Last week I described a scenario to you where a police officer had almost come to blows with a company over the purchase of a very expensive motorhome.
To re-cap, the £40,000 vehicle was a lemon and the company was refusing to replace it, blaming everyone under the sun, especially the manufacturer of the vehicle.
Under the Sale of Goods Act, it’s the retailer who is responsible for providing a product that’s fit for purpose – not the manufacturer. This is especially true if faults occur during the first six months of ownership. But this police officer was getting nowhere.
That’s where the journalist comes into the mix (me) as the police officer contacts the programme I’m working on at the time. After said police officer guarantees that nothing will stand in his way of taking part in any filming – I get to work. This involves collating and verifying paperwork against story, contacting the relevant company.
After much to-ing and fro-ing, the company says it will back down and replace the vehicle.
Result! Happy police officer.
I contact him to arrange filming but he doesn’t answer. And he doesn’t answer, and he doesn’t answer. No e-mails are answered either.
Eventually after some days, I get hold of him when he rather sheepishly admits that he knows he’s going to get a new vehicle. But the catch is that he will only get it, if he pulls out of any filming.
I ask him if he is going to pull out – and despite all of his earlier protestations of ‘I’m my own man’ and ‘no one will manipulate me’ – he’s well and truly manipulated.
He refuses to cooperate further, while acknowledging that he wouldn’t have had this offer if it hadn’t been for my intervention.
I asked you what you would do if you were the police officer? Would you feel any commitment to me, the journalist, who brought about this offer? Or not? Would you give in to, what is effectively, blackmail?
I’m not sure what I would do – I would want to say no and go ahead with the story. After all, there’d been months of anguish and I would be entitled to a replacement or my money back if I’d gone to court. But who knows what pressure I’d be under to give in?
What could I as the journalist do about this man’s decision? The truth is very little.
I’d not filmed a shot so I was stuffed for a tv story about him – though we had looked at other complaints about the same company. This had been the strongest of the lot. I could (as he’d willingly given me his paperwork to back up his story) have written an article for the local newspaper, naming him and the company and there would have been little he could have done about it. If it’s true, it’s true. I didn’t do this.
For the company, they’d had a lucky escape from bad publicity, though if that company had had any gumption they might have seen it as a chance to get their brand on air, with an apology and shots of ‘here you are Mr Police Officer, let me hand over the keys to your new vehicle’.
Even though it is, on the face of it a bad news story, it’s precious air-time which you might not otherwise get. You could have put a spin on it of ‘ here’s company that puts rights its mistakes’ etc. But few company bosses are that courageous.
As a viewer, how do you feel about companies which actually turn up to
put their side on programmes like the BBC’s Watchdog for example. I always think ‘well at least they’ve had the courage to stand up and be counted’. To me it always looks as if you’ve got something to hide if you are super defensive.
Regardless, this is a very common if frustrating problem when you work in consumer journalism – and I suppose us journalists will never totally overcome it.