TVNZ should be ashamed of Sensing Murder
OPINION: There's plenty of programmes on television that are absolute rubbish but keep getting commissioned: Two and a Half Men, for example. But only one that offends and disgusts me, and that's one which TVNZ just proudly renewed for a fifth season.
Sensing Murder, where self-acclaimed psychics attempt to divine the fates of missing people, will return to New Zealand television screens again in 2017.
The show gives psychics photos of missing - presumed dead - people and asks them to discover their fates.
Not once has this had any measurable impact. Police have confirmed that in four seasons of the show, no tips from a psychic have led to a case being solved.
Not just that: they've demonstrably offered incorrect findings.
* Sensing Murder: A cold case of tricks or something more?
* Sensing Murder, or sensing nonsense?
* Sensing Murder episode reruns questioned
* Sensing Murder's Kelvin Cruickshank
* Psychics spark renewed interest in unsolved murder
And last time around, programme makers turned down an offer worth up to $400,000 from Wanaka tourist entrepreneur Stuart Landsborough to have the psychics' work independently tested and evaluated.
Between them, the psychics have no scientific or legal qualification, no formal investigatory experience, nothing to single them out from me, you or your pet dog in being worthy to solve crimes, and indeed to solve them on primetime television. That being so, I could go on the next season of Sensing Murder and be just as much use to them in finding out whodunnit.
The show is an insult to the police, for these are usually cases they have spent many years and plenty of resources trying to solve.
It's an insult to the families, whether they have co-operated or not, to re-open new wounds and win publicity and acclaim from their pain.
It's an insult to New Zealand television audiences that they be expected to swallow such patent rubbish.
The only people to benefit are the psychics, who get free publicity to drive their businesses. By the way, I'm not saying they don't genuinely believe they have some sort of ability to help. I'm saying those in charge shouldn't humour that delusion.
What's most telling is that TVNZ didn't want to discuss any of these factors and how they came to recommission this show.
I believe that's because when it came to weighing up the basic social responsibilities and duties to its consumers versus the pursuit of ratings, ratings were the winner - and Sensing Murder undoubtedly rates well.
TVNZ said neither of the men with final responsibility for commissioning the show, Jeff Latch and Andrew Shaw, were in the country and free to talk, and said it was "too early" to discuss the show, which won't air until next year.
Instead, in a statement, they said: "Our role is to show a broad range of content that reflects the diversity of our viewers' interests. We know from previous screenings that Sensing Murder has a big following and that plenty of people will welcome it's return."
TVNZ won't say what cases their psychics will pry into this time but say family involvement is "central" and in many instances, cases are "selected following an approach from a family member".
Given they are offering these people a platform, TVNZ ought to be offering a counter balance - the Skeptics, or indeed anyone vaguely sensible, to debunk it. They wouldn't dream of giving an hour's primetime to a climate-change denier or a homeopath without offering the countervailing and predominant view that both are complete claptrap.
Instead, the programme is presented and pitched as a documentary, a factual show, a premise it rests upon because it re-tells the case the psychics are examining.
Here's a couple of facts: in a 2007 episode, Kelvin Cruikshank said that the body of Jane Furlong, missing for 15 years by then, was still "inside the city" and referred to jackhammers and concrete, suggesting it may be under a building site. She was found five years later in sand dunes at Port Waikato.
In another previous season, Sue Nicholson claimed she had solved the 2003 murder of Sara Niethe after Niethe's former boyfriend Mark Pakenham admitted to killing her, but said later she was taken out of context.
When Landsborough offered a total pot of $400,000 of incentives for the psychics to open themselves up to examination, he was told by the producers that their techniques were as "scientific as we can possibly make them. We would happily discuss our methods and results with opened minded people who seek the truth - what ever that may be - but it's just a waste of every body's time to enter a discourse with those whose singled minded purpose is to seek discredit."
Count me as an open-minded person who seeks the truth - but also seeks to discredit these people. If TVNZ were fair dinkum about finding the truth, they would invest heavily in a substantial team of private investigators to re-examine these cases. But maybe that doesn't make such good television.