Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Crime time

Last night, 31 August, both major television channels in
New Zealand led their flagship 6pm news bulletins with
a fatal shooting in Hawke’s Bay. Tonight, 1 September,
they both led with reaction to the banning of gang
insignia in Wanganui. And this is not uncommon: any
homicide, anything crime-related, anything calculated to
promote fear and loathing, can always be assured of high
placement in the news. For myself, I am trying to imagine
what goes through the heads of news chiefs and bulletin
editors when they make the decision not only to cover
these stories—with all the associated expense, in these
supposedly cash-strapped times, of sending out reporters
and camera crews—but to assign them the greatest
prominence. Whichever way I turn it, I invariably come
up with the same conclusion: that whatever it is that’s
going on here, it’s not news; it’s a form of entertainment
packaged no less formulaically and titillatingly than, say,
CSI or Criminal Minds. In which case I respectfully ask
TV1 and TV3 to stop calling these programs news bulletins.
By all means broadcast what you will, but drop the false
labelling and the pompous pretence that endlessly
covering crime and misbehaviour is real gritty journalism.

The really sad part is that some genuine journalistic work
of merit is done for these bulletins but it usually gets
shunted down the list. Tonight, for instance, 3 News picked
up on a blog by John Minto in which he raised the idea of a
a maximum income cap of $250,000. There was actually
no reason in the world why that story couldn't have led the
bulletin—no reason except, apparently, the sheer terror of
addressing serious issues seriously. Sure, I get it: 'serious'
doesn't cut it for advertisers and ratings; but, in the case of
the past two nights anyway, it's depressing to see news
chiefs settling for the predictable, the prejudice-feeding and
the formulaic as the six o'clock fanfares rise and fall.

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