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Take the money!

By Mirko Bagaric - posted Friday, 12 May 2006


The next chapter of the miraculous survival of Todd Russell and Brant Webb is likely to be far less uplifting than their rescue. Attention will now turn to the manner in which they tell their story to a country that held its breath as it counted down the metres as the drill made its slow journey to their tomb, nearly a kilometre beneath the earth’s surface.

The miners will be offered hundreds of thousands of dollars by hungry media outlets, trying to outbid each other for the exclusive right to tell their story. The miners will quickly have to decide whether they will relieve a media entity of a sizeable chunk of money or tell their story to all and sundry, thereby ensuring that it will reach all Australians, eager to learn more about their incredible experience.

Should the miners cash in on their misfortune?

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In short, they should pocket as much loot from the cashed up media outlets as possible but then spread a fair bit of it around to those most adversely affected by the their ordeal.

If the miners played it straight and refused payment for the exclusive right to broadcast their story, they would set a refreshing precedent, which would buck the recent irritating trend of “celebs” selling the right to sell images of themselves. The miners, however, do not have a duty to set an example which would hopefully serve to reverse this selfish trend.

The capacity to sell your story to the highest bidder is merely an inevitable by-product of living in a market economy. We live in an increasingly materialistic world. Many things are now commodified, ranging from water, personal exercise training and even images of famous people. The message is “no pay, no use”.

A person’s story is simply another commodity. Normally the story is not that interesting (most of us live pretty common or garden variety lives) and hence it is has no value in publication terms. But some people have sufficiently unique, extreme or inspiring stories to tell that can captivate the rest of us. The rarity of the event makes it valuable. Just your typical supply and demand equation at work.

How or why it is that the story is rare does not really matter in terms of a person’s capacity to sell it and unashamedly pocket the proceeds. The rare event can occur as a result of a long term (normally successful) commitment to a particular goal (for example, sports stars and politicians) or sometimes it is just a happenstance, as is the case with the miners.

In the case of miners at least they have a genuinely interesting and unique story to tell, unlike most celebs engaging in yet another tiresome look at “me, me, me” boast.

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Moreover, the media outlet that tells their story will make a lot of extra money. And in the tussle for the extra revenue with a media outlet, the miners win hands down. The pain and despair that underpin the story was experienced solely by the miners.

So good luck to the miners in negotiating the best price possible for their story.

This does not mean that it is appropriate to sell any story. There is one limit. It stems from the fundamental legal and moral principle that “no person should benefit from his or her criminal wrongdoing”.

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First published in the Canberra Times on May 10, 2006.



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About the Author

Mirko Bagaric, BA LLB(Hons) LLM PhD (Monash), is a Croatian born Australian based author and lawyer who writes on law and moral and political philosophy. He is the author of 20 books and over 100 refereed scholarly articles. He is not connected with any political party or other interest group. He is the author of Australian Human Rights Law (forthcoming). Mirko is the author of Being Happy and Dealing with Moral Dilemmas.

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