Who’s the bully?

John Murphy together

It seems there has been a significant issue with bullying at a Wellington College.

Dramatic headlines in the Dominion Post, such as, “Bullied teen’s broken neck fear” are almost a compulsory read; particularly when accompanied by an equally dramatic picture of a slight boy in hospital.

Reading further, the article names the college and its location; Bishop Viard College and Porirua.

Perhaps playing on some stereo-typical notion, traumatic childhood event or merely witnessing the power of Polynesian students on the sports field, it’s not hard to conjure up an image of a physically mature polynesian boy ‘doing damage’ to a less physically abled student from Myanmar.

Next we read the principal of the school with a “bully problem” is requesting leave.

“Wow” I thought, “the bullying can’t be a one-off event; it must be some kind of epidemic.”

My interest piqued, reading further, I found the student with the suspected broken neck was hospitalised after being punched unconscious, and, a month earlier another student suffered concussion, a bruised face and gouged eye after playing bullrush.

Hmmm, doesn’t sound like bullying to me.

All the while and throughout the media storm, the principal Teresa Cargo, a teacher with over 30 years experience, correctly identified both problems as “assault”.

The chairman of the Bishop Viard College Board agreed with his principal, yet a series of stories fed us with associated images such as: Porirua, Polynesian, and bullying.

No one likes a bully, and where headlines do not match the story, I’m left wondering who is doing the bullying?

I had lunch the other day with two “spin-doctors”. Both former respected journalists.

Still reasonably young, it was sad to hear them lament the state of current journalism in New Zealand.

Almost simultaneously both shared their “spin doctoring” was made easy by journalists, who for example looked for the sensation in a story, didn’t spend time checking facts, and merely copied and pasted dressed-up versions of the spin-doctors’ press releases.

Once a Catholic, always a Catholic, one of them went further and he confessed he had pangs of conscience that copy and paste journalism was not serving democracy. He even wondered if in the interests of democracy, he should hold back, in effect not do his job, so as the journalist could tell ‘the’ story.

I’m not sure if either of them read or listened to the live stream of Dr Gavin Ellis’ address at the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day lecture at the AUT on May 5.

Dr Ellis, a media commentator and author is of the view the need for profit is threatening the substance of journalism in New Zealand.

He says that the mainstream media in New Zealand is increasingly incapable of serving society as it is obliged to.

Ellis puts the responsibility for threatening the substance of journalism in New Zealand on the over-riding economic goal of satisfying investors.

Citing the high percentage of crime and emergency stories in The New Zealand Herald, Waikato Times and Dominion-Post, he observes, “these were not the most important newsworthy issues in New Zealand at the time.”

“Such news judgment is indicative of a shift away from providing information that people need to know, toward a marketer’s perception of information that people want to know. If they desire celebrity news, they shall have celebrity news.”

Ellis cites Gwyneth Paltrow’s marital status or Miley Cyrus’ bizarre interpretation of womanhood as examples of easier and cheaper stories to publish than well-researched articles on complex subjects or contextualised accounts from the world’s strategic danger zones.

Labelling it as the “burglar alarm” approach to news, where only acute problems make it into the mainstream media, Ellis accused news corporations of no longer informing readers “about the normal functionings of the institutions that collectively hold our community together.”

I for one don’t think society has been served well by this barrage of sensationalism.

What a contrast then it was to read interim Bishop Viard College principal, Prue Kelly, who left Wellington High School after 17 years in the top job, says she is finding Bishop Viard College

  • welcoming,
  • a place with a hard working staff,
  • where there is huge good will,
  • the students are well behaved,
  • a college thats is safe,
  • an environment that’s friendly.

Not usual descriptors of an environment riddled with bullying.

– John Murphy is a Marist priest working in digital media at the Marist Internet Ministry, New Zealand. 

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