Sunday, April 01, 2012

What's the context, Kenneth?

The pressure of deadlines, and the complexity of many occurrences, means, inevitably, any report will have some superficiality about it. A more profound reading of events comes from historians with far more time to undertake research and ponder the implications of their findings. Video technology, for all its beneficial ease of recording, exaggerates that flaw. Cameras never lie, but nor do they necessarily place an event in a meaningful or, indeed, any sort of context.
Wut? Yes, it's true: everything you see is wrong. Look at the incident again:


Now, you may think you know what was going on but you are wrong. You know nothing. You see, "as context was supplied to the episode, however, a different picture emerged." Well, not quite. What emerged was not a picture at all, but a story. The Herald talked to the accused, who provided context:
Further context was added with time. This appears to have been an incident in which teenagers accustomed to using the skate park became upset when they found a competition thwarting their normal activity. Their response, according to Mr Platt, was to set him up. That may or may not be so. But history is replete with instances of cameras being used to manipulate sentiment.
Yes, the skateboarders made him do it. History is replete with instances of newspapers being used to manipulate sentiment, of people who have done something bad claiming they had some context - or what used to be called an excuse.

We can only hope that the Herald continues this liberal, tolerant approach to reporting crime.  We want to hear less from the victims, more from the villains. Instead of pictures of tearful families who claim their Christmas presents have been stolen by hoodlums, we want to hear from the thieves. Maybe they were set up, tempted by all that glitter and wrapping paper. Or perhaps we could hear from the man who broke Levi Hawken's scooter. He too has a story to tell.

And, while we are at it,  let's have no more of this editorial nonsense. What we want is an editorial feature, in which people of notoriety can pay to have their context added. Take, for example, Mr Mike Hosking:
Hosking is still refusing to discuss his close links to the casino, revealed in last week's Herald on Sunday. This week he said it was a "non-story" and he wouldn't be commenting on it as the newspaper's staff were "pond scum" and "reprobates".
Not Hosking but drowning, you might think;  but how much better do you think Mr Hosking would feel if he could pay the pond scum and reprobates to represent his context? Perhaps a suitably-funded Herald editorial could observe that Mr Hosking was recently married at great expense and that hair product does not come cheap, before going on to chide the Herald on Sunday for being too quick to condemn. Perhaps Mr Paul Henry's efforts to promote Sky City could be rewarded by his benefactor with a glowing portrait in oil in the op-ed pages.

Once context is supplied, everything looks different. The teenage skateboarders were upset; they set up Mr Platt  - a charity worker. That may or may not be so. But history is replete with instances of editorials being used to manipulate sentiment.

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