'Boorish' Australian journalist infuriates
JOHN HARTEVELT AND ANDREA VANCE
Senior Cabinet Ministers have rounded on Australian journalists covering the Pike River coal mine crisis, labelling their questions "disgraceful" and branding one a "tosspot".
Police Minister Judith Collins this afternoon added to the scorn already heaped upon Ean Higgins, from The Australian, for some questions he asked at a media conference this morning.
"Frankly, those journalists need to sit down and think about what they're actually doing. What they are doing is they are cheapening the work of other journalists working in Greymouth and they are absolutely not respecting the terrible time the people of Greymouth are going through," Collins said.
Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee earlier blasted Higgins as "boorish" for asking why a "local country cop" was leading the rescue operation.
Collins said the question was "disgraceful".
Superintendent Gary Knowles, to whom Higgins was referring, was an experienced police officer who had dealt with a lot of very grave and difficult circumstances before, she said.
"What they probably don't understand is that in New Zealand, police are the people who do run search and rescue operations of this magnitude," Collins said.
Only police were able to work across all of the agencies involved in the rescue operation.
Collins said police were keen to make sure information was released to the public. They did not have access to video of the blast released last night until it was handed over by the company.
The company had not been focussed on releasing the video until yesterday.
"And that's really because they were trying to get people out of the mine and dealing with an explosive situation in the mine, which by the way it still is."
Today Higgins drew gasps from other journalists when he asked why Superintendent Gary Knowles was heading the rescue operation instead of a mining union.
"Why is the local country cop doing it?" he said.
Knowles, who called Higgins 'sir', responded: "Where do I start. I'm not going to answer the last part of your question, I'm the district commander. I have responsibility for policing three quarters of the South Island."
"This is a multi-agency approach...this is not a union matter, sir, it's a matter for the experts."
Mr Brownlee said he had every confidence in the men leading the team, saying they had a very hard job. He said Higgins was one of those 'typewriter interviewers." And he said the paper's editor should be called to account.
"I think it's very easy to be a critic. The particular journalist that asked the most offensive question, the simple fact is he should not be reporting for a country like this because Australia has been so good to us.
"Australia are so focused on us, their prayers and their best wishes to all involved and they get some utter tosspot like that over here who mars all them.
"We know he's not representative of Australians."
He said the newspaper needed to be named.
"Their editor needs to give some explanation of why they've sent such a boorish fellow to this sensitive situation."
The Australian today reported rescuers believed four men had survived the blast. This is incorrect, Knowles told the press conference. "'We don't know where the miners are ... and a lot of these comments from you guys are not helpful because they are distressing for the families."
Another reporter from Australian television station Channel Seven asked: "Can you imagine New York firefighters standing around the World Trade Centre waiting to be told they shouldn't be told go in if there were lives in the balance."
Chief Executive of Pike River Coal Peter Whittall said "That's an inappropriate question to ask me, and I'm not going to comment...my guys underground, I'm not going to answer a question like that."
- © Fairfax NZ News