The Nine Network has a publicity problem. Its image is being battered by poor ratings and by an aggressive and misleading PR campaign. But this morning there seems to have been a fightback in the Sydney Morning Herald with an article by David Dale that will almost certainly bring a counter reaction because of its awful accuracy.

It has a near classic headline: Nine wakes up to harsh reality and contains the classic opening lines:

“When he was press secretary of the then NSW Premier, Neville Wran, David Hurley created an immortal quote about a particular political embarrassment. We’re eating a turd sandwich on this one and we’re gonna have to say it’s yummy.

“Nowawdays as director of corporate affairs for Channel Nine, Mr Hurley wakes up every day to a hamper of turd sandwiches. He is due for another one this morning when audience totals for last week are released”.

The short article by Dale, a former editor of The Bulletin and senior journalist for Fairfax (with memory obviously of Hurley’s rough days as Nifty Wran’s flack catcher and abuse deliverer) then goes on to detail a number of Nine’s programming difficulties, such as Starstruck, Today Tonight, Sydney News and Joey. Surprisingly, he failed to mention the most expensive sandwich, the revamped Today show.

Dale goes on to say that Nine “distracts attention” from its current failings by emphasising “other’s misfortunes”, such as pointing out that Ten was “a distant third”. Well, yes it is, so that’s not a bad thing to point out. All’s fair in love, war and TV PR (and media spin).

The last paragraph reads:

“This morning’s sandwich may not smell quite so bad, as Nine and Seven seem to be neck and neck, but no amount of sauce is going to help Nine’s boss, Kerry Packer, enjoy the taste”.

That’s quite a declaration from Dale and the SMH (Dale was sacked by Kerry Packer from The Bulletin after running for a second time the now legendary Australia’s 100 most appalling people list).

But Dale had a point about the misleading and distracting PR coming from Nine. In what is now quite typical of Nine’s spin is the completely misleading way it is selling itself at the moment, was this gem from its PR department on Sunday. It’s about its performance last week:

NINE’S CLEAN SWEEP – WINS NATIONALLY, ON THE EAST COAST, IN 16-39s AND 25-54s

In a highly competitive week, official OZTAM figures released today show Nine has claimed victory with a 28.4 per cent share of Total People (6pm – midnight) in the fourth week of official ratings for 2005. Ten was a distant third and 7.0 points off the winning pace with 21.4 while Seven had 28.4.

Did you read that carefully, the real story is that Seven and Nine tied for top spot in the network battle last week with a 28.4% share.

Nine didn’t win, nor did Seven. It was a tie. A tie is not a win. And Nine didn’t have a East Coast win either, it lost to Seven in Sydney. Nine might claim that it had an East Coast win in 16 to 30 and 25 to 54 demographics, but it goes on to claim ‘victory’. You can’t claim victory when you tie.The prize is shared.

This is symptomatic of the approach the Nine PR machine has at the moment, hectoring phone calls, SMS messages and emails written in response to articles that have pointed to Nine’s problems or the success of Seven in particular.

TV writers on other papers have received the treatment. It is not nice, it is silly and it demeans the people doing it.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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