10 Jul 2016

Campaign to tackle sideline abuse misses mark

From Mediawatch, 9:08 am on 10 July 2016

A PR effort to tackle abuse in grassroots rugby certainly got noticed - but it unfairly shamed some of the people it was meant to engage.​

An image from the WRFU 'Keep it Clean' video

Image from the Wellington Rugby Football Union's 'Keep It Clean' video Photo: screenshot

The media love stories about All Blacks. When Victor Vito went 'undercover' to referee a kids' rugby match in the Hutt Valley recently, it was no surprise it became nationwide news.

Reports featuring video of the stunt aired on One News and TV3's Newshub at 6 last Monday. The footage also circulated on social media, showing the disguised All Black being heavily heckled by sidelined spectators.

It was organised by the Wellington Rugby Football Union (WRFU) and sponsor Burger King to highlight and discourage abuse of referees.

"At full-time, the players from the Petone and Avalon under-13 teams were thrilled to discover their apparently middle-aged and slightly overweight referee was in fact 33-test All Black Victor Vito," said the WRFU press release.

"Some of the supporters were a tad embarrassed when he spoke to them about his experience," it added.

In fact, they were fully aware of the guest star referee in their midst all along. Parents at the game told Mediawatch they had all agreed in advance to the match being filmed for such a campaign.

The over-the-top ‘parents’ losing it on the sidelines were actors, planted pitch-side for the purpose. But that was not clear in the stories seen on TV news, or the footage posted on Facebook by the WRFU.

The real parents of the two teams were aggrieved to see their behaviour, and the conduct of their boys, criticised in those reports by Vito himself.

On Tuesday morning, the WRFU's Will Caccia-Burke was in damage-control mode. 

On TVNZ's Breakfast and on Nine to Noon he said there were "elements of staging" about the event and admitted the sideline screamers were indeed actors. But he insisted it was a "true enough reflection of what goes on" at local rugby games, with "a bit a shock and awe" added.

WRFU's will Caccia-Burke fronts up on TVNZ's Breakfast show.

WRFU's Will Caccia-Burke fronts up on TVNZ's Breakfast show Photo: screenshot

He told Nine to Noon it was "no reflection" on the Petone and Avalon clubs.

But it was. The clubs, their under-13 boys and their parents were named and shamed on national TV, in the press release and on social media - for the actions of actors working at the behest of the WRFU and its campaign sponsor.

Some parents from the two clubs are making formal complaints to the WRFU, TVNZ reported. Some have requested the video be taken down, or at least that the names of the clubs be taken off the captions.

But it seems the WRFU and the sponsors are sticking to the claim it’s a “true enough reflection" of what happens on the sidelines.

The press statement also says:

"Burger King hopes raising awareness in Wellington junior rugby will spread the message to parents and supporters in all sports across New Zealand."

It has certainly raised awareness of the danger of consenting to being filmed for a promotion like this, if nothing else.

Looking for a live one

When real news crews have gone looking for genuine bad behaviour pitch-side, that also hasn't always helped to make the real extent of sideline aggro clear.

In its first week on air last August, TV3’s 7pm show Story went on the hunt for "the ugly side of NZ sport".

TV3's Story show on the lookout for sideline aggro at Porirua Park last year.

TV3's Story on the lookout for sideline aggro at Porirua Park last year Photo: screenshot

It picked out one punter at a Porirua club rugby game endlessly abusing the referee, while people nearby urged him to stop. But that man - who clearly had issues unrelated to rugby - was the only one in the crowd behaving badly.

Viewers were told Story "visited five games of local rugby to gauge the scale of the problem", but were not told what was witnessed at the other four.

The fact that the Porirua crowd was self-policing that day might please the WRFU. Last Tuesday, Mr Caccia-Burke told Nine to Noon everyone involved has "a collective responsibility" to tackle the problem.   

But collective responsibility surely ought to extend to cover the parents and players of the Petone and Avalon under-13 teams. The broadcast of the misleading criticism of them on TV from a video organised by the WRFU itself was unfair.

If formal complaints follow, the broadcasters might argue they didn’t know about the actors and didn't know the footage was unfair. But, in that case, they shouldn't air ready-made footage handed over by other organisations' campaigns without first looking at it closely and asking a few questions.