Friday, April 2, 2010

Media label dogs Kurariki at every turn

(First published in the Curmudgeon column, The Dominion Post, March 30.)

IF Bailey Junior Kurariki becomes a hardened lifetime criminal, as now seems inevitable, then I’m afraid my fellow journalists will have to accept a large measure of responsibility.

The media were captivated by the image of the 12-year-old Kurariki’s wide-eyed face peering over the top of the dock when he was found guilty of the manslaughter of pizza delivery man Michael Choy in 2002, and they haven’t been able to leave him alone since.

He immediately became branded as “New Zealand’s youngest killer”, a tag that has dogged him at every turn.

In a very narrow, technical sense, I suppose the description is correct. But does that justify its endless repetition? I’m not so sure.

It’s important to point out that Kurariki didn’t actually kill anyone. He was a decoy who gave the signal for one of his older partners-in-crime to leap out and hit Mr Choy. He must have known the plan was to assault Mr Choy, but there was no proven intent to kill – otherwise the charge would have been murder.

In any case, Kurariki was under the influence of older associates. Significantly, we don’t hear anything about them these days. Of the six who were convicted, Kurariki was singled out for continued media attention solely because of his age.

I would have thought this very factor was a compelling reason to leave him alone, so that he might have had some chance of rehabilitation away from the public eye.

In fact the exact reverse happened. Kuraraki has been subjected to such unrelenting media attention that he had no chance of settling back into a normal life after his initial release from prison.

The media played a direct hand in his latest brush with the law. Two female journalists from the Herald on Sunday, a reporter and a photographer, went to interview him after he finished a one-month sentence for wilfully damaging a TV camera. (The media again. Fancy that.)

Kurariki is alleged to have exposed himself to the two, masturbated and groped them. Naturally they lodged a complaint with the police, which in turn led to his latest arrest last week after he failed to appear in court.

I hope the two Herald on Sunday journalists feel pleased with themselves. For two apparently attractive women to visit a troubled and unstable young man in his home was perilously close to baiting him. But never mind, the paper got what it no doubt wanted: a story headlined Child killer becomes sex pest.

Kurariki’s life is a tragedy playing out in slow motion, and it’s not hard to predict how the storyline will unfold. This is not the New Zealand media’s proudest moment.

* * *

THERE IS a certain type of officious Englishman whose image is seared into the New Zealand psyche.

We have all encountered him. He carries a clipboard and has a pocket bristling with pens. A typical example of the subspecies pommus pettibureaucratus has a moustache and wears a white dustcoat. He loves to give orders, preferably citing the minutiae of council bylaws and Acts of Her Majesty’s Parliament.

He has an accent which identifies him as a member of the English lower-middle class, a social status of which he is probably acutely aware and possibly resentful.

Though thousands of miles from home, he has found an ideal habitat in the lower regulatory branches of government.

Here he has secured a form of employment which enables him, at one stroke, to fulfil his dream of improving his social and economic standing – to “make something” of himself in a country blessedly free of class rigidities – while simultaneously asserting authority over people who, in different circumstances, might be his betters.

Any career with the word “inspector” in the job description – health inspector, building inspector, fire safety inspector – is irresistible to him. If there’s a uniform with the job, so much the better.

Local government is rich in such openings. In this capacity he is able to indulge his natural talent for nitpicking and gleefully pouncing on the supposed shortcomings of others.

We have seen a striking example of this personality type in a recent “reality” TV show. I leave it to readers to guess which programme I’m referring to.

* * *

PEOPLE used to suffer harm. They exhibited different types of behaviour. They demonstrated competency of one sort or another. Sometimes they would indulge in misconduct.

Then someone decided, for no obvious reason, to append the letter “s” to words that had managed perfectly well without it. So now we have harms, behaviours, competencies and misconducts.

Even worse, I’ve recently seen reference to knowledges, evidences and learnings (this last from a police officer talking about the lessons police learned from a security breach at Premier House during Prince William’s visit in January).

Happily these atrocities haven’t yet crept into everyday English, but it may be only a matter of time. Predictably, teachers, social workers and other “caring” professions have adopted them with gusto. Or should that be gustos?


Owen said...

Sacha Baron Cohen led the way with "s": Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Karl du Fresne said...

Heh heh.