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Is icing sugar the new cocaine?

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 9 September 2016

A health minister caught snorting cocaine would be news. A health minister seen snorting fake cocaine might be news.

But a health minister spotted at an event where others may have snorted fake cocaine is no news at all.

And so I was surprised by the New Zealand Herald’s ‘Breaking News’ alert on my phone on Tuesday morning linking Jonathan Coleman to fake cocaine.

What sounded dramatic, and briefly topped the news on the Herald’s website, deflated faster than a punctured soufflé once you read the article.

So this is what had happened: The school, which the Minister’s children attend, held its annual fundraising ball. It was a Las Vegas themed event. Icing sugar, mirrors and razor blades were among the props used to create the right atmosphere.

By all accounts, it must have been a successful event. It raised $30,000 for Northcote Primary School. Well done.

In any case, none of the reports hinted at anything illegal in connection with the ball. It was an event for adults for the benefit of the school. And pictures posted online show a creatively themed event for a good cause.

There is only one thing that is disturbing about this incident, and that it is the media coverage it has sparked.

First of all, a news story is being created out of the fact that a Minister attended a school fundraiser. However, it was not any fundraiser but one held for his own children’s school. In my view, that means that Coleman was attending first and foremost as a parent, not as an official.

Second, there was not a shred of evidence that the Minister had snorted icing sugar or was even aware of others doing it.

And third, as far as I know snorting icing sugar is still legal in this country (although I would not recommend it).

So unless you are worried that sugar is the new cocaine, there just is no story in the whole Coleman affair. None. At all.

When I get a ‘Breaking News’ notification on my phone, I would prefer it to be on something newsworthy. I’d settle for something semi-interesting like a former Conservative politician’s text messages to his press secretary. Or even the latest Auckland house price data.

But, dear New Zealand Herald, could you please spare us from sensationalising stuff that makes ‘Dog bites man’ look like a thrilling news story?

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