Bitchin' Channels

A blog about television and radio with Paul Casserly

Paul Casserly: Did TV news exploit the triplets tragedy?

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Wendy Petrie's emotion while presenting the Weekes tragedy gave viewers a chance to bond with the presenter. Photo / Supplied
Wendy Petrie's emotion while presenting the Weekes tragedy gave viewers a chance to bond with the presenter. Photo / Supplied

I like to watch the news, flicking between channels, looking for the best stories and changing channels when one or other bores me or someone pisses me off.

And I'm easily pissed off. The wrong jacket or an over application of hairspray can set me off on a rant.

Having a preference for one news show over the other is a little like having a preference for banks: It's largely pointless. To some extent they're all the same and the story line-ups are usually pretty similar.

Some base the choice on which presenters they prefer. Others stay locked in after watching Home and Away or even Ellen. Some because they like Jim Hickey, others because they hate Jim Hickey.

So anyway, I sat down to watch the news last Thursday at 6pm, remote at the ready.

I'd heard the tearful parents of the triplets killed in the fire in Doha earlier in the day via radio but seeing them was even more moving.

Following the interview that Ian Sinclair had conducted with Martin and Jane Weekes, Wendy Petrie looked as grim as I've seen her. No doubt as grim as we all felt at home.

It was one of those rare moments where you really bond with a presenter. Like watching Hilary Barry losing it laughing.

But this was no laughing matter. Wendy clearly wasn't faking the emotion, and she even had a rather good question up her sleeve - a question some of us at home were pondering: Why did these parents, who were obviously grieving to the point of being out of their minds, want to do an interview at all?

The answer wasn't so forthcoming.

Sinclair said the Weekes had called him, or at least their friends had. Presumably in response to a request - though we had to guess that detail. He said they wanted to thank all the people who had wished them well, "to answer the concerns of people across the world".

I guess he couldn't just say: "It's a great story and we wanted it first, preferably as an exclusive."

In an apparent act of journalistic altruism, Sinclair had done one interview, which was to be shared with the rest of the media - therefore only making the Weekes go through the ordeal the once.

The long-form version would then screen on Sunday but TV3 had other ideas. It too had access to the footage so decided to make to the most of it.

Not only was their initial story much, much longer but they gave over an entire episode of Campbell Live to the interview as well - a fact that was advertised during 3 News using an unfortunate photo of John Campbell with his grin turned up to 11. Talk about making hay while the parents weep.

If the moral tone was exploitative, journalistically it all made perfect - if depressing - sense. I'm not saying the news chiefs and reporters don't care, it's just that they care more about the story. That's their job. If they don't get in first, someone else most certainly will. News is not a service, it's a business. Still, feel free to show some restraint.

There's no doubting that the emotion on display was raw and the story compelling but after a few minutes it became something else. TV One may have sensed this, or they may have just been saving the rest for the Sunday programme that would never eventuate.

Whatever the reason they moved on to other stories while TV3 grinded on with the grief, reporter Melissa Davies even suggesting that "you had to be inhuman if you watched that and didn't have a tear in your eye".

I imagined people around the country looking around their living rooms and gazing into their partner's eyes, looking for the tell-tale sign of inhumanity.

Over on One, Education Minister Hekia Parata was arriving to a "Wall of protest" in Wellington. It was great street theatre.

To the tune of Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall, the teachers were singing "Hey Hekia, leave those kids alone".

Another sign read "What the Hekia?" another "Heck no Hekia."

Hekia was regal and undeterred. She may have been on the back foot following the back-down - but she fronted and spouted the party ideology like a geyser with shoulder pads.

"We are very focussed on the explicit choice that we have made to invest in quality teaching practice."

The rest of us understand this to mean that there will be less teachers and bigger classes although less than the Government said there would be last week.

Orwell couldn't have put it better, but Orwell wasn't available. However One News reporter Michael Parkin found someone almost as prescient as the great author, a local teacher, Mariana Collette, who summed up Hekia like this: "She's ambitious, she just wants to make her way up the chain to show that she can be hard-nosed and say, 'Oh yes I can make changes, I'm not worried about the public.' But we won't stand by and watch - we're gonna fight this policy."

Over a shot of Hekia's high-heels clomping over the parliamentary tiles, Parkin wrapped it up with obvious but satisfying style: "But Hekia Perata is digging her heels in."

3 News may have had other great stories that night as well but I couldn't go back for fear of seeing more of that interview.

I didn't stay around to watch Jim Hickey either, not because I hate him, but because I was off to the movies, a wonderful film called Le Harve.

See it if you can. It may even leave you with a tear in your eye. But it's not compulsory.

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