NINE inks $2 million interview deal with parents of CLEO SMITH putting chequebook journalism in question


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The large figure has come under fire, but is it a price worth paying for unmissable television?

In what is believed to be one of the largest deals in Australian television history, Nine have reportedly paid over $2 million to interview the family of Cleo Smith, 4, who was allegedly abducted and missing for 18 days until she was found alone in a home almost an hour away from where she vanished by police.

The story captured the attention of Australians nation-wide last year, and now a reported bidding war has seen Nine secure exclusive and widespread coverage of the family’s story.

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The Australian reports interviews with Cleo’s mother, Ellie Smith, and step-father, Jake Glidden, will appear on the networks’ news programs and current affairs flagship 60 Minutes, with possible spin-offs to Nine’s newspapers and a six-part special for Stan.

News outlets are reporting Seven West Media chairman Kerry Stokes had also put in a bid for the exclusive interview.

But Nine’s seven-figure deal has come under fire by some inside the network, with reports suggesting many are ‘horrified’ at the thought Cleo herself may be interviewed.

A source told The Australian:

“This is insane. This is dinosaur chequebook journalism. It smacks of an inexperienced CEO who has got a rush of blood in his first bidding war.”

Nine staff are also reportedly angry the money hasn’t been spent elsewhere, such as funding full-time salaries or to run a number or programs.

But when it comes to ratings and the battle to be the number one network, perhaps Nine has made an expensive yet strategic decision that will pay dividends later this year.

TV Blackbox co-editor, Rob McKnight, weighed in on chequebook journalism and how the exclusive interview will be a ratings driver.

“I’m always confused by the idea that chequebook journalism is bad. Why shouldn’t the victims who are telling their story be financially rewarded?

“Let’s not forget Cleo’s family have the right to say no. But can you imagine how much of a difference $2 million will make to that family?

“I know there are reports saying insiders at Nine are upset but this is a ratings driver. Who doesn’t want to watch this story?”

Australians are no stranger to large figures being paid out to victims or survivors of tragedies. After the Beaconsfield mining disaster in 2006, survivors Brant Webb and Todd Russell were each paid around $1 million each for a television interview with Nine.

When the two-hour interview went to air, the network achieved an average national audience of 2.58 million viewers, ranking it fifth within the top ten shows of the year.

Rob said:

“Nine, Seven and 10 all generate revenue from interviews like this so it makes sense to me the subject should also make money.

“To me this is the story of the year and is a guaranteed ratings winner. Well done Nine for getting it across the line.”

Darren Wick, director of news and current affairs at Nine, said the network is honoured Cleo’s family has chosen to tell their story to Nine.

“From a 60 Minutes story to other opportunities across Nine, we will continue to support Cleo and her family as they go through the court process, and we take our legal obligations around reporting on Cleo’s story extremely seriously.”

It is not yet known when any of Nine’s exclusive coverage will go to air.

What’s your say? Is $2 million a worthy dint in the wallet for a likely ratings winner, or should the money have been spent elsewhere at the network? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Matthew Simmonds
Matthew Simmonds
Matthew Simmonds is a journalist and blogger, with a keen interest in the world of Reality TV. He loves exploring both what’s happening in front of the camera but also how the magic comes together behind the scenes. If not glued to the TV bingeing one of the newest obsessions or a timeless series, you’ll find Matthew endlessly scrolling through Twitter (and he may even tweet a time or two). Matthew graduated from a Bachelor Degree in Communication, majoring in Journalism, at the Queensland University of Technology in 2022.



  1. Disgraceful. It should be illegal to make any sort of financial gain from this type of tragic event – open slather for those who want to “cash-in”.

  2. I find this announement by Channel 9 not thought about by them and insensitive.
    Another child aged 9 has been allegedly murdered brutally by a person known to her. They are completly different outcomes, but a little bit of sensitivity would have been much nicer now.
    Besides that I believe that this payout should be in trust for the child and any other siblings for their education. Thank you for this great commentary page, accidentally found while browsing.

  3. Gutter stuff. Gyg wouldn’t have done it. Even Hugh wouldn’t have. Will drive the 9News brand into there ground and take the SMH and 3AW with it:

  4. These were parents that stated they wanted to keep their child out of the media spotlight ! Frankly I’m appalled.

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