Tiraroa Reweti (Photo supplied)

Tiraroa Reweti, a former reporter, editor and producer, takes issue with some of the coverage of the Ponsonby Rd shooting this week.

 

My journalism career began in 1980 when I joined the Auckland Star newspaper as a cadet reporter. I remember my koro wasn’t impressed. He thought reporters were like seagulls, scavenging for gossip. A noisy, nosy nuisance.

I was determined to prove him wrong. After all, I was working alongside people like Pat Booth, the icon who broke the Mr Asia drug story, Warwick Roger who went on to become the first editor of Metro magazine, Donna Chisholm whose incredible investigative work led to the release of David Dougherty after four years in prison, and Tony Gee, the fastest turnaround, two-finger-typing newsman I ever met.

In this smoky old newsroom were planted the seeds for what has become a 40-year-long interest in journalism — as a reporter, editor, producer, tutor and mentor.

Throughout this time, I’ve maintained the belief that good journalism is a bedrock of a healthy society because it gives voice to the voiceless by challenging power, it presents the facts in the face of raw emotion, and it shares, without prejudice, good news and bad.

All reasons why my former colleague Miriama Kamo and other journalists around the country are fighting for the platform to continue their work.

So, this week, what a gut-wrenching disappointment it was to see the headline: “Ponsonby Rd shooter was son of celebrated film-maker Don Selwyn”.

The story went on to remind us of Don’s tribal affiliations, that he’d been awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit in 1999, and the films he’d made. And there, in the body of the story, was a picture of Don. Sitting by himself, relaxed and smiling.

Don was a dear friend of mine who died in 2007. Yet here he was, 17 years later, plastered across the news for what seemed to me to be a lazy effort by the reporter and editors to fill space.

Of course, it’s newsworthy that Hone Kay-Selwyn was Don’s son. But the point is, Don died 17 years ago and can’t be held responsible for the actions of his grown son. If he were here now, I know that he would be devastated.

Don fought against racism and injustice. He offered unconditional support to anyone who came knocking at his door, giving advice that came from years of hard slog in a creative industry where Māori faces were rarely seen, Māori voices barely heard.

Consider, for a moment, the questions this week’s coverage has created in the public psyche about a father who isn’t here to speak for himself or his son. That he was a bad father? That, despite all his remarkable achievements, he raised a killer?

To say that this type of journalism makes me angry is an understatement.

Take a look across the ditch to the Sky News interview with Keegan Payne, the 19-year-old who caught a million-dollar fish.

Over the years, I’ve known that most media outlets are dominated by white male privilege which creates company cultures that harbour ignorant attitudes.

Here, the white, male reporter clearly thought he was on to something juicy when he decided to publicly humiliate Keegan, a young man who’d finally struck it lucky, fishing. Doing something his ancestors have expertly done for millenia.

The Sky News reporter has since apologised, but the damage has already been done. Why not be honest and just say: “You stole cars when you were 14 so what makes you think you deserve all this money, Black fulla?” But, of course, that wouldn’t have been appropriate from a “professional journalist” who had his own reputation to protect.

Both stories are disturbing examples of what I’ve come to describe as Kardashian News: news designed mainly to grab attention.

What happened in Ponsonby Road and beyond is a crime story. A story that police are still piecing together. A story that deserved to be responsibly reported.

Journalists are now among the least trusted of the professions around the world.

Too many have become scavengers for gossip — a noisy, nosey nuisance, exactly as my koro perceived them all those years ago. Experts at Facebook searches and online research. Encouraged to believe that their opinion is more important than the facts or the person who is opening themselves up to tell their story.

Time to take stock. To remind the public, the people we serve, that we are worthy of their trust. To remind ourselves that lazy journalism can be dangerous even to those beyond the grave.

 

Tiraroa Reweti (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāiterangi, Te Arawa) has been a reporter, director, programme editor and producer within TVNZ’s general news, Māori news and current affairs, on and off since 1984. A mother of three sons and Nan to three mokopuna, she has also taught bicultural journalism in Rotorua and mentored reporters for Whakaata Māori. She is presently a television scriptwriter.

© E-Tangata, 2024

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