Hello, I'm Nora Charles.
Tonight, an exclusive look at how an industry's integrity is for sale by journalists whose own code of ethics state that no commercial consideration should influence their work.
This show, Today Tonight and others like it, fleece advertisers of hundreds of thousands of dollars each night by holding you, the television viewer, hostage with stories on snake-oil weight loss cures, hysterical panic stories and, at times, downright lies.
And all for the lucrative ratings that determine the price paid by advertisers.
"Shows like Today Tonight are particularly notorious in using these tricks," says Nick Charles, one time journalist and now media commentator.When Australian rock legend Angry Anderson wanted to raise awareness of a fund raising rock concert tonight, he faked the ambush of members of bands The Choir Boys, The Angels and The Party Boys.
"They deliberately play on people's mistrust, fears and greed to maximise profits. In fact, it would be fair to say that current affairs shows have deliberately ruined lives in the quest for sensationalism and money."
"Oh look - you can see here that all of this has been pre-arranged," says Nick. "What are the chances of all the members of The Angels just casually walking down the street?And it gets worse.
"It might seem like a little bit of harmless fun but, once again, it shows how Today Tonight deliberately misleads the public."
Companies regularly approach Today Tonight for publicity and receive air time worth tens of thousands of dollars for free, for goods and services which may or may not work.
"Many journalists will do this kind of advertorial type of story and claim that it has news value, but in reality the news value of the free publicity is spurious," says Nick.In fact a Today Tonight journalist was 'bought' today by publicists for the company Etech Group who are targeting one of the most vulnerable groups in society - middle class parents with teenage children.
"News value is often limited to how well the company's publicist has pitched the story to the presenter or the researchers. They don't do any of their own independent research for stories."
"That was an out and out plug for a company product," said Nick, "I'm not saying the reporter, in this case, was offered, say, free software for running the story, but in many cases journalists receive what's known as payola, bribes in effect, to promote and publicise a product or event. The payola takes the form of free product, free tickets to events, stuff like that.And what happens if companies don't play by Today Tonight's rules?
"These people wield significant influence."
"Some of these reporters - personally I think it's a misnomer to call them 'journalists' - will go as far as to demand payola in exchange for favourable coverage," says Nick.But it's not always personal gain which motivates these parasites.
"If the organisation doesn't come across, then they don't get the coverage."
"One of the worst things you can do, from a public perception point of view, is not play ball with these people," says Nick.When Today Tonight made the claim on Wednesday night that Sydney church Hillsong was 'stacking' Australian Idol, they offered no evidence except that up to half of the contestants go to church - not to Hillsong specifically but to any number of churches around the country.
"If you refuse an interview, no matter how rude the reporter or inconvenient the timing, they will quite happily spread lies and deliberate misinformation.
"The worst thing of all is there is no real remediation or redress if a show like Today Tonight has it in for you. Network lawyers are held on retainer and these organisations will quite happily spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
"If you're an ordinary Aussie there is very little you can do to stop them."
Surely not surprising when, according to the latest census, 64% of Australians call themselves Christian and that Christians sing at church on a regular basis.
"It's very interesting that Today Tonight tends pick on Hillsong," says Nick. "It's not the first time they've done it.But the show's producers, including host Anna Corin, were stung by the response of Hillsong that issued a one-line statement saying the church didn't endorse any singers and wished all the contestants the best.
"What they failed to point out in their story was that other Australian Idol contestants benefit from the support of their communities and social groups to generate interest and votes on the show.
"Last year an Australian Idol contestant from Albury-Wodonga had the local pub raising money to pay for phone votes. Today Tonight didn't do an expose on that."
They also endured the derision of Australian Idol fans:
"I think they should stick to uncovering the dangers of old microwaves, food additives and the latest plastic surgery bungles instead."And rehash they do, finding two disaffected former members of the church to back their claim.
"LOL Grape, they just keep re-hashing the same pathetic stories over and over."
"Yea i saw the last bit of this add today...ITS SO FREAKING LAME sirsly Today Tonight have nothing better to do with there lives =.=*"
But our media insider smells a rat.
"The couple said that Hillsong kept asking them to 'do things', but they didn't specify what. Surely as a real journalist that's the question to be asking, but they don't. It's likely that the answer doesn't meet their agenda, which is to knock the church," Nick says.Speaking of questions to be asking, maybe someone needs to ask these reporters and producers what their interest is in steering young people away from positive behaviour.
"It's also quite possible that the couple are little more than volunteer 'cast members' - you only have to look at these shows' web sites to see how they advertise for people with an axe to grind to come and tell their story on air or pretend they're ordinary members of the public reacting to events or talking about their experiences with some of the payola products we mentioned earlier.
"Anyway, as I said before, so what if Hillsong ends every service by saying 'don't forget to vote for so and so'? That's what everyone else does, Today Tonight included whenever it runs a thinly veiled promo for network shows like Dancing With The Stars.
"The real question is why Today Tonight and A Current Affair too, are against a church the young congregation of which is more likely than the average population to be happy, not on drugs, not getting drunk every weekend, not sexually promiscuous and more likely to be caring, socially active people.
"These powerful, multi-million dollar media outlets are trying to portray Hillsong as a cult, when it is nothing of the sort - it's just a large, active Christian church."
Perhaps they're after a 'good' story.
Or perhaps their interest is a little more unnatural.
-- Nora Charles reporting
UPDATE: Hillsong toys with Today Tonight, hinting that it could take legal action against the show.