Changing you bastards: On Seven and Molly Lord

After I heard about Seven 7’s social media blunder today, I sent out an email to my journalists. I gave them a link to Mumbrella’s story and told them this: “Channel Seven are in the poo after deleting comments from their Facebook page. Lesson for us: Never delete a user comment from Facebook (or any social media) just because it is critical of us or our actions. Hiding criticism only makes matters worse – and it becomes the story.  Instead, we should address any criticism directly.  There is only two good reasons to delete Facebook comments: they are either defamatory or are offensive to community standards (if in doubt, let me know).”
Later on, I thought of two more reasons to delete comments. Firstly, if there is an obvious unintentionally blunder on your own copy found immediately (call it the five second rule). Secondly if the comment is spam. There are other rules out there, but I stand by what I wrote to my people: don’t hide criticism. Criticism is a central plank of media behaviour but everyone notices the industry has a glass jaw when the tables are turned.
Channel Seven had the tables turned in a big way yesterday. Their Seven News Sydney Facebook page received a comment from Linda Goldspink-Lord. Goldspink-Lord announced herself as the mother of Molly Lord who was killed in an accident last week. Molly was just 13 when she came off a quad bike in Kembla Grange, NSW. Most of the press called a “freak accident”, but as someone who has ridden on these things, I know it could easily happen.
Goldspink-Lord said Channel Seven found out very early on about the accident and their reporter was on the scene while the girl was still laid out on the ground.  While the reporter was doing his job, he overstepped when he went around the grounds – apparently without permission – looking for an angle.  Then their helicopter flew overhead and grabbed pictures of Goldspink-Lord sitting with her dead daughter which it aired before she had time to notify relatives. Goldspink-Lord was incensed. Channel Seven didn’t care – they had great footage. But they were not prepared for Goldspink-Lord’s public rebuke. “Channel 7 you are a disgrace and what should have been a private moment between a mother and get (sic) daughter was exploited for the sake of a story. You Bastards.”
Channel Seven may not have liked it but its Facebook audience lapped it up. The comment was liked by 32,000 people. There were almost two thousand comments as the story span out of Channel Seven’s control. Then they deleted the comment.  It was too late, many had saved it for posterity and other media were onto the story. On every other post on Seven News Sydney’s Facebook page, the conversation was hijacked by those pointing out their sordid role in the Goldspink-Lord business.
At 11am today, Seven admitted defeat. Chris Willis, Director of News, 7 Sydney issued a statement. It read: “Ms Goldspink-Lord’s comments were removed from our site in error. We apologise for that. Taking into account her understandable distress over the coverage of Molly’s death, I did ask for the footage to be taken down. That happened but unfortunately her remarks were deleted as well. They are now being restored to our Facebook page. I would also like to stress that we have re-examined our reports into Molly’s tragic death and can find no video showing Ms Goldspink-Lord hugging her daughter. We were not the only television station to visit the family’s property. Our reporter did go to the house but left immediately he was told the family wished to make no comment. Our reporters and camera crews know that grieving families have to be approached with sensitivity and compassion.”

Social media commentator Lauren Papworth called it corporate karma. “Transparency and accountability aren’t just nice to haves they are part of everyday reality,” she said. But she was on less certain ground to hail Seven’s defeat as the end of “news gathering in its traditional form”. Seven may be more careful in future but in their desperate battle for ratings with Nine, will still most likely stop at nothing for a story. They will remain “you bastards”.

The behaviour of these juggernauts is one reason why the Australian public’s trust in the media is the lowest in the developed world. It is also why trust is the number one issue facing the industry. Forging trust, particularly in social media where it is second nature, is critical to ongoing health. There is nothing substantial wrong in news gathering in its traditional form (other than the fact there is not enough people to cover all of the news that needs covering). It is dealing with the commercial pressures that dictate the selection and presentation and distortion of that news where the major problems lie. That is where an inter-active audience can be of most help. Social media can shame wrongdoers of journalism – and we shouldn’t flinch from it.  But it remains a long way from replacing it.

2 thoughts on “Changing you bastards: On Seven and Molly Lord

  1. Interesting to read. Not surprised Australia has the least respected media in the world. What we need a less concentrated media ownership to restore respect to the media. We heed the newspaper market not to be 70 per cent dominated by one company, whose boss is an American citizen and whose overseas concerns have in some places been involved in phone hacking and the like.
    Same with the TV channels. All concentrated ownership and the guy who owns the newspapers has a son running Channel 10. All the networks had a sweetheart deal from the Govt of John Howard when digital TV was set up. They got to have the extra channels rather than opening the digital spectrum up to new entrants. And what do we get? A lot of pitiful re runs, some shopping channels, one lifestyle show after another. And rarely a decent documentary or community focused story, anywhere to be found in all these extra channels. The networks just pack those digital extra channels with so many ads, you wonder if you are watching a program on there sometimes.
    Australia also needs a far more independent and well funded ABC. For instance restoring long contracts to radio announcers on the ABC would help. Short term contracts damage journalistic freedom The control freakery reeks of political governmental control. Also it leads to boring, safe, bland, monotone radio.
    Outsourcing at the ABC should also stop. It’s a de facto privatisation and an intrusion of the corporate dollar into what should be an independent operation beyond influence of any kind.
    Contrary to what some of the private media might say, a revitalised national broadcaster will be a great boost to the nation and also assist commercial TV and radio broadcasters and film makers who in the past got all their best talent from the ABC,
    And in terms of social media, in cases of strong public reaction such as this, the public should actually have a say in a process to police blatant transgressions such as this. It should not be legal to show the deceased and her mother before anyone in the family knew. It’s just plain wrong and Seven’s behaviour in censoring the comments only reflects the role of a dominant player in a cosy closed market of three commercial networks. Credit to Mark Latham who proposed a fourth TV network in amongst all the froth and bubble about the man. More competition, less concentration in a few tycoons’ hands and more money for the ABC and community broadcasters for a more people based media.

  2. Hey funnily enough the day after I read your article the same thing is happening on the Channel 9 face book page. Lot of people complaining about 9’s blatant insult leaving so many countries out of its coverage of the Opening Ceremony. Japan, Austria, Uruguay, Malta (lots of Maltese Australians), Venezuela and Papua New Guinea. Channel 9 for the second time today have removed the comments section on its home page so full is it of complaints about the coverage,.

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