Chaining up a granny is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tabloid TV tactics. On Friday, Crikey asked readers to share their Today Tonight and A Current Affair stories. Here’s one for each program to kick things off.

Brett Howard (former Manager of Glebe Village Sydney) writes: In the wake of the Childers Backpackers fire some years ago, which tragically claimed the lives of a number of people, the media was awash with stories of backpackers’ hostels being poorly equipped to deal with fire and not following fire regulations. Around this time I was the Manager of a backpackers’ hostel in Glebe, Sydney when suddenly A Current Affair arrived. As the hostel I was managing had excellent (and ongoing) fire prevention facilities — including full smoke detection and sprinkler systems (with direct connection to the fire brigade), fire rated doors, fire plans published in every room, hydrants etc — I gladly spoke to them as I naturally assumed that ACA were to do a positive story about hostels doing the right thing and looking after their customers. How wrong I was. As some of the sprinkler systems had recently been upgraded in one of our new buildings — there were some small burn marks high on the walls where the welding together of the sprinkler pipe had taken place. Our maintenance crew had not yet managed to touch up the paint work in these areas. ACA took footage of these burn marks and showed them in close-up in the story — thereby giving the false impression that fire had occurred in the hostel. They interspersed this footage with edited responses of my own, which they used in a completely different context to the manner in which they were asked — and footage of another fire damaged building they had managed to find somewhere and which was not one of ours — indeed it was not even in our area — it could have been in Tasmania for all we know. Naturally I was outraged at this blatant misrepresentation and the fact that ACA were attempting to capitalise on the tragic Childers story. Sadly the owners of the business decided that pursuing ACA in the courts would be too expensive. Thankfully the vast majority of backpackers would have been watching Neighbours rather than ACA and thus ACA‘s story had little (if any) effect on the business. I have never watched ACA since that time and never will ever again. Thank god for Neighbours!

Telstra spinner Rod Bruem writes: Congratulations on opening up debate on the tactics of tabloid TV. At Telstra we scored a small but worthless win against Today Tonight in December with ACMA finally ruling (after a year) that the program had misled viewers with one of their many Telstra-bashing stories. Afterwards I had a phone call from the public affairs manager at the Child Support Agency who told me of the horrors they’ve experienced with some of the reports A Current Affair has done chasing parents who’ve allegedly “failed to pay” when in fact they have paid. My advice to them by the way was that complaining to ACMA was clearly a waste of time, we only did it to try to generate some annoying paperwork for Seven. The best solution is to tell the horror stories in other media.

CRIKEY: Send your tabloid TV stories to [email protected]

Peter Fray

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