Over the last couple of weeks Judy and I have received phone calls and an email from Cathy Barker. Cathy is the wife of former Spliz Enz drummer Michael Barker. Cathy and Michael are the parents of teenager Tristan Barker who has become infamous in Australia – where he has just finished school – and beyond for his anarchic and generally offensive rants on Facebook and Twitter. According to Australian media reports, Tristan has ‘hundreds of thousands’ of teenage fans who hang on his every word. His Twitter page reveals that he currently has just under 15,000 followers, so I suspect his fan numbers may be exaggerated. But that’s still a lot of people and his on-line presence is undoubtedly significant. Tristan’s methodology, by his own telling, is to slaughter as many sacred cows and offend the sensibilities of as many people as possible in order to make us all think. He is clearly highly intelligent and writes well.
But his outpourings are properly unacceptable, I would have thought, to even the most liberal mind. Here in New Zealand, Netsafe Executive Director Martin Cocker has described Tristan’s actions as ‘inciting of acts of hatred’. Whether that is Tristan’s intention or not, I think Cocker may well be right. Unsurprisingly, Tristan who is a Kiwi and whose parents live in Rotorua, has attracted the particular attention of the Australian media, most recently for allegedly assaulting Channel Seven’s Today Tonight reporter Dave Eccleston who had travelled to Rotorua to interview him. Eccleston required medical treatment. Tristan appeared in Rotorua District Court this morning, charged with common assault. He was remanded on bail until April 3. All of this is enormously distressing for Cathy and Michael whose sole concern is to help their admittedly difficult son.
So why did Cathy get in touch with Judy and me? Because she’d Googled the name Jonathan Marshall and came across my posts on that odious non-journalist’s reporting on his alleged conversation with Amanda Hotchin at the Hotchin’s beach-side property in Hawaii. You may recall that the Sunday Star Times responded to my challenge to them to produce either a recording of Marshall’s ‘interview’ with Mrs Hotchin or his written notes of their ‘conversation’ by sending me a menacing lawyer’s letter requiring me to cease and desist or face the consequences. I published the letter on this site. So just what has Marshall to do with the Barker family? Well Marshall is currently ‘Investigations Editor’ for the News Limited Network in Australia. I’ll let Jonathan Holmes, host of the ABC’s excellent Media Watch, tell the story. Seems Mr Marshall’s journalistic ethics and approach haven’t changed much since he left our fair shores: no point in letting the facts spoil a good story when it’s so easy to change the facts, just a little.
But my real concern here is for Cathy and Michael Barker who find themselves at the heart of a media maelstrom which is not of their making and which they are ill-equipped to deal with. Earlier today I asked Cathy if she would allow me to publish a short part of her email to Judy and me. She values her own and her family’s privacy and, with understandable reluctance, agreed: “What has happened over the past two weeks has been unsettling to say the least. I am not used to a boat full of media filming us in front of our home. I really don’t know what to say. What I am interested in is more keeping my son on track with his passion. I am just looking to help my son keep learning and as grounded as possible.” It would be nice to think that, in dealing with this matter, the New Zealand media would show more restraint and greater respect for Tristan’s parents’ privacy than some of their Australian counterparts and greater journalistic integrity than Jonathan Marshall. Is there more to Tristan Barker than meets the eye? Well, I’ll leave the last words and pictures to him. You decide.