Today Tonight, Channel 7, Australia - gutter journalism - no ethics
a report exposing the scandalous tactics of the "exposers"

To set the scene... consider the following:

It is sad that a humanitarian project, FijiBure.com, was forced to take the action of publishing this expose to repair the damage done by a totally discredited national Australian television programme camouflaged as "current affairs" but what is, in reality, nothing more than a ratings creator for Channel 7 which is apparently above the law (we cannot afford to take on their million dollar purse in the courts). The power of their unlimited finances are recognised but the toothless tigers in the form of government bodies like the ABA that are supposed to take up the cause of those who have been wronged don't. They growl and prowl but unfortunately never quite perform - and the current affairs producers at Today Tonight know this. It should be noted that Channel 7 threatened to sue us for presenting the facts on this page after we were defamed by them, but the fact that this page is still here many years later and they have sulked away despite our prominent rating on Google speaks for itself... read on.

We are certainly not alone in our views about the lack of journalistic integrity of Naomi Robson - the face of Today Tonight in 2004 and nothing has changed since. Behind that genial television mask Robson displays lurks another side... consider this explosive expletive-laden exchange over her autocue, mistakenly recorded. How many of these fiery exchanges at Today Tonight haven't been recorded?

During the conversation Today Tonight's Naomi Robson says (May 2005):
"F...ing drop it in at the last minute ... You should be able to read every f...ing word, every comma, it should be very specific because if we've seen it before we've got a chance in our mind to go 'oh look they've f...ed up this, they've f...ed up that.'" Robson goes on to say: "You're the f...er who wasn't able to, you know, sort of, work it out as you were going along. Well f...er you sit up here and you read the bloody autocue." Sydney Morning Herald story at this link and here's the evidence (wait for two meg audio file to load... it's worth the wait).

Australian TV Fugly Awards

Most Sensational Current Affairs Program 2005 Winner: Today Tonight

By sensational, we mean that in the bad way.

Today Tonight has taken out this award for the last three years with ACA only getting the gong in the inaugural event. We might retire this category next year as TT recently publicly dropped the masquerade that they were doing serious journalism and admitted to doing trashy stories. Which is fine, we love the trash. But that problem is that it's heap less fun taking the piss out of someone when they admit their faults.

In the links below you will see how Today Tonight in 2005 promoted conman Peter Foster's slimming product SLIMist as "good"... A Current Affair exposed the fallout of their positive coverage with several Australian paying tens of thousands of dollars to act as agents  not knowing of Foster's involvement.

Overview on FijiBure.com's experience with "Today Tonight"

In this report we factually expose the high and immoral stakes that major Australian television stations like Channel 7 will take in an effort to improve their ratings and, as a result, the advertising revenue they get from advertisers. In the media world trampling on innocent people, like you, in search of higher ratings has become a favoured past-time for the high profile reporters (in our case Michelle Tapper and Naomi Robson) and producers from Channel 7's Today Tonight. These "heros" of the media are anything but. In the words of other Australian media commentators and the Australian Broadcasting Association (ABA) the material they produce is:
- tripe and rubbish
- exploitative
- poorly researched
- not reported fairly and/or factually
- grossly unbalanced and misrepresentative of the truth
- regularly used as an "advertorial" to promote a Channel 7 advertiser's product or services - without disclosure.

So, in reality, these "heros" who work at Today Tonight make the conmen they "expose" seem like nice guys in comparison - after all these reporters do this day in, day out - knowingly. What happened to their code of ethics?

The button on the right is a link to a video which reveals how dishonest Today Tonight is.

In May 2008 Mercedes Corby successfully took Today Tonight to court - winning a defamation action against this trashy programme. Today Tonight settled out of court. Legal costs were estimated at $500,000. Click on the arrow icon in the image right to see A Current Affair's coverage of this disgusting event - replicated many, many time against innocent parties in an immoral drive for ratings regardless of damage or truth. (No surprise about one of the reporters involved: The secret life of Schapelle, reported by Michelle Tapper, broadcast on May 16, 2005)

Now read on for a real life example of the tactics of Today Tonight - still on-line despite the best efforts of Channel 7's legal department to shut this page down.

Hocus pocus on Today Tonight - how often does this happen?

This page becomes embarrasing for Channel 7

Contact Today Tonight Reporters and Producers by mobile phone:

  • Chris Simmond:
    0417 487803

  • Laura Sparkes:
    0419 247226

  • The numbers for Today Tonight reporters Karryn Cooper, Michelle Tapper and Sonia Lear have been changed. Gutless wonders. Tapper's CV to the University of Queensland can still be viewed online despite several attempts by her to have it removed - see the link elsewhere on this page (just below).
    Today Tonight publish private phone numbers of reporters (SMH)

Make your views heard!
They need to know what you think
about Today Tonight.

Just HOW BAD is Today Tonight's reputation?


The background to the story

Please note: the dirty toilets and bed featured in the Today Tonight promotional piece for the "Holiday from Hell" shown on the weekend of 2nd / 3rd October 2004 before the segment went to air on Monday 4th were from Channel Seven's file footage and NOT taken at one of our participating villages. None of the glamorous images presented by Today Tonight originate from our participating villages (suggesting deception in advertising on the web page). The glamourised file footage used during the program was taken at Castaway Island Resort by Channel Seven but was presented by Today Tonight as being marketed by FijiBure.com to sell village homestays. Channel Seven never went to Fiji to investigate the claims made by the women featured in their program. As you will see from the links below it took Fiji TV to do the research Today Tonight never did and reveal why their story should never have been broadcast in the first place. You will see the real picture presented of FijiBure.com by a television travel program that has credibility, namely Channel 9s "Getaway".

All photographs on the FijiBure.com web site have been taken on location in the villages by me personally and do not misrepresent the experience.

The homestay beds at Namatakula are pictured at this link.

It is important to note that Today Tonight knowingly attacked a humanitarian village homestays business that is positively impacting on the lives of thousands of poor villagers. The programmes incentive was a glowing report on a travel insurance policy (paid advertorial) - with its dishonest portrayal of FijiBure being cast as the reason why travellers should have travel insurance!

It is instructive to note that nearly one third of all breach findings made by the Australian Broadcasting Authority against television broadcasters since the beginning of 2003 have involved Today Tonight. The ABA covers every program aired on television by every television station since 2001 - ie tens of thousands of different programs like Today Tonight.

How can such a blatantly unprofessional current affairs program be allowed to continue to broadcast its lies, half-truths and blatant bias? 

I am just an average citizen so have to cop this sort of biased, gutter journalism on the chin. The programme that went to air maliciously defamed me and FijiBure.com but I cannot afford to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to get retribution in the courts. My only recourse is to present to you the facts which were left out of the "Holiday from Hell" story.

This is an accurate record of what happened.... enter Michelle Tapper.

It was about 4pm in the afternoon last Friday (1st October 2004) when my phone rang and an unknown female voice asked "Mr Balson I am phoning from a courier company to see if you will be able to sign for a travel document we are delivering."

"Yes," I replied.

A few minutes later I heard my partner shouting from the front door of our home. "Scott Today Tonight are here, they have cameras. Why are they here?"

Moments before my ten year old son had witnessed the Today Tonight reporter Michelle Tapper (more on Tapper at this link) sneaking around our garden beds while giving a commando style signal for her television crew to follow. As a young boy he faced road rage and the antics of the Today Tonight crew has left him traumatised.

When she got to the front door the reporter from Today Tonight knocked - and my partner was confronted with a television camera panning in on her.

The lead up to this ongoing traumatic experience for my family at our family home stemmed from a phone call that I received in early September 2004, when a single woman living in Queensland called to ask about village homestays advertised through my web site at Fijibure.com.

The caller, Robyn Knight, went into great detail about an ailment that she suffered from, fibrositis - telling me that on some days she could not even crawl from her bed to the bathroom. Despite the ailment she said she wanted to go and enjoy the village life as described on our web page for Matacawalevu. She wanted time to be alone, to escape.

At the same time as this woman was staying at Matacawalevu another family from Queensland had booked into the village of Namatakula. Before they even arrived in the village one of the middle aged women in their group, Deb Lang, had fallen ill. At this time the dreaded Fiji flu was rampant and tens of thousands of Fijians and hundreds of tourists all around Fiji were falling sick with flu like symptoms associated with stomach pains, diarrhoea and nausea. If you take this link you will see lengthy discussion on Lonely Planet which includes talk of guests getting food poisoning/Fiji Flu at the upmarket Sheraton Hotel at Denarau (Nadi)

Before the week was out the entire family at Namatakula had caught the contagious disease and they left the village a day early. On the day they left the father wrote a glowing letter to our hosts at Namatakula thanking our hosts for their hospitality and for nursing his family.

Robyn Knight - the complainant

At about this time Robyn Knight at Matacawalevu had cut short her stay after her watch was allegedly stolen. She would also later claim that there was an outbreak of scabies in the village and that conditions were unhygienic - as was seen on Today Tonight on Monday the 4th October 2004.

Extraordinarily, Knight, the woman from Matacawalevu and Lang, with the group from Namatakula, had somehow landed up on the same flight home to Brisbane, Australia. It was here that they allege that they first discovered that they had both stayed at village homestays through FijiBure.com. It goes beyond the boundaries of coincidence when you consider that these women, Knight and Lang, live just five minutes apart  from each other in the same remote rural community in southern Queensland. (Lang confirmed this to me over the phone).

Robyn Knight took over what became a campaign to, in her own words, "ruin the business".

On her return to Australia Robyn Knight immediately contacted me and made a range of outrageous claims which were witnessed by my partner on the speakerphone. These included the allegation that I had totally misrepresented what village homestays were all about on the Internet. She also claimed that there was scabies in the village and that she had some personal items - a watch and a credit card stolen. She alluded to a complaint by another group (the family from Namatakula) without providing any further information. I had already contacted Deb Lang from this family and been fully briefed after Simon and Judith told me that they had left the village a day early.

Knight's claims about items being stolen at the village were later retracted by her in a letter of apology written to the hosts at Matacawalevu. Unsurprisingly she never informed me that she had found the "stolen" items in her bag on her return to Australia.

Robyn Knight said that she would ruin the business if I did not refund her all her travel expenses including airfares and incidentals like medicine - over $2,000. She made specific reference to informing Today Tonight about her claims and saying that it was now "out of her hands". I refused to be black mailed. A detailed letter of claim (at this link) followed from her by email within 24 hours with all F$ costs marked up to a parity with the Au$ (80c in the Au$) - the claims including her medicines, travel insurance, air tickets, meals around Fiji and several miscellaneous items she had bought for the villagers at Matacawalevu. I responded by email advising that I was returning to Fiji in October and would like to first investigate her claims.

Karryn Cooper's role at Today Tonight

What I was not aware of was the fact that Robyn Knight had previously been featured in a very favourable light on Today Tonight several times in 2001 and 2002 - through face-to-face interviews with Today Tonight's reporter Karryn Cooper (Photo at this link). Cooper was promoted to Today Tonight's State Producer in Queensland before the program on FijiBure.com was aired. See Cooper's Story one and story two on Robyn Knight. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions as it is the producer decides what stories to pursue and what will be aired. Karryn Cooper's personal involvement in getting this story to air is revealed at this link. (ie Knight took up her threat and Today Tonight jumped without any research on her complaint).

As you can see from feedback on the guests gallery page and the subsequent letters of support at this link, the overwhelming majority of our guests have had a wonderful time.

Robyn Knight apparently spent many happy hours in her relentless campaign contacting the Ministry of Tourism in Fiji, and Today Tonight among many others - sending letters, phoning and going out of her way to cause trouble.

Nothing had happened for a couple of weeks before Today Tonight unexpectedly arrived. Their pushy presenter Michelle Tapper from the program which "outs the conmen" was in my face as I opened the door to see why my partner was shaking with panic behind it.

"Mr Balson?" It was the woman on the phone who had claimed to be from a courier company.

Before she had even asked me the first question I was being treated like a cheap coniving conman. In her first sentence she told me that she had researched the complaint and spent about an hour on my web site the night before - the admitted depth of "investigation" into a web site which has sixty pages and covers all aspects of the village homestay experience was less than adequate. A fact which would raise its head later.

Her implication  in the opening exchange was that following her investigations I had been found guilty as charged - and this was before the interview had even started. She was judge and jury.

Tapper asked me to justify why village homestay guests sleep on the floor and said that she had been told that there is only one toilet in the village shared by everybody! I responded by calling her informant a liar. Guests sleep on proper beds in their own private room with sheets, pillows and blankets and there is a flush toilet attached to every guesthouse in all our villages. In fact each village's web site carries photos of the beds offered by our hosts. You will note that this exchange is left out - surely if you are aware that the complainant's claims are in question you should think twice before proceeding with a story that is going to damage someone's reputation? In answer to several other questions I repeated that this is a "village homestay not a five star hotel". None of these comments went to air.

During the twenty minute exchange Tapper questioned my credibility suggesting that village homestays were illegal and not licensed by the Ministry of Tourism in Fiji despite the fact that I assured her that the Fijian Government were aware of and supported FijiBure.com and that I had a meeting in just a few weeks with all the provincial administrators to formalise policy for the the new evolving village homestay market. (In fact about 30 high ranking Fijians, many from government, were scheduled to attend). A letter of support written by the President of the Fiji Tourism Resource Owner's Association, Ratu Osea Gavidi is scanned at this link.

I have attached at this link a scan of an email sent by Joape Nalatu, a senior member of staff at the Fiji Visitor's Bureau in Nadi. This document was faxed to Today Tonight several hours before the programme went to air. It shows their deception and dishonesty that they simply ignored it.

You will note that he makes it clear that

  • there is no legislation in place stopping villages provide homestays (see the confirmation letter at this link); and the government in Fiji are fully informed about our project, after all
  • FijiBure.com was sponsoring a major function in Suva at that time to discuss the establishment of policy when it came to village homestays;
  • senior government departments in Fiji had already requested to participate including the secretariat of the Great Council of Chiefs, the department of Health, Solicitor general, 14 Provincial "Roko Tuis" (administrators);  and the CEO of Fijian Affairs
  • that the CEO of Fijian Affairs has given his verbal support to what FijiBure.com is doing;
  • that the elders in the villages are behind the homestays - he notes that the village fund in Namatakula has already received about F$900 from homestays and that the villagers are very supportive.
  • the villages do not fall under the governance or jurisdiction of the Ministry of Tourism, they fall under the governance and jurisdiction of Fijian Affairs which are fully informed about and support FijiBure.com

Tapper suggested that preparing food in dishes on clean mats on the floor was unhygienic not being able to comprehend that this is a village homestay and this is traditionally how food is prepared. It is part of the Fiji Homestay experience. In fact about 80% of the world's human population eats food this way and don't you eat off a blanket on the ground when having a picnic? All the while the cameras and audio rolled capturing each word - ready for slicing and editing by Today Tonight - and, believe me, after seeing what went to air they did a good job. Even the lighting on my face in the footage reflected something sinister. In contrast, a few months later, high profile Australian television travel program "Getaway" featured trditional eating methods (off plates placed on cloth covers on the floor) as one of the features of a village homestay through FijiBure.com - more at this link).

Furthermore, my partner was a naturopath (over 15 years of practise) and has often helped the ladies in the kitchen at Namatakula. She notes that the food is prepared on cutting boards and dishes placed on cloths or mats on the floor in the kitchen. She says that there is absolutely no problem with hygiene. If there had been she would have told me long ago. In fact she has written a segment on the excellent food at Namatakula at this link.

During the interview Tapper produced a letter that had been received by Deb Lang. It was allegedly from the Ministry of Tourism. Ms Tapper, without showing me the letter, said that the Ministry of Tourism wrote that village homestays was not in the Fiji Travel Industry's best interests. She questioned how I could operate without their sanction, and she again implied that I was ruining the entire Fijian travel industry and that my operation was illegal. You don't have to be a genius to realise who was, in fact, attempting to ruin Fiji's tourism trade - Today Tonight! When I again referred Tapper to the upcoming meeting with Fijian Affairs and the approval I had been given to continue to help the villages she was again floundering but don't let facts get in the way of a good story, these comments were cut from what went to air.

Deb Lang's lies

Deb Lang had told Today Tonight that she had fallen sick two days after arriving at Namatakula with a range of diseases including pneumonia because of poor hygiene. This is a lie. She was sick when she arrived at the village - a fact that she confirmed to me over the phone on the night she arrived at Namatakula. I told Tapper that she was sick when she arrived but Today Tonight only presented Deb Lang's mischevious statement that she had fallen sick two days after arriving at the village. In the programme that went to air Lang suggests that she fell sick "because of unhygienic conditions at the village". In fact, her partner, Judy Lawler's, parents told our hosts that they blamed Deb Lang for causing their falling sick near the end of their homestay. Of course Today Tonight did not run my rebuttal.

Tapper said that she had some photos of people with scabies implying that they had been taken by Robyn Knight at Matacawalevu. Tapper refused to show them to me, but the dirt had been laid. I should mention that I stayed at Matacawalevu in June this year and saw no signs of scabies in the village. The images and video were not shown by Today Tonight - I question their existence, because if they had why would they not have run them? Of course Knight's claims about scabies were presented with fitting mood music in the background while my rebuttal did not run.

Within minutes of the interview Tapper had realised that there was another side to the story but she still continued with her relentless attack. Yes I was extremely stressed and wouldn't you be? She questioned the credibility of my web site - my personal integrity was under attack. The allegation was that I was misrepresenting the village homestay experience on the web site. On the other side of the curtain my partner listened, shaking like a leaf - I had to counsel her, she cried right through the night. Tapper demanded that I pay the ladies back all their money - something I am not willing to do as they knew exactly what the village life would be like before they went and one of the women in the party who went to Namatakula, Deb Lang, was sick when they arrived. She got what she wanted though, when she asked me if I would refund the women their costs I replied "No". Of course that was the only comment Ms Tapper was interested in during her interview with me. Following the publishing of the one sided diatribe and claims by the two women on Today Tonight the segment closed with my refusal to refund their expenses and, surprise, surprise the arrival of the "white knight" the paid advertorial pushing a travel insurance policy.

When Tapper demanded to be shown the photos that I had claimed to have on-line of the beds and toilets which, according to her source did not exist, I complied. We went inside and onto the computer, my partner fled - taking the kids away in the car. Quite clearly, if the interviewer (Michelle Tapper) had done her research adequately in the first place she would not be having to ask me to show her photos that had been prominently displayed on the web site.

I showed Ms Tapper the Namatakula web site, the photos of the western style beds and toilets. She stood there impassively her cameramen were not filming now. She left suddenly, no thank you, just departed. Of course none of this appeared on Today Tonight.

After Tapper had left I contacted a senior member of the Fijian Visitor's Bureau. He confirmed that his earlier investigation into the same woman's complaint had revealed that the claims were questionable. He also confirmed to me that village homestays had nothing to do with the Ministry of Tourism - the very reason why we were holding the meeting with the provincial chiefs and not officials from that department. Of course Today Tonight have not interviewed him and did not report this.

That night I worked until 12 midnight sending four separate emails to Ms Tapper addressing the key points that she had raised. These included the fact that Deb Lang at Namatakula, by her own admission to me, had arrived sick and the fact that I had spent a long time talking to the other woman about the village of Matacawalevu before she left on her holiday. These points were ignored in the program that went to air.

In the emails I extended an invitation to Channel Seven in Australia to come to Fiji while I was there later that month to witness the conference I was scheduled to have with the provincial administrators, see first hand what village homestays were all about and speak directly to our hosts. The invitation was never taken up - never let the truth get in the way of a good story, that's pocket book journalism at its best - that's classic Today Tonight reporting.... I have now rescinded that invitation but invited other Australian media to join me... see this link. (NOTE: The conference on village homestays was cancelled after I withdrew my financial support - a direct result of Today Tonight's reporting and no-one from the Australian media took up the challenge.) It took Fiji TV One, some weeks later, to expose the misleading picture presented by Today Tonight. Fiji's TV One visited Namatakula, interviewed a guest and presented the true picture of the FijiBure.com experience - something Today Tonight never bothered to do while defaming me and FijiBure.com.

I offered to supply Today Tonight with several testimonials from people who were willing to go on record and offer their positive feedback on their homestay experience. Today Tonight were not interested - never let balance get in the way of a good story, that's pocket book journalism at its best - that's classic Today Tonight reporting.... the comments at this link were received since this offer was made.

The whole weekend leading up to the segment Channel Seven ran promotional ads for the Today Tonight show featuring my face and the comment "cheating Australians out of their holidays". It is a fact that these ads first appeared within hours of Tapper appearing on my doorstep.

Before midday on the day the segment was to appear I sent Today Tonight a fax copy of the testimonial by a member of the group who stayed at Namatakula.
A scan is at this link, it reads:

Dear hosts,

Simon and Judith took care of our every need, which included taking our party of four to the doctors due to a very bad attack of the flu - unfortunately this shortened our holiday.

The staff were all very helpful, the food was exceptional and to a great variety.

We thank you for an enjoyable stay if only a short one.

Our best wishes to you all... etc

On Monday the 4th October Today Tonight ran their biased and dishonest report. You can read it at this link - story removed take this link to find out why..

Update: Due to the overwhelmingly positive and supportive response that I have received from past village homestay guests I will continue to run and expand this humanitarian project. 

Scott Balson

Email Scott

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Response to the allegations made on Today Tonight:

  • Channel Seven have never even been to Fiji to investigate the claims;
  • Their level of research and balance in this segment reflects base gutter journalism;
  • The experience is clearly promoted as a "village homestay" not a five star hotel - that's why it's under Au$50 per night (with all meals included)
  • The claims by the women who appeared have already been investigated by senior Fijian government officials and have been found to be questionable;
  • The lady who claimed to have got pneumonia and a range of other sicknesses at Namatakula was already sick when she arrived at the village;
  • Judy Lang's father wrote on the day of their departure that the hosts had taken great care of them while they were sick - scan is at this link;
  • The parents blamed Deb Lang for causing their sickness.
  • This testimonial document was faxed to Today Tonight several hours before the program went to air but was ignored;
  • Hundreds of guests have stayed at Namatakula before - see their glowing comment at this link;
  • I stick to my claim that the levels of hygiene of our hosting families is excellent;
  • This web site has a large number of photos and carries pages of text - the village homestay experience could not be clearer - check it out for yourself;
  • The manner in which village life was presented by Today Tonight is misleading, racist in implication, and an insult to the Fijian people;
  • Why should FijiBure.com refund money when people express happiness with their homestay and are clearly informed about what to expect;
  • The government in Fiji are fully aware of FijiBure.com and it is supported at very high levels. Today Tonight are aware of this. The email scanned at this link was sent to them hours before their programme went to air;
  • Village Homestays fall under the jurisdiction of Fijian Affairs and has NOTHING to do with the Ministry of Tourism;
  • Today Tonight refused to contact any of the people who had stayed at Namatakula and had enjoyed their visit (see their comments below);
  • Did you notice how one sided the segment was? Here's an email I received from a gentleman several hours before the show went to air. He had previously stayed at the village of Namatakula (where one of the complainants stayed):

Hello Scott,

I have had a return phone call from Channel 7 and I was given a patient hearing. That person passed on the information to a “Karen” who has also phoned me, and I was able to give her a good account of what was probably the best holiday of our lives. They were interested to know if there was an orchestrated attempt to get some responses from people who have been there. I told them that there was no request for me to ring them, that there is always a flow of information on what is happening with Fijibure and in the process emails are sent to all who have been on a homestay. I was asked if I was a friend of yours and I said that I had never met you in person. I was able to give her a lot of positive feedback on Namatakula and included some comments on ’Namuamua in the rain’. I told her about the responses from around the world and took the liberty of giving her the link so that she could read them. I asked her to be careful abut the people from whom they get information and said that I was concerned for the welfare of our friends in Fiji, and asked her not to knock such a good thing which put income form tourism in the hands of the homestay hosts.

Here’s hoping!

Regards

Eddie

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Some quick facts about Fijian Village Homestays through FijiBure.com
(all this information was given to Today Tonight before they ran the programme):

  1. FijiBure.com happened through circumstance and because I wanted to help - it was originally established at the direct request of a Fijian elder
  2. FijiBure.com villages do NOT offer hotel style accommodation - you are living in a village.
  3. The costs for an adult to stay at a village for one day and night (including all meals) is less than Au$50 - children under 13 half price.
  4. FijiBure.com is an "Internet Gateway" for facilitating village homestays, it is not a travel agency.
  5. I have personally stayed at EVERY village participating in FijiBure.com to ensure minimum standards and have regular meetings with our hosts to improve the service to our guests. My next trip to Fiji to meet with the hosts is at the end of October 2004.
  6. I have invited Channel Seven to come to the conference in Fiji that FijiBure.com is paying for and to visit our participating villages and meet with our hosts. Neither Today Tonight or Channel Seven have taken up the offer - make your own assumptions.
  7. I have never seen a cockroach or rats in any Fijian village.
  8. FijiBure.com is making a difference to the entire indigenous Fijian community - community halls and guest houses are being built with the money that guests pay their hosts. That's where the tourist dollars from guests are going - not to a foreign fat cat investor.
  9. FijiBure.com is not sanctioned by the Ministry of Tourism. It does not need to be as the villages fall directly under the governance of Fijian Affairs. Support has been given to this project from all levels because of the financial benefits that it is providing the indigenous people in their villages.
  10. Fijian Affairs are fully informed on what we are doing and support from all levels has been received, The meeting in October is to formalise direction.
  11. No guest has ever fallen sick through poisoned or tainted food being served by our hosts - in September guests at the Sheraton Hotel Denarau (Nadi) were hospitalised through food poisoning.
  12. We only allow a small number of guests to stay at a village at any time to make sure that the culture of the community and memorable personal experience of being part of a Fijian family is retained.
  13. We have had a large number of people stay at our villages and our complaint ratio is less than 2%. Most send us glowing reports and thanks for a memorable holiday with our hosts.
  14. The FijiBure.com web site is the most comprehensive Fijian Travel Destination web site on the net. It covers culture, helpful hints, and goes way beyond the glossy three pagers of upmarket Fijian Hotels. We cut to the chase - advise you on how to prepare for health issues in Fiji whether you are staying at a hotel or not.
  15. The FijiBure.com web site does not misrepresent the village homestay experience - check out each village here and see for yourself.
  16. This information has not been put up in the last few days as a result of "Today Tonight", it has been there for over a year.
  17. Is there disease in the villages? Yes. Is there disease in our schools? Yes. Disease is a fact of life - you are more likely to catch something through the recycled air in the plane travelling to Fiji than get some exotic disease in a village.
  18. FijiBure.com has cost me money it has not made me money. A small administration fee is charged because if the project is to grow it needs to be viable.

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Fiji's main television station exposes the story presented by Today Tonight

The report by Today Tonight was hammered by Fiji's main television station on Saturday night (13th November) following an extensive investigation. This was the investigation Today Tonight did not bother to do before attacking FijiBure.com.

The Fiji News showed footage of the guest house at Namatakula - no cardboard walls and stated that Deb Lang was sick before she arrived at Namatakula - not two days after as she claimed on Today Tonight.

It also carried a glowing tribute from Annette Medes who was staying with our hosts at Namatakula at the time they investigated the allegations made by Today Tonight. See her email to me below (sent 20th November):

Hi Scott,

We enjoyed a great stay with Simon and Judith. During that time, we were even interviewed by Fiji One with regard to the food and stay which we both liked very much.

Annette

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The antics of the serial complainant Robyn Knight

After Getaway aired the real FijiBure.com story in February 2005 Robyn Knight, seen right, aided and abetted by Deb Lang (the woman who lied on Today Tonight) responded by lodging, belatedly, complaints with the Office of Fair Trading in Brisbane claiming that FijiBure.com was trading illegally.

Their claim, taken up by the Office of Fair Trading in March, was answered by Scott Balson with the support of high profile Fijians who came to his aid. The Office of Fair Trading have, as a result, not acted on the complaints made by the two women.

Knight also lodged a scathing and dishonest complaint with the Ministry of Tourism in Fiji. As a result Balson was called into the Ministry's offices in Suva and interviewed by the CEO Keresoni Baleidrokadroka. The meeting was attended by several members of the Great Council of Chiefs who threw their support behind Balson and his philanthropic project which had provided new hope in poverty stricken villages. 

If it hadn't been for Robyn Knight's venomous and ongoing campaign against FijiBure.com we would not have made the acquaintance of such important members of the Fijian community - and for this we are thankful - even though her motives were primarily aimed at closing this humanitarian venture down.

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Channel 7's legal department try to shut this page down

19th November 2004

Dear Mr Balson,

Your website continues to make unqualified and untrue statements regarding Seven and Today Tonight. Please be advised that the word "lie", which you use throughout your site, imputes by dictionary definition and common usage that Seven or Today Tonight made statements it knew to be untrue. This is denied in the strongest possible terms. Further, your references to "lies", "scandalous tactics" and "gutter journalism" cannot be sustained or legally defended on any truthful basis.

In order to put this matter at rest Seven requires you to remove the allegations on your website that Seven has "lied", used "scandalous tactics" or engaged in "gutter journalism' - given that these allegations impute a mental motivation which on any reasonable view was plainly absent from the publication. Your publication of these allegations is irresponsible, in grave contempt of Seven's rights, ill-advised and indefensible under the Defamation Act 1889 (Qld).

Seven also requires you to remove all transcipt of the report on your website. Seven exclusively owns all copyright in the literary work underlying the report. Seven's exclusive rights include the exclusive right to adapt this work. Your continued publication of the transcript is an infringement of Seven's copyright and provides a clear basis for the pursuit of aggravated damages and costs against you.

I confirm that should you continue to make any further alleagtions of this kind we will not hesitate to take any action that may be necessary to protect the reputations and property of the Seven Network, Today Tonight and our journalist.

Regards

Warren Coatsworth
Legal Counsel
Seven Network Limited


My eMail Response to their legal threat

Dear Sir

In a court of law it is also a relevant issue when the complainant has defamed the defendant. In fact, my understanding is that this is seen as aggravated defamation and the Courts can rule for much higher damages in my favour.

I am, despite this fact, happy to comply with your request below when the lies STILL conveyed on your report of this story displayed on-line are removed. I also demand an apology from Today Tonight and Channel 7 as they have been aware for some time that Deb Lang did NOT get sick at the village as stated on your program - she got sick BEFORE she arrived and that other statements made were known to be in doubt or untrue at the time the story was run.

By your own definition Today Tonight is lying because they are STILL knowingly presenting incorrect facts in this on-line report. In fact I informed Michelle Tapper that Deb Lang was sick before she arrived in the village on the day she interviewed me for this story - this allegation was ignored in the story that went to air see: http://seven.com.au/todaytonight/story/?id=16743 (as a result of this email the text at this link was removed by Channel 7)

The facts about Deb Lang's health on arrival will be confirmed in any court by several witnesses I will call. Among the witnesses will be Judy Lawler's parents who wrote a glowing testimonial to our homestay hosts on the day they left and who told our hosts that they were furious with Deb Lang because she had made them sick. (This testimonial was provided to Today Tonight BEFORE they went to air). We have an affidavit from other homestay guests who stayed at Namatakula at this same time which refutes what Deb Lang and Judy Lawler said on Today Tonight. There are other blatant misreported facts in the report still linked from this page to you web site at: http://seven.com.au/todaytonight/story/?id=16743.

Such as, as of 7.45pm, 19th November 2004 (printed copy held in evidence):

"Two days after we arrived I had extremely high fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, possible hep A and at the hospital on Saturday they told me that I had pneumonia," she said.

and

"The guest house and bedroom presents well on the internet but when you get there it's got cardboard dividers for walls," claimed Judy.

Judy Lawler was also on the holiday. While she didn't get ill, her mum and dad - aged in their 70s - were so sick they cut their holiday short after just four days on the island. (inference unhygienic conditions at Namatakula not caught from Deb Lang)

"Two hours into the flight [home] my mother passed out and they got oxygen to her and when we arrived in Brisbane she was rushed to hospital and put on a drip," said Judy.

(Fiji TV have video footage which was aired last Saturday which proves the comments presented above to be untrue).

and

Home stays are illegal in Fiji and the Fijian Ministry of Tourism is currently investigating some tour operators.

Homestays are not illegal in Fiji - they are common and a traditional part of Fijian life.

I am sending you a couple of email separately which were sent to Michelle Tapper on the Sunday before the report went to air which should have been enough for your producers to withhold the story but they didn't because they had started advertising it nationally within hours of ambushing me.

If you want me to remove my on-line statement then I suggest that you reciprocate with your on-line report and publish an apology for what was aired.

With reference to your earlier email about threatening behaviour I would suggest that the pot is now calling the kettle black.

I will be happy to present to the court evidence of the duplicitous manner in which Channel 7 have handled this matter and their lack of journalistic professionalism in pursuing this story without first researching it and while ignoring evidence to the contrary provided by me to you before it went to air.

I will also counter sue for defamation against Channel 7 and Michelle Tapper in person should you take action.

Regards

Scott Balson

Website: http://www.fijibure.com

Note: After responding to their legal department's email the archived on-line summary of their program on FijiBure.com mysteriously disappeared. (This archive is kept for all reports and goes back many years).

So what happened to the  on-line summary on FijiBure.com? Try http://seven.com.au/todaytonight/story/?id=16743

One can only come to the conclusion that it was withdrawn for "legal reasons". The fact that this email exchange and the original report that Channel 7 threatened defamation action over remains online and open to the public speaks for itself.

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The opportunity for the Media

I am offering an open invitation to any bona fide mainstream reporter from Australia who would like to report on the truth of Fijian Village Homestays through FijiBure.com in their medium. It does not matter whether you are in print, television or radio. You will have the opportunity to accompany me to Fiji as my guest (pay your own airfares and transport on Fiji). I leave for Fiji on 21st October and return ten days later.

You can expect to experience the following:

  • workshops and discussion forums with all village homestay hosts (I run these about four times a year - ie every time I return to Fiji).
    These forums are aimed at improving the service we provide guests and any complaints that I have received are openly discussed by the group so we can all collectively learn
  • homestay at any one of our villages so you can see first hand, for yourself, why the comments at this link are so glowing.
  • attend the historic conference with the Provincial Administrators, senior member of Fijian Affairs and the Fiji Visitors Bureau.
    Policy and government support for village homestay is scheduled to be discussed at this conference.

I am extending this offer to you because I care for the ideal of what I have tried to achieve for the impoverished village community in Fiji. This project is empowering them - it should be presented as such and not as some debacle as portrayed by Today Tonight.

If you are interested email me with details of the media company you represent.

NOTE: No one from the media took up the offer.

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Today Tonight's chequered history with the ABA

Findings against Today Tonight by the ABA:

It is instructive to note that nearly one third of all breach findings made by the Australian Broadcasting Authority against television broadcasters since the beginning of 2003 have involved Today Tonight. This comment covers every program aired on television by every telvision station since 2001.

How can such a blatantly unprofessional current affairs program be allowed to continue to broadcast its lies, half-truths and blatant bias? How can a major Australian television station like Channel 7 continue to run this trash - if not for ratings at any cost?

In 2005:
In the matter involving Ray White

  • breached clause 4.3.1 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 1999 by failing to present factual material accurately; and
  • breached clauses 7.9 and 7.12 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 1999 by failing to provide a substantive written response to the complainant and failing to advise the complainant that it could make a complaint to the ABA about the matter if it considered the response inadequate.

In 2004:
In the matter involving 4WD vehicles:

  • breached clause 7.9 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice (the Code) by failing to provide a substantive written response to a Code complaint.

In the matter involving the Red Cross:

  • breached Clause 4.3.1 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 1999 in relation to presentation of factual material and representation of viewpoints;
  • breached Clause 7.9 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 1999 in its handling of a complaint about the item; and

In 2003:
In the matter involving a New Zealand family:

  • Australian Broadcasting Authority determine for the above reasons that on 27 September 2002, the licensee breached sub-clause 4.3.5 of the Code.

In the matter involving Sydney neighbours:

  • breached sub-clause 4.3.5 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice by using material that invaded the complainant’s privacy without an identifiable public interest reason;
  • breached subclause 4.3.1 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice by not representing the complainant’s viewpoint fairly;

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Why you should never co-operate with current affairs programs

From the Australian Broadcasting Authority's own code of practice:

Matters not considered by the ABA investigating a complaint:

Clause 4.3.1 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, 1999 (the Code) does not require current affairs programs to be balanced or impartial. Therefore complaints concerning bias do not raise compliance issues relevant to the Code.

Clause 4.5 relates to presenting factual material accurately in the promotion of a news story. The Today Tonight program is a current affairs program, and as such, a complaint regarding this clause is not relevant.

Note: unprofessional rating-driven programs like Today Tonight DO NOT have to first check the credibility of the people they interview - so if those people have got it in for you and tell lies, just like with FijiBure.com, Today Tonight can present those lies as truth and the ABA will do diddley-squad about it. Furthermore do not believe a word you read in letters faxed to you by their Producers to secure an interview - they have no intention of keeping their word if unbalanced reporting suits their ratings.

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Getaway set the record straight in February 2005

In February 2005 Australia's top rating travel program, Getaway, with a viewership of over two million and a reputation to uphold broadcast a seven minute segment covering their star reporter's visit to the village of Namatakula in June 2004 just weeks before the complainants referred to above stayed there.

In the segment Catriona Rowntree sung the project's praises being fully aware of the claims made by Today Tonight... more at this link.
Extract:
Both floors of their house have flush toilets and showers. Water from the Namatakula River is purer than that you find in bottles. The electricity supply is reliable and Judith's culinary skills are legendary. She serves taro, fish, meat, rice and fruit presented on a cloth on the ground and eaten with knife and fork once grace has been said.

Difference? Getaway visited Namatakula Today Tonight jumped at a story which had no basis of truth.

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Just some of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Media Watch and other on-line reports investigating sloppy, devious or unbalanced reporting by Today Tonight (this is just the tip of the ice-berg):

Today Tonight Divorced from the Courts quote: It was a story the media couldn't resist: "Boy divorces mum". But now it's landed some big media names in a court case of their own. Next week there'll be a further mention in the Melbourne Magistrates Court of criminal charges against more than a dozen journalists, editors and publishers. They include high profile TV personalities such as Naomi Robson (Today Tonight)......
The judge ended with an appeal to the media's better nature, and backed it with a threat she knew they'd understand.
But Channel 7’s Today Tonight was undeterred. Network Seven racked up the most criminal counts - 21 in all.

Channel 7 ordered to pay $50,000 by Magistrate - Robson escapes jail

What do Today Tonight's peers say about this program and the court case? (Sample: Personally, there is nothing I would like to see more than Naomi Robson and her crew put behind bars with the key thrown away. Television like TT has no cred and destroys it for the rest of us.)

Take this link to find out more at Australian Media Forums...

Seven's Cheap Idol Bash (Crikey) quote: Without his involvement in the first series of Idol, Dicko would not have come to the attention of Seven managers. Are they now saying one abuser right, one abuser wrong? If so, that's a very Orwellian way to judge TV talent.
Marginalising the Muslim population in Australia quote: Tim didn’t tell the boys until filming had started that the "doco" would run on Today Tonight. Then Ahmed and his friends saw the promo. It looks cut off, and Ahmed says it was taken out of context.... The following night Today Tonight was milking it dry.
Give Today Tonight enough rope quote:  Seven's Today Tonight is also behaving true to form. Anything goes... Well when Renee Geyer said "no", Today Tonight simply pinched an answer she'd already given on the ABC's "Enough Rope", and dropped it in completely out of context.                     
Today Tonight "helps" Rebecca
quote: Neglecting the real news, as always, Today Tonight has been exploiting its own strange discovery: 21 year-old Adelaide multi-mother Rebecca Matheson.
Today Tonight's double trouble quote: Keen viewers of Today Tonight would know why money sprang first to Sharon's mind, for barely a month earlier she - or a woman looking remarkably like her - had been on the show confessing how gambling had stripped her of a fortune.
Today Tonight's "Millionaire make believe"
quote: Judgment is still pending in Kaye's case but a few weeks ago shows like Today Tonight were warned by the ACCC that there's going to be a major crack down on the misleading… promotion of products in the guise of current affairs reportage or lifestyle programs, in particular where the program purports to be credible investigative journalism.- ACCC Media Release, 15 March 2004 (More at this link)
Today Tonight "Sluggo in Baghdad tonight" quote: What Today Tonight had done was intercut his travelogue with footage taken by other journalists who really were in Iraq. A little bit of the gun battle at Umm Qasr. A coalition plane even further away over the Al Faw peninsula.
Today Tonight "Kiddie crimes" quote: That’s foot in the door journalism modern style. But this is the technique at its classic best – once again from Today Tonight in Adelaide.
Today Tonight in the spotlight - 2000, quote: Any fair and objective judgement would surely find that [your reporter's] report was grossly unbalanced, misrepresenting the full circumstances in this matter entirely.
Today Tonight - Reporting Rubbish quote: What Today Tonight do when they run out of stories.
Today Tonight on MacDonalds and gambling quote: Today Tonight ran a poorly researched abysmal story about how Neopets has gambling games.
Gutter Journalism Hoax exposed quote:  Today Tonight is also no stranger to the invented story paraded as fact the infamous 'Majorca Skase Chase' report was mocked up in the theatrical district of Barcelona. True to form while shooting the Dole Army expose, the TT crew happily colluded in setting up a fake drain dwelling in an above-ground brick factory.

  • Today Tonight being caught out on Barcelona - see above? - hear it from the horse's mouth and at this link: Not to mention the $1000 Today Tonight payed us which will help keep the Dole Army website alive."
    The watchdog barks again - Sydney Morning Herald quote:
    Seven's Today Tonight did not want to comment on Media Watch's return - a pity, because Today Tonight was famously pilloried by Media Watch for showing a spurious Skase chase. The report claimed road blocks had been set up to impede journalists by Majorcan police at Skase's behest. In fact, the street scene had been filmed in Barcelona.
    The watchman - The Age Newspaper quote:
    Channel Seven's Today Tonight reporter David Richardson and producer Chris Adams had pretended to be in pursuit of Christopher Skase in Majorca when they were in Barcelona. They reported Skase had roadblocks set up to deter reporters and cameramen. The footage used to illustrate this, shot not in Majorca but Barcelona, depicted police moving traffic barriers. Host Stuart Littlemore henceforth referred to the program as Barcelona Tonight. The Seven Network suspended the pair for a month without pay and formally warned them that a repeat of any similar action would lead to dismissal.
    For more go to Media Watch

    Father McKenzie - demonising youth of Today Tonight
    Extracts from an article in The Age on 13th April 2005

    The result was commercial prime-time current affairs television at its worst:
    a potent mix of voyeurism and exploitation that was light on news value but committed to presenting the most negative stereotypes of young people possible.(snip)
    Like an abusive parent, Today Tonight placed the young people in a situation where they were doomed to failure and then punished them for failing.(snip)
    The hypocritical reporting style adopted by these shows often exploits young people's commercial value while almost simultaneously condemning its consequences. In early March, Today Tonight covered Nikki Webster's photo shoot for men's magazine FHM. The week before, it crusaded against the sexualisation and commercial exploitation of girls in music videos and fashion.

    Crikey.com on Today Tonight
    Extract:
    Yes, but then how many people are really interested in the tripe and rubbish served up at 6.30 pm on Today Tonight

    Mad Sophist.com
    Extracts: Today Tonight started and continues to be garbage.
    The worst thing is the show has won several made up awards and the dirtbag presenter

    Author's Den - Vena McGrath - interview with Today Tonight
    Extract: The story will be about lying ...

    MIAA - Mortgage Industry Association of Australia
    Extracts: I most certainly did not say, as the reporter stated on the program, “Phil Naylor from the Mortgage Industry Association admits fraud is now rampant in his industry”. That totally false statement by your report should be withdrawn immediately and substituted with what I did say, which was the opposite of what was reported. I was at pains to emphasise that fraud is not widespread in the industry....
    It is clear that neither the interviewer nor the producer had any idea of the issues and how the industry worked, nor it seems, wanted to know. Several times I had to query their interchangeable use of the words ‘lenders’ and ‘brokers’ – it was quite apparent to me they did not know the difference, yet they were quite happy to be critical of brokers

    Hewitts slam Today Tonight
    Extract: Today Tonight did not make any attempt to contact the Hewitts and, when asked about Bec's former association with the network, Macpherson said it had "nothing to do with it''.

    Nothing to do with the fact that the star tennis wife is now aligned to Channel Nine's magazine arm ACP as a weekly columnist on Woman's Day either, we're sure.

    Cornerstone Community
    I find it astounding that they can make allegations about our organisation in a story without once getting in contact with us to check their facts.
    For instance, we don't own a Laundromat as alleged in the program. They also made an assumption that the businesses are operated for profit and they did not check whether this is even allowable in our constitution as a not-for-profit organisation.

    Helen Wellings exposes an "unacceptable" aid to education
    A few days prior to the "sting" however, the manager, Mr Peter Solanikow, received a tip-off from one of the people from the Today Tonight team, informing him about the set-up and acknowledging that the service we offer is actually beneficial and useful to many students and that the current affairs program wants to create controversy. This explanation was provided in response to the confused manager's question as to why the tip off was made. At this stage, the manager did not take the call very seriously.

    The Age
    But that stalling and, possibly, diverting of the legal processes pales into insignificance beside Today Tonight's performance on Monday night. A week earlier, security guard Karen Brown shot dead a young man who, moments earlier, had allegedly attacked her in a hotel car park in Sydney. The man appeared to be leaving the scene when she shot him through the window of his car. For a week, Brown had refused to be interviewed by police on the grounds that she was too distressed and injured after the incident. But on Monday night, she told her story on Today Tonight.
    Brown was reportedly paid $100,000 by the Seven Network for her appearance

    And how about "Today Tonight" being used to promote Channel 7 advertisers?

    How to order products mentioned on Channel 7's Today Tonight story "Pillow Talk"

    Today Tonight and the Wonder Bra ... three plugs!

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    Thin Skinned Today Tonight

    Footnote....

    On 29th May 2008 following the release of the BRW rich list the day before which revealed the inclusion of conman Alan Bond through his African mining interests I laid the bait.

    Dishonest Today Tonight revealed at video link on right.

    I had an African contact, currently in Brisbane, who had all the goss on Mr Bond's latest scams would Today Tonight be interested? Of course they were. A Ms Erina Flessas from their Brisbane office phoned back and requested an urgent meeting (well, well they even had a cameraman in my area)... I told her that we were compiling a brief on the evidence we could present on air so that we could better negotiate a "deal" (read payment for going on air) and that this would take a few hours. After all we were also talking to A Current Affair... "well we want to negotiate with you first" she said. "Of course," I replied. I smiled and waited - sure of the outcome. A few hours later I received a phone call back from Erina. She asked if I was involved with fijibure.com and I replied that it was one of my businesses. ... well then we will not deal with you she said.

    I was right... The source of this can be confirmed. This is Erina's email at Today Tonight. Her direct phone number is 07 3368 7418. She freely supplied this information to me during out phone discussions.

    Now how thick skinned is that? Today Tonight defame me nationally - starting this page, then cannot take the heat... OBVIOUSLY... and refuse to deal with what could be a great potential story. But there again I did chose the day when Mercedes Corby successfully won a high profile defamation case against this trashy programme. Her costs of several hundred thousand dollars are the safeguard that Today Tonight hide behind, preventing many more similar actions. (Click video link above for full story). More on new Today Tonight presenter Anna Coren's complicated love life.

    I am so happy; this page is obviously a great irritation to trash yet they cannot do anything about it because of the legal ramifications on them!!!!

    David has delivered a big blow against a very ugly Goliath.  

    Closing note, Mercedes Corby: "It is about time Today Tonight stopped defaming people in a hunt for ratings regardless of the impact on people's lives."