In Praise of Talkback - Justin du Fresne, Newstalk ZB, 29/03/2006
|I don't usually praise talkback hosts, but compared to his colleagues this morning, Justin du Fresne deserves some accolades. The important issues in the news deserving airtime today, have been global warming, domestic violence and Tony Blair's visit to Auckland. New Zealanders have an interest in those topics which should be debated in the media, the public forum. Instead most talkback hosts debated topics of dubious value.|
Martin Devlin (Radio Live) and Leighton Smith (Newstalk ZB Auckland) launched into a tirade against people with mental health illnesses. This, in wake of the incident in Rotorua where a woman was viciously attacked by her mentally ill son. I'm not saying this story doesn't deserved to be aired. Like other crime stories however it doesn't deserve to be debated above important political issues. The only people who have an interest in the case are those who personally knew the victim and perpetrator (like other crime stories). Instead, Smith and Devlin used this single case as an emperical example of the dangers associated with mental health patients and the failings of the mental health system. Objective and intelligent debate on the issue of mental health was unfortunately absent from their discussions, as real data and statistics weren't even considered. (There is research to suggest for instance that people that suffer from mental health problems are no more likely to commit violent crime than anyone else, whereas they are far more likely to be victims of crime). Smith and Devlin do this pluralistic democracy a great injustice by ignoring the evidence, whilst relying on single cases and individual prejudice to shape debate. The event was a single case and deserved no more airtime than any criminal case (very little). If the hosts want to discuss mental health issues, I suggest they consult objective academic research in the area.
Michael Laws (Radio Live) asked callers this morning whether they thought the three policemen accused of raping Louise Nicholas were guilty. That is hardly the most pressing issue New Zealanders have an interest in. I do admit that some are curious to the outcome of the case. But even accepting that, asking callers who aren't privy to the details of the case (no one except those in court are) is hardly fruitful. Michael Laws should tackle issues that matter instead of wasting time on irrelevant purposeless guessing games. (He did briefly mention climate change, but only really to dismiss its happening)
Justin du Fresne on the other hand deserves praise. The issues he brought up today were domestic violence, dog micro-chipping and putting up a centre barrier on Wellington's Centennial Highway. Domestic violence is an important issue and though the issue didn't receive its deserved share of callers, du Fresne helped further intelligent debate on an extremely important issue. With regards to dog micro-chipping, well, it isn't the most riveting of all subjects, but I was pleasantly surprised as to how du Fresne shaped the debate. It wasn't about whether farm dogs should be exempt, it was about whether the chipping should exist at all. It's marvellous to see the debate on a subject being widened, and I do hope that he continues structuring other more important arguments with an equally expansive focus. Intelligent debate relies on those chairing to frame an issue objectively and widely. The greater the prominance of these features, the healthier the debate required to sustain the tolerant plurastic society in which we live.
Point of the post: Kudos to Justin, keep up the good work. Unlike other talkback shows this morning, yours has kept up intelligent and open debate in the public sphere.