Pike River media handling raises many questions

It probably won't be a big feature of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Pike River Mine disaster, but some questions do need to be asked about how the authorities handled the media during the disaster. 

My first question is who took the decision to place a cordon around the mine and prevent media from travelling to the site? This restricted access and obliged the media to base themselves in Greymouth.

It was also important in order to implement the next decision; to make company CEO Peter Whittal and the police officer in charge, Superintendent Gary Knowles, as the only spokespeople, and therefore the only sources of information.  No one else knew anything and the media were obliged to run with what they were told. Both these tactics are straight out of media handling in a crisis 101.

The police designated this as a rescue operation. This set up an expectation that at least some miners were still alive. But is also generated a demand that a rescues should take place, which inevitably led to disappointment and frustration when no rescue occurred.

Why not? The answer was that it was too dangerous and Knowles said repeatedly that he was not going to place the lives of rescuers in jeopardy. Fair enough.

But on what evidence was the judgment made that this was a rescue operation? Where was the evidence that anyone was still alive? No one asked that question of Knowles or Whittall, and when one reporter on Sunday - day three of the tragedy - attempted to do so, the reporter was firmly told that it was distasteful question, as if somehow that was an answer.

When the CCTV footage taken at the mine portal of the explosion of the first explosion was shown, the locals' reaction was that this was proof that the miners were all dead, because no one would have survived an explosion of that force. (Two men walking out of the mine at the time of the first explosion were knocked unconscious by the blast and they were two kilometres away from its source.

The police resisted making this footage public. Why? Perhaps because it would cast doubt on their decision on Friday that this was a rescue operation, and perhaps because they would be accused of giving false hope to the relatives?

Then came the second explosion and the police declared that everyone was dead. Why one explosion would leave people alive but the second one had left them all dead was never explained, and no one seemed to query that conclusion either, seemingly on no better evidence than they declared that some were still alive after the first explosion.

On Checkpoint on the day of the second explosion a police spokesman just about conceded that the police (and presumably others) knew that the miners were all dead on Friday or Saturday. If that is so, why then was the nation still being told that this was a rescue mission several days later?