A Current Affair last night dined out at the expense of its bitter rival Today Tonight over the latter’s false story on Tuesday night about an old woman who it claimed was chaining herself to her bed in a Sydney retirement hostel.

ACA pointed out all the errors, detailed the background to how TT and Seven were sprung and revealed that the tipoff came from the Federal department of the Ageing and its Minister, Senator Santo Santoro. But the story’s impact was devalued by a stupid stunt by reporter Ben Fordham who got an elderly female actress to chain herself to the Martin Place doors of Seven’s Sydney studios.

If it was to make the point that that’s what TT reporter, Nicholas Boot, had done, then the ACA stunt was superfluous. Nine should remember that sometimes less is more.

Seven have sacked Boot, and all staff at the program and in the various newsrooms have been made aware of what will happen if there is a repeat offence.

Seven Network CEO, David Leckie and his news and Current Affairs boss were “mortified” at this self-inflicted wound to the credibility of TT and the Network.

So how were Seven and TT sprung? Well this is a note from the office of Senator Santoro:

The Department of Health and Ageing has been closely monitoring a dispute between a Sydney aged care facility and one of its residents.

After the initial story was aired on Today Tonight, the Department sent officers to the home, to talk to the management and the resident and ensure that both parties’ rights and obligation were being observed.

An officer who has established a relationship with the resident spoke to her, and noticed there were no chains. She asked where they were.

The resident advised that the crew from Today Tonight had brought the chains, and had taken them away after filming the interview.

She told the officer the camera operator and reporter had taken some time deciding whether she should be chained around her waist or her leg.

She further told the officer that the chains had been very heavy, particularly with the addition of two padlocks.

After speaking at length with the resident, the officer left with the clear impression that the proposal to chain the resident in her room had been initiated by the television station.

So some simple checks established the truth of the situation, which is what TT management should have attempted. But I am told the story was late being prepared and went to air with a minimum of checking due to the lateness. Should it have been held over…?

In terms of ratings TT won Wednesday night easily and ACA‘s audience didn’t lift. Last night it was closer, with TT winning nationally by 36,000: TT‘s audience was down 60,000, ACA‘s was up 102,000 on Wednesday.

But Thursday evenings always see low figures anyway. If there is any long term damage to TT it will show up on the high viewing nights of Monday through Wednesday next week.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey