60 Minutes Australia, the oddly long-running tabloid show “Down Under,” went way down and way under any standards of journalistic practice, ethics and human decency in an August 2023 show they aired about Scientology.
Biased and bigoted from beginning to end, the underlying problem was their “expert” source. Not an expert by any definition, but rather a discredited hack foisted off on the unsuspecting audience—anti-Scientology and antireligious bigot Tony Ortega. Channel 9 not only gave him a public platform to spew his vile hatred of believers, but portrayed him—falsely—as a “journalist” and “expert on Scientology.”
He is neither. Ortega has worked as an unemployed blogger since he was fired as editor of The Village Voice in 2012.
As for his knowledge of Scientology, Ortega draws all of his “information” from other anti-Scientologists, most of them expelled from the Church for unethical, immoral or illegal conduct. He has never been inside a Scientology Church, has never studied the religion and has spoken to only a handful of Scientologists he called to “interview” with offensive questions about deeply personal matters.
And yet Ortega was given unchallenged airtime to malign Scientology. The producers did not respond to questions emailed by a Freedom reporter after the August show.
Contacted again two months later, a producer with 60 Minutes Australia was asked if they run background checks on sources used in their broadcasts.
Their reply: “Of course we background our sources. There is plenty of due diligence done…. You need to check the background on your sources, where your sources are coming from, their credibility, I guess.”
The claim of “plenty of due diligence” was gutted when the producer told a Freedom reported they not only knew nothing of Tony Ortega’s connection to the infamous website Backpage.com but didn’t even know what Backpage was.
Ortega blamed the children—the victims.
That “small number” was refuted by FAIR Girls, a trafficking victim support group: “Virtually all of FAIR Girls’ clients—including some as young as eleven—have at some point been sold through Backpage.com.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children documented that Backpage was involved in 73 percent of all child trafficking reports they received from the general public.
As pressure from protesters and government officials heated up against the website, Ortega ranted: “The First Amendment was shouted down in the name of children.… Having run off Craigslist [another online website that formerly advertised prostitutes], reformers, the devout and the government-funded have turned their guns upon Village Voice Media.”
In truth, he was delighted with his bosses’ business acumen: “The people I work for were smart enough to start Backpage.com.”
“The whole point of Backpage.com is that we aren’t involved after two consenting adults find each other through the community bulletin board,” he said. Backpage.com “exists solely so that people can freely express themselves, sometimes in ways that make other people uncomfortable.”
A federal court in Phoenix saw it differently and on November 16, 2023, handed down guilty verdicts which included 17 counts of facilitating prostitution. Additionally, two former executives of Backpage.com were convicted of one charge of conspiracy and multiple counts of money laundering. Former Backpage.com owner Michael Lacey was convicted on one count of money laundering. All three face sentences that could spell life in prison.
Backpage.com pulled in over $500 million from 2004 until the federal government shut it down in 2018.
“It is true that Village Voice Media has a stake in this discussion,” Ortega admitted, “but the facts speak for themselves.”
The facts apparently didn’t speak loud enough for 60 Minutes Australia to have even dim awareness of it and Ortega’s part in it, let alone the six years of legal proceedings against its principals, the latest trial ending just days before the producer was contacted. A quick online search easily would have told them the story.
Either 60 Minutes Australia didn’t bother to look or they looked and didn’t care. They needed an anti-Scientology mouthpiece who reliably would go along with their anti-Scientology story angle, and Ortega is always on call for that. The producer boasted that Ortega “actually has been quite a source for us on Scientology.”
When the evidence was presented to the producer that Ortega could not be further from an “expert” or a credible source on Scientology—well-versed only in anti-Scientology invective from other antireligionists or of his own invention—the producer’s response was: “Tony wouldn’t be the only expert who hasn’t spoken to anyone in Scientology.”
And therein lies the definition of “expert” and the state of truth-telling and fact-finding at 60 Minutes Australia.