The reaction to John Tamihere and Willie Jackson’s Amy interview follows a similar pattern as with Paul Henry and Paul Holmes: demand their removal to prevent their toxic views from entering the public sphere. Advertisers have started to pull ads and liberal male bloggers have been vocal. Those shouting loudest tend to be those who always disliked them/ never listen to their shows. Personally, I’ve thought Tamihere is a shitbag ever since “frontbums”, homophobia, and abandoning his feline HIV-infected cats when he moved house.
However, campaigning to have them removed is a misguided approach because it implies that Tamihere and Jackson are the cause of all backwards views on sexual assault and their departure will remove those attitudes from society. Tamihere represents the views and opinions of a significant portion of the New Zealand public. Rather than debate these views to reveal their inadequacies or simply satirise them, removal will isolate his listeners – even those who don’t agree with his views on sexual assault – from dialogue, make it more difficult to destroy myths around sexual violence, and make people who hold these views simply hide them in future. Most importantly, this approach does not address the roots of cultural, legal, and police misunderstanding and tolerance of sexual violence.
If the removal of Tamihere occurs, it will be because he crossed the cultural tipping point of publicly acceptable social views – of which there are many negative ones that continue to be acceptable. Paul Henry and Paul Holmes were removed because they violated public and media standards of what was culturally acceptable to say via broadcast. Notably this week Tony Veitch was named as Murray Deaker’s replacement on his popular shows on Newstalk ZB and Radio Sport. This is important because Murray Deaker’s controversial comment in 2011 and Veitch’s survival from his conviction for physical assault against his girlfriend imply that both their behaviours did not violate the cultural tipping point – especially sad in the case of the latter. That John Key appeared on Veitch’s show probably reflects this as deduced by his staff and himself. This is more of an ongoing cycle. Controversial broadcasters like Tamihere are good at channeling public opinion but usually stay within the realm of public sensibility. When one inevitably crosses the line, they will simply be replaced by another rube who follows a similar “honest battler” formula but remains within appropriateness for now. Also, any removal of Tamihere will be based foremost on the commercial imperatives of Radioworks in terms of advertising revenue rather than the goodness of their hearts. This is probably the main reason why Veitch was hired in radio after a short stint out of TVNZ, why photographer Terry Richardson is still hired by H&M, Mango, Supreme, Vogue, and Vice, and why Paul Holmes and Paul Henry eventually made comebacks.
In this emotional time where we don’t understand why these events occurred – especially for two years- the laziest action would be to pin blame on Tamihere and Jackson alone for lingering misconceptions about the roots of sexual violence. Rather, there is a need to assess the cultural and institutional roots of tolerance for sexual violence. First step is to listen to the victims and their experiences – like my friend who bravely wrote of her experiences with the police. An engaging, thoughtful approach will achieve far more in the long term than self satisfaction at the downfall of people we never liked anyway.