Nigel Latta: It's not easy being an expert
Some people seem to get insanely irritated by me.
They go, "Why do you seem to think you're such an expert on everything?"
But that's kind of the point of my new series, The Hard Stuff: I'm not an expert. We spend most of the series talking to experts so I can get my head around what the hell is going on.
One of those experts is Professor Annette Beautrais. Annette is an expert on suicide prevention. She is part of international panels on the topic. She knows the research, she knows the evidence.
Sometimes I think being an expert in this country must be pretty frustrating. When Professor Beautrais talks to us about suicide prevention, she's not putting forward an ideology, she's saying, "This is what the peer-reviewed research says about suicide".
But she's up against people who go, "Well, that's your opinion". But Annette is not providing us with an opinion; she giving us the facts. The hard stuff.
And the fact is that suicide is such a fraught issue to talk about. We need to talk about it in a way that doesn't glorify or normalise it. We need to talk about it more carefully.
There's some really dangerous stuff said by some really well-meaning people, and I think we should be really careful about that. That's why the focus for the first episode of The Hard Stuff is how to talk about suicide safely.
Everybody, by one or two degrees of separation, has been touched by this issue in some way, but the actual audience we were focusing on was that person sitting at home having suicidal thoughts. That's the only responsible way to make that kind of television, because you have to think what the impact of the show will be on that person.
It makes better telly if you can put in photos or video of people who have taken their own lives, but actually what that does is pose more risk for people. It's incredibly irresponsible and it's dangerous.
I think we've made something that will actually be helpful to people who are thinking about suicide.
Professor Beautrais tells us most New Zealanders who kill themselves aren't actively involved in the mental health services. That means all the rest of us have to be kind of looking out for signs, and we have to ask the question, "Have you thought about suicide?"
No one's ever killed themselves because someone asked them that. It doesn't plant the idea in their head. The best thing that can happen is they'll say no, and the second best thing that can happen is they'll say yes. That's the second best thing because they're telling you and you're talking about it. You don't have to personally fix that problem. All you have to do is connect them up to someone who does know how to help.
We wanted to make those conversations easier by making the issue less scary.
That's really what The Hard Stuff is about: making these big, serious issues easier to understand. We try to be non-partisan, to fight through all the posturing and opinions and focus on the facts as much as possible.
Sometimes it's like people have abandoned the idea that we're interested in real depth and content – on facts.
It's a very human thing to do to get distracted by trivia; for some reason, I like watching videos of monster waves.
Graphs and numbers don't get people excited, either. Often once you start looking into an issue, people pop up with all these statistics. Your eyes glaze over and you think, 'I haven't got a clue what you're talking about'.
But the stuff underneath all those numbers is interesting. Issues like immigration, housing, retirement, the economy.
I wanted to make my new documentary series, The Hard Stuff, because I think the appetite for that stuff is still there.
I think there is a place for long form documentaries on New Zealand television – for bigger, longer, more considered stories about really serious things. I think New Zealanders are still fundamentally interested stories that are important and well told.
Although, what would I know? I'm no expert.
The Hard Stuff with Nigel Latta Tuesdays at 8.30pm on TV ONE. The whole series is also available to watch at TVNZ OnDemand.
- Sunday Star Times