Sometimes current affairs TV will throw up a story that, for any number of reasons, infuriates. That's part of their job, no doubt, and part of the reason people tune in.
But that does not mean that the sensational story is ipso facto worthy of being broadcast; particularly if there is a genuine risk to the public in doing so.
Point in question: last weeks broadcast on ABC TV's Lateline Program of yet another story about Dr Nitschke and the Exit network under the heading: More Australians Importing Illegal Euthanasia (sic) Drug.
The Australian Broadcasting Commission's Editorial Policy, in reference to reporting suicide says:
- Be cautious about any coverage that risks portraying suicide in a glamorous way, or condones suicide as a solution to a problem.
- We report on specific methods and locations only when there is strong editorial justification for doing so.
There's nothing new in the Lateline story - nothing whatsoever. Why Lateline has seen fit to publicise Exit's work at this time and in this manner is not clear - but the broadcaster cannot claim that there's a public interest.
Not only is this story an advertorial for Nitschke and his work, the portrayal of the drug, nembutal as providing the 'most peaceful of deaths' is sold to the public (by an Exit assistant) as 'The Rolls Royce way of going... 100% easy, 100% effective...so that's what people would dream of." Who doesn't want a peaceful death - what a sales pitch! Where's the snake oil!
You've got to wonder whether the ABC was entirely sucked in itself. How else can one understand the journalist's voice over telling people that they can get their Peaceful Pill handbook for $80.00 online. The story then throws to an aging cancer sufferer who is asked about how easy it was for him to get his nembutal. "I sent an email...".
This story should be shown on the Gruen Transfer (Australian TV show about marketing and advertising). Not only does the journalist plug the product, but then we see the classical 'happy customer' endorsement. All that was missing was the 'Phone now and you'll receive...' closing pitch.
In an attempt to find 'editorial balance' the story does include a short discussion with Professor Ian Webster from that Australian Suicide Prevention Taskforce. He agrees, that allowing these imports is 'not an acceptable risk' and he does seem to give an endorsement of the position that this is not the kind of thing that a doctor should be doing.
The complaints about Dr Nitschke's conduct currently before the Medical Board are briefly mentioned. Nitschke says that he doesn't think that even the loss of his practice license would make a difference to his work. In a recent interview he admitted that his online sales and his Exit workshops provide the bulk of Exit's income.
And there's the rub: who needs to engage a marketing team and pay for expensive advertising when 'Dear Old Auntie' and the other networks are more than willing to keep Exit's name in lights under the guise of 'current affairs'. See also the Seven Sunrise Program.
How gullible are these networks and their producers? I really don't know. But what is clear is that the public risk is not being taken seriously here, and no chest beating about mentioning a suicide prevention group at the end of the story will change that.
Over all of that, Nitschke happily advises all of us (including potential customers) that 'there's a growing demand'. True or not, it reminds me of the hard sell: "They won't last at this price!"