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Australian letters

Attacking Sophie

Sir: Your contributor, Michael Danby (Sophie’s bad choices, The Spectator, 15 April 2017) has used your pages to again launch an unfair and inaccurate attack on the ABC’s Jerusalem correspondent, Sophie McNeill.

He states Ms McNeill’s article left a false and misleading impression that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) ‘found no evidence that Australian aid funds given to World Vision were diverted to Hamas’. This is what DFAT actually said: ‘DFAT has reviewed the management of its funding to World Vision in the Palestinian Territories. The review uncovered nothing to suggest any diversion of government funds.’ Which is exactly what was reported, word for word in the first paragraph of the story.

The headline, too, was an accurate summary of the DFAT release, which when read in context was not in any way misleading. The department itself has raised no concerns with either the article or the headline.

Ms McNeill went on to provide an accurate account of the status of World Vision Gaza employee Mohammed El Halabi’s trial at that time and sought a response from Israeli officials to DFAT’s statement.

The ABC, neither in this report nor anywhere else, has ever suggested that Mr El Halabi’s trial was over or that the DFAT review cleared him. On the contrary, the ABC has continued to report on his ongoing trial, including recent comments by an Israeli judge that he is ‘likely’ to be found guilty.

To suggest otherwise is itself misleading. To then make snide insinuations about Ms McNeill’s professionalism reveals that it is Mr Danby who is engaged in a campaign – against a hard-working reporter who has been subject to unprecedented scrutiny but has never been found wanting by any independent review of her work for the ABC. And, who in fact last year won two Walkley Awards, Australian journalism’s highest honour, for her Middle East coverage.
Gaven Morris
Director, ABC News

Liverpudlian censorship

Sir: I enjoyed Kelvin MacKenzie’s Diary (29 April). The obloquy thrown at him after his criticism of Everton footballer Ross Barkley would be laughable if it were not for the unpleasant undercurrent on Merseyside now. His remark was football banter, not a racist slur as the mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, has alleged.

What the mayor (or ‘Fat Joe’, as he is known) has failed to do is speak up for free speech. It is — and I deeply regret to say this about my home town — a scandal that newsagents in Liverpool are threatened by violent thugs if they stock the Sun.

There was a ‘Ban the Sun’ campaign in Liverpool before Hillsborough, run by trade unions which opposed Wapping. For a long time the campaign was in decline. But the fact that the Liverpool Echo is owned by the Mirror Group gives it endless fresh legs. It seems to me that for a lot of agitators, the fact that the Sun legitimised working-class people voting Tory was its biggest crime. This is not what freedom is about.
Stewart Finn
London SW17

Unionism must be fostered

Sir: Since, as your excellent leading article (29 April) recounts, the Tory party is once again ‘speaking to the whole of the UK’, it must rediscover its authentic unionist voice in Northern Ireland. Nowhere is the need for Mrs May’s much vaunted strong leadership more obvious than in this part of the Union which she has said is ‘precious’ to her. Despite interminable hours of talking, there is no possibility of resurrecting a devolved executive. The Assembly, elected in March, should be given the task of scrutinising public services and the large Northern Ireland civil service which delivers them. More responsibility for legislation will inevitably pass to Westminster, a prospect which British politicians have customarily viewed with dread. A Tory party determined to do its duty to the whole UK should not shrink from engaging more fully with the affairs of the province. In the process it should do everything possible to foster a renaissance of moderate, inclusive unionism, in eclipse since the tragic triumph of Ian Paisley over David Trimble more than a decade ago. The Tory party manifesto at the last election claimed that ‘we will always do our utmost to keep our family of nations together’. Mrs May must now give Northern Ireland a stronger place within the family in order to ensure its survival.
Alistair Lexden
House of Lords, London SW1

Hard and soft atheism

Sir: One would expect an Anglican theologian (as Theo Hobson is described) to be clearer than he seems to be about the distinction between atheism and secularism (‘Do do God’, 29 April). Atheism comes in hard and soft varieties, like Brexit: some claim certainty that God doesn’t exist, while some are merely waiting (though unexpectantly) for the proof that he does. Secularism on the other hand is agnostic about gods, only seeking a society free from the disproportionate influence of religion — one in which no one is either advantaged or disadvantaged because of their beliefs.
Tim Hudson
Chichester, West Sussex

A feat of belief

Sir: Many of us will share the sympathy felt by Rod Liddle for Tim Farron, whose Christian conscience on matters of gay sex was recently slayed by the merciless forces of liberal tolerance (29 April). But perhaps he underestimates the fascination we have for people like Tim, who seem genuinely able to believe, with fervent passion, two perfectly inconsistent things at once.
Rupert Higgins
Everdon, Northamptonshire

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