There seems to be this perception in Australia, that to be truly absolved of anything you regret or are ashamed of in life, all you have to do is make an appearance on Channel 7’s Today Tonight or Channel 9’s A Current Affair – two of the most watched programs on Australian television.
This particularly applies to the sheltered world of Australian celebrities or media personalities, who see grovelling on prime-time TV as the equivalent of Catholic confession (often a paid Catholic confession at that!).
You tell a Current Affair’s Tracey Grimshaw you’re sorry and all is forgiven.
And it’s great because for one thing, you know you’re not going to be asked any real tough questions – all you have to do is shed a tear or two and you can get on with your life.
I am not a fan of right-wing UK tabloid The Daily Mail, but I think their columnist Richard Littlejohn was right on the money when he called Michael Christian and Mel Greig interview’s on these two shows “a self-indulgent, self-justifying sobfest”: that was “utterly nauseating”.
Just consider for a moment how both interviews begin.
Channel 7’s Today Tonight interview begins with the host Clare Brady, asking Mel and Michael if they feel up to doing the interview.
Immediately, we are expected to feel sorry for them (which is fair enough) but what about the poor woman who has killed herself and her family.
In both shows, you can count on one hand the number of times Jacintha Saldanha’s name is mentioned.
Yes Mel and Michael feel terrible about a prank that went horribly wrong, but Brady is happy to let them pass the buck when it comes to accepting some responsibility for their actions.
On both shows they are allowed to get away with claiming that the prank was a “team” decision when clearly it was someone’s idea and also someone’s decision higher up the food chain at radio station owner Austereo to allow the prank to be broadcast.
But no names are mentioned and no further questions are asked.
Tracey Grimshaw begins her expose by telling viewers that this interview is ‘unpaid” which tells you a lot about the credibility of the show before the interview has even begun.
Tracey also begins by telling us of an emotional Mel Greig before she’s even uttered a word.
The message is clear: “Come on Australia, get your tissues ready!”
She begins the interview exactly in the same manner as Clare Brady, asking the pair if they feel up to doing the interview.
And just like rival show Today Tonight, she then asks them whose idea it was to make the prank call – and so the interview progresses.
In fact the interviews are so similar, you’d think they’d colluded on the questions before-hand.
Both presenters put on their best sympathetic, yet stern motherly faces, but avoids any tough questions.
Everything appears stage-managed, deliberate and designed to tug at the heart-strings.
I am sure both Mel and Michael feel genuine remorse, but even the tears shed on the shows have an air of staged theatricality, with the dramatic pauses and contrived helpless expressions.
And then there’s Mel’s response to Tracey’s question about when she heard the call.
“It was the worse call I ever got” is her reply and you can just hear the show’s producer saying to himself – “that’s the bit we’ll run in the promo”.
But there to comfort them in their time of trauma and need – as she has done with so many others in the past – is the mother figure of Tracey Grimshaw, the high priestess of television absolution.
Because let’s face it, if Mel and Michael really wanted to deliver a heart-felt apology, they would have penned a meaningful apology to Jacintha Saldanha’s family and not sought the prime time TV limelight.
But that would be un-Australian – instead we prefer: “Lights, camera, action…Tracey Grimshaw”.