Just when Kerry Packer’s Channel Nine thought they were doing so well on the tsunami coverage, Australia’s biggest and most powerful television network broadcast some obviously bodgy pictures on January 3 and have now apologised twice on air. And Australia’s number one network wasn’t alone. Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News also got done, along with the Calgary Herald.

Nine stitched up by fake tsunami pictures

First subscriber email January 4

Channel Nine, controlled by Australia’s richest man Kerry Packer, and Sky News were both red-faced last night after being taken hook line and sinker by a series of obviously fake tsunami still photographs.

Crikey only saw the photos on Sky News at about 8pm but Channel Nine’s rising star Mark Ferguson read out an embarrassing apology on Nightline after they obviously ran the same unbelievable shots in the 6pm bulletin which was watched by more than one million Australians.

We were first sent the photos by an old journalist mate at 6.38pm on January 2 with the following message:

“I just received these from a Harvard friend. I don’t know how he got them but they’re some of the ‘best’ I’ve seen yet.”

I almost sent an email back saying they were just unbelievable and obviously fake but was instead kicking myself when Sky News ran the photos last night, until the Nightline apology went to air. Sky News credited a “Liverpool” newspaper and the Ferguson apology only referred to the photos being passed on by a newspaper. How could some of Australia’s biggest and shrewdest media outlets get done so badly.

Here is an example of a few of them which fooled people who should have known better.

Reaction the next day

From the second subscriber email on January 4

The CEO of Sky News Australia writes to Crikey:

Yes, I’m angered that we got done on those ridiculous photos that we first saw as junk mail on New Year’s Day. We ran them in error at 8pm last night and they were immediately dropped and deleted from our system after that.

We’ve posted an apology to our viewers on our website and we’ve taken measures to ensure that such stupidity does not happen again.

Angelos Frangopoulos
Sky News

CRIKEY: Yes, but where was the on air apology? Channel Nine waited until Nightline to apologise for showing the photos on the 6pm news, but at least it was on the same medium. If Crikey blunders in our emailed sealed section, we don’t issue the correction or apology on the less read website. Nine issued another apology at 6.14pm during the main bulletin in Sydney tonight so they haven’t backed away from this. Mark Ferguson claimed the photographs came from China.

Who conned Channel Nine?

Crikey hears that the ‘fake’ tsunami pictures were given to Channel Nine and Seven by the Fairfax Community Newspaper, The Liverpool Champion. Despite being a $4 billion company and Australasia’s premier newspaper group, Fairfax can obviously still produce some blundering staff.

It looks like their police/council reporter Steve D’Arcy (ex Gold Coast Bulletin) got the pics and handed them on to the networks. Nine has a Liverpool bureau in the same building as the Liverpool Champion in western Sydney. Word is D’Arcy passed the pictures on without authorisation from anyone at Fairfax.

Where did the fake photos come from?

From the January 5 subscriber email

Channel Nine has been claiming the ‘fake’ tsunami pictures came from a reporter on the Liverpool Champion, but this might just have been the easiest place to lay the blame.

Crikey hears that the photos made their way to Nine’s executive producer in Sydney via a Nine bureau reporter, rather than via Fairfax hack Steve D’Arcy as suggested in Crikey yesterday.

D’Arcy was working for the paper at the time, having cut his holidays short to help report on the tsunami. If Nine had done a little bit of web surfing before rushing ahead with the pictures they would quickly have discovered the photos’ true origin. Afteralll, they’ve now even turned up on the urban myth busting site Snopes.

Discredited for days

A subscriber writes:

I first saw those dodgy pictures on the BigFooty interactive website on the 29th December with the following remarks:

“I have received these pictures from a friend living & working in India.”

The following poster pointed out:

“Well I suggest you question his pictures, seeing as the buildings are Chinese & so are the people, obviously he doesn’t know the difference between Chinese & Indians.

Edit: Nice try, they were pics of the Chinese tragedy that happened a while back, obviously your friend is an insurance man as well.”

Another subscriber writes:

Ever since the tsunami broke I’ve been running a website – Wave of Destruction – dedicated to bringing people photos and videos from the tsunami. Long story short, for about 12 hours I had them up on my website after someone submitted them.

I pulled down the photos and made a public retractment, but it was too late – people just took the photos as gospel and started getting forwarded email box to email box.

Meanwhile, Nine is still placing the blame with The Liverpool Championin their latest apology, according to one subscriber:

There was another apology tonight (Tuesday) on Nine’s Sydney bulletin by Mark Ferguson (6.14 pm) about ‘those photographs’. He stated that they were received from a newspaper in good faith and that they were actually taken in China two years ago. A much better (and clearer) apology.

And Nine wasn’t the only major outlet to be sucked in. Check out this hugely embarrassing front page on the Calgary Herald.

A final explanation

Crikey hears that Liverpool Champion hack Steve D’Arcy was emailed the photographs from a Liverpool resident who is a member of the Indian community. That man had been emailed the pics from a friend of his in India.

Once Steve had the pics he emailed them on to Channel Nine. It appears that all involved may have thought that the pictures orginally came from India (or so they thought) and therefore had credibility.

Or perhaps it was a case of D’Arcy doing a favour for the Nine Liverpool bureau to ‘help out a mate’ and maybe further his own career down the track. One wonders what D’Arcy told Nine about where the pictures came from for Nine to fall hook, line and sinker.’

Thanks to Fark.com

Crikey has just had its biggest ever day of traffic thank to a link to this story from the Fark.com website which has so far notched up almost 40,000 page views on this story alone. Wow. It seems Australia’s biggest media outlets have now gone global with their blunder. We’re yet to hear of a more embarrassing tsunami media blunder anywhere in the world.

The saga of the fake tsunami pictures

Subscriber email – 14 January

Not only did Fairfax’s Liverpool Champion reporter Steve D’Arcy hand the fake tsunami pictures onto Channel Nine, but to other newspapers in the Fairfax Community Newspaper group. The Blacktown City Sun, The Hills News, The Northern News and the St Marys Star all ran one picture on page one with the headline ”Three Seconds from Death”.

Now the question being asked is: Just who will be fired over the stuff up? To run with the ”Special report by Steve D’Arcy” was this:

”This amazing photograph, previously unpublished, shows the first terrifying seconds as the first wave of the tsunami hit the coast of India. ‘It was emailed to Liverpool man Siri Auplish (who forwarded it to D’Arcy) by a relative, Kuldip Chharbra, who took the photograph with a telescopic lens. He survived but some of those in the photograph were swept to death seconds after it was taken.”

The only apology Crikey has heard of was seen was in the St Marys Star, and what an apology it was:

”Last week’s front page published a photograph showing people fleeing from a tsunami in India. The event actually occured, but it was from a previous tsunami to the one which has just taken thousands of lives in India. The photograph, supplied to us and other newspapers as well as television stations, was published by us in good faith. We apologise for misleading readers, but were unaware until after publication that the photograph was of a previous tsunami.”

The editor, Ros Smith, couldn’t even get the apology right, especially as the photograph is not even of a tsunami, but a tidal bore. So the Calgary Herald can feel content in the knowledge they were not the only paper to stuff this up.

CRIKEY: Our fake photos story has now been viewed a whopping 135,800 times so plenty of people around the world have enjoyed the Fairfax and Nine embarrassment. Links from the likes of www.Fark.com have driven so much interest that we’ve now had more traffic in January 2005 (575,708 page views during 294,307 visits) than we had for the whole of January 2004 (571,000 views during 228,841 visits).