Is sending Ray Martin to Aceh the first mistake Nine has made after a very good week? Terry Television thinks so.

Oh dear, someone spoke to soon. After showing some very good news judgment, Nine has fluffed things by parachuting (not literally) Ray Martin into its impressive coverage of the Asian tsunami crisis and its aftermath.

For what reason, no one knows.

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But a star has returned. Ray Martin, back in Aceh and on the beat. Crikey has already wondered about whether we’d see some pointless performances from our stars on the beaches of southwest Thailand or in western Aceh.

On Sunday, in the tea session of the third cricket test we got one from our Ray. It’s a pity because at his best our Ray is an empathic, generous reporter. At worse he can be garrulous and capable of stating the bleeding obvious at times, to the embarrassment of viewers.

He said he arrived in Indonesia on New Year’s Day and arrived in Aceh on Saturday night. Fair enough. But instead of being factual and subdued, Ray rushed for the Metaphor Mixmaster.

The worst, describing the capriciousness of the way people died as though “some wicked witch” has come along and made people disappear. Wicked Witch?

Simplistic in the extreme and embarrassing, the sign of a reporter struggling to come to terms with what was before his eyes. A story so large, the pictures so tragic and astounding that not very much is needed to tell the story. Just an understanding of the situation and the ability to control your ego.

Compare Ray’s comment to Richie Benaud, who was talking to our Ray via Satellite phone. Richie is a cricket writer and journalist, not a current affairs super star like our Ray, and yet the doyen of cricket broadcasters captured the situation perfectly when he finished his chat with Ray with the poignant comment “Nothing but sadness up there” .

Short, sufficient. That’s all you need to say. The story is in the pictures and words we have seen and read over the past week.

So why did Nine send our Ray to the region when Brett McLeod in Aceh and the other reporters, have been doing admirable work?

Was it to allow our Ray to grandstand amid the despair of the Acehenese? To give him a war story, to aid Ray and A Current Affair in the coming battle this year against Seven’s Today Tonight? I hope not.

This would have been a decision involving Nine boss David Gyngell, who with Sydney news director, Max Uechtritz, has handled coverage well up to now after falling asleep on the job on Boxing day night.

Despite what Nine might say, dropping Ray Martin into the coverage is also a vote of no-confidence in the other reporters who have been on the scene for almost a week, more than adequately bringing us the story.

What can Ray Martin bring to the coverage that is not already there? On his performance with ACA last year, there’s nothing he can add.

In his two-way with Richie, Ray seemed unable to remember when the tragedy occurred, saying ‘about a week ago” and a “week ago”. It happened in daylight hours on Boxing Day, December 26. That’s the problem, playing catch-up.

Ray will no doubt appear around the Nine Network, especially on ACA from this week until its time to return him to the chair in Willoughby.

Simon Bouda, the former Nine Network news reporter has done a pretty good job for everyone, including his new gig at A Current Affair.

Involving Ray Martin in the coverage is an insult to those already on the ground and working the as*es off for Nine.

Finally, a word about Mark Ferguson, Nine’s Sydney weekend and summer 6pm newsreader. This story has been the making of him. If Nine stumbles this year in the Sydney news battle with Seven, I reckon Mark Ferguson is ready to step forward. He showed maturity, judgment, a capacity to work hard, be sympathetic and was collected.

He had ‘bottom’ to use the description given decades ago to the great CBS evening news reader, Walter Conkrite.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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