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Tube Talk: When Bad News Attacks

TUBE TALK With John Forde

When Bad News Attacks

There is no end to the despair, frustration and sheer boredom that watching TV news drives me to. After half an hour of watching Judy Bailey holding back the tears, or reporters shivering as they stand outside Parliament delivering some poorly researched speculation dressed up like a story, even TV2’s inane Big Brother looks like a tempting alternative.

But there’s a general election on, and, like it or not, we have to watch the news. Short of attending political party meetings, it’s the chief means by which our politicians can communicate their electoral campaigns. It’s also an excellent time to assess whether our broadcasters are doing their job properly.

In this review, I’ll focus – again – on TV1 news. As the government-funded broadcaster, it naturally should come under close scrutiny for how well it’s spending our taxpayer dollars.

If the coverage of the election date announcement was anything to go by, TV1 is setting itself up for another year of mediocre political reporting. After filming Helen’s announcement of the July 27 election date, One News reporters scuttled off to Opposition spokespeople for a “reaction” soundbite. Unsurprisingly, National, ACT and New Zealand snidely accused Helen Clark of cashing in on her party’s excellent polls results.

Was there any need for this? Isn’t it logical that a political leader should maximise on public popularity? It’s the Opposition’s job to pick holes in government policy, of course, but their comments – presented without commentary by One News – sounded pointlessly argumentative.

But this is news in the new millennium. One News’s formula seems to assume that each story must have an opposing point of view. By filming two people arguing, TV1 gets the appearance of objectivity, and saves having to present a well-researched commentary of their own.

In the same week, TV1 poked their cameras into the High Court, where Roby and Deborah Moorhead were sentenced to five years’ prison each for the manslaughter of their critically-ill son. It’s a perfect story for TV1’s pseudo-tabloid tastes – dead babies, religious “freaks” denying their child medical treatment, and the prospect of a grisly follow-up as they track the fate of Mrs. Moorhead’s pregnancy in prison.

TV1’s Sunday programme played into every cliché about the case, with a spectacularly bad follow-up story.

Reporter Janet McIntyre hunted down another religious couple who were similarly convicted of denying their son medical treatment for meningitis. After last-minute medical intervention, the child survived, miraculously without ongoing brain damage.

Bizarrely, McIntyre appeared to advocate the parents’ point of view. “Do you believe in the power of prayer in healing?” the glassy-eyed McIntyre smugly asked the child’s doctor. All very profound, Janet, but you’ve asking the wrong people the wrong questions. Were the Moorheads acting with the support of their church? Why were doctors and social workers unable to find them? But we don’t need to know this - Janet’s got a close-up of the dead child with heavenly music in the background instead.

And so it will continue, until TV1 learns that close-ups of crying victims and arguing for the sake of it makes juicy – but dumb – TV viewing. The thought of their election coverage already makes my fillings ache.


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