The media still in bed with Sensible Sentencing Trust

Friday 5 October 2012, 8:35AM

Justice Minister Judith Collins has decided to limit the number of parole board hearings that prisoners are allowed to attend.  Introducing legislation to that effect in September, she was quoted in the New Zealand Herald saying: “For offenders who refuse to acknowledge their offending and have made little or no effort at rehabilitation, it makes no sense to hold parole hearings.”  Ms Collins went on to say these hearings cause needless stress to victims of crime who have to “relive their ordeal year after year”.

On 27 Sep 2012 Rachel Smalley (Frontline TV3) interviewed Ruth Money of the so-called sensible sentencing trust on this subject. Ms Money seems to be the heir apparent to Garth McVicar. She sings from the same song sheet and hits the same wrong notes.  First, she told Smalley that “prison is voluntary”.  It’s not.  It’s a punishment imposed by the court.

Second, Ms Money lied about victims having to attend parole board hearings.  Like Judith Collins, she said that family members “have to suffer through annual parole hearings”.  They don’t. According to Kim Workman, 95% of victims do not attend hearings.  Ms Money even said that Rita Croskery (mother of murdered pizza delivery man Michael Choy) has to go to 6 hearings every year.  She doesn’t – it’s a choice she makes.

Third, Ms Money also said parole hearings revictimize the victims – who have to prepare for months in advance and get so worked up they vomit. She gave the impression this stress is due to coming face to face with the offender – over and over again.  But that’s not how it works. The Board holds entirely separate hearings for victims – so that victim and offender never meet (unless they both want to). The stress experienced by victims is because the SST pressures them to attend and winds them up into thinking their input will make a difference.  In other words, it’s the SST which is responsible for victims being revictimised.

Finally, Ms Money said parole should be abolished and prisoners should serve their whole sentence. She ignored evidence presented by Sir David Carruthers that prisoners who serve their whole sentence are more than twice as likely to re-offend as those released (and monitored) on parole.

Breach of broadcasting standards

TV3’s interview with Ruth Money contained so many inaccurate statements it breached at least two broadcasting standards. For instance, Standard 5 (of the BSA code) says: "Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming: is accurate in relation to all material point of fact and/or does not mislead." The item was inaccurate, highly misleading and presented a distorted picture of how the parole board works.

TV3 also breached Standard 4 which says: "When discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant point of view either on the same program or in other programs within the period of current interest."  No one else was consulted – just Ruth Money.

Roger Brooking made a formal complaint about a similar TV1 interview of Garth McVicar in 2008 – which was upheld by the Broadcasting Standards Authority. It will be interesting to see if the BSA upholds his current complaint about TV3’s interview with Ruth Money

Why should we care?  Because the media have been in bed with the Sensible Sentencing Trust for years and are still helping Garth McVicar fulfil his twisted fantasies on television – and because his punitive delusions contribute to competition between the major political parties to be ‘tough on crime’.  It’s time the media got out of bed with the SST and challenged McVicar’s distorted version of reality.  It’s time the media gave McVicar and Ms Money a hard time – just like they’re now doing with John Key over the Kim Dotcom disaster. After all, the media are supposed to be the watchdogs of democracy – not the Sensible Sentencing Trust lapdog.