Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Lies, Damned Lies, and Media Narratives

The Media's Misleading World of Deception and Half-Truth

Recently we were treated to a stellar current affairs programme broadcast on a free-to-air channel.  It was a piece produced by "The Hui"and concerned a recent trial where a Maori man was convicted on charges of attempted murder, using firearms against police officers, and  causing grievous bodily harm.

The man in question was Rhys Warren.  The events took place a little over a year ago in Kawerau, a small Bay of Plenty town in New Zealand's North Island.  The lead author of the piece was Rewa Harriman; the managing presenter was Mihingarangi Forbes.  It was a classic case of half truths and chasing rumours into a fog of specious innuendo.  It is little wonder that general public discourse is so ignorant in New Zealand when the media, that once self-vaunted Fourth Estate, specializes in misdirection, half truths, and propaganda.

The events are well known.  The police Armed Offenders Squad entered a rural house outside Kawerau.  Whilst "clearing" the house they were shot at close range by Rhys Warren.  His weapons of choice were a breech loading Rossi .308, a Lee Enfield .303, and a Glock 9mm.   He was recently convicted at trial and now awaits sentence.  Harriman and Forbes wove a narrative around these events which cast Warren as the victim.  It's the reflexive perspective employed by most of the media when writing about Maori, especially Maori media.

Here are some of the egregious and deliberate misdirections employed by the unprofessional Harriman and Forbes.

Firstly, Warren testified that he was soundly asleep in the house that afternoon and was completely unaware that the police were outside the house.  This was accepted and parlayed by our Dynamic Duo at face value.  Rhys Warren, apparently, never lies.

Entirely ignored was the extensive evidence given in court from multiple witnesses that for a long period of time, before the police entered the house, it had been cordoned off and loud hailers and amplifiers and public speakers had been used to announce the police presence repeatedly, urging those inside the house (the number of occupants and their identities were unknown at that stage) to come out peacefully, promising no harm would come to them.  It would have been impossible to sleep through it.

The narrative constructed by Warren's family, and eagerly parroted by Harriman and Forbes ignored these inconvenient facts, instead painting another picture from a parallel universe: that is, the police decided to enter the house from a position a long way away, and unannounced they entered to accost a man who was entirely unaware of their presence and was peacefully sleeping in bed.  Awoken, disorientated from deep sleep, Warren panicked and unintentionally shot three officers.  They added two plus two, and got one hundred and sixty nine.  This is the sort of stuff we used to expect in Pravda and The People's Daily.

Secondly, they wanted their piece to reflect the complaints of Warren's mother, Te Araroa Wetini who has claimed that the whole situation could have been avoided if only the police had involved the family--who would then have gone into the house, woken Warren up (presumably) and carefully escorted him outside.
Warren's mum, Te Araroa Wetini, believes the whole situation could've been avoided had the police contacted her earlier, before six armed officers stormed her house last year.  "They made a big mistake - they should've have come in, they should've contacted the family first."
What the half-truthers, Harriman and Forbes chose to cover up, was that the police did not know precisely who was in the house.  They believed (because officers had heard gunshots from near the house) that the individual had gone back into the house.  They did not know his identity, nor who his family were.  But from the time the Armed Offenders Squad arrived at the scene specialist police officers were busy trying to contact the registered owners of the property in an attempt to identify who was in the house and to secure their help in getting the individual to come out.

These inconvenient facts were scrupulously ignored by our high-quality professionals, Harriman and Forbes.  They simply did not fit the narrative they wished to weave.  Neither did they fit the narrative Te Araroa Wetini was running, but Harriman and Forbes decided not to challenge her presumably because she was one of the victims in the imaginative piece of half-truth they had decided to spin.

Further, included in this phone-calling exercise whilst the police waited outside the house going through the extensive "loud-hailing" process, were phone-calls to the house itself.  Numerous calls.  All went unanswered, except one, according to police evidence.  One call, early in the piece, was "answered".  The phone receiver was lifted up, then put down, thereby cutting the call.  Apparently  (if Warren is to be believed) he had been roused from his deep, deep sleep by the phone call, had lifted the phone receiver, then terminated the call.  Further, if Warren is to be believed, he then went back to his deep, deep sleep which left him oblivious to the barking of police dogs, the loud hailers, and the stones thrown on to the roof of the house, which went on for well over an hour.  (Incidentally, it was the lifting, then putting down, the phone receiver which confirmed for the police there was indeed someone hiding inside the house.)

Harriman and Forbes clearly believed Warren was a truth teller.  No challenges to Warren's elaborate, contradictory narrative were made by our fearless, relentless, utterly professional, high class journos.  They are products of our highest and most prestigious schools of journalism.  They have been taught, and so they have practised, what passes for media professionalism these days--never, ever let the facts get in the way of a good story.  Whatever gets eyeballs and clicks is the real objective.

Thirdly, the narrative parlayed by Harriman and Forbes made much about things Maori.  Apparently Maori police should have been involved from the get-go because (don't you know) Maori have a particular way of doing things, cultural protocols, etc. which, if utilised, would have gently roused the allegedly deep sleeping Warren and peacefully ushered him outside.  Maybe a  waiata sung outside the window would have done the trick.

Maori were involved throughout.  The police officer responsible for much of the phone calling to the house and to the owners of the house was Maori.  Many of the Armed Offenders Squad involved that day were Maori.  Some were part of the extended family of Rhys Warren.  On these inconvenient facts and details, our intrepid reporters adopted their habitual stance--that is, ignore what does not fit the fictional narrative they had decided upon.

Finally, our intrepid truth-tellers took up the Warren family complaint that there were alternatives the police could have used, instead of armed officers entering and searching the property--which, incidentally, Forbes and Harriman frame as "storming the house".
The whanau can't understand why tear gas or police dogs weren't used to clear the house - six armed officers stormed the family homestead instead. The police say Warren fired the first shot.
If, indeed, the family cannot understand why other alternatives were not used, they clearly had not been listening during the trial (Warren's mother, Te Araroa Wetini diligently attended), since officers gave abundant testimony on why they made the tactical choices they did.   But this evidence was ignored by Forbes and Harriman.

Tear gas was considered and excluded precisely because it may have been physically harmful to any children, elderly, and invalids that may have been in the house at the time.  Incidentally, this reinforces the police testimony that they were not at all certain who was in the house.

The same is the case with police dogs.  Until the police were certain that vulnerable innocents were not in the house, police dogs could not be released uncontrolled and unleashed into the property.  The risks were too high to innocents.  This, also was explained at trial.

Harriman and Forbes chose to ignore this inconvenient testimony.  It did not fit the particular axe they wanted to grind. What axe was that, you ask?  The meta-narrative parlayed by our intrepid reporters was that Warren was a victim throughout and that what went down just outside Kawerau that day was all the police's fault.  As a consequence, dear Rhys will spend up to fourteen years in prison unjustly.  Viiiictiiiim!

How sad!  Just one more example of the oppression of Maori at the hands of the "system".  On the contrary, the imaginative narrative woven by Mesdames Harriman and Forbes was little more than specious innuendo.  But, at least there is one small accomplishment: the general reputation of the news media remains firmly intact and entrenched.  Well done Harriman and Forbes.  A Pulitzer is winging its way to you as we speak.  Or maybe the Booker Prize for the most imaginative piece of fiction of the year.  Maybe both.  Either way, you are both a credit to your "profession".

No comments: