The Chaser APEC pranks


The Chaser APEC pranks

The Chaser APEC pranks were comic stunts which targeted the 2007 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Summit in Sydney, Australia. All of these pranks were planned, coordinated and performed by Australian satire group The Chaser during September 2007, for their then current television programme, "The Chaser's War on Everything", which broadcasted on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) television station ABC1.

The comic group began with four members in 1999 producing a fortnightly newspaper entitled "The Chaser". The group later expanded its team to assist with the publication and other productions. [cite news|url=http://www.theage.com.au/news/tv--radio/chasing-down-the-powerful/2007/03/20/1174153069543.html?page=5|title=Chasing down the powerful|publisher="The Age"|accessdate=2008-01-17|first=Debi|last=Enker|date=2007-03-22] In 2007, they produced a second season of their popular television series "The Chaser's War on Everything", which is known for its comic stunts and unique political commentary.cite news|first=Rachel|last=Browne|title=ABC pranksters slated for prime time|url=http://www.smh.com.au/news/tv--radio/pranksters-slated-for-prime-time/2007/01/27/1169788741631.html |work=The Sydney Morning Herald|date=2007-01-28|accessdate=2007-11-14]

During the week-long event the team managed to perform a variety of stunts relating to APEC; the most well-known and controversial being the breach of an APEC restricted zone in the heart of Sydney's CBD on 6 September 2007. The stunt, which is easily the most publicized in the history of the comedy group, has received overwhelming recognition, acclaim, and criticism, both locally and internationally.cite news | title=The Chaser goes global | url = http://www.theage.com.au/news/tv--radio/the-chaser-goes-global/2007/10/29/1193618793384.html | publisher = The Age | date = 2007-10-30 | accessdate = 2007-11-18]

Background

APEC Australia 2007 was composed of a series of political meetings held around Australia between the 21 member economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. These meetings culminated in Leaders Week, where the heads of government of each member economy attended Sydney, New South Wales from 2 to 9 September 2007. [] The significance of the APEC event meant that severe and expensive security arrangements were employed. Overall security planning was overseen by the "Protective Security Coordination Centre" of the "National Security and Criminal Justice Group" from the Attorney-General's Department, through the establishment of an APEC 2007 Security Branch. [] In addition, the New South Wales Police Force formed the APEC Police Security Command to secure and monitor the Leaders Summit. Notably, many public roads in Sydney were closed as leaders, officials and personnel and their motorcades travelled around the city. Figures released by the government to a Senate committee show that security expenses at APEC accumulated to $170 million. [cite news | last = Dickins | first = Jim | url = http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,21837124-421,00.html | title = APEC security to cost $24 m a day | publisher = NEWS.com.au | date = 2007-06-03 | accessdate = 2007-11-06]

The Chaser

:"Further context: The Chaser"Before the APEC event in September 2007, The Chaser had been warned about the dangers of behaving irresponsibly during the APEC lockdown in downtown Sydney.] David Campbell, the New South Wales police minister, said that the police understood that "parody and satire are entertaining and fun", however the program must understand the "seriousness of this matter [APEC] and take caution". This was reiterated by a police statement, which said that producers of "The Chaser's War on Everything" were warned about the "ramifications of stunts during APEC".

The Chaser team, however, were not fazed by the advice and warnings on stunts at the event. Before the Leaders Summit, star member of their current show Julian Morrow appeared on radio and commented that "the eyes of the world and the eyes of Al-Qaeda are on us" for the internationally political event. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=022gQOHNNI0 "Dangerous Fools"] , YouTube video: Originally published on "Today Tonight", Seven Network. Date: 6 September 2007.] Morrow also hinted on the general idea for their prank; that their challenge was to do a stunt that would "make Osama bin Laden feel a little incompetent".

Breach of APEC restricted zone

On 6 September 2007, eight production members of "The Chaser's War on Everything" including cast member and executive producer Julian Morrow and regular on-screen cast member Chas Licciardello, and three hired chauffeurs drove a fake Canadian motorcade through the Sydney central business district and breached the APEC security zone. []

The motorcade began its journey into the fenced area, or so-called "ring of steel", after easily passing through the first security checkpoint, at the Bent and Macquarie Street intersection. [] The vehicles then proceeded in a northerly direction, reaching the prohibited "red zone" where there was a second security checkpoint, just before the Bridge Street intersection. After they were waved through by the police officers, the team went further into the restricted area until stopping outside the InterContinental Hotel, where United States President George W. Bush was staying.

Morrow, who was directing the stunt, ordered the motorcade to turn around because he realised that they had gotten further than expected, and the police officers were not going to stop them.cite news
title=The Chaser's War on Everything - Episode 15, 2007
publisher=Australian Broadcasting Corporation
date= 12 September 2007
] Moments later, the crew members were arrested outside the hotel on Macquarie Street when Licciardello, dressed as Osama bin Laden, stepped out of one of the cars and complained in-character about not being invited to the APEC Summit. []

The arrested crew members were immediately taken to Surry Hills Police Station, questioned and charged with entering a prohibited area, under the "APEC Meeting (Police Powers) Act 2007".] Subsequently they were all released on bail to appear in court on 4 October 2007.cite news|url=http://www.smh.com.au/news/apec/chaser-team-charged/2007/09/06/1188783378804.html|title=Chaser team charged|date=2007-09-06|accessdate=2008-02-21|publisher=The Sydney Morning Herald] Under the new legislation, if the crew members are found guilty they each face a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment, or up to two years if they were in possession of a "prohibited item". [ [http://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/fullhtml/inforce/act+14+2007+FIRST+0+N? APEC Meeting (Police Powers) Act 2007 No 14] , Date accessed: 20 October 2007]

The stunt was planned and approved by ABC lawyers under the obvious assumption that the motorcade would be discovered and stopped at the first security checkpoint of the APEC restricted zone. [] However, they managed to pass through two police security checkpoints, using a fake convoy of hired SUVs and a regular car, despite the fine print on the "APEC 2007 Official Vehicle" vehicle stickers stating: "This vehicle belongs to a member of The Chaser's War on Everything. This dude likes trees and poetry and certain types of carnivorous plants excite him."]

The following episode of "The Chaser's War on Everything" on 12 September 2007 saw the team present an overview of their infamous stunt, using the footage shown to point out other obvious signs that the motorcade was a hoax. Throughout the episode they repeatedly emphasized their only realistic attempt at actually disguising the vehicles – the use of a Canadian flag. The video also showed that the bodyguards were running with camcorders and that the crew members' fake passes had the words "JOKE" and "Insecurity" printed quite clearly. [ [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
]
] The footage also caught an officer telling Morrow, who was supervising the stunt, "you can do what you want, matey", while another commented "the road's yours". In the episode, Morrow said that they had to stop themselves because it was pretty obvious that the security officers were not going to. After partially turning the motorcade, Licciardello dressed as Osama bin Laden stepped out onto the street, and subsequently the police officers arrested the crew. Surprisingly, as pointed out by the team in the episode, all the police officers initially chose to ignore Licciardello and only arrest Morrow.

Aftermath

Following the breach of the APEC restricted area, The Chaser became the subject of intense scrutiny and judgment from members of the media, police officials and government ministers.

Public response

The stunt was mostly well-received by the general public, despite strong condemnations from some public officials. A Sydney correspondent to the British Broadcasting Corporation reported that the Chaser team had become "folk heroes" after the prank. [cite news | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/6985775.stm | title = Apec security leaves bitter taste in Sydney | publisher = BBC.co.uk |date=2007-09-09 | accessdate = 2007-09-10] In addition, 87% of some 28,451 respondents to a web poll conducted by the "Sydney Morning Herald" found the stunt funny. [ [http://www.smh.com.au/polls/national/results.html Rate the Chaser stunt - Sydney Morning Herald Online Poll] ]

The ABC however, did receive more than 250 complaints, outweighing the 177 who sent in positive opinions on the prank. A spokesperson from the national broadcaster said that the results were not accurate because people who enjoyed the show usually do not call them. In addition, talkback radio callers around the country were supportive of the Chaser by a significant four to one margin. Notably, figures showed that the stunt was referred to in more than a third of radio calls on the topic of APEC.cite news | url = http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2007/09/10/1189276635220.html | title = Mixed response to Chaser's APEC antics | publisher = The Age | date = 2007-09-11 | accessdate = 2007-11-20]

Political reactions

There was plenty of negative criticism from the political front aimed at the program and its members following the incident. Among the most critical of The Chaser group over the motorcade prank were Sydney's police officials and personnel. NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, the head for the lead security agency of APEC, publicly said that he was furious at the stunt, because it could have resulted in the comedians being shot by snipers, who were "clearly ... there because they mean business. They're not there for show."cite news | url = http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,22388125-29277,00.html?CMP=KNC-google | title = Chasers release new prank video | publisher = NEWS.com.au | date = 2007-09-09 | accessdate = 2007-11-06] In response to this, Licciardello stated that he had faith in the snipers' professional ability and that "They are highly trained, competent people and they're not going to shoot people if they're in an Osama bin Laden costume if they clearly don't pose a threat." [cite news|url=http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,22400896-952,00.html|publisher=The Courier Mail|title=Chaser team slam top cop over sniper claims|first=Marcus|last=Casey|accessdate=2008-02-17|date=2007-09-11]

In addition, many politicians, mostly from the state Labor Party, treated the security breach with concern and unease. Police Minister David Campbell expressed disappointment and concern over the stunt, arguing that "We've got 21 world leaders arriving in the city at the one time and it needs to be taken seriously." [cite news | url = http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/09/06/2026199.htm | title = Police Minister not impressed over Chaser stunt | publisher = ABC News | date = 2007-09-06 | accessdate = 2007-11-07] Furthermore, NSW Premier Morris Iemma said that while he was a fan of the show, the people involved in the stunt would have to face the full force of the law. Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd also voiced similar comments, saying that "I'm a fan of The Chaser...but I think these guys have crossed the line."

Despite the prominent negative criticism, Alexander Downer, the Minister for Foreign Affairs from the Liberal Party, appeared rather amused when asked to comment on the incident. Downer also commented that the arrest of the crew members proved that the security system had functioned properly and effectively, and adding that "whatever you think of the humour of The Chaser ... they were clearly not going to harm anybody in a physical way". Questions were also asked in the Senate. [http://parlinfoweb.aph.gov.au/piweb/view_document.aspx?id=2495117&table=HANSARDS]

International recognition

Whilst extremely popular in Australia, the APEC security breach captured international attention and acclaim. In Canada, a local newspaper saw the humorous side of the incident, despite the pranksters posing as Canadian officials, and in the United States, there were mixed reviews in the media. News readers from American news networks and the British Broadcasting Corporation, Fox News Channel, National Broadcasting Company and CBS Broadcasting Ltd. either "raised their eyebrows" or "had smiles on their faces over the stunt". [] After the high ratings for the episode and international recognition from the stunt, the program began screening overseas in countries such as Israel, South Korea and New Zealand. Many other interested countries, especially in the Middle East, were negotiating with the ABC.The stunt won an award for Best Television Moment at the 2008 MTV Australia Awards.

Current affairs

On 6 September 2007, current affairs program "Today Tonight" aired a story titled "Dangerous Fools" specifically describing the APEC stunt. In the report, the program's host Anna Coren stated that The Chaser were wasting taxpayers money for the dangerous stunt, and will "need more of those funds to defend their actions in court". Coren also claims that the ABC chiefs are too arrogant to reply to the program's questioning. A media commentator featured in the report labelled the APEC stunt as "over the top" and that he did not see the funny side of it at all. A security expert also presented his view, saying that there was a serious risk of not just the crew members, but also onlookers being seriously injured in the motorcade stunt, even though the breach was discovered by police officers well inside the prohibited zone. Furthermore, footage of David Campbell speaking to the media was also featured on the report.

The broadcast also criticized the comic group's approach to the APEC event, describing the stunt as "stretch [ing] the boundaries yet again", and quoting Julian Morrow on radio, who said he wanted "a stunt that can really hit the headlines across the world". "Today Tonight" also showed fellow "Chaser" member Craig Reucassel being asked questions, simultaneously claiming that the comedy team were "hardly sorry" for their actions. Ironically, this story was reported by Dave "Sluggo" Richardson, notorious for the In Barcelona Tonight incident. Unlike Richardson, The Chaser crew actually did go through roadblocks in their stunt.

Moreover, rival current affairs program "A Current Affair" also broadcasted a report on the prank. It explained the story of a Channel Nine cameraman who happened to see the stunt in action, and managed to capture footage of the actual stunt. The report also revolved around the aspect of the incompetence of the police and security personnel, rather than "Today Tonight's" approach of attacking the crew members who performed the breach of the restricted area. It also centred on the idea of the comedy group executing "their grandest gag yet" – referring to the achievement of "the world's most powerful man and the world's most wanted, in the same place, at the same time". [ [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wo2aUUFGDIg "Chaser Busted"] , YouTube video: Originally published on "A Current Affair", Nine Network. Date: 6 September 2007.]

Legal action

After arrest, questioning and interrogation by police officials, all eleven members of the crew involved in the stunt, including eight production members of "The Chaser's War on Everything" and three drivers, were charged with "entering a restricted area without special justification" under the "APEC Meeting (Police Powers) Act 2007". All eleven were granted bail, on the condition that they do not enter any of the APEC secured areas, and ordered to appear at the Downing Centre Local Court on 4 October 2007. Subsequently, this hearing and all matters were successfully adjourned until 5 December 2007 – a request from ABC lawyers. [cite web
url = http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/story/0,23663,22527100-10229,00.html | title = Chaser APEC court hearing adjourned | publisher = "News.com.au" | date = 2007-10-04 | accessdate = 2007-10-04
] The case was once again adjourned until 16 January 2008, and police said that they were considering dropping the charges. [] Despite this, police now claim to have received new information and the issue was again adjourned until 12 March. The ABC lawyers for the eleven charged have said that if the hearing goes ahead all charged will plead not guilty. [] On 12 March, Magistrate Michael Price refused a request for further adjournment by the prosecution, and set down a hearing to run from 7 July to 18 July. [ [http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/chaser-boys-to-have-day-in-court/2008/03/12/1205125963276.html Chaser team to face court in July] , "The Age", 12 March 2008.] At a review on 3 April, the Director of Public Prosecutions said they had just taken over the case and a decision on whether to drop the charges will hopefully be made at the next mention on 29 April. [ [http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,23476893-29277,00.html] [http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/04/03/2206804.htm] ]

On 28 April 2008 the charges against all eleven members were dropped by the New South Wales "Director of Public Prosecutions" (DPP) as it was considered that the police gave "tacit" permission for the group to enter the restricted zone by failing to identify the fake security badges. [cite news|publisher=News.com.au|url=http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/story/0,26278,23609111-10229,00.html|title=Police bungle sees Chaser charges binned|date=2008-04-28|accessdate=2008-04-28] The ABC welcomed the dropping of the charges, with Morrow saying "I think it's just great that justice hasn't been done". [cite news|title=APEC charges dropped against Chaser satirists|url=http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2008/s2229598.htm|publisher=ABC PM|date=2008-04-28|accessdate=2008-04-09] The police were unapologetic for their actions. [ [http://www.police.nsw.gov.au/news/media_release_archive?sq_content_src=%2BdXJsPWh0dHBzJTNBJTJGJTJGd3d3LmViaXoucG9saWNlLm5zdy5nb3YuYXUlMkZtZWRpYSUyRjE2MzQuaHRtbCZhbGw9MQ%3D%3D NSW Police - Statement regarding DPP ‘Chaser’ decision] ]

Show ratings

With all the hype and media attention directed at this stunt, the following "The Chaser's War on Everything" episode on 12 September 2007, which initially intended to be broadcasted under an alternative name – "The Chaser's War on APEC" – ended up giving the program their highest ever ratings for a single episode, with 2.245 million viewers tuned in across Australia. [] Furthermore, the stunning success made it the most watched ABC television program since 2000, [] as well as being a significant improvement from the preceding episode (1.491 million national viewers), which incidentally was the first episode for the second half of the 2007 season. [] The episode, which aired on 5 September 2007 and also was the highest ever ratings achieved in the history of the show until surpassed in the following week, featured many of the other minor APEC pranks.

The 12 September episode was downloaded one million times on the internet via ABC Online and in late February 2008, the episode was nominated for the "Rose D'Or" international television award for Comedy, on behalf of "The Chaser's War on Everything". [cite news|url=http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/story/0,26278,23306844-5013560,00.html|title=Chaser's War on the world|publisher=News.Com.Au|date=2008-03-03|accessdate=2008-03-04] [cite news|publisher=ZDNet Australia|url=http://www.zdnet.com.au/news/hardware/soa/Chaser-s-War-on-Servers-takes-down-ABC-s-IT-/0,130061702,339286464,00.htm|title=Chaser's War on Servers takes down ABC's IT|date=2008-03-04|accessdate=2008-03-08] The episodes stunt was nominated for the "TV moment award" at the 2008 MTV Australia Video Music Awards. [cite news|accessdate=2008-03-13|date=2008-03-13|title=Corey, Chaser boys share MTV nod|publisher=ABC News|url=http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/03/13/2188619.htm?section=australia] Channel Nine's 20 to 1 Pranks and Pranksters rated the APEC stunt at Number One being the 'Greatest prank in Australian History'

The Chaser's response

After the successes of the APEC security breach, the comic team used it to express their bewilderment at the incompetence of the police and security forces, while defending their own stunt. Chaser members Morrow and Reucassel went on radio to explain their story further from their initial reactions in "The Chaser's War on Everything" episode. Morrow pointed out that while they did extensive planning on the stunt, the one thing they "didn't plan for was success", and because of permission being granted unexpectedly for the motorcade to enter the secured area, the crew members were confused and not sure what to do in this unique situation. The duo also commented that while they clearly sensed danger being inside the prohibited area, the atmosphere was actually very quiet and subdued. But it has been revealed since that because they were arrested, it stopped their plans to enter the harbour on a lie-low.Fact|date=August 2008clarifyme|date=August 2008 ]

Other stunts

Furthermore to the major APEC security breach mentioned above, the "Chaser" team also performed stunts related to the APEC Summit that were much less publicized in the media.

;Pantomime horse at APEC protestsOn 5 September 2007, Chris Taylor, mounted on a pantomime horse, confronted the police force who were on foot, and asked them if they needed any reinforcements to defend against APEC protesters. When his offer was refused, Taylor took the horse for a stroll anyway, and was met by amused onlookers and media personnel. He was later asked to remove his clothing for examination by real police officers because he had been wearing similar police uniform, however no charges were laid. [cite news | title = Chaser team charged | url = http://www.smh.com.au/news/apec/chaser-team-charged/2007/09/06/1188783378804.html | publisher = Sydney Morning Herald | date = 2007-09-06 | accessdate = 2007-11-11] In addition, this stunt was made in reference to the horse flu outbreak, which meant that the police officers at APEC had to face protesters on foot. [cite news | url = http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,22321426-601,00.html | title = Mounted patrols for APEC cancelled | publisher = The Australian | date=2007-08-28 | accessdate=2007-08-28]

;Canadian cardboard motorcadeOn 7 September 2007, following the breach of the APEC security zone on the previous day, Chaser members Taylor, Reucassel and Dominic Knight and their film crew were detained and questioned over a follow-up stunt. [cite web|url=http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/09/07/2027186.htm|title=Police question Chasers over second APEC stunt|work=ABC news|publisher=abc.net.au|date=10 September 2007|accessdate=2007-10-15] It involved running near and attempting to enter the APEC protected zone dressed in cardboard cars topped with Canadian flags – a reference to its use in the motorcade as the primary disguise item. Police had no choice but to release all members involved in this stunt as they were outside the prohibited area. []

;Clothing for APEC photoReucassel approached various APEC security personnel and offered a selection of clothing for the traditional official photograph of all the attending leaders."The Chaser's War on Everything – Episode 14, 2007", Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Date Published: 5 September 2007]

;Assassination of Hu JintaoIn addition, as part of Hu Jintao's visit to Australia, Reucassel went to the Chinese Consulate and asked for them to prepay the bullets he was going to use to assassinate the Chinese President, in reference to China's capital punishment policies.

;APEC security checksLicciardello, who was dressed as a police officer, performed random security checks and procedures on members of the public to demonstrate the glorification of the tough APEC security measures. Procedures conducted included random frisking, taking hair samples, telling tram riders in Melbourne to stand and turn their heads, and erecting secure areas in public toilets and near escalators. When Licciardello was approached by real security officers, he said that all of these measures were "classified".

;Radio prank callLicciardello also rang up a talkback radio station pretending to be someone else, and complained about the stunt, claiming that it was stupid and anyone involved at the ABC, including Kerry O'Brien, should be put in jail for ten years.

;RSL attempted entryLicciardello and Morrow, the two charged members over the major prank, tried to enter a Returned and Services League (RSL) building using the same fake passes that worked in entering the restricted area. The manager did not let them enter, which according to the team proved that "RSLs are harder to get into than APEC".

;Rival fireworks showChaser members Taylor and Andrew Hansen launched a competing fireworks display to coincide with the official APEC fireworks display, which was only to be viewed by the APEC officials. [] The two fireworks were relatively close together, and the team also lit up a large screen with the text: "Screw APEC".

;Animals at Taronga ZooReucassel dressed as Australian native animals and went into Taronga Zoo and pretended to be real animals, a reference to the temporary relocation of some animals for private viewing by APEC spouses. []

References

External links

* [http://www.abc.net.au/tv/chaser/war/ The Official Chaser's War On Everything Website]
* [http://webdiary.com.au/cms/?q=node/2349 NSW Director of Public Prosecutions statement on the incident]


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