Wednesday, 17 December 2008

When competition for news gets close to blackmail

Giving in to blackmailers is rarely a sensible thing to do. Even if the one you pay sticks to the bargain and goes away after taking the money, the payment encourages someone else to do the same.

Being a willing party to publishing the embarrassing material in the event that the blackmailer's bluff is called is not only a pretty grubby act but serves as a warning to future victims of extortion attempts that payment is preferable to publication.

Which makes this morning's case involving the Channel Seven presenter Andrew O'Keefe a particularly sordid affair that exposes yet again the appalling morality of commercial television networks.

As told in the Confidential pages of the Melbourne Herald Sun Nine spokesman David Hurley claimed Seven allegedly paid $25,000 to a bouncer hawking mobile phone footage of its star Andrew O'Keefe on a wild night out in South Yarra last month. The footage, which has been seen by Nine sources, is claimed to have been taken of O'Keefe in Chapel St.

The story continued:

"The vision is absolutely clear and irrefutable," Hurley said last night.

"O'Keefe's splayed in the street, profoundly inebriated. He has to be helped to his feet by a blonde woman who disappears down the street.

"I don't think you'll be seeing it anytime soon on Today Tonight."

The bouncer confirmed he had spoken to Seven and Nine about the tape.

"Do you want a story as well? You come with the folding as well," he said when asked if he had sold the tape to Seven.

The grainy footage allegedly shows O'Keefe lying on his back on the footpath outside the Revolver nightclub.

The vision allegedly shows O'Keefe crawl along the footpath. He tries to get to his feet and then heads off along the footpath with a blonde female friend.

The entire episode takes about a minute. It is believed there is more than one copy of the footage.

Now when you are a television star whose program is shown to Mum, Dad and the kids in prime time, being captured on camera legless is not exactly the look  your network would want from you. That, presumably, is why Seven bought the tape with no intention of showing it. It was a way of protecting their investment in this particular piece of talent.

I am no lawyer and the particular nuances of the law of extortion or blackmail are outside my area of expertise. But I did find during my quick Google search this morning that the NSW Criminal Trial Courts Bench Book, which suggests words that their Honours might use in summing up such a case, says the following: "The offence of extortion or blackmail is committed when one person dishonestly makes a demand on another person for specified property in the possession of or under the control of that person, and that demand is accompanied by threat or force."

I did note as well that the Wise Geek drew attention to "A relatively new form of blackmail, more similar to extortion, [that] is known as commercial blackmail. In this crime, a business is the victim. The blackmailer threatens an action which would be devastating to the company's sales or reputation and typically demands a large payment."

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