(for ongoing updates to this story click HERE)
Remember how the Palmerston North Wikipedia page was censored to remove references to crime because it was making overseas investors and professionals shy away from moving to the town?; and of how gangs are now euphemistically called “groups” in some news reports?; and how no police statistics are kept on racially motivated crimes in New Zealand? Well now the police in Gisborne want to restrict the information released to the media and give the people in the town the warm and fuzzies.
The question is this – Is ignorance bliss, or are there other motives for placing restriction on the knowledge of the true extent and nature of crime in places like Gisborn? This recent move from the police sure looks like censorship to us and history has proved that has never been a good thing. Surely it is preferable to create a safer, low crime community rather than mislead people into thinking that it is?
Don’t the public have a right to know what is going on in their own town and the actions their public servants are taking to control that crime?
What if similar decisions were taken elsewhere in the country? Is the NZ press as free as we believe it to be and are we seeing the start of it being turned into a propaganda mouthpiece, covering nothing but cake sales and ‘feel good’ stories.
From the Gisborne Herald’s website:
Crime? What crime?
Christine McCafferty 24 July 2010
GISBORNE police have decided to restrict the information on crime they provide to media in a move to “make the community feel safer”.
Up until now, The Gisborne Herald has been given detailed reports of crimes attended by police, including burglaries, domestic violence and the arrests that make up our daily “Police briefs”.
But earlier this week area commander Inspector Sam Aberahama said comprehensive information would no longer be provided. He saw no benefit in “reporting all and sundry”…
“This bid to ‘streamline’ information going out to the community sounds like it has come straight out of a Communist handbook,” said Gisborne Herald editor Jeremy Muir.
While he agreed making the community “feel safe” was a big part of policing, Mr Muir said actually making it safer was far more important.
“We strongly believe that our careful reporting on crime straight after it happens helps our community know what is going on and allows people to play a role in solving crimes.”
Mr Muir asks Gisborne police to provide the research they say backs up this major policy change.
“The only study they have cited to us is a Rotorua council survey that says very little about the effect of crime reporting on public perceptions. ‘Media profile of crime’ is bunched in with eight reasons in the ‘other’ category.
“We have a long history of trust with the Gisborne police. We respect their wishes when they ask for some things not to be reported for various reasons.
“Instead of being asked to recalibrate this relationship, we have been presented with a fait accompli that sounds a lot like they want us to be a propaganda mouthpiece.
“We are sure this policy change will go down badly in the community. We have a small-enough population in Gisborne and on the Coast that people know each other and really care about those around them…”
the whole article has been reproduced here
Update 6 July 2016
Six years later and it appears that police at the national communications centre have decided to release mostly good news stories to the media, rather than crime reports, effectively turning the media into their ‘propaganda mouthpiece’. This appears to have been done with little or no public consultation, and it looks as if police have made this decision alone. This appeared in the NZ Herald on 6 July 2016:
Cops only telling people the ‘good stuff’
The West Coast’s top cop says telling the public about police responding to crime is the “old school way of thinking”.
Inspector Mel Aitken confirmed today that West Coast police weren’t revealing many of the offences to which they had responded.
Instead, police were emphasising the “good stuff” they were doing, and crime prevention messages, she said.
The Westport News had asked the commander why daily media briefings from Westport police had disappeared since the new national police communications centre opened in May.
At the time the police assured media the new regime would mean better communication and reporters could still talk to their local police.
The reverse has happened.
The new hub is slow to respond to inquiries or publicise crime, local police have clammed up and few local incidents are reported…
(Mel Aitkin said) “I absolutely don’t believe that the community needs to know every time we have a burglary, or that somebody is dealt with and locked up because maybe they did something offensive.”
The Westport District Court was told last week that police had twice tasered a local man involved in a dispute with a neighbour on June 18. It was the first the public knew of the incident.
Asked why today, Ms Aitken said: “Why do the local community need to know that someone’s been tasered?”
Nor did she agree that police keeping the community informed of offences helped people to stay safe.
Does the community not get the chance to say what it wants to feel safe ? for example: seeing more officers on patrol especially in troublesome areas, rapid responses to incident reports, justice being seen to be done in court rooms and high crime resolution rates.
Related NZ State v. NZ Press stories (2010):
Police Minister infuriated at newspaper’s test of security at Super 14s match – reporters testing security at a rugby match weren’t pretending to be terrorists.
It’s official: Politicians can’t take a joke – “MPs may make fools of themselves from time to time but they want to ban others from doing it. Satire, ridicule and denigration of MPs using any television footage shot from parliamentary galleries is to be banned under rules proposed by the standing orders committee. The move on freedom of expression is not the only controversy the rules have caused. They also create anomalies between what television cameras can show and what newspapers photographers are allowed to show, giving television the advantage…”