When Stars Apologise: How Backlash Forces Backtracks

Huge social media pressure saw Sunrise issue an apology for using the derogatory term "dole bludgers" this week, the latest in a long line of backtracks on controversial comments on the air.

A "poor choice of words" was blamed for Channel 7's morning show introducing a news segment about people on the Newstart welfare allowance by calling them "dole bludgers" who "are trying to take advantage of the system".

The clip, aired early on Wednesday morning, was also posted on social media with the same introduction.

It was roundly excoriated online, with more than 1200 replies to the tweet -- the overwhelming majority of them negative -- before it was deleted.

Newsreader Natalie Barr tweeted from her personal account that the introduction was " badly phrased", a "mistake" which "shouldn’t have happened", and that the show was "sorry" for its characterisation of people on welfare.

Barr then gave an on-air apology in Thursday's show, saying their words have have "misled some viewers" and "there are many welfare recipients whose payments are suspended for reasons other than doing the wrong thing." Barr admitted "it was a poor choice of words."

READ MORE: Why Bashing Welfare Recipients As 'Dole Bludgers' Ignores The Unfair Reality

READ MORE: Boosting 'Embarassment' Welfare Payments Would Help Economy

However, as ABC's Media Watch and others pointed out, it was not exactly the first time Sunrise had used the term -- begging the question, were these all mistakes as well?

And are apologies just a way to quickly diffuse the outrage of the day?

Also this week, American TV personality Mario Lopez -- issued his own apology, after controversial comments about transgender young people.

In a clip from an interview in June, which resurfaced recently, the former Saved By The Bell star said he thought it was "dangerous as a parent to make that determination" about their child's gender status.

Lopez copped immense criticism for his comments, and later issued a full apology.

"The comments I made were ignorant and insensitive, and I now have a deeper understanding of how hurtful they were,” he said.

READ MORE: Job Seekers Told To Pick Fruit Or Lose Welfare Payments

READ MORE: 'Stressful, Heartbreaking' Newstart Payment Needs Raise, Welfare Advocates Plead

We're in an era where video clips and interviews can live forever online, getting a far bigger audience as they are re-shared among people who didn't even see them the first time around.

How many people would have been watching Sunrise before 6am on Wednesday, when those 'dole bludger' comments were made?

We're also in an era where ordinary people have never had more chance to get their voices heard, and true 'people power' campaigns of criticism and backlash can quickly force stars into issuing total apologies in damage control mode -- and it happens quite often.

That's what Malcolm Turnbull -- then a Liberal MP, before he became Prime Minister himself -- was talking about in 2012 when he called the social media reaction and criticism of Alan Jones "both inspiring and horrifying".

He was speaking when the radio host was under pressure to apologise after claiming that former Prime Minister Julia Gillard's father died "of shame" over her conduct in office.

John Gillard had died just weeks earlier, after an illness. Jones was blasted, and advertisers deserted his show during the controversy.

Alan Jones was slammed for his 2012 comments. Photo: AAP

At the time, Turnbull said social media gave people "the capacity to express themselves, unmediated, unedited, in all of its rawness, often in all of its vulgarity and cruelty," saying that people had been "treated with contempt by the mainstream media, now they have their own megaphone."

In 2016, Today show host Karl Stefanovic issued a long apology after referring to transgender people as "trannies", as well as playing music from 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert', as a journalist spoke about being allegedly attacked by "transvestites" in Brazil.

Hours later, he apologised on social media, and the very next day, Stefanovic issued a long on-air mea culpa, admitting he had been "ignorant".

Karl Stefanovic apologised after using a controversial term. Photo: AAP

Radio duo Kyle and Jackie O have had their fair share of on-air apologies in their time on the radio waves. Jackie in 2016 said sorry after she "gave voice to really ugly rumours" about a footballer's personal life; the pair apologised following their much-derided 2009 lie detector call where a young girl revealed she had been sexually assaulted.

Last year, their show's 'Intern', Pete Deppeler, later backtracked after he was slammed for his comments to Australian cricket captain Steve Smith, where he jokingly compared the South African ball-tampering scandal to reality TV show 'Married At First Sight'.

Kyle Sandilands, however, said in 2016 that he would "refuse to ever do anything. I never say sorry about anything, ever."

Radio presenters Kyle and Jackie O in 2013. Photo: AAP

Another Nine host, Sonia Kruger, was pilloried for 2016 comments where she questioned whether there was a link between Muslim immigration and terror attacks, and said she would "like to see [Muslim immigration] stopped now for Australia" because "I want to feel safe." She faced huge backlash for the comments online.

In February, the  NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled that her comments were "vilifying" remarks and "a stereotypical attack on all Muslims in Australia".

The reactions show that social media criticism or calls to boycott programs after controversial comments are made, can lead to change and apology, but it doesn't prevent repeat offenders from striking again.