How do you cover a massive news story about refugees with no pictures or footage of the harsh conditions it describes? If you’re a commercial news station, you probably don’t.

Of the free-to-air commercial programs, only The Project last night gave The Guardian‘s Nauru files leak a good run. The scoop didn’t make Ten’s news bulletin, nor Seven’s, nor Nine’s. A Current Affair did not cover the issue.

It is tricky covering a story like that on television, but the public broadcasters gave it a go. SBS World News had a segment on it. On News 24, Lateline covered the revelations by interviewing shadow immigration minister Shayne Neumann. On the main channel, the 5pm ABC News had a short, straight report on the political fallout. It was also a discussion topic on The Drum, which had Guardian journo Paul Farrell on as a guest to talk about the scoop.

The power of images to drive interest in worthy stories got a good consideration after Four Corners’ recent story into juvenile incarceration, which got victims talking on camera and, perhaps most startlingly, video footage of much of the abuse it described. In the wake of it, the family of Ms Dhu, an Aboriginal woman who died in police custody, renewed their campaign to make the video of her treatment in the hours before her death, public. For the refugees on Nauru, it’s not clear whether similar videos even exist.

Peter Fray

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