Warwick Roger

While I was in Auckland, up at the library with Michele going through various boxes of the Red Mole archive, I came across a clipping from Wellington's Dominion newspaper from, I think, 1976. It was a judgment by the Press Council upholding a complaint I'd made on behalf of the magazine Spleen against said newspaper. The Dominion was obliged to publish the judgment in full and so they had, even though it was highly critical of their conduct and in particular of the conduct of one of their journalists. Here's the story:

That year in Wellington film maker Richard Turner was preparing a documentary about Black Power, the gang, and as part of those preparations he'd recorded taped interviews with some of the gang members. He offered one of these tapes to Spleen, which regularly featured transcriptions of interviews with all sorts of people, from bus drivers to performance artists. I transcribed it myself and prepared the transcript for publication. It appeared in issue 6 under the title Yeah, we're bringing in the real shit. So far so good.

Subsequent to the interview, one of the interviewees was charged with being a party to a murder that happened in Wellington's Te Aro. A drunk had racially abused some Black Power members and they had beaten him to death. Horrible crime.

One Monday morning, before the case went to trial, the Dominion's billboard advertised a five part series of articles, to run every day for a week, that was called Anatomy of a Murderer. Each in the series was published beneath banner headlines on the editorial page of the paper. They carried the byline of a journalist called Warwick Roger. The bulk of the material in the articles was in fact lifted, holus bolus, without permission and without attribution, from Spleen.

Well you can imagine how we felt. Not just at the rip off, also at the flagrant disregard for the Black Power member's rights: he had been charged but not yet tried. Since he hadn't been found guilty, why was the Dominion calling him a murderer? The matter was sub judice and the articles surely in contempt of court.

The founding editor of Spleen, Alan Brunton, and I went in high dudgeon down to the Dominion's offices and bearded the editor of the paper in his den. I remember Alan, who could be fearsome when in full cry, telling the editor he was a casuist and then looking at the editor and realising that, while he knew he was being insulted, he didn't actually know what the word meant. We wanted the paper to withdraw the articles but they would not. We wanted to see the journalist in question but he didn't show. The most they would do was acknowledge the source of the material, which they did, grudgingly, on the Thursday I think it was.

We could of course have sued the Dominion and we would probably have won; but we didn't have the kind of money you need to hire lawyers. So we took the complaint to the Press Council instead.

At no stage in this imbroglio did we meet or otherwise communicate with the journalist, Warwick Roger. Not for the want of trying however. He clearly avoided us and, in my own case, has avoided me down all the years since. He has, however, just reviewed one of my books, Waimarino County, for a magazine called North & South. The review is short, contains some glaring inaccuracies (he says the book is in two parts; it's actually in four) and, after some rather fulsome praise of the first section, dismisses the rest of the book as perhaps cathartic for me but pretentious and largely incomprehensible to him. He doesn't mention the three essays on Alan Brunton's life and work that are contained therein. Well, why would he? He probably didn't read them. Mr Roger's review emboldened another NZ reviewer, Sue Edmonds at the Waikato Times, to say that she too found much of the book consisted of pretentious intellectualism.

It would be drawing a long bow to suggest that those far off events in 1976 had any influence on this review, more than 30 years later; anyway it doesn't matter. One thing I will say: to be found largely incomprehensible by a man of Roger's stature, with his peculiar understanding of journalistic ethics, is perhaps no bad thing.


Tony Carr said...

Warwick Rodger, there's a blast from the past. He doesn't have much of an internet presence although the description of him as "dated old journo" may explain this. He gets glowing praise on a New Zealand First page for an Christchurch Press article on immigration and is called "one of New Zealand's more respected journalist's". This was in an anti-immigration speech by Winston Peters now NZ's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Associate Minister of Immigration. Who says Kiwis don't have senses of humour?

Winston Peters seems a hybrid of Kamahl and Pauline Hanson but lacks the intellectual rigour of one and the charisma of the other.

Martin Edmond said...

There's a little squad of WR cheerleaders, they include Spiro Zavos, the rugby writer. Suspect they read Spleen quite closely: Felicity Ferret, the gossip column in Metro, was modelled on Parish Spleen, an anon register of arts/politico scandal that was a regular. Spiro used to send strange little stories to Spleen, typed sideways on yellow A5 paper. Could never understand what they were meant to be, so used to send them back.