A fourth rate estate by Trevor Plumbly

My brain has passed the R&D stage; these days I prefer the more frivolous things in life because too much reality can get depressing at my age.

The process hasn’t been entirely voluntary; most of it was forced on me by the media’s insistence that short, sharp jabs of unpleasant news would make me more aware of what’s going on. It seems, to me anyway, that lately shock/horror is weighing too heavily in the balance of daily news. What was once considered bait for the tabloids is now rammed down our throats from all angles, to the point that neutrality seems to be the last thing the press give a toss about. A recent murder trial here in NZ illustrated how little sensitivity matters in the face of a good story.

Just doing their job

A young English backpacker was strangled to death in an Auckland hotel room. As part of the defence strategy, graphic details of her alleged sexual preferences were read out in open court. The morality of that being paraded before her parents certainly begs a question; but more concerning to me was the apparent willingness of the press to rake over the coals. Every evening a solemn faced newscaster would warn us that the following report could be ‘disturbing’, before going on to catalogue the lurid details. None of which served any purpose, other than to smear the reputation of a young murder victim, ironically named Grace. In such cases it’s always tempting to elevate ourselves to second-hand judge and jury status, but this young woman’s death should provoke deeper questions about our personal values. Trumpeting ‘the public right to know’ in this case seemed a poor excuse for thinly disguised muckraking.

Justification and justice

Grace Millane’s parents attending the trial of their daughter’s murderer.

Initially the murder horrified us, but somehow the natural tendency for compassion got lost in favour of morbid curiosity, which speaks little for a nation that prides itself in the concept of ‘a fair go’. Everybody deserves dignity in death but an unhealthy majority of the media denied Grace that, preferring instead to highlight her alleged sexual activities. We, the public, licensed that by silent acceptance. The whole sorry affair illustrated the poor treatment Grace Millane and her family received from our media. But perhaps it should also serve to remind us that dignity and integrity are a heck of a lot more important than shock/horror news reports. Journalists make much of ‘professional integrity’, vowing to accept imprisonment rather than name a source, but find it hard to differentiate between necessary recording and pointless sensationalism. I’d like to end with, ‘For pity’s sake!”, but in this case there wasn’t much.

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