Television production company, Crackerjack Productions Pty Ltd, has been found by the Federal Court in Sydney to have misled job seekers about the availability of work offered by it while making a reality television program for Network Ten.
The court has made orders by consent against Crackerjack, its producer Mr Jim Burnett, and Network Ten Pty Ltd in relation to conduct that included the placement of misleading job advertisements in several newspapers by Crackerjack for the purpose luring potential subjects for a reality television show it was producing.
In January and February 2001, Crackerjack advertised casual jobs in the New South Wales regional city of Dubbo, and in Melbourne, seeking a 'Self Starting Girl/Boy Friday' for five days' work. Crackerjack also placed vacant positions with several job agencies in Dubbo. Its purpose in placing these advertisements was to lure job seekers to an "interview" and then film them after asking them to help out in fictitious situations contrived by Crackerjack employees. For example, job seekers in Dubbo, believing they were to be interviewed for the job, were asked to assist a film crew making a television commercial at the time. The job seekers were not told their actions were being filmed by Crackerjack for possible use in a candid camera style television show.
Two job seekers were then offered the advertised work by Crackerjack. This work, however, was not genuine and the tasks both were required to perform over the five days were part of an elaborate hoax. The two individuals involved, who were paid for their five days, were not told until afterwards the real reasons behind what they were asked to do, nor that they were being filmed.
The court, in the consent orders, found Crackerjack's purpose in advertising and offering the five days' work was to obtain candid film footage of job seekers for use in a reality television program it was making called Mind Games – A Real Life Adventure, broadcast by Network Ten on 4 August 2001.
In addition to finding that Crackerjack had breached the Trade Practices Act 1974 by engaging in misleading conduct and misrepresenting the availability of employment, and that Mr Burnett was knowingly concerned in the conduct, the court also made the following orders against Crackerjack and Mr Burnett:
- both be permanently restrained from undertaking similar conduct again
- Crackerjack to send a letter of apology to affected job seekers
- Crackerjack to put in place a trade practices compliance program
- Crackerjack and Mr Burnett pay the ACCC's costs as agreed in relation to the legal proceedings taken against them.
Network Ten was also found by the court to have misled one of the job seekers in relation to a mock press conference he was required to take part in during the five days he thought he was working for Crackerjack as an assistant to a film crew. The court also found that Network Ten was knowingly concerned in Crackerjack's breaches of the Act by commissioning Crackerjack to produce the television show despite being fully aware of what Crackerjack proposed to do.
The ACCC has asked the Court to also restrain Network Ten from engaging in similar conduct in future. The company has opposed this application, which shall be heard by the court on 21 October 2002.
"This case sends a very sober message to all television production companies and networks who commission and broadcast their programs", ACCC Chairman, Professor Allan Fels, said today. "The popularity in recent years of reality TV programs has been demonstrated by the high ratings these shows have achieved in Australia. The ACCC understands reality TV holds great appeal for many viewers and does not wish to restrict the legitimate production of these types of programs. However, the producers of these TV shows, when seeking to maximise their entertainment potential, must be careful not to engage in misleading conduct in breach of the Trade Practices Act.
"The ACCC was very concerned in this matter that job seekers, particularly those in the New South Wales central west region of Dubbo, being keen to find work and support themselves financially, may have been exploited by the actions of the two companies involved. People looking for work are generally in a vulnerable position and prospective employers must not unfairly take advantage of this or they risk breaching the Act".
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