Schapelle Corby: A tale of media madness

We are a dignified nation … We uphold the laws and regulations. Enough.” That was the Indonesian Justice Minister, Amir Syamsuddin, in a translation on the Seven Network and Sky News on Friday night, after he confirmed Schapelle Corby’s parole in a Jakarta press conference.
He also said: “We enforce the law without looking at who the person involved is,” which might have been stretching the truth a bit, given the way Indonesia treated the Balibo Five, a group of journalists working for Australian television, killed by the military in East Timor in 1975.
But Minister Amir was certainly justified in saying “enough” to the myriad media gathered around him in Jakarta, caught up in Corby fever. Earlier, Schapelle’s sister, Mercedes, had to charge through a media scrum, waiting outside Kerobokan prison in Bali for the impending release, like a defensive linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks.
It was one of the worst media circuses I have ever seen, and as I watched it unfold on various Australian television channels, I was glad I wasn’t there. It was an undignified coverage in a dignified nation – and nothing had happened yet. I pitied the poor journalists forced to report on the Mercedes charge to the jail door, and her subsequent departure from the prison with her arms wrapped around her husband, as they moved through the scrum. She could only be heard saying: “Please give us some privacy.” There was no privacy surrounding the Corby coverage that day, nor will there be any day soon.
I sent a text to a friend, a senior journalist: “Isn’t this Corby circus ridiculous? Glad I don’t have to cover it.” The journo replied: “It’s ridiculous. Turns your stomach.” Schapelle Corby’s release is a story, and should be covered, but the extent of the madness going on in Bali is not justified. There’s only one other story in Australia now which rivals this one in terms of uber-saturation, and that is Ben Cousins. Whenever this former AFL star and Brownlow medallist has anything to do with drugs, it hits the headlines. A bit over a week ago, he was charged with possession of a tiny amount of drugs in a bag found in his car three months earlier. I only discovered this by reading an article in the Herald Sun online this week, because when I first heard his name on a news report, I switched channels. The article ended with this paragraph: “Cousins’ drug addiction has seen him experience relapses, admitted to hospital, undergo stints in rehabilitation centres and offer public apologies.”
“Enough,” I say, of Ben Cousins and Schapelle Corby and Craig Thomson, to name just a few. Okay, I admit the media goes banana over these three because of alleged ratings and circulation figures. But I prefer real news stories to lead bulletins and front pages. Thankfully, sense and news judgment returned to television screens on Sunday night, when the bushfire crisis in Victoria took over from the Corby bandwagon – the threat to people’s lives and homes more important than Schapelle.
Making matters worse, of course, was the battle of the telemovies: From the Seven Network, INXS: Never Tear Us Apart, the story of the rock band famous for sex, drugs, rock and roll, and Michael Hutchence versus the Nine Network’s Schapelle, the drama telling the background story behind the real-life soap opera we’ve been watching for the past nine years. A former 60 Minutes producer, who helped Schapelle write her autobiography, Kathryn Bonella; Mercedes Corby; and Diane Frola, co-founder of the Australian UFO Research Network, who alleges governments are suppressing evidence that proves Schapelle’s innocence and the existence of UFOs, were all against the showing of the Nine telemovie – for various reasons, including fears an unfavourable portrait might anger the family and ruin the chances for a paid interview.
There was nothing for the family to be worried about. It is an even-handed, sympathetic profile of Schapelle Corby, and while allegations her father, played extremely well by Colin Friels, put the marijuana into her boogie bag, are aired, they are not proven either. Actor Krew Boylan makes a better Schapelle Corby than the real one; ditto Denise Roberts in the role of Schapelle’s mother. If you’re seeing the convicted drug smuggler for the first time, your heart goes out to her. Alas, most of Australia is not seeing her for first time! You may have noticed if you switch back and forth between the commercial television channels during news bulletins, you will often see the same stories at the same time, even the same grabs! Well, this had to be a first, but switching back and forth between INXS and Schapelle, the rock group and the former Gold Coast beautician were arrested for drugs at exactly the same time in their respective telemovies. I went back and watched Schapelle in full for the purposes of this post. As it turned out, INXS won the ratings battle: 2.881 million Australians tuned in to INXS, while 1.349 million went for Schapelle. As Crikey’s Glenn Dyer put it: “No one can fault Nine from bringing forward the screening of the Corby doco by a night, but what can’t be denied is that when faced with a choice between the story of an iconic rock band and the mixed up tale of a young women in drug trouble in Bali (and an icon in her own way), Australian TV viewers overwhelmingly chose the INXS story.”
Schapelle Corby was released yesterday, and it was worse than parole announcement day. She was wearing a colourful hat and scarf so you couldn’t see her face, and the media scrum looked like starving refugees trying to get food from an aid convoy (photo above from AFP). There were so many police, it reminded me of the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968. All for one besieged woman. While reporters were sticking their microphones into Schappelle’s hidden face, the Seven Network had allegedly done a deal for an exclusive interview with her for as much as $2 million for their Sunday Night program with Mike Willesee. Willesee has denied the network made any payments, and claimed David Koch, the host of Seven’s Sunrise program, got it wrong when he criticised the network for paying $2million for the interview: “Kochie can speak for himself. He got it drastically wrong and will be proven to be wrong.” Koch said on Sunrise: “I totally disagree with paying a convicted drug smuggler $2million. I know Indonesia is corrupt and all that sort of stuff, but she is convicted.” If any money is forthcoming, it would not be paid to Schapelle, because of the rules against convicted criminals profiting from their crimes, but the network and the family might find a way to access the funds. It’s been done before. Meanwhile, the head of Bali’s Corrections Board, Ketut Artha, said the Seven interview (if it happens!) might violate Schapelle’s parole:
So there’s a lot more to come on the interview front, but I’m sorry, that’s enough. I’ve already written too much about this never-ending story. I think the frustration of the media was summed up by the two-line strap on Sky News on Monday over pictures of Schapelle being bundled into a van by police:
I know what I would have said, but let’s end on a more optimistic note. Schapelle, may all your future media scrums be friendly, and may your next interview be your last for quite a while and not land you back in jail again.

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