I rarely agree to appear on television these days, for numerous reasons. First, it’s a hassle to drive over the Rimutaka Hill to the nearest television studio – I’ve got better things to do with my time. Another reason is I’m sure people started to regard me as something of a rent-a-quote – commenting on any passing issue. And I started to resent the way many discussion programmes are structured – head-banging polarised shouting matches which might seem entertaining to the producer, but I believe turn audiences, who want to learn more about an issue, away to something more interesting, like doing the ironing.
However, having a daughter work in tv meant I would sometimes be prevailed upon to stand in for a guest who’d let the programme down, and now she’s in London, I get prevailed upon by her friends, and I feel mean saying no. That’s why last week when the lovely Jodi Ihaka from Willie Jackson’s Eye to Eye programme phoned and asked if I’d take part in a programme on paedophiles, I reluctantly agreed to drive to Wellington, fly to Auckland for the pre-record, then fly home again.
I was appearing with two other really valuable contributors, who know much more about the topic – can paedophiles be cured? – than I know. They were Bronwyn Rutherford who runs the Kia Marama rehabilitation programme for sex offenders in Christchurch prison, and Russell Smith co-director of Auckland’s Safe programme. I very much felt I was being wheeled out as the token ‘lock em up throw away the key’ commentator – which I’m not. But when I came out of makeup into the Green room, I remembered why I don’t do this any more. The fourth guest, a Mr Garrett who calls himself a victims’ rights lawyer, said to me, “Deborah Coddington – I’ve heard your name. My brother hates you.”
There was a stunned silence. I could sense the producers thinking they’d made a terrible error – this might erupt in fisticuffs before the show. “Oh,” I said, “is he at the front or the back of the queue? Has your brother ever met me?”
Mr Garrett said he didn’t think so, his name was (and I’ll leave the name out, it’s not important, and he didn’t have the same surname my accuser) – someone I don’t recall ever meeting. “How can he hate me if he’s never met me?” I asked.
I hear this strong emotional judgement many times in New Zealand, voiced especially about someone with a high profile, and I admit I used to be guilty of the same offence. We hate what someone stands for, represents, or lobbies for, but we express that as hating the person. Is that a federal offence? No, but I think it’s a shame because it blocks us off.
I think I stopped doing this when I had been a Member of Parliament for a while, and realised that some MPs from, say, The Greens or Labour, whose policies I opposed vehemently, were actually very nice human beings. Ironically, I’ve discovered people who publicly appear very charming, affable and friendly are the very ones waiting to trip you up, stab you in the back, and publicly humiliate you.
So now when anyone says to me “Oh, Paul Holmes [for example] I can’t stand him,” I ask if they know him very well, then point out that perhaps they can’t stand listening to him on radio or watching him on television and if so, why don’t they turn him off. Of course, the truth is usually that they can’t stand themselves for loving to hate his broadcasting style.