Mark Willacy and ABC Investigations team win Gold Walkley; ABC awarded for bushfires and coronavirus coverage

ABC investigative journalist Mark Willacy and the ABC Investigations team worked for more than a year to get to the truth about alleged unlawful acts by Australia’s elite soldiers in Afghanistan. Tonight the ground-breaking reporting was recognised with the Gold Walkley Award, Australian journalism’s top honour.

Willacy and the ABC Investigations and Four Corners teams also won the Walkley for Investigative Journalism for “Killing Field“, which in March exposed killings and cover ups by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.

“This story was extremely sensitive and a difficult one to crack,” Willacy said. “We were dealing with allegations of criminal acts in a distant land by our most secretive and lethal special forces.

“For us to not only get a witness on camera, but to obtain and broadcast what we believe is the first footage of an alleged Australian military war crime, was a massive task – one that really underscores the ABC’s commitment to investigative journalism.

“This work built on some very brave reporting by my colleagues Dan Oakes and Sam Clark in their series “The Afghan Files”. Also thanks to everyone in Four Corners who supported this work so brilliantly.

“I’m really proud to be part of the ABC Investigations team started by Gaven Morris and led by Jo Puccini. It’s still a relatively new team and it’s breaking some big stories and proving it’s a real powerhouse in quality journalism.”

The ABC was the major prize-winner at this year’s Walkleys.

Among its other honours, the coverage of last summer’s bushfires, a combined effort by journalists from the News and Regional & Local teams, won the award for Coverage of A Major News Event or Issue, and the Coronacast podcast took the prize for Radio/Audio News and Current Affairs.

Hosted by health expert and broadcaster Dr Norman Swan and ABC health and science journalist Tegan Taylor, and produced by Will Ockenden, Coronacast launched on 3 March and has gone on to address hundreds of questions from listeners.

“When we started our little podcast we had no idea what we had walked into,” said Swan. “Our goal now is the same as on day one: to inform, explain and answer, and provide a sense of solidity in a time of uncertainty and huge change.”

Sports reporter Russell Jackson won the award for Feature Writing (Over 4000 Words) for his powerful story of the racial abuse experienced by trailblazing Indigenous AFL player Robert Muir, which earlier this year also won the Grant Hattam Award for Excellence in Sports Journalism, voted on by all AFL players.

Managing Director David Anderson paid tribute to the finalists and winners – as well as to all the ABC’s journalists, content-makers and teams.

“Along with the rest of the ABC, I’m proud of all our journalists and the work they do for all Australians,” he said. “The ABC has never shied away from tackling the tough and important stories, and our reporting and storytelling this year has been brave, meticulous and compelling.

“Our bushfire and coronavirus coverage was essential, and the reporting of alleged atrocities in Afghanistan has demonstrated once again why the ABC’s commitment to public interest journalism is so crucial.”

Director, News Gaven Morris said the ABC’s investigative and public interest journalism had never been stronger.

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