A discussion of contemporary issues in media ethics, with olives and a twist. Made with only the freshest ingredients, shaken, stirred and poured over ice. I should also mention that I do like the odd, occasional martini. Bombay Sapphire gin and Lillet, dry and plenty of salty olives. Welcome to this cocktail of journalism and alcohol. A fine combination!

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Media hypocrisy over TV3 interview with crook

Background note: For anyone not familiar with this story, the history can be found here. Briefly around 96 important military medals were stolen from the Waiouru army museum, including a Victoria Cross won by a New Zealand war hero, Charlie Upham. The theft was described as an "insult to the nation". After some weeks they were returned and it seems the thieves may have pocketed most of the reward money.

If you live north of the Bombay Hills take a deep whiff, if the wind's in the right direction the unmistakable stench of media hypocrisy will burn your nasal membranes.

Late last week the TV3 programme Campbell Live scored a pretty good scoop: an exclusive interview with one of the alleged suspects in the theft of some pretty important pakeha taonga.

Almost immediately the rest of the media went into a shitty tailspin, ostensibly because of TV3's unethical behaviour, but IMHO more motivated by the fact that they had not got the story.

Indeed the competition between media outlets over this story has been fierce. The NZ Herald had a couple of front page hits of its own, including the story of how a known associate of an alleged criminal gang had been bailed on serious charges for helping with the "investigation" that led to the return of the Victoria Cross and other medals.

The Herald was no doubt pissed when its previously exclusive ownership of the story was trumped by Campbell Live's interview with "Robert", one of the theives -- at least by his own account.
Until this point the Herald had pretty much had the story to itself and obviously had some good sources close to the investigation and to the alleged crims involved.

"Robert" did not appear live in the TV3 programme, an actor was used instead. According to TV3's account the interview was done on a dictaphone and transcribed. "Robert" was never on camera.

Spurred on by moralistic outrage from some media commentators, the police dutifully raided TV3 HQ in Great North Road and took statements and documents away. They had no choice really, but given their "Look the other way" attitude to other aspects of this rapidly degenerating criminal farce, we can expect nothing to come of the raid.

To his credit TV3 news chief Mark Jennings has stuck to his guns and not backed down from the interview with "Robert".

Today (Saturday) the Herald weighed in again with the ridiculous headline "TV3 attacked for re-enactment of medal theft interview". My pal Jim Tully from the journalism programme at Canterbury University told the Herald that the use of the actor had "tarnished a good news scoop". Hardly a swingeing attack. And of course the cops supplied the obligatory "tut tut" statement to go with their half-hearted "raid" on TV3 yesterday.

The real deal
Let's go back and review the media coverage of this story from day one. From the start no one was particularly concerned to catch the crooks; the real concern was with getting back the "national treasure", a bunch of rusty medals celebrating the glory of war and the myth of the ANZAC. The Herald and all the NZ media agreed it was in the national interest that the medals be returned and that the theft was a terrible blot on national pride and glory.

Bollocks. I'm not going to go into a long diatribe about the glorification of capitalist war and why nationalism is crap. You can go away and read up on that in other places. The simple point is that the media went weak at the knees and talked up the national patriotic bullshit.

What seemed to get lost in all this rhetoric is the fact that a crime was committed and no one seemed to know who the thieves were. More importantly no one seemed to care.

Then Chris Comesky, a former cop who is now a tasty criminal lawyer with form, got involved and was able to broker a deal that saw $300,000 (roughly) put into his trust account with the strong suggestion that some of it, at least, would go to the crooks for the return of the medals.

This story is a lot wierder and has a lot more dubious ethical twists than John Campbell's interview with "Robert".

A few questions that the media might like to ask:

Why have the crooks effectively been given immunity?
How did lawyer Chris Comeskey get involved and why did the police let him do the immunity deal?
What were the Herald's sources for its stories about the gang member who was released on bail and the thieves, one of whom might have been banged up Mt Eden gaol with the gang member/deal broker?
Why have the cops been so relaxed about a shady deal to protect the alleged crims in return for the medals being given back?

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