It’s getting hard to distinguish between 60 Minutes and A Current Affair. Both are struggling in the ratings, especially ACA, and both are now resorting to prurient content to try and get traction with viewers.

60 Minutes last night paid the former Qantas flight attendant, Lisa Robertson, to flesh out (courtesy of surf shots in a bikini) her “I bonked Ralph Fiennes in a toilet” story. And tonight A Current Affair has AFL footballer Brendan Fevola and his wife on, talking about his fleeting relationship with model and Nine personality, Lara Bingle.

Unfortunately for 60 Minutes whatever they paid Ms Robinson for her story wasn’t money well spent. The program was watched by an average 1.159 million people, 58,000 more than a week before. The 7.30pm timeslot was won by Seven’s Ugly Betty, which averaged 1.85 million, down from 2.03 million a week ago.

And tonight’s edition of ACA will probably have a similar fate (with the exception of Melbourne where the tacky story is news). Now there are reports that model Lara Bingle is being pressured by Nine to tell her side of the story on ACA, which sounds like an employer overstepping some sort of mark.

So if you thought that Today Tonight‘s Jodi Power interview and last week’s fairytale about a chained up old woman were tacky and objectionable, 60 Minutes and A Current Affair have lurched right into the gutter without looking back.

It’s the sign of two programs facing pressure and reacting in the only way they know: get out the chequebook and get dirty. Two years ago 60 Minutes paid Mamdouh Habib for his exclusive story. That had some validity. But Lisa Roberston?

Meanwhile, Ben Fordham’s ACA report on Thursday night on Today Tonight’s chains story of Tuesday evening generated a lot of mirth at “gotcha” around Nine.

Unfortunately for viewers, it had no lasting impact as A Current Affair‘s ratings fell on Friday night to less than a million viewers, 990,000.

Today Tonight‘s audience eased a touch (all programs have lower viewing levels on Friday night) to 1.113 million, 96,000 more than ACA. ACA and TT tied Sydney, ACA won Brisbane and TT won Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth where the Seven program won by 86,000.

TT was an easy winner over the week.

But there was one point overlooked by Nine and Ben Fordham is the fun they had at Seven’s expense, the issue of credibility.  As stupid as Nicholas Boot’s efforts were in concocting the chained old lady story, Fordham and Nine didn’t mention their own effort at concoction.

Go here refresh your memories:

NSW Supreme Court judge Rex Smart yesterday ordered the Nine Network and ACA reporter Ben Fordham to pay $310,000 after ruling he trespassed on the land of builder Fred Cox.

Mr Cox sued after Fordham and a researcher pretended they were a young couple looking to build a home in order to confront the workman. The payment includes a record $230,000 for trespassing and $80,000 for engaging in false and misleading conduct in February 2002.”

In his decision, Justice Smart said the case was unusual because it justified exemplary damages of $120,000 to punish the defendants and discourage “blatant and high-handed trespass”.

Now that’s far worse than the silly chained story on TT.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey