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Media: TVNZ role in toddler case unsettling

By John Drinnan

Deb Webber appeared on Breakfast with Paul Henry on Wednesday. Photo / Martin Sykes
Deb Webber appeared on Breakfast with Paul Henry on Wednesday. Photo / Martin Sykes

Television New Zealand introduced Sensing Murder medium Deb Webber to the family of Aisling Symes just two days after the little girl had gone missing.

The state broadcaster has defended its role putting a psychic into the case and insists TVNZ has no ongoing relationship with Webber over the case.

Media at a police press conference on Wednesday were surprised when One News journalist Amy Kelley asked:

"This morning One News (and I believe you're aware of this as well) did some filming with Deb Webber," Kelley said.

"She's a medium on the television show Sensing Murder and she gave us some information on what she believed happened to the little girl. How seriously are police likely to take that information," said the One News reporter.

Webber had appeared in a prescheduled interview with Paul Henry on Wednesday.

TVNZ spokeswoman Andi Brotherston said Webber had briefly mentioned the lost girl.

Henry had intervened to prevent her making further comments about the case.

Brotherston said Webber had said after her appearance that she had some information for the family.

TVNZ had approached a friend of Aisling's family and subsequently Webber had met up them.

Asked what the public news organisation was doing introducing a TV medium to the family two days after they had lost a child, Brotherston said:

"You know what they are doing? They are being human. They have a family out there that are desperate to find their child.

"We are just being human by ringing a family friend and asking if they want the medium's contact details. After the family friend said they would be interested in talking to her all we did was facilitate the exchange of contact details."

Webber's role has not been used in TVNZ's coverage.

Brotherston, a former police reporter for TV3, said that questions about mediums were common in police inquiries about missing people.

The role of TVNZ inserting itself into the story through one of its psychic stars is unsettling. Perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise when a breakfast news programme for public television has a TV psychic as a guest.

THE R WORD

As with many news stories the "R" word has been applied thick and fast over media coverage of the Maori Television bid to buy rights to the Rugby World Cup. Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell said that "misinformation, mischief-making and an appeal to racial prejudice" had fuelled the debate.

Prime Minister John Key has dismissed the accusation. The debate has centred on the shambolic handling of the bid - with gossip circulating around Auckland last week. It's about the handling of the $3 million deal by Te Puni Kokiri. Also - as is becoming clear - it is about loose oversight of public money. It's not about race. Maori TV communications boss Sonya Haggie described TV3's Nightline treatment of the Maori Television World Cup bid earlier this week as basically racist.

TV3 reporter Mihingarangi Forbes was aghast and said it was hurtful to Maori TV host Julian Wilcox.

I'd argue it was not racist, just plain dumb. It is another sign of problems in the quality control department while TV3 head of news and current affairs Mark Jennings is out of the country.

TV3's star reporter and sometimes Sunrise host Ali Ikram must have been given a free rein with what purported to be a satire that treated the Maori TV bid as a joke and ridiculed Maori TV interviewer Wilcox.

For one thing Wilcox is a better interviewer than Ikram will likely ever be, and for another, TV3 seemed to take no care to separate news and "satire".

TV3's reaction to a barrage of complaints was to take the item off its website, but it returned later.

TV3 marketing director Roger Beaumont defended the item saying it was clearly satirical. But the item was introduced as a standard news story by Samantha Hayes. Another issue?

TV3 had a clear conflict of interest as one of the bidders for the Rugby World Cup rights, with MediaWorks chief executive Brent Impey raising alarm bells about Maori TV's bid. Humour is subjective, but even if you thought Ikram's piece was hilarious the item was badly pitched.

GUYON FLIES

Last week this column noted Paul Henry's solid performance on Breakfast interviewing Civil Defence spokesman Colin Feslier over preparations for a potential tsunami. And on Sunday TVNZ political editor Guyon Espiner showed a new edge interviewing Green Party leader Metiria Turei.

The weekly political show Q&A on Sunday was tough and direct and nailed the Green leader as she obfuscated over the party's diddling of taxpayers for accommodation allowances. Espiner is more intellectual than Duncan Garner on TV3, which is not always a bad thing.

This was what good television and what TV political interviewing should be all about - holding politicians to account and not being diverted by words that seek to camouflage.

Indeed, Q&A has been on a roll recently.

The only downside is that its producer bosses are still unwilling to confirm whether Paul Holmes will stand for the Auckland Super City mayoralty - whether Q&A's No 2 political interrogator is a budding politician.

FOX TERRIER

The Greens said there were some technical problems with Turei interviewed remotely from Dunedin that made the interview challenging.

The party says that she has not had media training. In which case you would have to say she obfuscated with the best of them when the Greens were caught with their fingers in the till.

On the media commentary website Brian Edwards Media, Edwards' partner and fellow media training consultant Judy Callingham applauded the Green leader and gave the TVNZ political editor a blast.

"The wee fox terrier of politics produced the most appalling exhibition of interruptive interviewing in years," said Callingham.

"The joy was that his guest, Metiria Turei, had him on toast. She handled the endless, non-stop, verbal diarrhoea of interruptions with humour, grace and steely determination. In terms of handling interruptive interviewers, this is a master class.

"Respect, Metiria," said the media trainer for Helen Clark and numerous Labour ministers.

- NZ Herald

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