Within the space of several hours, Newshub has caused a major upset with the news that the New Zealand Police had deliberately withheld video footage acquired from the Pike River mine several months following the explosion that claimed the lives of 29 West Coast miners. I have seen both praises for the Newshub team, and scathing criticism of the Police and the Government as a result of the story. I have no doubt that this is a huge leap forward for the families of the Pike River victims, however, this story says so much more about the credibility of reporting from the once credible force Newshub, formerly Three News.
Political Editor Patrick Gower, broke the story on 30 April 2017 with footage that was ‘exclusively’ acquired by Newshub, claiming that the footage had been deliberately kept from the families of the men trapped within the mine. Sadly, the headline that framed what should’ve been a positive step forward for the community, was one that reeked of commercial agenda.
Though it is understandable that any news media outlet would want to draw their audiences into the story; the function of a headline is not, and should not be to mislead the public. The headline alone raises several major issues that it is easy to overlook given the emotive nature of the subject matter:
Firstly, the misplaced blaming of the Police: – though there have been several well-documented instances of the families of the Pike River miners being let down by agencies whose duty it is to provide them with the support they have needed throughout this process, framing information of this magnitude in a way that automatically assumes that the Police are at fault is unreliable reporting. Gower’s reporting is generally considered to be credible, being an established and respected media personality, however, this story crossed a line for me. The headline directly contradicted information in the actual story, which contradicts itself several times. Gower is quoted saying that the “police have kept the video, which was exclusively obtained by Newshub, from the families of killed miners.”
If families of the killed miners released the footage to Newshub, then the implication is that somebody had clearly at some point been given access to the footage from the Police, making Gower’s explanation of how Newshub obtained the footage incorrectly. However, within the space of several lines about the footage being obtained by a robot, Gower goes on to say that “until now [being the date of the story] this video has been kept from the families of the 29 men killed.”
If the contradiction within the story itself was not enough, my mind immediately went to the agenda of Newshub in breaking this story now. Bear in mind that with a general election four months away, subject-matter that churns public emotions like this, provides significant material for the outlets that cover the stories; as well as opportunity to manipulate public opinion in a particular direction.
Why Newshub would choose to frame the Pike River video footage with so little tact raises several questions about their agenda. How did this framing help the families of the victims? In what way was accusing the Police a helpful step towards bringing these families closure? Gower made no attempt to cover the fact that robotic entry into a mine shaft was not the same as human entry into a mine shaft.
The problem with stirring hope is that for it to have any ounce of credibility, there needs to be a likelihood that the desired outcome can actually be a reality. But the reality is that a robot is not a person. Gower is not helping these families gain any closure. Nor is he helping the public to truly comprehend the intricacies of this situation. It’s a misuse of power. No credible news outlet should only encourage emotional response from its readers at the expense of truthful reporting.