Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 22. 1973
The 'Truth' on... Sin in the Suburbs
The 'Truth' on... Sin in the Suburbs
In Salient 13 we published an insert which made lengthy mention of the dubious journalistic practices used by the newspaper "Truth". A copy came into the hands of some Porirua people who happened to be suffering from 'Truth's" tactics, so they got in touch with us to tell us the side they knew of the story on the back page of "Truth", June 19.
The story, headed A "life of hell" with their... Nightmare Neighbour was allegedly written from complaints made by the neighbours of a certain Porirua woman who had often had young people round at her house. The story is no exception to the rule that if you've read one "Truth" tale you've read them all. The neighbours had had enough of 'drunken parties, foul language, obscene suggestions and fights' they alleged went on at the house, so they went prattling to "Truth" who not only lapped it up but also frothed at the mouth. "The housewives — most of them with young families arc disgusted and alarmed at the activities of gangs of louts, college girls and a young woman neighbour."
"Truth" carries on the story with a blow-by-blow list of all the offences alleged to have been committed. They include details of schoolgirls wearing their uniform into the house and changing into jeans! Crime! All night parties, occasional fighting, and fooling around with old cars! All of which sounds like the typical, often high-spirited behaviour of young people to us, and none of which sounds offensive.
There are some slightly more 'serious' charges. Somebody urinated on a neighbours fence, somebody made an 'obscene' suggestion to a neighbour and 'men sometimes are half-naked and can be seen 'making love' when curtains are not drawn.'
So "Truth" added it all up, threw in a few hysterical quotes from uptight residents, and produced one of their made-to-formula sensations.
They omitted to do one thing. They never talked to any of the young people involved. If they had, they would never have published the story, because the young people firmly believe that they have done nothing wrong and they believe in the integrity of the woman who made her house open to them.
Maybe that's not so surprising. But "Truth" should have also taken note of what the parents of the young people involved think. Because they are right behind their children.
A meeting was held in Porirua shortly after the story came out. It had done its damage: the woman's name was blackened and so were the young people by association. They turned out in force to repudiate what "Truth" had said, and some parents came along to. "Truth" was invited to hear the other side of the story - but no reporter turned up.
After that meeting we spoke to some Porirua women who have no qualms about their children going to the house. But they aren't going there any more, because a national newspaper has said they're up to no good and its mighty hard for an individual or small group to disprove what is said by something the size of "Truth".
Most of the young people are moping at home now, or travelling into Wellington for their leisure. One had said "Now we have to hang around on the streets, Mum."
The parents we talked to had investigated all of "Truth's" claims and weren't impressed by any of them. The 'obscene suggestion' was indeed made, but the women had been standing, staring for so long that it wasn't entirely unprovoked. The only nakedness they, or their children, knew of was when men took off their shirts white working on their cars in the sunshine. The parents believed that no "making love" went on. And whether or not it did, it is of no concern to "Truth" and is only of concern to neighbours if they want to peer through windows.
The only perverse aspect of the story is "Truth's" involvement in it. It was no accident that the "Truth" reporter talked only to catty neighbours and failed to talk to the people actually involved in the story. Even if he had, it is likely that "Truth's " subeditors and editors would have hacked it out. "Truth" is only interested in presenting the "sordid" side of any story, and it is time that the widespread myth, that "Truth" acts as a watchdog on society, is utterly dispelled.
It is also time that such a paper took a look at the causes of social problems rather than look at, and in this case distort, the symptoms. Because the lack of social amenities for youth in a city like Porirua is a definite social problem. "Truth" should be prodding the government and the local bodies to do something constructive about it, rather than smearing the well intentioned efforts of a few private citizens.