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Australia: Tabloid TV Tricked

Melbourne, Feb. 7 2002 (INS News) -- Usually when major television networks find the stories that appeared on one of their shows reported across other media, they are proud... but this time, they became the story and are on the defensive.

Channel Nine's A Current Affair heavily promoted a story throughout the weekend which claimed that a group called the "Dole Army" was ripping off the Australian government by claiming unemployment benefits and trying to rip off the welfare system.

Channel Seven's Today Tonight also raced for the story; so as not to be left out of the story of the week, they ended up paying the Dole Army $1000 Australian Dollars (approx. US $500), which they later admitted to on Tuesday night.

Shocking Truth ?
`` if it wasn’t true, it would almost be comical.''
Today Tonight, Monday

The Dole Army (according to the reports that aired on Monday night) live in stormwater drains and at night go to dumpsters seeking food for the needy. The reports left many viewers wondering if they also produced their website - using their cable internet connection - underground as well.

The reports claimed that the members of the Dole Army are on government welfare payments, called them bludgers and accused them of ripping off the taxpayers. A common tactic of these shows is to outrage the viewer into thinking that they are being cheated, which increases the ratings.

"It's one of the country's best-kept secrets - a rebel army working deep beneath the city. They live in drainage tunnels under Melbourne and their goal is to teach people how to rip-off the welfare system," went the story's introduction on Today Tonight.

May it remain a big secret; both networks were taken in and their lack of double checking and of control brought them to an embarrassing situation - that their story was flawed. The Dole Army actually live in houses; also, most of the members have jobs and don't receive welfare payments.

The group's aim was to promote their website and welfare issues. To do this, they so they gave the tabloid TV shows a story which they could hype up enough to increase the all important ratings, which neither show questioned or resisted.

The group stated "the big guns of Tabloid TV fell victim to their own sleazy set-up tactics'' and added this was in response to previous stories which they thought were victimising the poor and unemployed.

Tuesday editions toned down the story but failed to go as far as correcting the stories. Today Tonight told viewers that the group lied about who they were and also challenged them to donate the money they gave them for the fictitious story to charity. A Current Affair went on the defensive saying once again that "they are a pack of dole bludgers" and claimed the Dole Army encouraged people to rip off the system.

Comical indeed
``We know that was another big lie''
Today Tonight, Tuesday

Both programs also said they were focussing on the website, claiming it contained ways to cheat the welfare system. INS News could not find any such information on the site.

The Dole Army's web page received a large increase in visitors to the small site, which was virtually unknown before Monday. Their guest book was attacked with numerous postings against the group that were deleted this Tuesday morning.

Both programs still haven't explained if any measures are going to be taken to ensure the accuracy of future stories and how they are going to prevent further planned stunts by the group.

It all ends up the same though - people will still watch and the ratings will still be there for the next scoop, regardless if it is true or not. Whether the audience will believe it this time is another question.

-- Glen Burns in Sydney. E-Mail: gburns@insnews.org

-- Weblinks
Today Tonight
: View a transcript of the original story the aired Monday night.
Dolearmy.org: Find out more on the group and also read their media release
We could not find any reference to the story on the A Current Affair website.

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