Some of you may have thought I was overstating the descent of the New Zealand Herald from quality broadsheet to trash tabloid in yesterday’s post. If so, today’s front page might just give you pause for thought. The style of the Hotchin headline – provocative quote from bad guy, screamer fonts, cut-through red for the damning evidence – combined with a photograph of Hotchin looking like someone you might expect to see on America’s Most Wanted and body copy which essentially says, ‘Filthy rich bastard wants even more!’ – all of this would sit perfectly comfortably on the front pages of the News of the World or The Sun. There is just a slight problem with the headline which is clearly intended to convey the idea that the words ‘I need $7000 a week’ are a quote, that they were actually spoken by Hotchin. But there’s nothing in the story to support that at all.
Indeed, the third para of the story reads: ‘But that’s not enough for Mr Hotchin and the Herald understands he has sought to increase that limit to between $6000 and $7000 so he can pay for rent, living costs, a hire car and private school fees for three children.’ Unless I’ve misunderstood the story, Hotchin didn’t speak the words in the headline at all. And would it be picky to remind readers that the $6000 or $7000 which he’s reported to be asking for is actually Hotchin’s own money? Or is it worth mentioning that quite a few people are uncomfortable with the idea that someone’s assets may be frozen without warning and without reason or explanation being given to anyone, including the person concerned? Doesn’t that seem somewhat at odds with natural justice?
Let me presumptuously answer for the Herald: ‘Well maybe, but rich pricks like this, who own flash houses and part-shares in race-horses and can send their brats to private schools and rip off mum and dad investors – what right have they to natural justice?’ Or even to factual or objective reporting. In the second front-page story, ‘Child-torture case horrifies minister, sparks fury over bail’, the Herald again details the abuse suffered by a 9-year-old girl at the hands of her parents.’Torture’ is probably the right word for what was done to this kiddie and I share the surprise of family advocates that the parents were given bail and their bewilderment at how this abuse went unreported by anyone. But this is the 5th or 6th time that the paper has recited the specifics of that torture and I remain unconvinced that it is motivated by the public interest rather than by the rewards of sensationalist reporting.
At the same time I realise that I’m on a hiding to nothing with these arguments. My view of Hotchin could scarcely be more negative and is best expressed in my earlier post Reflections on not caring in Hawaii. But to question the actions of the Securities Commission – a body which in this case seems to have assumed the ‘shoot now, ask questions later ‘mentality of a Western posse – in freezing Hotchin’s assets without warning or explanation, or the Herald for what is now clearly a highly emotive, personal campaign against him, is likely to be interpreted as support for Hotchin’s actions. It is not. One can disapprove of Hotchin’s actions while at the same time defending his right to natural justice and disinterested reporting of those actions in the news media. At the moment, it seems to me, he is the recipient of neither.