The Rights and Wrongs of TV3 and Brian Lenihan

TV3 were right to report that finance minister Brian Lenihan had been diagnosed with cancer.

Unfortunately, just about every other decision they made in covering the story was wrong.

What TV3 gave us was Ursula Halligan, seemingly ill-prepared, at one point stumbling over tenses (“Brian Lenihan was, um, is…”) and saying not very much after the first sentence.

(As an aside, why do television news editors feel the need for faux actuality, going over to ‘our reporter on the spot’ just to show a journalist shivering outside some anonymous building, when the same information could be imparted by the reporter in the studio. That’s an issue beyond this one report though, so we’ll let it pass for now.)

TV3 then spoke to a doctor who said a lot about cancer and not much about Brian Lenihan.

The report closed with what mounted to a political, if not an actual obituary.

Online, a consensus quickly emerged that TV3 should not have run the story. Major newspapers took the same line the following morning.

John McGuirk got it right when he argued that the news should be reported, given Lenihan’s position.

But he admits he didn’t see the report himself, and could not know it did not address the effect on government stability, the price of Irish bonds, or banking shares, to name just three issues.

Instead we got this:

Interviewer: “Is it too early to talk about political consequences?”
Halligan: “Yes it is…”

Wrong. Political consequences were the only reason to broadcast the story. Instead, we got morbid curiosity.