24 Jan 2016

Hazards are everywhere when there are hours of news to fill in the summer

From Mediawatch, 9:12 am on 24 January 2016

In the absence of much hard news - or sharks - this summer, scary stories about the hazards all around us bulked up the bulletins. Vegans and animals were in the frame, and there was even a startling outbreak of anthropomorphism across the ditch. 

Car crashes, drownings and boating mishaps are standard headline fare during the holiday period, and the dangers of the roads and the water are well known. But with little else making headlines, it seemed like the media were trying to make a story out of any hazard they could find post-Christmas. 

Just before the New Year, 3 News reacted to a Californian's fatal fall over a cliff with an anguished report on the risks of cellphone distraction, complete with a vox-pop from a girl who "walked into a pole once" doing the same thing. 

But you didn't even have to leave home to risk death. 3 News also found a man in fear of "a killer tree" at home. The protected pine was "constantly trying to kill him," said 3 News, with "pinecones the size of pineapples".  

PItcure of "killer tree" and pineapple-size pinecones on 3 News.

Look out behind you. The "killer tree" and pineapple-size pinecones on 3 News. Photo: screenshot

3 News on the 29 December was the most hazardous yet. It had boulders, damp houses and foreign tourists posing dangers. There were also animals potentially at risk of cruelty at a rodeo. The organiser told Radio Live the Warkworth rodeo was actually safe as houses  . . . at the very moment a truck pulled down the power lines. Live radio at its best. 

The shadow of the bomb

The weather washed out the Warkworth rodeo in the end, but one week later a new threat bigger than gale force northerlies came from North Korea.

While experts debated whether the hermit state really had exploded a bomb as it claimed, the fact it had no means to deliver such a bomb anywhere near New Zealand didn't dissuade The New Zealand Herald from running this:

Screenshot of New Zealand Herald headline: "If North Korea dropped its H-bomb on Auckland, this is what would happen"

Be afraid . . . Photo: screenshot

A chilling screenshot below came from a handy website called Nukemap, which makes mapping a nuclear disaster where you live oh so easy.

"Drag the marker to wherever you'd like to target - and enter a yield in kilotons. You can also set other options like the height of the airburst," the site cheerily says.  

screenshot of Nukemap website's map of Auckland hit by bomb

Nukemap targetting Auckland Photo: screenshot

The Nukemap site proudly boasts "65 million detonations and counting" since 2012, and its traffic is up ten-fold since those reports of the disputed detonation in North Korea. 

Vegans under fire

Good news turned sour for vegans when Z Energy's new petrol station pie turned out to have ground feathers in the pastry, while an ad for Aussie lamb which showed a vegan's flat being aggressively torched by commandos became the most-complained-about commercial in Australian history. 

screenshot pf controversial Aussie lamb ad featuring vegan victimisation

Controversial Aussie lamb ad featuring vegan victimisation Photo: screenshot

The Advertising Standards Bureau across the Tasman eventually ruled advertisers were allowed to use humour and dubious taste in tandem. But if Australia is ambivalent about vegan welfare, the media there went dewy-eyed last week over photos of what appeared to be a “grieving male kangaroo grasping on to the dying mother of a nearby joey”. 

The front page of the Brisbane Courier Mail

More to this picture than meets the eye Photo: screenshot

Australia Museum's mammologist Dr Mark Eldridge saw the picture differently.

The male is clearly highly stressed and agitated, his forearms are very wet from him licking himself to cool down. He is also sexually aroused. This is a male trying to get a female to stand up so he can mate with her.

A veterinary pathologist told Guardian Australia the male may even have killed the female while doing so, and condemned what he called “naïve anthropomorphsim” in the media. 

Most of the Australian media took no notice, but Tom Elliot on Melbourne radio station 3AW asked Dr Eldridge to explain on air.

"Part of courtship behaviour is often to try and coax the female into being more amenable. The male is probably confused about why she's not responding," he told Tom Eliot. 

"Yes. Well we've all been there, haven't we," Tom Eliot replied . . . followed by several seconds of silence in which he wished he hadn't.