Our tabloid TV insider, Mike Moore, reports on a compelling Brisbane Supreme Court case involving some vicious wild animals:
It’s the kind of intro Ray Martin would love: ‘When 11 year old Hannah
Thompson was rescued from the jaws of a crocodile off Cape York last
week, little did she and her relieved and grateful parents realise
their ordeal was just beginning.’

But, sadly, the story of little Hannah and the shark has not been a happy one for Ray and his A Current Affair team.

What started as a tabloid TV wet dream is quickly turning into a
gripping behind-the-scenes tale that threatens to shine a light on the
murky swamp of current affairs TV.

Let’s start at the beginning. Just as little Hannah landed safely on
dry land, the sharks entered the water. First came that old media tart,
Bob Hawke, a family friend, who advised the parents to milk the story
for all it was worth and sell an interview to the highest bidder.

After all, within hours, the story had traversed the world: Hero saves girl from crocodile

Smelling blood, and a ratings killer, the terrible twins of TV current
affairs, Today Tonight and A Current Affair, pounced. ACA got the
early running, getting Hannah’s mum to sign up for a cosy interview
with Uncle Ray Martin for ten grand.

Just as ACA was setting up their story, set to screen on Wednesday
night, Today Tonight pounced with a better offer, sealing the deal in
dramatic style by taking away mum and daughter from the clutches of ACA
in a chopper, Apocalypse Now-style.

TT had already signed the hero of the hour, Roy Turner, who apparently
had a documentary deal with Seven. Miffed, Nine elected to test their
legal rights in the Supreme Court. Or in the words of a Seven insider:
“The ACA bullies decided to try and gag an 11-year-old-kid who’d
survived a horrifying ordeal just because they no longer wanted to do
it with them.”

It’s a piquant case, because in taking their action, Nine risked
putting to the test their “talent contracts”. Whether this is a smart
move is yet to be seen. It may well only serve to air a side of the
business that insiders prefer be kept confidential. In the
take-no-prisoners world of tabloid TV, both ACA and TT have been known
to try to talk talent out of agreements done with the other side. As an
act of last resort, ACA has even got Uncle Ray to hit the phone and
persuade the talent with his mellifluous voice, cheesy charm and
winning ways.

The croc story took a twist yesterday, when the Courier Mail reported
that “Channel 9 yesterday won an eleventh-hour injunction preventing
Channel 7’s Today Tonight program from broadcasting an interview with
11- year-old Hannah Thompson and her mother.”

The paper claimed that Justice George Fryberg granted an interim
injunction. But Seven’s lawyers hit back with a strongly-worded
letter to News Ltd claiming the Curious Snail got it horribly wrong and
demanding a correction.

Freehills partner Terry McBride went on the attack: “His Honour Mr
Justice Fryberg did not award an injunction against our clients. In
fact, His Honour’s view was that the balance of convenience favoured
our clients and he declined to grant the application for an injunction.”

“Further, he awarded our clients their costs of responding to the
application,” wrote McBride, noting that Fryberg did grant an
injunction against the girl’s mother, preventing her from giving any
interviews to Seven about the rescue until 5:00pm on 30 April 2004.

In a finishing flourish, McBride fumed: “Our clients are understandably
appalled at the inaccuracy of the report that has been published and we
request your immediate attention to this matter.”

We await the News Ltd response with interest, in a saga that reeks of
self-interest and hypocrisy. Surely, when a tabloid TV show
claims to be “appalled at the inaccuracy” of another meeja outlet, it
really must be getting chilly in hell.

Meanwhile, check out the Courier Mail story here: TV rivals fight over croc girl exclusive

Peter Fray

FINAL HOURS: Save up to 50% on a year of Crikey

This extraordinary year is almost at an end. But we know that time waits for no one, and we won’t either. This is the time to get on board with Crikey.

Subscribe before midnight tonight and choose what you pay for a year of Crikey.

Save up to 50% or dig deeper so we can dig deeper.

See you in 2021.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

SAVE 50%