I Was Exploited on National Television by Channel 7
We smiled and thrashed around in the pool because they told us to. We yelled out “Schoolies!” with our drinks in the air because they told us to. When asked if we were 18 — without having to produce ID — most of my friends lied and drunkenly signed contracts forfeiting our rights because they told us to.
A bunch of friends and I were a few Smirnoff buckets deep, splashing around in the pool at Kuta’s Jayakarta Hotel, when three men approached and started getting snap-happy. At first, we thought they were just photographers for the hotel, so we jumped up and down like excited trick ponies. Then we realised they were television crew making a show about Bali.
Australia has an endless supply of negative media about Bali, to the point where parents ban their children from going there without ever having visited the Indonesian island themselves. I remember the logo for Eye Networks Media – I had never heard of them before. But everyone loves the chance to have their big mug on TV. Plus, we had no doubts about our newly-established friendships, and the three men assured us that this was definitely a pro-Bali television series.
During our first interview, the six of us spent around 30 minutes slamming all the stereotypes instilled in the Australian public by trying to explain how wrongly the media portrays Bali and its people. “Stop being so scared to come here!” we shouted at the camera. “It’s a lot safer than everyone thinks. You just need common sense… Everyone’s so friendly!”
The morning of another meeting, I was pulled from the shower and stumbled downstairs into their van. Six of us were squished in, particularly unnerved by the closeness of the camera from the front seat. Confused, I started asking where we were going, but they wouldn’t tell us.
I know – get out, get out now, right? But none of us were worried. These men were Australian; they were our friends. The one in the front seat turned to face us, and from behind his giant teeth, his answer slithered out.
“It’s a surprise.”
The van edged away from Kuta, away from our safe little nook and into unknown streets where we seemed to be the only foreigners. I wasn’t aware until three years later that they had taken us to the city of Denpasar.
The fat-faced reporter then told us that we were going to buy a monkey. Our initial reaction was to laugh, but we were unsure whether he was serious or not. We spoke among ourselves and asked who was going to take care of it – us or them?
These reporters had been in Bali for about seven months by the time they found us. Now when I picture their faces, I can see the weasels beneath. I see their unkempt facial hair and wide eyes, savage and hungry.
They then proceeded to bait our entire conversation. Camera down, one of the men would say things like “Do you think you’ll need a license to buy a monkey?” Camera up, he would point to whom he wanted to respond. The whole time, we were treating it like a joke, as we found the whole thing ridiculous and irrational. This, again, made us look ignorant.
“We’re going to call the monkey Cheeky Charlie.”
“We could lay down some paper for it to pee and poo on.”
We even joked about buying this hypothetical monkey a tuxedo.
The market was horrifying. The stench of the overcrowded cages lingered on each and every nose hair. An iguana crammed into a space where his tail couldn’t fully extend had almost all of his spines burnt and broken. The sweat on our bodies was enough to make our own sports drink. The voice-over when the episode aired had the audacity to comment on us being “skimpily dressed teenagers” – bitch do you even know how hot Bali is?
They hadn’t told us anything, to the point where we assumed we were going to a food market. In the background of the show, you can hear my voice – “I thought we were going somewhere nice.” This statement is valid only when you know the truth. We were not there to buy a monkey, we were not there because we chose to be, and we had literally zero information on where we were going to end up.
I made ridiculous comments that the camera crew fed on like a wild pack of wolves on an injured deer.
“They’re looking at us because you’re all blonde.”
“Is this where people smuggle like, birds and stuff to? Like in their undies and suitcases and stuff?”
“So what are you going to do now then?” the cameraman asked, which later turned into, “These girls are now going to go and do what they know best.”
“We’re going to go drinking!” we yelled.
And yes, earlier in the week we had all gone out as a group to a karaoke club, where they joined us, cameras rolling. But that footage was then portrayed as the aftermath of the pet market. Manipulation is a game, and they were playing with our experience.
When the episode came out, the only piece of the initial interview that was used was from my underage friend – “It’s just like Australia but with no rules.” In a way, using only a snippet of an interview is strict journalistic practice, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But creating your own angle – an angle that doesn’t actually exist – isn’t. They exploited the fact none of us knew how to act in front of a camera. None of us knew that they were building rapport with us and grooming us to be set up in front of Australia at that market– moulding us for their own agenda.
It was kind of hilarious to see ourselves on TV, and to receive pictures and comments from friends – until we realised the full repercussions.
Around our home town, people laughed at us, asking ridiculous questions about what we would do with a monkey. At my weekend soccer matches, I would turn up, waiting for the ridicule. I remember the face of a family friend as he leaned back in laughter that stemmed from his stomach. Standing over me he jokingly asked where I keep my pet monkey.
Everyone is entitled to their own truth. The problem is that these men presented this as the truth, to the already terrified and gullible Australian public. They knew their angle and were accepting nothing but. They played into the general practice of fear-mongering, of manipulation, of “news” curating, and used us to their own means.
Photos supplied by the author