Wellington's daily newspaper, the Dominion Post, has acquired a risible reputation for its sometimes ludicrous front pages. On its current form, if World War III broke out, it would play second fiddle to a blaring front-page account of a cat up a tree.
The Dom, as it's colloquially known, plumbed the depths last year with a ridiculously over-the-top full-page photograph of a Queen's Counsel caught driving over the limit; justifiable treatment only if he'd won the Nobel Prize or climbed Everest naked.
But it topped all previous idiocies recently when it devoted 90 per cent of the front page to a mind-blowingly non-story relating to a mortgagee house sale. Across the top it ran three photographs of a weeping Mrs Fesuiai.
Underneath, the bold-type lie, "An $800 debt spirals into $79,000". I say "lie" because it transpired the original $800 car tyres loan back in 2003 was subsequently added to by further borrowings "to cover family events, gifts and other expenses", in Mrs Fesuiai's words.
The interest rate quoted is the standard one for hire purchase, credit cards and the like. In short, the debt wasn't $800 at all.
In taking these loans, Mrs Fesuiai now blames others. "We were gullible and were taken for a ride," she asserted, although by whom she doesn't say.
But being of that mind, five years ago she decided to stop making payments on her then-$11,000 debt obtained for "family events, gifts and other expenses" and instead to sue the lender for "unjustly burdening" her and her husband with these loans (I'm not making this up), plus for damages for the inconvenience of paying them back.
"We were almost laughed out of court," she is quoted hurtfully, adding, "The judge was almost asleep. Our lawyer wasn't up to standard - we didn't have a hope in hell." Further on, she blamed "bad financial and legal advice" for her troubles. Nothing to do with her, of course, but all other people's fault.
The court rightly threw out her claim and ordered $40,000 in costs against her, one suspects for wasting its time. Remember courts are expensive tribunals, the running costs borne by taxpayers. Indeed, the British government is investigating privatising the courts system for commercial litigation to stop these costs falling on the public.
But back to Mrs Fesuiai. It transpires, despite the lender's overtures to accommodate her and her husband, both in full-time employment with their children grown up and gone, she remains obstinate, refusing to make payments, thus forcing the lender to pursue a mortgagee sale.
Their house has a valuation of $250,000 and they have equity in it of $120,000.
I researched the lender, Finance Now, and discovered it's owned by one of our most respected and oldest banks, the Southland Building Society, formed in 1869. Last year, it was awarded the Financial Institution of the Year honour at the Roy Morgan Research Customer Satisfaction Awards. That's quite a tribute, hardly suggesting usury.
All of this raises two issues. First, the incompetence of the Dom in insulting its readers with such front-page rubbish, a classic case of a newspaper creating the "news". But it also highlights the mindset of many of our citizens with an unjustified sense of entitlement, an attitude the Dom promoted in presenting Mrs Fesuiai as a victim, which she most certainly is not.
Not all such stories are unworthy of reporting. Consider the account in this newspaper recently regarding the Avondale College ball. The school wants to prevent pupils attending whose parents haven't paid the annual "donation" of $175, despite paying $110 for the ball ticket.
The Herald ran a photo of a Mr Tony Hunt and his crestfallen daughter. "This is extortion," Mr Hunt complained.
In response, the board of trustees chairman correctly pointed out that the ball was an extra-curricular activity, thus they could set their own terms but "in the case of hardship the school would come to the party".
The account did not detail Mr Hunt's financial circumstances; still, one questions his priorities if he forks out $110 for a ball ticket but won't chip in a tax-deductible mere $3.50 a week to aid his daughter's education, as the parents of all but three of the college's 2700 pupils have done.
State schools are substantially funded by the wider taxpaying community but across the land parents chip in a further $100 million annually in donations. But not Mr Hunt, because in his mind he is entitled to an education for his daughter at everyone else's expense and to expect him to contribute is extortion.
How have we descended to this situation where so many citizens feel no moral qualms in living off their fellow citizens' toil? Our welfare society's excesses are morally bankrupt and we all know it.
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