Media storm of the month August 2011 – Channel 9 Choppergate

When a media outlet is caught up in a scandal, rather than busy exposing one, the results are often nasty and always very public.

The News of the World scandal shone the light on the worst of the U.K tabloids and their non-existent relationship with ethics – and the scalps followed.

Now here we are with the cringe worthy media storm of the month for August: Channel NINE Brisbane’s faked chopper crosses.

Sure, the deceit might be less extreme than the phone tapping saga, but the recriminations have been just as severe.

Since the fakery was exposed two NINE journalists (Melissa Mallet, Cameron Price) and a producer have been given their marching orders and seasoned news director Lee Anderson has resigned in protest over the sackings.

So what exactly went down? It goes a little something like this:

It was a wet and windy night in Brisbane on Sunday August 2 and the NINE news chopper was grounded on the network’s helipad by air traffic control.

The search for the body of Daniel Morcombe was big news in Queensland and the obvious lead story of the day. In TV newsland this kind of news necessitates a live cross, as throwing to a reporter who is “on the scene” lends an added layer of credibility to the report.

With this in mind it’s easy to see, with the 6pm deadline looming, how the fudged cross could have happened.

Viewers were none the wiser that Cameron Price was in fact sitting in the grounded chopper at Mt Coot-tha, despite apparently hovering somewhere “near Beerwah”.

The next day the secret was revealed. Seven News footage showed the NINE chopper on the helipad at the time of the cross and the network was forced into the usual motions: apologies were issued, investigations were launched.

But the real kicker came the following day, Tuesday August 23, when it was revealed that NINE had also faked another live cross just a day earlier.

On Saturday August 20 the NINE news anchor threw to Journalist Melissa Mallet apparently again “Near Beerwah” for an update on the Daniel Morcombe Story.

Unfortunately for NINE Airservices Australia flight tracker data showed the helicopter again nowhere near Beerwah at the time of the cross.

The chopper orbited NINE HQ at Mt Coot-tha for about ten minutes, then hovered above nearby Chapel Hill before landing again.

Commentators mourned the death of honest journalism, NINE was blasted from all sides and the embarrassed network was forced to fire some of those involved as damage control.

So what have we learned?

It’s obvious the journalists involved may have had no choice in the faked crosses and it’s sad to see promising careers ruined by some very poor judgment somewhere in the chain of command at NINE.

In the increasingly cutthroat, budget driven media landscape it’s not surprising that fakeries of this kind occur. Expect to see more as newsroom budgets in Australia continue to contract.

But despite all this, the biggest lesson for NINE must be that duping its audience for the sake of cheap showmanship is never, ever a good idea.

The level of public backlash to the faked crosses is proof positive that in 2011 people still value, and expect, truth and accuracy in news – a fact all media outlets would do well to heed.

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