Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

20th June 1997

Copyright © 1997 Russell Brown

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It's customary in New Zealand for the great debate to exclude anyone under voting age - and, often as not, anyone under middle age. If it's not Grey Power defending the right of elderly rich people to receive an unabated pension, it's the baby boomers, with their collective hallucination that life begins at 40 and the world was created for their benefit.

Young folk have traditionally been patted told the head, told it's a great place to grow up and excluded from the culture. Speaking as someone who once wrote an editorial called 'School Milk, Suicide and the Sponsor's Product' - the best part of which was arguably the headline - I'd have to venture that, for the past week or two anyway, things have been different.

Suddenly, it seems everyone's doing it for the kids. Prize for most craven attempt has to go to TVNZ which, gazing at TV3's nearly-hatched youthy-type channel TV4, decided that it would, as usual, copy the idea. In doing do, it put a stake through the heart of last year's thing - regional television - by turning the Horizon Network into a music video channel. Phew! What a scorcher, eh kids?

Now, there are two sides to this. One is that kids outside Auckland and Christchurch will welcome with unbridled glee a music channel. If such a channel is as savvy as Max or Cry TV have become, it'll be a good thing. On the other hand, I get the fear that the Wrightson clan will be invited in to run it and it'll be as dull as a night on the tiles with Wyatt Creech.

The other side is, of course, that TVNZ has, though a lack of commitment and imagination, made a complete pig's arse of regional TV. Horizon never really reached its communities; and most of the time it was used as a sinkhole for the national broadcaster's waste products and repeats. I'm really, really going to miss some of the BBC programming - stuff like 'Dancing in the Streets', which TVNZ, incredibly, couldn't find a home for on network television.

I'm now more sympathetic than ever to the idea of flogging off the commercial business of TVNZ and running one - or preferably two, the bandwidth costs bugger-all - public service channels. What I find really annoying is the sudden blind stampede towards the youth dollar - which only a year or two ago, was pretty much ignored. I'd hesitate to say it's being treated with anything approaching actual respect, but has anybody noticed how crowded it's getting out there in the youth market? Tried to find bFM on the car radio dial lately? Unless you've got a digital tuner you'll find yourself fiddling around between Channel Z , that other silly Hauraki one that pretends to be Channel Z and yer actual bFM. Weird.

But of course there's more to it than that. And the New Zealand Herald this past week has chosen to show the dark side of being young in New Zealand in 'Our Children: A Herald Investigation'. Now, there has been some good work here, and it's great that the Herald should be engaging in some campaigning journalism ... but I still have a little trouble swallowing it.

Perhaps the headline of Jan Corbett's half-time sum-up of the campaign in Wednesday's paper says it all: 'TRAGEDIES REVEALED AND MORE SHOCKS LINED UP', ran the headline, more than a little tastelessly. It's one thing to line up a string of case studies and horror stories - really terrible stuff about abuse and insanity and childrens who fall through the cracks - but we haven't really had a snapshot of how the average kid is living; or any impression as to whether and where things are better or worse than they were 10 or 20 years ago.

It took a rather stuffy opinion piece by Professor John Werry to bring some perspective to the agonising over youth suicide rates. Yes, they're very high - but 80 per cent of teenage deaths are the result of accidents and many of those involve cars and booze. Now there's a problem.

The Herald also told us that a third of the country's children are living in poverty - without reminding the reader who cut the benefits. In Saturday's concluding editorial, the paper implied the the Children and Young Persons' service was disfunctional and had probalems with accountability. Well, gee, that might be something do with it having been subjected to three pointless, ill-considered restructurings by the party for which the Herald has repeatedly urged its readers.

The same editorial declared that "the impression should not be left that that the problems of young folk today are confined to those in relative poverty." Oh, that's all right then. It's not, actually. What the Herald chooses to describe as "shocks" and "tragedies" might be visited also on the children of the middle class. But the same does not hold for, say, the less glamorous health problems caused by the housing crisis in Auckland and the North - something in which the government, in making a mess of its housing policy, is very much implicated.

There are many other influences on the experience of young people in the 90s, but the Herald barely explored them - which is why the campaign itself has gone down poorly with the generation it tries to describe - just ask some kids what they thought of being the week's freakshow. If it may yet have a beneficial spin-off in tweaking the conscience of leadership, it never really got near a complex truth. For instance, you look at a graph of the youth suicide rate in the past 15 years, you'd see that it begins to rise sharply in 1984, and jags upwards again with the arrival of Ruthanasia in 1991. However you explain that - and it's probably not purely economic - you do need to confront it.

Speaking of Children and Young Persons, I've met a few CYPS staff and I thought they were fantastic people. It takes a lot of guts to work at the social frontlines. They will, I guess, be pretty upset by the allegations of ACT MP Ken Shirley, which seem to have been timed for maximum publicity. He'd better be right when he claims that CYPS staff have falsified death certificates, among other things, because the service's morale doesn't exactly need another kicking.

Events conspired also to make that ultimate ugly - child pornography - an issue this week. The French police took action to uproot a vile paedophile network, making 600 arrests in the process. Unrepentant abusers turn up on TV to be vilified. And Canterbury University lecturer Michael Carter was fined $2000 and publicly shamed for importing a pornographic video from Germany.

Now, without defending him and his unseemly tastes, I'm a little suspicious of the "child porn" tag taken up by the media, and the implicit assumption that Carter is a paedophile. It's important to remember that Carter could have saved himself prosecution by going to a Christchurch video shop and buying the same video - 'New Golden Boys, Volume 1' over the counter. In short, I'd be interested to know how old the "boys" are.

The kids were also the issue - again - on the North Shore, where Detective Inspector George Wood of the Takapuna cops bragged on Monday of a new get-tough policy. The next night TV's 'Police Stop Crash Bang Smash Gotcha' showed actual footage of the police's bizarre assault on some kids having a dance party at North Head back in April, helicopter overhead, batons drawn, helmets on and all.

Look, there is virtually nothing for teenagers on the Shore. So a couple of likely lads a free dance party well away from harm. Nothing untoward happens until the police turn up, start pushing people around, a bottle flies and it's all on. I really thought we were past all that at.

Back when that dickhead Gideon Tait was running things - and for a good while after, really - street policing in Auckland was a really vile business. It often seemed to be a numbers game, whereby a team would turn up at, say, the Windsor Castle, and if there was no trouble, they'd make some, in order to get a few bodies in the back of the van. I also have very bad memories of having to stand and listen while racist, homophobic cops vented their nasty little psyches on the people I was with.

But that's changed - or so I had hoped. Maybe I just lead a more sheltered life now. But no so sheltered as the horrible Deborah Coddington, whose current Metro column espouses the belief that the cops pick on law-abiding "white" kids and ignore the nasty darkies who pursue them. Yes, read it, it is pretty much that crass. Just thank your lucky stars Coddington isn't a competent enough journalist to rise beyond writing a novelty column in Metro and making an exploitative buck out of sex abuse books.

Actually, that Herald investigation isn't looking so bad now, is it? Especially seeing as it very, very much puts the squeeze on Winston Peters' first budget next week. All his own work? I think not. Dull document which will struggle to win anyone's confidence? Probably. Next week should be a bundle of fun, kids


    ==  ==      Russell Brown
  [ @ / @  ]                      
     /        ________________________________________
    (_)         "The views expressed on this programme
    ____)       are bloody good ones." Fred Dagg, 197?

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