The Centre's view of "Todd still my sporting hero".
4 July 2000
Ms Suzanne Carty
The Evening Post
Dear Ms Carty,
The Centre would like to bring to your attention if it may it's concern over the increasing tend to personalise, trivialise and emotionalise the news media in this country.
In this context the Centre notes an opinion piece by one Rachel Smalley on the subject of Mark Todd and drugs, Todd Still My Sporting Hero, (30.6.00). The Centre would be interested to know who Rachel Smalley is and why her opinion is considered to be of value to your readers. It is assumed from the piece that she was or is some kind of radio journalist. If this is why her opinion was considered of value, why her and not any other radio reporter?
The Centre's main concern with the story was its tone; in that it appeared to be a vehicle for the personality of the writer and therefore contributed little or nothing to the intellectual enlightenment of your readers in respect of the debate over whether or not a person who takes recreational drugs is a fit person to represent his or her country at sport. There is a currently public debate on that principle, and the facts as to whether or not Mr Todd actually uses cocaine is only one example of the principle. The individual case of Mr Todd therefore needs be discussed in terms of, for example, of whether allegations of drug use are sufficient cause for exclusion from competition - or - is a conviction in a court of law to be the sole ground.
None of these matters were even touched on by Ms Smalley.
In one sense the story was a further example of the tendency for New Zealanders to relate to each other on the basis of emotional similarity and not on the basis of the individual characteristics of a person, that - in the view of the Centre - identifies relationships between the emoto-cognitively mature. This view is given further credence by Ms Smalley's own words when she wrote " I can't remember feeling so proud to be a New Zealander.". Pride is an emotion. This appears to indicate that Ms Smalley has internalised the concept of membership of a group of people, New Zealanders, which is how she unconsciously defines herself. She gives the impression therefore of not seeing herself as a separate psychological identity. In matters of internalisation, when that which has been internalised is criticised, often the person who has carried out that internalisation can also feel criticised. Is this, together with her association in her mind with Mr Todd, the real reason why, in your newspaper, she supports this gentleman? As you will be aware there are no arguments from reason given in her piece as to why Mr Todd should be supported.
The Centre suggests that there are only two explanations for the existence of opinions: reason and emotion. Are your readers also to support Mr Todd because of Ms Smalley's apparent emotional operation?
In a second sense the piece gives the impression of being a further example of the tendency in this country for those in positions of power - particularly the young - to assume that because they have risen above the level of the majority of New Zealander's they are in some way superior people; not superior in terms of their ability in their employment, but superior as people. This manifests itself by an unconscious assumption that because they are in superior positions, they are superior people and everyone below them in the social hierarchy is as fascinated with them as they are with themselves.
Unfortunately for such people the majority of New Zealanders do not hold them in the same high regard in which they tend to hold themselves. It is only necessary to look at surveys which place politicians and journalists rather lower in the pecking order than they themselves consider they belong.
Does either your good self or Ms Smalley really think that a story of five hundred and thirty six words that contains the personal pronoun "I" thirty times is about the issues?. The Centre would suggest Ms Carty, that your newspaper was used as a vehicle for just the kind of psychological operation under discussion. Do either of you really think that your readers understanding of the issues are being served by anecdotes about Ms Smalley's journalistic incompetence with a tape recorder, her OE, or her relationship with her grandmother?
It is extremely unfortunate that it this kind of journalism that lends credence to the view of people such as Serge Halimi, who, writing in Le Monde, (April 1997) described the New Zealand print media as " . . . a press as self satisfied as it is mediocre."
The Centre would be very interested in your view as to how your readers are to arrive at an enlightened understanding of the world in which they live if opinion pieces such as this is are to be your contribution to the enlightened development of the people of New Zealand.
J M STEVENSON (Mr)