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Frontline

Summary of six Episodes

 

 

The Siege: 

 

Based on a actual 1983 A Current Affair  segment where the anchor Mike Willesee conducted a phone interview with two children held hostage by a killer, Leonard Leabeater, during a siege at Cangai in northern New South Wales.  The scene has been transposed to Victoria and the man is Gavin Forbes.

 

This episode depicts the intrusive and invasive media at its most insensitive and inconsiderate grab for sensationalism and ratings.  This is one of the lowest points of media irresponsibility since the rise of infotainment.

 

While Brooke is interviewing the mother she finds that an inexperienced sound recorder has let the batteries run down with no replacements.  She has the temerity and insensitivity to ask the woman to interrupt the interview, asks her for some new batteries and then restarts the interview with the request, Do you think you could cry like you did before?”

 

Martin creates an alarmist, inflammatory perception of imminent danger by wearing a flak jacket, crouching and affecting an Americanised accent.  This artificially builds suspense and creates the impression of danger.  Mike emotively calls the gunman “Rambo” and speculates about the stereotypical image of deranged Vietnam veterans. This creates a sensational, melodramatic inflammatory atmosphere ramping up the fear and whipping up false hysteria – all in a greedy grab for ratings.

 

Despite the fact that the children are safe, Marty speculates about the emotional scars and Brian calls for a Psychologist – even though the only one available is merely a student.

 

Irony of Brooke’s warning that other networks are unscrupulous.

 

The crew are incensed that a helicopter has trespassed on the exclusion zone until they find out it’s theirs when they applaud its risk taking.

 

The Frontline team contact the gunman by phone and keep him on line long enough to prevent others talking to him and Emma asks him to leave the phone off the hook.

 

Mike and Geoff reflect on his situation in a relaxed atmosphere of jovial banter and gossip revealing that off air, Mike is just as anxious about his image as deluded about his journalistic ability.

 

Chief Commissioner Grey’s claim that Brian “risked those kid’s lives”.. “And if the broadcasting laws in this country weren’t so piss weak, you’d be taken off the air”,   has no descernible effect on Brian who revels in it and when Mike reveals his misgivings, Brian shows him a copy of the Australian Time magazine’s front cover with Mike’s photo, he feels vindicated even though he is unaware that the article’s expose is critical of him in an item called “Has the media gone too far?”.

 

The twisted ironic ending (where a copycat siege ends by the gunmen shooting four victims in a Brisbane city law firm) is a good example of self-mockery.

 

 

 

2) We Ain’t got Dames

 

Jan Whelan, head of Publicity informs the staff that ratings reveal that Frontline has lost its female audience because of its aggressive and macho image.  As females have tremendous buying power, sponsors want more soft human interest stories and less sleaze, bullying and sexual innuendo.  “If we keep losing women, no one is going to buy perfume, dunny cleaner, or margarine; stuff women buy.” Brian

 

An interview with Cheryl Kernot plays down the political issues and focuses on her domestic life.   “If you are going to do politics, keep it simple…personalise the interview…breast implants…celebrity profiles.  Jan

 

Mike’s story on the plight of migrant women in sweat shops is doctored and becomes a feature more like a fashion parade.

 

Current affairs trivialises serious matters.

Mike surreptiously appears on a World Series Debate and makes a fool of himself much to Brian’s chagrin.

Despite his on screen praise of Eliot Rhodes  light relief ditties, Mike hypocritically ridicules his performance off camera.  Juxtaposition of: 

“Eliot Rhodes, our Friday night funny man.. he’s a sensational treasure”  –

“He’s shithouse, Brian”

 

Mike is caricatured as arrogant, with false ideals but shallow morals.  All have massive egos that need constant stroking.

 

 

3) Playing the Ego Card

 

Mike as an outsider is isolated, envied and disliked by the rest of the crew because of his arrogance.  He is also the butt of most of the satire in the whole series.  Here he is desperate to posture his courage by flying to Bougainville  to report on the civil unrest from the battle ground, yet he is tormented by his fear of needles and the fact that while he is away, Brooke may usurp his anchor position.

 

Brian is shown as playing on Mike’s ego by false flattery and blatant coaxing;  You are the host.  The focus.  You’re the cog in the wheel. You’re better than that”

Brian panders to Mike placating his temper, assuring his self doubt and stroking his ego.

 

Martin di Stasio tries to warn Mike, fuelling his insecurities:

 

“Never let anyone fill your shoes who might be capable of taking your job… Peter Luck.. no threat to anyone.”

And “ They sent Richard Carleton to Bangladesh; they wanted him dead.  

 

People don’t listen to each other:

Mike:       “Say hello to Papa Stevenson for me”

Student:  “He’s dead”

Mike:        Tell him I’m sorry for him.”

 

The dependable Emma first notices that the helicopters are carrying guns in contravention of Australian conditions that raises the programs profile.  Later Brian gives each participant credit for the chopper, but in a scene with the General Manager upstairs, claims all the credit for himself.  Brian knows how to play each one off the others and manipulate the team while currying favour upstairs.

 

Brian’s motto:  “Three things in good Television: Good vision, Good Vision, Good Vision.” 

“A pub brawl in Manly is better than a massacre of millions if you’ve got pictures.  And if you don’t have the pictures it sure as hell better have Australians.

 

Brian highlights the need for visual effects and the parochial nature of current affairs.

 

Brian’s cynicism is revealed in this exchange:

Mike: “don’t underestimate the viewer’s intelligence

Brian: “I’ve built my whole career on it

 

 

 

4)  Add Sex and Stir

 

Martin di Stasio revives an old recipe to capture people’s interest. Add sex and stir.

When reports arrive that a female cricketer may have been dropped from the National team because she was not a lesbian, Brian’s ears perk up and he wants an interview.  Emma tries to balance the issue by mentioning a gay male player, but now Brian is concerned about destroying his career. 

 

When Brian hears about the scandal involving allegations of lesbians in women’s cricket he abandons his reluctance to do stories on women’s sport and does a full expose despite its devastating effect on the game.  Yet when provided with evidence of gays in football, his objections are that it might damage the code.  Double standards apply.

 

 

 

Emma’s comment:  “They (women’s cricket team) won a world championship and didn’t even make the papers

 

This highlights the double standards in Sports reporting.

 

Emma’s“You don’t think this whole female push is…

Brian:         ”A little what? Come on say it.  Cynical?  ”.

Emma’s“Yes”.

Brian: “      Em, Em,  We’re just trying to keep up with the opposition”.

 

Emma’s“I think we pushed the sleaze angle a bit too far.

Brian: “      “Em, She made the accusation.”

Emma’s“Yes, but did she make the re-enactment? Did she write the lines “returning love?”

Brian “Just a bit of spice.”

 

Brooke frequently doctors the footage by rerecording her questions after the responder has left.

 

Though Frontline don’t approve of cheque book journalism, they are happy to pay her for a holiday on the Gold Coast for a few days as long as she leaves immediately to prevent her being interviewed by anyone else.

 

Brian: “Once you’ve spoken to her; bury it”

 

 

5)  Smaller Fish to Fry

 

Small scale rip-offs are soft targets for tabloid sensationalist journalism directed at the masses because they are easy to identify with and provide plenty of good visuals with hidden cameras; eg: refrigerator repairmen or dry cleaning agencies.  Larger fish such as banks, corporations and institutions escape examination because the misuse of large amounts of money is largely incomprehensible and difficult to present as the evidence is often in non-visual paper work. No empathy, no detection.  Furthermore, large media outlets are very dependent on corporate sponsorship and advertising revenue. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

 

Brian:  “Fraud doesn’t give you vision”

 

Brooke is rapt about doing with the Prime Minister, but in negotiations with his minders, all the tricky questions are cut and hers turns out to be a “puff piece” with soft warm questions that don’t ruffle any feathers.

 

Hard hitting reporters with integrity are poor like Bob Foster (out of a job) .

Mike: “You only get hired these days if you’re a spineless lapdog”  Example of unconscious irony because he is describing himself.

 

Brian wants to set up underage kids to buy cigarettes:

Emma: “That’s entrapment.”

Brian:    “No, it’s called current affairs”

 

Brian’s contempt for the viewer’s short attention span:  Keep it short! Keep it simple!

 

Brian:  “We got three minutes to do a story. Five, if it involves nudity”.

 

 

6) The Night of Nights

 

The Logies are on and all the A- Listers are on show.  Mike is keen to go and asks Jan to arrange him giving out an award.  Brian convinces Brooke to accompany Mike only for appearances sake.

 

Telecom is again guilty of impropriety and bullying and Mike is keen to do a story on it, however Brian is reluctant because they are majors sponsors and he doesn’t want to put people upstairs off side. 

 

Street-Aid has lost a lot of money due to internal fraud, but asks the news media not to publicise this as it could affect their next round of donations.  Martin di Stasio makes a gentleman’s agreement with them not to go to air with the story.

 

 

Mike’s obsession with gadgets is reinforced when he notices a mobile phone on Brian’s desk.  Brian tells him it is a gift from Telstra to Brooke and asks Mike to pass it on to her.  He of course takes it for himself and so  compromises his principles and loses interest in the Telstra story.

 

Brian decides the Street – Aid story is too good an item to miss and runs it.  Martin di Stasio justifies reneging on the deal with “The public have a right to know and we just reported the facts”. 

 

Mike presents a number of awards at the Logies, but only in the non televised segment.  He is further humiliated when he meets a lot of well known media representatives at the Logie Night, but everyone just calls him “Mate”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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