Eva Bradley: Media feeding bad appetite for drama


We all love a family drama. Long running series such as Eastenders, Home and Away and even Shortland Street are evidence that if there is a spat to be had, a personal conflict to ferret around in or a tragedy to mourn, ratings will soar even when the acting is ... ahem ... well, the less said the better.

But when does a family drama, however titillating and gruesome, deserve a little privacy?

Lately, I've been reading, listening and watching the coverage of the Scott Guy murder trial and feeling a little icky ... a little like a pervert.

Hearing the explicit details regarding the discovery of Scott's body in the driveway of his home is perhaps the standard diet one would expect to be served up by the media.

Far more absorbing and infinitely more personal has been the minor but intensely private family details that have been dished up on a plate for us all to consume on the 6pm news as if it were, in fact, just another made-for-telly drama.

All families have issues. The best of them do. Often the more we love each other, the more strained our relation-ships can become as we fight for our place in the pack and recognition of our value to it.

But family spats are, by their very nature, private affairs and should stay that way. It seems heartbreaking enough that a family should be blown apart at the seams not only by a murder but one allegedly committed from within the circle of trust.

Add to that the innermost workings of the family dynamic being laid out in column inches for the nation's entertainment each day and you really do have to wonder how the Guy family find the strength to endure.

Because, although some journalists might deny it, it is entertainment. Essentially, that's what news is.

When I was a starry-eyed journalism student, wet behind the ears and bursting with tenacity and gung-ho, I enjoyed endless debates with fellow students about what was right, what was wrong, what was news and what was simple sensationalism.

Lately, the trend seems to be towards the latter, with rapid-fire, easily digestible bites of news, most of it featuring Posh Spice or her ilk in some capacity or other.

My tutor, highly regarded former journo Jim Tully, always encouraged us to ask ourselves one thing when fighting suppression orders and challenging ethical dilemmas: is a news story in the public interest ... or just interesting to the public?

Although I don't question the obvious decision for a full and fruity blow-by-blow of one of New Zealand's biggest who-dunnits, it still makes me sad to see the battle-weary face of a grieving father covering most of the front page and to then hear a widow talk about her last moments with her husband and a mother recount the building conflict over farm management which must now, surely, seem incomparably trivial.

The more we hear, the more we want to hear. As details spill out, the trial has become a daily saga, something to talk about over the water cooler and speculate about at the dinner table.

Sometimes it pays to remember that the Guy family aren't paid actors; they are a grieving family suffering under the double blow of murder and media.

And although we all love to blame the media, we'd also do well to remember that it is an institution set up to supply demand just like any other business. And in this case, the demand is capacious.

The extensive coverage of Scott Guy's murder might just say more about us than it does about the media.

Eva Bradley is an award-winning columnist.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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