Terry Television wanders into the chequebook TV debate.
It’s come back to bite them on the bum. This mad push by the Nine
Network, and Seven to wave the cheque books at anything that lives and
breathes story and scoop them up into the loving gaze of A Current
Ray, or Today Tonight Naomi.

It’s all being done to gain victory in the 6.30 pm to 7 pm slot Monday to
Friday. The half hour of power and ego. Tabloid TV’s finest hour, which
along with the 6 pm news has marked the most intense fighting between
Seven and Nine Networks for some years.

It’s chequebooks to the fore, and because of the superior fire power of
PBL with Nine and the ACP magazines, it’s ACA Ray who’s been grabbing his
lion’s share of the stories. Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, the US tourist
who fell down a cliff in the Blue Mountains and of course the Queensland
quins which were born prematurely last weekend in Brisbane.

Here’s how Crikey has looked at the general question of cheque book
journalism: The high price of winning in current affairs

Of course, Seven’s Today Tonight has had its fair share of ‘scrapes’ and
jolly japes. There’s the now-notorious case of Sydney security guard
Karen Brown. This is what Crikey wrotes last
week: Tabloid TV at its exploitative worst

And then there was Ray Martin and ‘Tawdry Tabloidism’ in The
Media section last month, which Crikey covered here: Sprinkling pixie dust and perfume on ACA Ray

That phrase from the Amanda Meade story, ‘tawdry tabloidism’ has
certainly stuck this time around with Ray and his boss John Westacott.
The story is much, much bigger than they thought. Can they handle it?
Melbourne’s Herald Sun certainly could this morning –

It’s the nightmare of all tabloid, indeed all editors and journalists
and producers that one day the limb you have ventured down will be sawn
off by the very people you have promoted or highlighted (and Crikey is
not immune).

But when you have paid an estimated $150,000 between ACA and Woman’s Day
for the story, and no doubt beaten Seven to the yarn, you’d be expecting
an ordinary story about innocent baby snatched, then found, would be
just that. A guaranteed heart throbber.

And so it was with ACA on Tuesday night which milked the story for
everything it had. And ACA did very well in Melbourne with Baby Montana
and the mother.

A win everywhere over the hated TT and Naomi. Its the old story means
versus results. and ACA would say the means certainly justified the
results Tuesday night (as they did Monday with the good story on the
Perth cancer doctor with quite an amazingly solid reputation and record)

So what now? Do the means still justify the end? A woman and young child
in Canberra have been hurt. There’s a titilatting skeleton in the
cupboard. Who does Nine and Seven head for today? The spurned partner in
Canberra? The unlikely ‘love rat” in Giuseppe Barbaro, aged 48 and not
looking like he is the most romantic of partners?

The London tabloids would have no compunction. It would be how many
zeros in the cheques sir, madame!

Do the programs go back to Montana’s mother for her side, which would be
like revisiting the well a second time, but for what result?

And what does the ACP side of the equation at PBL do? Rewrite the story,
write another cheque?

Or perhaps does everyone stop and have a think and wonder if there’s any
credibility left in the story, apart from the heart-breaking orginal
story of the baby stolen by strangers. That is still the story. But
having paid $150,000 for it ACA, Ray Martin, Nine and ACP must be
wondering whether the whole experience have been worth it.

The fact that Mr Barbaro is facing drug charges, and has a double life
with another family in Canberra was missing on Tuesday night. It isn’t
now. How ACA , TT and the ACP magazines cover it from now on will be an
important test of their credbility, and how far they are down the
‘tawdry road of tabloidism”.

And by the way Seven news in Sydney certainly comprehensively scooped
Nine Wednesday evening with the exclusive on the family of Mamdouh Habib
speaking to him for the first time in Guantanamo Bay.

It was a scoop of the highest quality and left Nine floundering.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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