I can’t be sure whether James Louis Mason punched his 4-year-old son in the face. I wasn’t there. But people who were there and who gave evidence at Mason’s trial were convinced that he had assaulted the boy and, more importantly, so was the jury. Mason has had a fair trial and that ought to be the end of the matter. It won’t be. Mason is likely to become the poster boy for the pro-smacking lobby. If his performance last night on Sunday is anything to go by, he fits the bill perfectly. Mason doesn’t deny hitting one of his boys. But he’s added to the smacking lobby’s lexicon of ‘hitting’ euphemisms by defining what he did as ‘a flick’, which he demonstrated with considerable enthusiasm on the programme. It’s a drumming move apparently. Nor was he at all embarrassed to admit that shouting and four-letter verbal abuse were part of his child-rearing repertoire. If you were going to keep your kids safe in this hostile world, they had to get the message loud and clear. The proof of the pudding was in the eating. His children, he told us, were still alive.
And if you were in any doubt that the Mason family were actually the Waltons reincarnated, there were all those pictures of dad kissing and cuddling his kids. Maybe that’s unfair. Maybe I’ve been in the industry too long not to suspect staged performances from people on the telly. It was perhaps no accident that the item was fronted by Simon Mercep. It had all the feel of a Fair Go story, with Mason in the role of the victim, the wronged party. Uncharacteristically weak journalism, I thought. And there’s one quite curious thing here. If the pro-smacking lobby is right and the vast majority of New Zealanders oppose the new law, you might have expected an entirely different verdict. Juries are quite capable of ignoring laws they consider silly or unjust and bringing in what they consider sensible and fair verdicts. Either this jury was firmly convinced that Mason was guilty as charged or he was bloody unlucky to have struck 12 proponents of the nanny state.