The story by Clare Brady was seemingly harmless, telling viewers about the potential for fines for drinking coffee or eating whilst you’re driving, walking three metres from an unlocked car, or using the car horn when greeting someone. It was a light piece on road rules that filled a few minutes of the Seven public affairs show.
“We are trying to make sure people actually obey these rules to make everybody on the road safe, including those who are driving, their passengers, other road users and pedestrians,” Acting Assistant Commissioner Dean McWhirter told the show.
But it has managed to get the show offside with Victoria Police which says it “misled, and then comprehensively misrepresented a senior Victoria Police officer.” Ouch.
In a blog on its website, Victoria Police claims the program pitched for an interview about the critical issue of ‘driver distraction’, with a strong emphasis on the importance of not driving whilst on the phone.
“Indeed this was the context in which Acting Assistant Commissioner Dean McWhirter agreed to the interview and made his comments,” it notes.
“So it came as quite a surprise to see that the package had almost nothing to do with road safety, and instead focused on fines for trivial matters such as leaving your car unlocked, accidentally splashing pedestrians, and unnecessary use of the horn.
“The implicit suggestion was of course that police should have far more pressing matters to be attending to than booking drivers for menial offences.
“And that’s something we’d agree with. Our focus is on the big picture – preventing the shocking trauma associated with unnecessary loss of lives on our roads.”
While current affairs shows have previously been accused of far more serious misrepresentation than this one, getting offside with Victoria Police is in nobody’s interests for future stories and social media now affords everybody a right of reply.
“Today Tonight might have thought they were having some fun with Victoria Police, but we won’t take the deliberate misrepresentation of our senior members lightly,” they said.
Roger that, constable.