Should only people we like be paid for their stories?
We’re a bit squiffy about media outlets paying for stories in this country. Unlike in the UK, where any single mum with a third nipple can get a pay cheque from a newspaper, here we like our paid media appearances to be reserved for heroes or, at least, worthy folk.
No one begrudged the huge sums paid to Brant Webb and Todd Russell, who spent two weeks trapped down the Beaconsfield mine. They’d earned one of the biggest media cheques ever.
But going to air this Sunday night is a paid-for 60 Minutes interview with Gordon Wood, whose conviction for the murder of his girlfriend Caroline Byrne was recently quashed on appeal.
It’s such murky territory.
The beautiful and beloved Caroline Byrne was just 24 in 1995 when her body was found at the bottom of the cliff at the infamous Sydney suicide spot The Gap.
Wood’s trial was a festival of Sydney colour, with evidence given by deportment maven June Dally-Watkins (Caroline’s employer), and vivid tales of the exploits of the late-Rene Rivkin’s posse of young hangers-on (of which Wood was a member).
Everyone in the city had a strong opinion one way or another on Wood’s guilt or innocence.
Wood was convicted of throwing Caroline off The Gap and spent more than three years in jail for her murder, until this past February when the Court of Criminal Appeal overturned his conviction.
Her father is devastated.
Tony Byrne, 76, is convinced his daughter did not commit suicide. His main complaint against Nine, and its sister magazine the Women’s Weekly, which also paid Wood, appears to be that they weren’t clear with him about their plans.
He sent Nine a list of 12 questions he thinks Wood needed to answer, and this week told The Daily Telegraph:
“I said the reason I’m sending you this is because I wouldn’t want (Mr) Wood to be given money for what he has done and I hope you would not be doing anything with him and he said ‘no, we haven’t got anything planned with Gordon Wood’.”
Former NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos took to Twitter, saying: “The reckless indifference of channel 9 to the suffering of the Byrne family is demonstrated by the reported paid interview with Gordon Wood.”
Mr Byrne’s upset is totally understandable. It’s difficult to imagine what his life has been like for the past decade and a half.
But that’s not necessarily a good reason for others to attack Nine’s decision to pay for and run the interview.
The bottom line is Gordon Wood maintains he did not kill Caroline Byrne, and the Court of Criminal Appeal found there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove otherwise.
According to the law he’s done nothing wrong and spent three years in jail for no good reason. On the face of it, that’s a terrible thing to happen to someone.
But there’ll be plenty of people who haven’t had their minds changed by the appeal result. For them it will look like Nine is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to someone who seriously doesn’t deserve it.
Wood is no Stuart Diver, who was paid $250,000 for his story about surviving the Thredbo landslide.
He’s more of a Lindy Chamberlain, who all the way back in 1985 Nine paid $250,000 for exclusive rights to her story.
Chequebook journalism at the best of times can look a bit like dirty pool. This example looks particularly grubby, especially in the face of Mr Byrne’s upset. But it’s no worse than any other examples.
Let’s hope the interview is a good one.
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