I often scratch my head over the news judgment of the major TV channels, but last night’s lead item on One News was especially perplexing.
Alone among the nation’s media outlets, One News chose, as the most important story of the day, an exchange in Parliament between prime minister John Key and the Opposition over Key’s ownership of shares in an obscure Australian mining company, Jackson Mining.
The Dominion Post devoted a brief item to the subject this morning on page 2 and the New Zealand Herald referred to it in passing towards the end of its parliamentary “sketch” piece covering the day’s events in the debating chamber. Which was about the level of coverage the story seemed to merit.
In her lead item, One News political reporter Francesca Mold (who was, in the ridiculous jargon of TV newspeak, "across developments") didn't take the trouble to spell out why the story was supposed to pique our interest. Was it because Jackson Mining was involved in uranium mining? Hardly scandalous, surely. It’s not as if it’s illegal, after all. Australia’s Labour government actively encourages it. Or is uranium one of those political litmus words that’s supposed to throw nuclear-free New Zealanders into a tizz? It wasn’t made clear.
I had to watch the item a second time, online, to pick up a brief reference by Mold to the government’s proposal to open up the conservation estate to mining. So that was it? Were we supposed to get agitated about the possibility that Key stood to gain from the government’s still-embryonic proposals to relax prohibitions on mining? Again, it wasn’t spelled out – but this was the only clue I could find to explain why TVNZ’s news editors considered it the story du jour.
It was only later that I realised One News had broken the Jackson Mining story in its lead item on Sunday night, after political editor Guyon Espiner questioned Key about his holding in the company on Q+A that morning.
Now it all started to fall into place. One was beating up a story of its own making – standard behaviour on a quiet Sunday, when Q+A often furnishes material for the 6pm news (and provides an opportunity for TVNZ to promote its own programme). But even on Sunday, One News was straining to make much of the story. Espiner himself acknowledged on camera that it would probably blow over quickly and that no one thought there was anything sinister about it.
Why, then, try to resuscitate the story on Tuesday? Hasn’t TVNZ heard the old adage about soufflés never rising twice? And why make the mistake of assuming that One viewers had seen the item on Sunday so didn’t need to be told again why they should be concerned that Key owned shares in Jackson Mining (if indeed TVNZ could answer that question itself)?
Having now watched both items, I’m still not sure why One News considered the issue so newsworthy. Was it the uranium angle, or was it the possibility that Key might secretly be plotting for Jackson Mining to dig holes all over our national parks? The viewers are none the wiser. This struck me as flawed news judgment compounded by sloppy journalism that failed to ask, still less answer, the vital question – why should the viewer (or reader, or whatever) care?