Custody cases can get extremely complex, especially when two parents live in different cities, counties or even countries. Although custody disagreements happen all the time, generally we don’t see journalists getting into the middle of such issues—especially when a potential kidnapping is involved. This week, a 60 Minutes crew based in Australia did just that when they followed a mother from Australia to Lebanon who was looking to take back her children. They were caught, and the crew is now in hot water.
Here’s what happened. Australian mother Sally Faulkner was once married to a Lebanese man named Ali el-Amien, who says they lived in Lebanon together for a time before Faulkner ultimately opted to return to her home country in 2013. At the time, the couple already had two children, Noah and Lahela, who are now four and six, respectively. When she moved back home, she took the kids with her and “tore up their passports,” according to their dad. ABC reports that Sally Faulkner later agreed to let the kids go on holiday to visit their father and he simply kept them. This led to a major custody dispute.
Then, 60 Minutes reportedly got involved. Reports indicate that on April 6 Sally Faulkner and a team that included the 60 Minutes crew and some child extraction experts from Britain’s Child Abduction Recovery International went to Beirut to try and get Noah and Lahela back. They were caught on camera when they found the kids with their paternal grandmother and took them from her arms and into an automobile. CCTV also shows someone was filming the incident from the vehicle. They were able to drive away with the kids and were taken to a safe house, but the Lebanese authorities were quickly on the case. Nine people were arrested in Beirut last Thursday and are currently being detained, according to SBS.
The Channel 9 60 Minutes team included reporter Tara Brown, sound technician David Ballment, producer Stephen Rice and cameraman Ben Williamson. If charges are brought, they could be punishable by up to three years in prison.
Journalists have been detained, jailed or even captured when filming in the past, but often these instances relate more to warfare or reporting from totalitarian countries rather than child custody cases. When we think of kidnapping cases, we often think of strangers kidnapping children or adults out of the blue and not custody disputes such as this one, but reports indicate that “religiously inspired laws” might go against Sally Faulkner, especially under these circumstances. In Lebanon, rights for mothers “are limited,” to say the least.
How and why 60 Minutes decided to get involved is unclear at this point, as are some of the key points of the case, which seem to focus on he-said, she-said stories from both Sally Faulkner and Ali el-Amien. It could be a while before this case gets sorted out, but we’ll keep you updated in the meantime.