Questionable news judgement at Seven Sydney. The lead story on Seven News in Sydney last night was an exclusive about a promising young rugby union player who had been caught and convicted of drink driving while under the age of 18 and without a licence. Making the story even “s-xier” was the fact that the player concerned is Aboriginal and in the NSW squad leaving for the first Super 14 game in South Africa this weekend. Should the player have been named? He was a juvenile at the time. Does this mean Seven will name all juvenile drivers convicted of drink driving, and being unlicensed, as the player was? Did Seven break the law in naming the player? The next story compounded whatever justification Seven had for the running the lead story. It wasn’t even news; it was a whinge from Mark Riley in Canberra about how the government was lifting excise on beer and fags (as it does on 1 February and 1 August each year). Not news – it happens, as regular as clockwork. In it Seven quoted John Thorpe, head of the Australian Hotels Association in NSW and a multi-millionaire hotelier, complaining about the tax take. So what; his association is a well known political donor and lobbyist, surely they can do their own whingeing without involving Seven News? Thorpe is the bloke whose association is facing a revolt from NSW pub owners who have leased their pubs only to find the lessors have flogged off the poker machine licences without any reference to the owners of the pubs. Mr Thorpe’s response has been to excommunicate those complaining pub lessees for daring to complain about this action. And Seven News and Mark Riley had the gall to think that an excise driven tax hike on beer was news? You can argue over whether Seven should have run the rugby player story; there’s no argument over the beer tax yarn. — Glenn Dyer (see Seven News’ response below)

Last night’s TV ratings

The Winners: I will have to stop putting my faith in TV guides because as many who watched would have realised, last night’s edition of The Rich List, Seven’s new game show at 7.30pm, was new. And its audience rose from Monday’s debut. Last night it did 1.556 million, 149,000 more than Monday. Now that’s promising for a TV network. It’s also a lot better than what happened to the format in the US. Second was Seven News with 1.467 million, followed by Home and Away (1.406 million), Ten’s 8.30pm drama, NCIS (1.396 million), Today Tonight (1.347 million), Nine News (1.247 million), A Current Affair (1.243 million) and the 7pm ABC News (1.010 million). Ten’s second ep of The Simpsons double header averaged 962,000 and the ODI night session averaged 935,000. The latest “grumpy” program, Grumpy Old Holidays on the ABC at 8pm averaged 929,000. How about one on grumpy cricket viewers of any age?

The Losers: Viewers who watched the England-NZ game on Nine. 24, The New Beginning on Seven from 8.30pm to 10.30pm. It averaged 857,000, and there are another 110 minutes to wade through on Thursday.

News & CA: Seven News again won nationally and in every market but Melbourne. Seven News had a margin of 220,000 nationally and 116,000 in Perth. Today Tonight beat A Current Affair by 104,000 nationally but the 119,000 margin in Perth helped. TT though won Sydney, Adelaide, Perth. ACA won Melbourne and Brisbane. ABC News again helped The 7.30 Report to 896,000. It withstood the cricket and The Rich List. Ten News At Five averaged 865,000. Its Late News/Sports Tonight package averaged 458,000 at 10.30pm; Nine’s Nightline had 219,000 at 11.45pm. SBS’s World News Australia late edition averaged 327,000, the 6.30pm version just 178,000. Not good. Sunrise was back over 400,000 at 411,000 for the second day of the new set, Today averaged 258,000.

The Stats: Seven won with a share of 28.7% (28.4% a week ago) from Nine with 27.2% (25.4%), Ten with 22.0% (24.2%), the ABC with 16.5% (17.1%) and SBS with 5.5% (5.0%). Seven won Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Nine won Brisbane and Adelaide. There was no cricket in Perth after the first two hours because the game wasn’t a sellout. Nine leads the week 31.7% to 31.5%. In regional areas Nine won through its affiliates WIN/NBN with 30.4% from Prime/7Qld with 26.7%, Southern Cross (Ten) with (21.1%), the ABC with 16.3% and SBS with 5.5%.

Glenn Dyer’s comments: Now the performance of The Rich List will thrill the Seven gang at Pyrmont but send a little shudder through Ten and Nine: Ten because it is going to make its performance on Monday nights at 7.30pm that much tougher and Nine for the same reason but it might also be more popular than just as a spoiler for Eddie McGuire’s 1 vs 100. TRL could become a destination which holds viewers to Seven and boosts Desperate Housewives at 8.30pm. That would make life a little tougher for Eddie. Tonight though is Seven’s real test: it’s a full-on new ratings night with the debut of the US series Heroes at 8.30pm and then the new series of Prison Break. A lot hangs on Seven getting those two hours right. Heroes is a cross between Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, My Favourite Martian, Charmed, Supernatural, Medium, Smallville and The Greatest American Hero (which was on the ABC eons ago), Superman and Superwoman and The Six Million Dollar Man.

Chris Willis, Seven’s Director of News in Sydney, writes: You may not remember it, but one of the definitions of news is “something the public didn’t know when they tuned in/ read the publication”.

Our first two stories fitted that category. The first laid out the facts and questioned the culture of a prominent Australian sporting team that allows its young men to drink and drive. It’s an issue that has some currency in the community, especially at a time when our young people are killing themselves on the roads through a combination of speed and drink driving. And we featured this in our story. We didn’t break any laws. New South Wales allows reporting on traffic offence proceedings involving a juvenile (other than in the Children’s Court). It seems the law recognises that if someone is old enough to be licensed to drive then he or she is old enough to be reported on when the Court deals with them for motor vehicle offences. We spent two days checking the facts and the legalities before running the story.

Our second story certainly was about “beer and cigs up” but the main point was about double taxation. Our story pointed out that excise on these products is levied after GST. So there is a tax on a tax. We also pointed out that this was the case with petrol until it became a political issue, when the federal government was pressured into changing the tax regime, saving consumers billions. As to quoting John Thorpe: he is the head of the AHA, the Australia wide organisation representing hoteliers, and was committing his organization (for the first time) to campaign against the federal government on the issue. That’s something we think people ought to know about. You never know it could force the federal government to change the tax regime on beer, which could save more billions.

A final point: if we based our content on whether we personally approved of the people we were quoting, there would be a lot of blanks in our stories. 

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey