Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young: Clumsy airing of Pike River video recklessly misleading

The Sunday night airing of footage of a robot in the Piker River Mine drift along with two Mines Rescue personnel was recklessly misleading.

It has almost certainly led to further distress for Pike River families who may have believed something had happened in the drift that had never happened before.

The sequence of footage and commentary left the clear impression that rescuers had gone deep into the drift safely.

It showed a robot going 1.57km into the tunnel, passing a couple of obstacles at least 800m in, breaking down and then being fixed by Mines Rescue personnel deep inside the mine until it came upon a loader and could go no further.

It is possible those running the footage on Newshub didn't know what they were looking at, and either made assumptions or decided to create an impression.

That worked very well. It left a false impression that Mines Rescue had been far deeper into the mine than anybody had ever known.

But unless the police have lied to Prime Minister Bill English, the devastating truth is that Mines Rescue personnel were only a couple of metres inside the tunnel, working on the robot before setting it off.

As English was able to show at his post-Cabinet press conference, the fact that men had been down the drift before had been widely reported -- on November 9, 2012, Newshub (then TV3) along with other media reported experts commissioned by the families had gone down the drift 170m.

But Sunday's story implied others may have gone as far as 1km down.

In the wake of the footage, most players resorted to default positions.

Conspiracy theorist Winston Peters instantly alleged a cover-up -- though notably Andrew Little didn't.

The police fuelled the cock-up theory by confusing the footage and the robot (there have been five robots and more than 30 hours of video), leaving the impression valuable images had been deliberately withheld from the families and the Royal Commission of inquiry.

For many, the result of the video has been confusion. They don't know who or what to believe.

Video

The police were slow to react but now advise that the footage in question was from the fourth robot, deployed by the Pike River receivers on or about March 15, 2011, four months after the explosion.

According to English, families were offered a viewing of footage from the third and fourth robots in Christchurch and in Greymouth before the material was handed over to the Royal Commission.

The Government is still in discussions with the families about the entry of an unmanned drone to take a fresh look.

That can't happen soon enough.

It may not give the families the answers they want, but it may give new information to debate instead of old suspicions.

- NZ Herald

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Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor, a job she has held since 2003. She is responsible for the Herald’s Press Gallery team. She first joined the New Zealand Herald in 1988 as a sub-editor after the closure of its tabloid rival, the Auckland Sun. She switched to reporting in 1991 as social welfare and housing reporter. She joined the Herald’s Press Gallery office in 1994. She has previously worked as a journalism tutor at Manukau Technical Institute, as member of the Newspapers in Education unit at Wellington Newspapers and as a teacher in Wellington. She was a union nominee on the Press Council for six years.

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