting down debater and trying to turn journalists away is not going to solve the real issue that's there, which is sharks."
In a statement, Hamilton Island management said: "The privacy of our guests is of paramount importance to Hamilton Island. It is within the rights of Hamilton Island management to exclude visitors... if their intention is to impinge on our guests' holiday experience."
The segment about shark attacks will air on The Sunday Project this Sunday at 6.30pm on Channel 10.