Editorial: Perhaps the editor is to blame

16:00, Dec 29 2013

If something bad has happened, someone must be to blame. Not me, of course. Someone else.

This is a common attitude among Kiwis. It is human nature. When you dial the wrong number it is the fault of the phone-maker for making the keys too small.

When you cut yourself opening a tin of baked beans it is the fault of the tin opener, or the tin. Or possibly the Government.

When it comes to more serious events, all too often the attitude becomes: Someone must be to blame, someone must be punished, someone else's life must be destroyed to atone for this outrage.

It seems that hardly a week goes by without this vengeful attitude rearing its head.

Two weeks ago, Stuff reported on the case of 10-year-old Ethan Wyman who died of cancer a few months ago. His parents have blamed Te Horo School's wi-fi network, and they are campaigning to have it removed.


Invercargill Mother-of-eight Natasha Harris died in 2010 from heart failure. She had been drinking up to 10 litres of Coca-Cola a day. The family blamed the soft-drink maker.

Some years ago a young boy in Auckland was electrocuted after he climbed a power pole and touched high-voltage wires. His family blamed the power company.

There are also some disturbing cases where it might be suspected that police, anxious to secure a conviction in a high-profile crime, have become a little careless about the presumption of innocence.

This involves, in the words of Bruce Squire, QC, "picking a particular individual and trying to fit a case around them, instead of thoroughly investigating a crime and remaining open-minded until all the evidence was clear".

We have been spoilt by television cop shows where every baddie is caught and jailed by the end of the hour, and have come to expect this of our real police.

Unfortunately, the real world is not arranged as conveniently as the fictional ones. Sometimes, the evidence just isn't there. Or it is too confused and contradictory to be sure of the truth.

Now, retired accountant Graham McCready is seeking to profit from this passion for having someone punished.

After his successful initiation of a private prosecution against John Banks he has announced his intent to likewise pursue Len Brown and Peter Whittall.

He has set up a company to do this which - he told the court hearing bankruptcy proceedings against him - would pay him for his work at $125 an hour, thereby enabling him to pay his debts.

All of this raises an important question: When does the pursuit of accountability become a destructive vendetta?

The former is vital not only for both moral and practical reasons. If there is no accountability for one's actions there is no limit to what one may do.

But there is a wide gulf between being accountable for a deliberately damaging act such as punching someone in the head, and being accountable for acts of inattention, or failures of imagination.

There should be consequences for carelessness. And sometimes even failure to imagine. But we are not well-served either by creating a climate of fear in which people can be punished for any act which turns out badly.

Most of all, we are in danger of creating far greater injustices through our excessive desire to find scapegoats.

Sometimes we need to look a little more closely in the mirror when assigning blame.

And sometimes "things happen".

So who is responsible for this culture of blame? The answer is obvious: the Government.

The Southland Times