Two Muslim women say their participation in an ABC documentary pitched as a “bridge-building” exercise between Islam and the wider community has left them fearful for their safety.
Raisah bint Alan Douglas and 54-year-old Rabiah Hutchinson, the so-called “matriarch” of radical Islam in Australia, have accused the makers of an ABC documentary, Jihadi Sheilas, of deceitful and unethical conduct, saying they were tricked into participating in what they fear will be a misleading documentary.
Yesterday, the women delivered a formal letter of protest to the ABC’s Sydney headquarters.
Ms Hutchinson said she had already been subject to a verbal attack as a result of the documentary, scheduled to screen tonight.
The two women told The Australian that they were approached separately by an ABC documentary crew last year and invited to participate.
They said they were explicitly and repeatedly told the material would be used on the ABC’s long-running Australian Story, a show Ms Douglas described as “patriotic (and) sympathetic”. She said she was told the focus of the program would be the women’s conversion to Islam, not their alleged links to extremists.
“They said, ‘We’re going to put you on Australian Story’,” Ms Douglas told The Australian.
“‘We’d like to because there’s a lot of negative publicity around Muslims and it seems to be getting worse. We, as a community channel, want to do something about it … It will be a bridge-building exercise between the Muslim community and the Australian general public.”‘
The women – neither of whom has seen the program – are concerned the final product portrays them as traitors.
Ms Hutchinson said she had already been verbally abused after being recognised from a promo for the show. She said in one incident, which occurred at Bankstown shopping centre on Sunday, a man yelled at her to “go back where you came from”.
“They actually mentioned the television program,” she said.
Even if the documentary portrayed the two in a favourable light, the “damage had already been done”, Ms Hutchinson said.
“The whole point is that this was presented to Raisa as her own Australian Story, to me as my own Australian Story,” she said.
Australian Story allows subjects to narrate their own stories and as such is considered a softer option for interviewees.
Ms Douglas said she would not have participated if she had known her interviews were going to run anywhere else. She said her security was particularly at risk as she does not cover her face.
The ABC’s head of national programs, Alan Sunderland, who yesterday met the women, said while they may have been told their interviews would air on Australian Story, it would have been mentioned as one of several possibilities: “I have spoken to the two reporters and they are adamant that they weren’t repeatedly told it would be an Australian Story project.”
Mr Sunderland said the reporters, Mary Ann Jolley and Renata Gombac, worked for the ABC’s News and Current Affairs division, but it was not uncommon for reporters to work across different programs. Gombac worked for the ABC’s Investigative Unit, Mr Sunderland said.
He did not know if that fact had been disclosed to either woman.
Neither Jolley nor Gombac returned The Australian’s calls yesterday and Mr Sunderland said the ABC would not be making them available for comment.
Ms Hutchinson and Ms Douglas are known to authorities over alleged links with terrorist groups.