It was bound to end in tears. A bold Channel 9 commissioning decision to dramatise some of billionaire Gina Rinehart’s story – mixing fact and fiction and without her support.
House of Hancock was an engaging and entertaining drama. Mandy McElhinney did an excellent job playing Mrs Rinehart as did Sam Neill as her father, Lang Hancock.
It was also painful viewing, implying a tortured relationship between father and daughter.
But, in tears it ended.
After a legal battle, Channel 9 and production company Cordell Jigsaw “unreservedly” apologised to Mrs Rinehart for any hurt or offence, and accepted she found the broadcast to be inaccurate.
This was a comprehensive apology, accepting that Mrs Rinehart had a very close and loving relationship with her mother, father and husband. It acknowledged “significant contributions” Mrs Rinehart has made to Australia, in business, employment and in support of charities.
At the heart of this drama was a powerful Australian woman and, while I’m no particular fan of Mrs Rinehart or her business ventures, I’m staggered at how much bile she generates on social media and the insults she attracts. Few men suffer the same level of abuse.
Network executives and producers assume their audience can differentiate between a series trumpeted as a “drama” and “not a documentary” but that’s just not true – particularly in the case of someone like Mrs Rinehart.
A statement from Hancock Prospecting called the series “inaccurate and distorted” and that the action was not about money.
“It was about Mrs Rinehart standing up for her deeply-loved family members to try to stop the further spreading of unfair and grossly disgraceful falsehoods about her family, especially when certain of her family members are no longer here able to defend themselves,” the statement said.
It’s not the first time that producers and broadcasters have run into problems when they dramatise the lives of people who are still alive.
The ABC’s Paper Giants implied that Ita Buttrose’s first husband, Alasdair “Mac” MacDonald deserted her when she was pregnant with her second child. It wasn’t true. He sued and the ABC had to apologise and settle for an undisclosed sum.
Biopics often have the support of their subjects. Molly Meldrum hit the publicity trail for Channel 7’s hit drama Molly. Olivia Newton-John has reportedly given her blessing to Delta Goodrem playing the lead in her story and Paul Hogan reportedly spoke to Josh Lawson by phone before the filming of Hoges.
Why should producers and broadcasters be able to say what they want about people who still have a reputation to defend, under the guise of drama?
Gina Rinehart is determined they won’t be able to in future. She’s called for legal reform to protect others in this circumstance.
“This matter was not just about the fundamental right of Mrs Rinehart and her family not to have lies and misrepresentations spread publicly about them, but Mrs Rinehart hopes that this matter will lead to the greater protection of others from such unfair conduct by the media and lead our politicians to activate long overdue reform in this area,” says her statement.
It was an expensive commission for Channel 9. Normally a network recoups budget on sales and subsequent screenings and streaming. Not now. They’ve agreed never to play the show again.