Now for the soul searching
Time for answers from Channel Nine.
With the good news that four 60 Minutes crew members are homeward-bound attention will now turn to Nine for answers.
Desperate Brisbane mum Sally Faulkner, who is expected to follow soon, appears to have paid a high-price for freedom after a “child-rescue” plan went wrong. The fate for those from the Child Abduction Recovery International (CARI), headed by Adam Whittington, is less clear.
Nine has paid compensation for the release of reporter Tara Brown, producer Stephen Rice, cameraman Ben Williamson and sound recordist David Ballment.
Until now it hasn’t confirmed rumours it paid $115,000 to effectively finance the CARI operation. Nine’s official line is that it wouldn’t comment while its crew were behind bars. It also claimed it does not comment on payment for stories.
But Nine has indeed commented in the past.
One of those was for a 60 Minutes story on Baby Gammy presented by Tara Brown in 2014:
60 Minutes executive producer Tom Malone said: “We never comment on any commercial arrangements between 60 Minutes and our interview subjects but given the nature of this story, it’s important our viewers know that no money has been or will be paid to the parents.
“However, 60 Minutes will be making a donation to the charity Hands Across the Water, which is raising money for Gammy’s ongoing treatment and care.”
In 2012 Nine was criticised for alleged payments in an interview with the wife of killer Max Sica, after he was locked away for 35 years for murdering three children:
A Current Affair bureau chief Amanda Paterson said “For the record, ACA has not paid Shiv Sica or the Sica family one cent.”
She declined to comment on whether Brisbane public relations agent Lyall Mercer was paid for arranging the interview.
Also in 2012 60 Minutes interviewed the girlfriend of Kings Cross bash victim Thomas Kelly:
A Channel 9 spokeswoman said that the interviewees were not paid for their 60 Minutes appearance.
In 2009 ACA also interviewed family members at the centre of a “Kyle & Jackie O” radio prank involving a 14yo girl:
Nine advised there was no payment sought nor offered for this interview, after an approach was made by the family to Nine.
Meanwhile reports claim the Sally Faulkner story was offered to other media who rejected it, before it landed at 60 Minutes under former executive producer Tom Malone, and was inherited by current EP Kirsty Thomson.
TV Tonight understands both Inside Story and A Current Affair also rejected the story.
Attention must now turn to Nine management under CEO Hugh Marks to be frank with audiences about the mistakes and responsibilities therein.
It’s something his predecessor was particularly good at doing whenever the network ‘mucked up.’
Viewers are also likely to take a dim view if the post-analysis with participants is played out for TV ratings. The audience has already ruled on the legality of 60 Minutes participation in the story. Many express concern for the children at the centre of the case. Nine’s brand has taken a battering.
Payment for media stories by TV networks is unlikely to cease and, as a recent case with Kerri-Anne Kennerley demonstrated- often benefits both sides of the table. But the 60 Minutes saga does give pause for thought: How far do we go in the pursuit of news? What are the risks? Is it legal? Is it safe for crew?
On that front Nine gets a fail. And it’s time it said so.