15 October 2013

Political affairs

There exists in New Zealand an unspoken detente between journalists and politicians: reporters will not cover the 'affairs' of the rich and powerful, unless the cat gets out of the bag by other means. There's a good reason for this. Delving into the private lives of politicians would create a potentially endless chain of accusation and counter-accusation. The consequence would be a decline in trust between reporters and those reported on. If every such story were outed and led to demands for the guilty party to stand down from his or her office, then I venture to suggest that the country would soon be in danger of becoming almost leaderless.
A mature political community will accept that affairs do happen, especially around the corridors of power. They can of course cause hurt to the persons affected, but, so long as nothing unlawful (like coercion) is involved, a blind eye should be turned by the media. Such matters are private, and they should be treated as such. The affected parties can deal with the consequences as best they can, without the glare of public attention. It would be a sad day when Bill-and-Monica-style gossip comes to dominate the political headlines.
Bloggers, of course, do not always feel constrained by professional journalistic ethics, though the threat of defamation might make them think twice about unsubstantiated allegations. Unfortunately, the recent release of a kiss-and-tell story crosses that line in spectacular style. It recounts far more intimate detail than necessary to make its point, and involves a prominent mayor.
The real political story here is not the rather dull and prurient one about a middle-aged man who got the hots for a younger woman. Instead it's about what motivated the right-wing blogger and the woman involved 'to tell on' the left-wing politician. Because one can ask now 'why stop there?' We all know that there is a raft of such stories floating around the Beehive, the courts, the law firms, etc etc. So, why not lift the lid on the private sexual affairs of the whole darned establishment?
I do not subscribe to the theory that a public figure who has an affair (and is found out) is thus disqualified from public office. An affair does not represent, in my opinion, a gross breach of the public's trust. Nor does it signify that the person concerned is no longer competent to fulfill their duties. An affair may well breach a private trust, but it does not necessarily impinge upon the public interest.
In short, let's please grow up.


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