Here’s a fun game. Watch tonight’s TV news (either channel) and count the following tropes.
Update: I did this — both channels, since they were conveniently on at separate times, and was pleasantly surprised by reasonably sober tone of coverage. Comments in italics.
- Gratuitous display of cannabis leaf or other marijuana iconography
Four times on One and thrice on 3. Mostly in the display of the “Switched On Gardener” signage.
- Gratuitous display of drug porn (huge quantities of plants, or egregiously sticky buds, etc.)
5 times each. TV3 used this as their studio backdrop, otherwise it was the same stock footage throughout, obviously supplied by the police. A distinct lack of additional file footage and High Times-style images of the sort which are usually stock-in-trade for this sort of coverage.
- Police casually destroying huge quantities of same
None! Only some police confiscating computers, other equipment in the TV3 footage.
- Tenuous linkages of marijuana with other drugs, violence or terrorism
None! Some passing mentions and image of other drugs, firearms and references to organised crime, but nothing tenuous or unjustified.
- File footage of a shadowy person smoking a joint — None!
- If it’s clear despite anonymisation that the person is brown-skinned
None of these either.
- Footage of people being arrested or detained
No images of people being arrested. One shot of an unidentified (white) person walking down the street as the voiceover informed us that those arrested were appearing in court.
- Footage of supposedly ill-gotten gains: flash cars, etc.
Twice each, references to property being seized under proceeds of crime legislation. Nothing major.
- Smug, serious middle-aged white people expressing deep concern.
The only examples of this in both cases were press conference shots of the senior police officer.
- Triumphal statements that this has broken the back of the cannabis industry, with no supporting evidence
Again, just what the police told us. Reporters stuck generally to the facts.
- Reporter looking smug and saying words to the effect of “we can’t reveal which garden centre at the moment …” with the clear implication that it’ll all become clear pretty soon, and anyone who’s anyone already knows
Well, although National Radio didn’t report (and the police refused to say on-air) which gardening shop chain it was, it was no secret, so none of this.
- Breathless revelations that people who aren’t beneficiaries or gang members are involved in cannabis production and consumption
Mentioned twice on One and once (but more extensively) on 3 — the fact that “managers and directors” of the company were among those arrested. But in general, not a big deal made of this fact.
- Implication that schoolchildren might have been in danger
Not mentioned or implied at all.
- No mention of the fact that alcohol causes orders of magnitude more harm by almost every indicator
Not mentioned or implied either, but on both channels, the booze story took precedence, occupied considerably more screen time, and was covered in much more depth.
So, all in all, nothing much to separate the coverage on One and 3 news. Both items were characterised by a heavy (almost total) reliance on official source material and footage — although both did a field cross, TVNZ’s was the usual pointless live cross, while TV3’s reporter didn’t even make the screen, with the field shots showing police hauling stuff out of a building. Both used similar (probably supplied) footage and images as background, and emphasised the length of the investigation, the number of people involved, and the impact the bust would have on the cannabis industry. Neither report was journalist-centric, with both reporters essentially relaying facts with a minimum of editorialisation. Both reports showed a distinct lack of sensationalised narrative, imagery or suggestion, lacking the usual devices employed to propagandise and pad out this sort of topic matter.
So: well done One and 3 News :)