When I was 22 I was a fully qualified lawyer in New Zealand attending the busiest courts in the country.
In the criminal courts there were always court reporters and I used to get quite excited to find my name in the local paper, mainly with guilty pleas and sentencing.
The thing that surprised me, was that the reporters would rarely include in their articles the most important points of mitigation.
And I began to realize that reporters, even court reporters, like to show a flavour. They don’t like showing both sides of the story, as that would lessen the impact and the readability, and enjoyment of the readers and thus the popularity of the articles.
People who go to court and are convicted, in most people’s eyes, are bad, and thus it was the usual practice to present the cases with the most negative points.
Some time later, I witnessed a large shark following behind a small yacht, with a very worried looking couple on board. I saw it from my window in Sumner, and got photographs of the scene.
I tried to sell the photographs to the local paper but unfortunately my zoom was not powerful enough to get large enough shots.
As it turned out, it was a large basking shark, common in the area, but not in the shallow waters of Sumner.
I was surprised to see the next day, and article in the paper about the incident. I was named which was OK, but the reporter had put a number of sensational and dramatic comments in quotation marks, which I simply had not said.
One, as I recall, was something like, the huge shark dwarfed the couple and the yacht as it swam menacingly towards them, something like that.
I thought it was amusing at the time, but it did surprise me a little.
The more serious problem with journalists, is that they have the power to ruin your life, overnight.
Say what you like about lawyers, but both sides are nearly always represented in court. So both sides of the story are aired and then a ddcision is made as to which is the truth.
And lawyers, no matter how much you dislike them, are subject to a very strict book of the rules of ethics. If you breach any of these regulations, you will be fined, suspended, or struck off, and you will get a red x, put next to your name in the registrar of lawyers book. You sign the book when you get admitted to the bar.
This is the same with doctors, dentists, accountants and so on.
Not so journalists.
If a journalist lies, or distorts the facts about someone, then they can sue for defamation. But let’s face it, not many people can afford to sue. Not only do they face high court costs, they also face huge lawyers fees.
Further, even if the person is rich enough to sue, they then face an almost blanket approval of any question about any aspect of their lives under the heading of testing credibility.
Two people who suffered with this aspect were Chris Cairns, and famously Oscar Wilde, and concerning another court case Nigella Lawson.
This is quite simply wrong.
When I left China I picked up my fair share of stalkers in China after they became aware of my fictional book The Fake Celebrity in China.
The title, and some content in the book, points out that expats receive and elevated status in China, which they probably have not earned. Hence the title The Fake Celebrity in China.
One such stalker was a part-time contributor to a Chinese news agency.
He decided to write a lying article under a false name. He was a big Batman fan, so he wrote the article under the name Wayne Bruce, then later said he didn’t write it and that his colleague Wayne, wrote it.
The entire media of New Zealand published the fabricated article, as it was sensational, involved a Kiwi, and China. It was even aired on TV3 as a news story.
I have to say that the representative for the New Zealand Press Association (which no longer exists) was extremely professional and great to deal with. After a thorough investigation he directed all news bodies who ran the story to publish an apology and retraction, which they did forthwith.
I considered suing for defamation myself. Handling the case myself, but there were some major factors involved which made it a bad decision.
Firstly, the guy who wrote the story had no money. And he was not a proper journalist.
Secondly, the great problem of jurisdiction.
The article was published in China. Suing in a China court was out of the question, as they would support their media source (commonly referred to as the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party).
Suing in New Zealand was pointless as I would never be able to have the judgment enforced in China.
So I decided to not sue.
I was very disappointed to hear that David Cameron did not implement the suggestions of the Leveson report, into UK law, even though he requested the inquiry.
Let’s face it, politicians need the support of the media, so it may have well been political suicide for him to do so.
Lawyers are criticized for taking a side, which may be morally incorrect. But that is a lawyer’s job.
A court will test both sides of the story.
A journalist will only present one side, and take a flavour.
I laugh when I see programmes such as Border Security, Fair Go, and so on. these programmes are edited totally at the sole discretion of the producers and the journalists.
Ever seen an immigration officer making a mistake, or doing something wrong on Border Security?
Of course not, they even make them seem humorous.
If you watch CNN, BBC, RT, and Al Jazeera, over time you will note they all take different flavours on different articles.
RT will present it that the West was at fault, and CNN will report it that Russia was at fault.
That is why the internet is important in getting some objectivity in the news.
I believe that journalists should be accountable, just like lawyers.
If they have a press pass, a licence, then, they should be subject to rules of ethical journalistic behaviour.
Sure they can print the truth.
But if they breach the rules they should be punished, in addition to the ridiculous notion that they and their bosses could be sued.
I believe that this will occur, over time.
A novelist has the option of claiming their work as fiction or non-fiction.
So does a journalist.
If they claim it as true, then it should be true.