Why give Joseph Parker a voice?

I wasn't in New Zealand in 2013, when a wave of disgust swept the nation over the actions of a group of young men who called themselves "The Roast Busters".

I wasn't here so I didn't feel it - but I've read the articles and seen the coverage so I get the loathing. Their actions and boasting were repellent.

"You don't choose the Roast, the Roast chooses you."

These poseurs were childish - if they hadn't been talking about sexual assault, it would have been laughable. The victims of this group were children themselves.

This group of young men had normalised rape to such an extent they set up a "society" with a gross double-entendre name and openly posted about their actions.

Over the years since, Newshub reporter Karen Rutherford kept in contact with several victims and the police, and also kept the lines open to one of the young men's families.

This is what good reporters do. None of the perpetrators has ever spoken on camera. In staying in contact, Karen knew she would eventually be able to "close the loop" on a story that had hit a national nerve.

That opportunity came last year, when one of the group's leaders, Joseph Parker, agreed to talk if we flew him from Los Angeles to Auckland.

Joseph Parker, former ringleader of the Roast Busters.
Joseph Parker, former ringleader of the Roast Busters. Photo credit: Newshub.

I knew at that time that Parker had found Jesus and made a rap song. It seemed to me that the guy wanted it all his own way - to leverage notoriety, to atone on his terms. There was something very convenient for him in the whole set up. Paying for a flight in those circumstances was not acceptable.

Despite those reservations, I told Karen that if Parker found his own way to New Zealand, she could interview him. Would the interview reveal a changed person, sudden self-knowledge, an awareness of past evil? Or would we have the same old conceited boy in a different skin?

I knew that Newshub would be opened up to charges of providing a platform to a shameless self-promoter. I knew there was a risk of making Parker's victims feel awful all over again.

In those circumstances, why give Parker a voice at all?

The same question comes in different forms to news editors again and again.

The answer's not always clear. But in this case the decision to publish rests on a couple of principles that are central to news reporting.

The first is that we must seek information about matters of public interest even from those we disagree with and even despise. We cannot limit our news to only those whose actions we condone.

In this case, hearing a voice from within the Roast Busters was important.

Another principle is that we cannot stop reporting for fear of wounding people. Aware of the sensitivity of the story, Karen let police know about the interview and also contacted victims beforehand. Their reactions to Parker's interview vary. None of them want to be interviewed on camera, but a few were happy to talk and be quoted.

Hal Crawford, chief news officer for MediaWorks.
Hal Crawford, chief news officer for MediaWorks. Photo credit: MediaWorks

 

For the most part these young women see Parker as a self-serving egoist who has spotted an opportunity. Some questioned why we were running the story, all were grateful for the warning.

So we published the story online and broadcast excerpts of the interview on Newshub Live at 6pm. The extended interview with Parker, which is available online in two parts, provides a better view of the guy. After we had recorded the interview, Parker set up a Patreon page for donations on the back of his musical efforts. I don't think he'll get much money.

Whether Parker is sincere in his apology and spiritual awakening is a judgment that I will leave to you - a judgment you would have been unable to make had he not been interviewed at all.

Hal Crawford is chief news officer for MediaWorks

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