I was watching a bit of ABC News 24 a little while ago (yes, I know, me watching ABC News 24…it’s a very rare occurrence indeed…I was going to watch Becker on Eleven at midnight, but Southern Cross replace it with some el-cheapo clone of Quizmania so I decided to watch the top of the hour news instead) and while I was generally quite impressed with their coverage of the Labor leadership kerfuffle and a few other things about the way in which they are putting together news packages, there was one thing which I thought was really very odd.
A package about the leadership kerfuffle aired as the lead story on the midnight eastern news bulletin. At the beginning of it was a bit on how Kevin Rudd’s house is apparently the headquarters for his leadership challenge, complete with footage of someone who either was, or looked like, Bruce Hawker, walking through a gate. There was also footage of Kevin Rudd’s daughter and her partner walking towards Kevin Rudd’s front gate and having to almost battle their way through a pack of journalists who were asking her questions which she had no intention of answering. That’s fair enough, she did after all put herself in the public sphere on this issue by making a public statement on the issue on Twitter.
The odd bit came just after her and her partner walked through the gate. A voice can be heard to say “Oh my God, what a s***fight” (although they did not obscure it as I have). From watching it, it is entirely unclear whether this voice which was heard was that of Kevin’s daughter’s partner, or that of a journalist or other media person. There is no super to provide attribution to the voice, and no visible mouth emitting the words.
It was odd, but it’s News 24. Like any news service, stuff does occasionally slip through which perhaps shouldn’t, and given that it’s late at night I would not have been surprised if this had just “slipped through”…and I wouldn’t have minded.
But it didn’t just “slip through”. At 12:18 eastern, Lateline was replayed on ABC News 24, and at the start of Lateline was this same package, this same footage, and not surprisingly, the same mysterious voice uttering the same words.
(The package can be viewed on the Lateline website at http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2012/s3439356.htm . My apologies for not embedding the video, but the ABC do not appear to permit direct embedding of their videos)
This really made me wonder whose words they were, because if they were the words of Kevin’s daughter’s partner, then I can completely understand leaving them in, although I probably wouldn’t have done so myself under the same circumstances as, although it makes it clear that the pair were not enjoying the media attention, we already got that information from the way they reacted as they walked through the press pack. But if they were the words of a media type, then they add no value to the story whatsoever and should not have stayed in as the pair were already well through the gate by the time the words were uttered, and even if they hadn’t been well through the gate, the words could have been obscured.
The Lateline website (linked above) provides a transcript of that section of the package.
TOM IGGULDEN, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Kevin Rudd’s Brisbane home is campaign headquarters for his leadership tilt. It’s a family affair – even his expectant daughter came.
REPORTER: (to Jessica Rudd) Do you think he’s got a really good chance against Gillard?
REPORTER II: What do you think of Gillard?
JESSICA RUDD, KEVIN RUDD’S DAUGHTER: Sorry…
REPORTER III: How’s the pregnancy going?
REPORTER IV: Oh my God, what a s***fight.
(Again, I’ve obscured the word, they did not)
So it was a media person. Then why was it left in? What possible value could it have had? I could understand an oversight in the original airing of the package on Lateline, but this is the ABC we are talking about here, an organisation with more behind-the-scenes people and more bureaucratic signing-off-on-stuff procedures than most media outlets could even begin to imagine…if it was an oversight, it should, and I dare say would, have been picked up by someone and edited out before the package went to air again, and before the transcript appeared on the website.
But then, the transcript is on the website. The transcript would have been derived from the same text which produced the closed captions for the package. The very presence of those words in the transcript indicates that somebody decided that the words should be present in the package. That, I find odd. The fact that, after seeing that they were the words of a media person and not of Kevin Rudd’s daughter’s partner, somebody didn’t question it and have it removed before it aired again or before it went up on the Lateline website, is poor judgement. Admittedly, it may have been difficult to remove it from the replay of Lateline in markets which do not take it live, and dropping it from the video on the website would have been an awful lot of extra effort which may not have been worthwhile, but removing it from the transcript and from future airings of the package in subsequent news bulletins, would have been quite simple and prudent.
The reason this bothers me is that, like Mark Riley’s puns in Seven News’ political packages, the words add nothing useful to the story, but distract from it instead. The rest of the package, and indeed the rest of the coverage of the leadership kerfuffle was quite exemplary. I was particularly pleased by the fact that the reporter, Tom Iggulden, made sure that the staged cheering when Julia Gillard walked in to an office was reported as just that, staged cheering. He did this by showing footage of the supporters rehearsing their cheering for the media act…and this is the type of reporting that I have been waiting for as I have had a problem with the long-standing tradition of journalists watching people rehearse a “reaction” and then reporting it as “spontaneous”. Tom Iggulden deserves to be congratulated for this.
I won’t harp on about it any longer though, as I’m sure that every political journalist in the country has had a very long day and has a bunch of very long days ahead, and on the whole they do tend to be doing quite a good job of covering the leadership kerfuffle, which is itself a distraction in the middle of something important, as the job of governing the country is being neglected while the governing party try to work out how to govern themselves…and while I would argue that the country is probably better off for not having Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd meddling in the affairs of the nation for a while, it is also true that the country suffers when the incompetence of a government shines a light of uncertainty on everything that it is supposed to be managing, especially when the people who are vying for power are espousing policy positions which they have never espoused before, leaving us all wondering where they actually stand on anything.