It's hardly the first time that this case has been in the news - for weeks we have heard the gnashing and wailing of teeth as a 'good parent' has been arrested for flicking his kid on the ear. How could it be that a parent is punished for flicking his kid on the ear? 'We told you so,' said the pro-smacking lobby - those upstanding arbiters of 'family values' such as hitting one's children - 'sooner or later parents will get in trouble for lovingly disciplining their children.' Today's article, a break from the Bain trial for Jarrod Booker, suggests that this case was 'seen as a test of the anti-smacking laws'. (How many anti-smacking laws are there?)
So let me repeat: James Louis Mason, 50, was convicted of assault for punching his child in the face.
Don't worry, Mr Mason; if you weren't listening when the jury read out the verdicts, I'm sure one of the court officers will fill you in. Just a few days ago, the Herald implied that charges were brought in this particular case because Mason had made a fuss to police when he was warned over flicking his child's ear. I know that 'controversial law convicts parent' is a story that will sell papers, but I would have thought 'man punches child' would have been as well.
Mason told One News outside the court he was baffled by the verdict.
"I'm not quite sure which [charge] I was convicted on ... I'd be interested to find that out. I'm just a bit dumbfounded at the moment."
As if the headline had not been clear enough about what the Herald is taking from (or making of) this case, the end of the article makes no pretense of actually being about the case at hand:
Family First director Bob McCoskrie said last night that the conviction was appropriate if it was for punching a child.Well that's big of you. Unfortunately, this is one of those depressing sentences where you can sense the 'but' coming before you read it:
"There was a concern"? You mean from a rent-a-quote who doesn't belong in this story any more than an astrologer arguing that Mason was convicted because the moon is in the seventh house? In case the reader hasn't got the idea yet, Booker/NZPA just give up on talking about the case and keep talking about section 59 for the rest of the article.
But there was a concern that Mason may have been found guilty for only the ear-pull, as the actions of punching, and pulling the ear, were wrapped up in the same police charge.
"If that's the case, then it's a decision that does concern us. We would like that clarified to understand how the law is being interpreted by the police and the courts."
In other words, 69 per cent of people did not know. I wonder why not.
The anti-smacking legislation was passed by Parliament in May 2007, removing from the Crimes Acts the defence of reasonable force for parents who physically punish children.
Family First is campaigning for the repeal of the law and in March issued survey findings showing many parents were still confused about the law change.
As the law stands a light smack would not always be illegal. But 55 per cent of the 1000 people surveyed thought smacking was always illegal, 31 per cent thought it was not, and 14 per cent did not know.
EDIT: I honestly don't know where people have got this idea that the section 59 change was designed or intended to end child abuse. Who ever said that? But it seems to be the implication of today's Herald poll, "Has the anti-smacking legislation reduced assaults on children?". As of writing, 88% of criminologi - I'm sorry, people who vote in Herald online polls think it hasn't. Presumably they know this because they're still assaulting their children.