Brian Edwards Media

Agreement and some disagreement on my claim that TVNZ hung Close Up reporter Kate Lynch out to dry.

I read in today’s Herald that media-trainer to Right-thinking-people, Janet Wilson, has elegantly dismissed my assessment of TVNZ’s treatment of Kate Lynch as ‘bollocks’. Reminding readers that she was herself once a news producer, she opines that TVNZ were not only perfectly within their rights to demote Lynch, but would have been entitled to sack her.

I might accept that argument if the broadcaster had also sacked the producer of the programme for dereliction of duty in failing to detect what Lynch’s critics describe as a blatant example of plagiarism. She sent Lynch out on the job, she previewed the words and pictures, she approved the item for broadcast and she put it to air. The buck stops with her. That’s what being a producer means, Janet.

So I’m more inclined to go along with respected media commentator and University of Canterbury Professor of Social and Political Sciences, Jim Tully, who told the Herald that it was ‘extremely difficult’ to believe Lynch acted alone, and hoped anyone else involved had been dealt with at an appropriate level.

Hope springs eternal. I, for example, hope that TVNZ will give priority to identifying the ‘one inside mole’ in their organisation who breached their non-disclosure agreement with Lynch by gleefully revealing to gossip columnist Rachel Glucina every detail of the humiliating conditions imposed on the reporter by TVNZ management. They won’t of course. ‘Not knowing’ will make it easier for management to absolve themselves of responsibility, both legal and moral, for this employment scandal.

As I concluded in my previous post, ‘Lynch has now not merely been demoted by TVNZ but humiliated by the release of the terms of that demotion.’ In her position, I would be reaching for my lawyer.  

I don’t want to write too much more about this matter, because it is evident to me that jealousy and spite are endemic at Hobson Street and I do not want Lynch  to be blamed or punished for my opinions or interpretation of events. This, however, is my understanding of what happened. I leave it to readers to decide whether Lynch has been fairly dealt with or not.

  • Lynch’s producer, who must have viewed the original ABC America item, sends Lynch out with instructions to ‘reversion the story’.
  • A great many people are involved in this exercise, including Lynch, her camera crew, the tape editor who assembled the item, the graphics editor who copied the graphics from the ABC America original, the producer of the programme who viewed and approved the entire package, the studio and control room crew who physically put it to air.. . and the furniture moving company who removed the furniture from the house and put it back again. (I assume Lynch had her producer’s approval for that.)
  • The item is broadcast and, according to TVNZ, extremely well received by viewers.
  • Sideswipe’s Ana Samways notices that Lynch’s version is virtually a clone of the original.
  • Responding to this revelation, TVNZ issues the following media release:

Close Up has been running a series of investigative stories called Made in NZ after seeing what a huge success our affiliate network, ABC America, has had with Made in the USA.

We have done four stories so far. The editorial concept for the first three originated in Close Up. The idea for the one we ran last night came from ABC America World News. It was a clever concept that illustrated the point visually therefore perfect for television.

However, it would not have worked to run the American story here. It would have been completely irrelevant to a New Zealand audience, which is why we reversioned it. We found a Kiwi family and conducted the same experiment here, as we are perfectly entitled to do under our affiliation agreement.

Like ABC America, Close Up has had an incredible response from viewers on our Made In series and have several other stories planned.

  • In the face of both internal and external protest, TVNZ changes its mind and its story. Close Up host Mark Sainsbury offers a lengthy apology to viewers on behalf of the network  and the programme. ‘Let’s be frank,’ he says, ‘we let you down.’
  • Lynch enters into confidential negotiations about her future.
  • In breach of Lynch’s agreement with TVNZ, one or more TVNZ employees reveal these confidential terms to Herald on Sunday gossip columnist Rachel Glucina for publication.

Finally, I’d like to direct two questions to the TVNZ management: Were you in fact, as you claimed in your news release, ‘perfectly entitled under our affiliation agreement’ to reversion the ABC America story and conduct ‘the same experiment’ here? And was that opinion conveyed to Kate Lynch when she went off to do the story?

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  1. It reads like the proverbial dogs dinner

  2. Kate Lynch could not have brought that programme to telecast without most of her superiors knowing.

    If she did so her superiors need to be sacked.

  3. Yeah there’s a bit of a catch 22 for them here. On the surface of it, the producer, and maybe some others, are equally responsible for allowing/facilitating the story. Their only defence is to claim that they weren’t aware, and therefore clearly weren’t doing their job – leaving them responsible in a different way.

  4. I agree with Steve. Either way, Kate has been scapegoated and, if I were her, I’d very quickly head for Flower Street. ;o)

  5. Gone (or going) are the days when a network would get a feed from abroad and decide whether the story is aired or revised without the knowledge of the general public nor the original Network . We now live in a Global market place as Adidas are now finding out and more kiwis are more tech savvy. It means that the job of a Producer is much harder as they become accountable not just to NZ, but to a global market.

    Kate has been let down by her peers, but was foolish to not stand up to the journalistic values. I think anyone who has worked in TV will know that a story like that cannot be made without others fully knowing the origins.

    This case will be a benchmark for all in the future. TVNZ and all the other networks need to now remember that they cannot get away with copy and paste mentality, as has been the case for far too long.

  6. TVNZ should be ashamed for their behaviour around this. Lynch is a great presenter/jurno and to have been hung out to dry is a low move by TVNZ.

    Hope they have deep pockets as she’s sure to have a decent case against them – particularly how private information was ‘leaked’ to Gulcina.

  7. Hmmm, if Lynch is a great journo (with many years’ experience), one wonders why she felt it necessary to copy a story. The case of Tanya Katterns, who was sacked by Fairfax last year for plagiarism, should have alerted Lynch that copying the work of others is not a smart move.

  8. @Ross This happens day to day. It is easier to find plagiarism in Print media… I suggest you also look at how often this happens on news websites who are affiliated to other networks, remember a thesaurus is built into most computers.

    This isn’t the first time this had ever happened in Print nor in TV. for example have you seen the similarities between say Australia’s One HD’s Sport Tonight and TV3’s Sport tonight in both set, signage and placement of the presenter. I am not saying that this is an intentional copy but just look at the similarities. Have you seen the similarities of TV3’s news logo with Sky news, or the wipes used by One news and BBC news… If you honestly think NZ has been unique in it’s graphics and programming you are sadly mistaken.

    It is just that this is the first big high profile case that has “blown the doors open”. With younger inexperienced journalists, news cameramen and producers being employed by all the networks in order to cut costs, it will only be a matter of time before this happens again.

    “Revising” a story or a graphic or a set or a script is rife in NZ, we just have to look for it.

  9. Noname,

    I wouldn’t say this is the first high profile case. A few years ago Noelle McCarthy of RNZ was caught plagiarising stories. The issue here is not revising a story but cloning it. Using someone’s ideas happens all the time – you are right – and there is no problem with that if the source of the idea is mentioned in subsequent reversions. But that didn’t happen here.

    Tou refer to younger inexperienced journliasts. But Lynch is an experienced journalist who has spent many years in the business. She should have known better.

  10. Kate Lynch is just a foot soldier sent over the hill by the faceless generals, in between dessert and deciding with which port to finish dinner. As in a war, those in charge of Ms Lynch and her story will come out of this, if not blameless, then certainly untarnished.

  11. 11

    @ Ross: “I wouldn’t say this is the first high profile case. A few years ago Noelle McCarthy of RNZ was caught plagiarising stories”

    BE: Sorry Rocky, I’ve deleted all the rest of this. Just begging for a defamation action – or several.

  12. @Ross
    This is really the first big case that the public has opened its eyes to, probably because the story was of interest to them.

    As for inexperienced people behind the scenes… Of course there is going to be more hitches and has been have a look at how many out of court settlements and on air apologies are beginning to show themselves on TV. I am suggesting that for National news we are relying on Younger inexperienced Journos who have come straight out of University which is a worryespecially when our “Senior” Reporters, Editors and Producers are currently making professional mistakes.

  13. Dear Brian,
    Heard you on the Panel today and was interested in the story about the man fined for complaining about an inaccuracy in a TV program.
    Oddly enough I find myself in the same situation, I noticed blatant errors of a technical nature in a Target program and think TV3 shouldn’t just sweep them under the carpet, I mean if TV programs are full of errors what confidence can we have in them?
    I dutifully sent a nice description of the errors to TV3 (copy below) but after a week have heard nothing back from them. If they want to refute my claims then let’s hear it. I will probably send a follow up tomorrow.
    I would appreciate your views on this and perhaps advice on what to do next, it seems like the BSA might not be the best place, but what are they for if not chasing up inaccurate content?

    Text of my e-mail to TV3:

    “I suppose you might have had a deluge of letters about last week’s (2 August 2011) electric jug section of Target, but here is my contribution.

    It was a bit worrying to see the energy the jugs used quoted as ‘Watts’.

    The Problem?

    1. Watts are not units of energy. I presume they meant ‘Watt-hours’, usually expressed as Kilowatt-hours, (kWh or ‘units’). This is forgivable, as most people will “get what they mean”, but it goes on:

    2. The figure of 1100 Watt-hours to run a jug seemed over the top so I ran a test here on my jug with a Watt-hour meter.
    It came to around 110 Watt-hours, so Target seems to have got the decimal point in the wrong place.

    3. This impinges on the claim that to boil a jug costs about the same as running a fridge for 7 hours.
    Assuming most fridges use between 2 and 4 kWh per day the real figure equivalent would be not 7 but about 1 hour.

    If you need any advice on this don’t hesitate to contact me.
    Yours faithfully,

    M. J. Cryns.
    BE (mech)
    CPENZ, Chartered Engineer.