On P Part One: That’s not how that works

A few weeks ago TV 3 released Patrick Gower On P, a documentary about methamphetamine in Aotearoa New Zealand. We gave it a watch because it’s always good to see what the media’s saying about drugs in NZ.

Y I K E S.

This actually started as one post, but we’ve split it into two because there’s just so much to unpack. Honestly.

We’re not going to dwell too much on how the doco used light and camera angles etc to make everything look bleak and depressing. Or how the presenter was portrayed as Plucky Investigative Reporter Turned Vigilante *cringe*.

What we are going to talk about are the main messages that we saw in this embarrassing bingo card full of hamfisted propaganda techniques.

The world according to TV3’s Patrick Gower On P

According to the documentary, the following is true:

Meth is the reason for everything bad in the world and you should be scared of it

Crime is increasing because of methamphetamine (except it’s not)

The segment shot in Westport involved a ridealong with a neighbourhood watch group. In this segment the leader of said neighbourhood watch group (and local fish and chip shop owner) stated that the reason burglaries and other crime had risen in the last couple of years was methamphetamine.

According to the Crime Statistics Publication section on the NZ Police website, crime in the Buller region (that Westport is part of) has gone down in the last two years. In the period between May 2020 and April 2021 the only type of crime that didn’t decrease significantly was abduction, which has been at 0 cases since 2016.

It may be that some burglaries have gone unreported. However, to make the number of crimes increase from last year, there would have to have been over 62 burglaries, over 28 cases of theft, and over 12 cases of assault that went unreported.

This seems a fairly excessive number, even for the entire Buller region, given that its population according to the 2018 census was only 9,591.

Screenshot from the NZ Police website's Crime Snapshot tool showing a significant drop in all types of criminal activity from July 2020 to April 2021
Apologies for the low quality map, the NZ Police website has a problem actually finding Westport on a map.

Meth is the only reason people do crime (except it’s not)

According to the fish and chip shop/criminology expert that heads the neighbourhood patrol, his imagined 62+ unreported burglaries and 28+ unreported thefts in the Buller region happen because of methamphetamine.

Methamphetamine is also apparently the cause of the domestic violence suffered by one of the other interviewees who lives in Northland.

Buller and Northland are regions that have been suffering chronic unemployment for over half a century. Both have low numbers of people getting tertiary education, low decile schools, and high poverty levels. Both places have very few opportunities for anyone that wants to make a go of it that doesn’t already have a huge amount of money. Especially since COVID gutted the tourism and hospitality industry.

But of course these people say it’s defs the P that’s making people commit crimes. Not being in an isolated area that’s losing its population and basically economically fucked and a hard place to make money legally.

Read depressing info about the Buller region on the StatsNZ website
Read depressing info about the Northland region on the StatsNZ website

And then there’s the photo reference to Antonie Dixon who was convicted for committing a murder while high on meth in 2005 and later died in prison. Absolutely nothing is said in the documentary about the fact that Dixon suffered from violent personality disorder with religious hyperfixations for almost all of his life. He was definitely a violent person and a very frightening person, and meth didn’t help, but it wasn’t methamphetamine that made him that way.

Meth makes you stay in bad situations (O RLY?)

Content warning: Domestic violence

The aforementioned interviewee from Northland broke our heart, and this section made us the angriest we’ve ever been at a documentary shot in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Jessie apparently started taking methamphetamine so she could ‘handle’ the beatings from her partner. She was hospitalised and had her children taken from her.

The way the documentary spins this section makes it look like she loved meth more than she loved her babies, and she stayed in a violent relationship because she was too addicted to meth to leave.

There are thousands of reasons why people in violent relationships don’t feel like they can leave. Their partner might hurt them worse, or even kill them. Their partner might hurt their family, or someone else they love. Their partner might have financially cut them off from the world and now they don’t have the money to buy a can of soft drink, let alone escape to a new house with children in tow.

For some folk leaving a violent situation can seem about as possible as running naked across the surface of the moon. People in this desperate situation are much more likely to turn to drugs than happy, secure people. Blaming the drugs for these problems is a lazy copout that ignores context in favour of an easy scapegoat.

Jessie briefly lost custody of her kids after her partner beat her so badly she was admitted to hospital for emergency surgery. We don’t think it was the meth that made the state send her kids to stay with their aunty. We think it was the fact that the partner she lived with PUT HER IN THE HOSPITAL, and that it wasn’t actually safe for them to live there.

You know what? Fuck Patrick Gower for this section. It’s basically concern trolling while giving conservatives a wanky moral high horse to sit on so they can point at this woman and say ‘Well if she wasn’t doing that bloody meth she wouldn’t have been in such a terrible situation’.

It’s sickening that Gower could simultaneously prostitute her misery and subtly hold her accountable for it like that for ratings. Shame on him.

Still from the On P documentary showing Patrick Gower in sunglasses and slick black shirt on a boat with the New Zealand flag in the background
Gower on the police boat. The only thing missing is a punchy 80s synth version of the national anthem as a theme song. Image copyright Mediaworks 2021

Foreigners are bad and you should be scared of them

Gower starts out the documentary by putting Aotearoa New Zealand in the position of victimhood, being preyed on by ruthless foreign criminals. We’re apparently under an ‘onslaught of methamphetamine importers from Australia, Asia, Malaysia, and all over the world’. We’re apparently ‘powerless to stop it’, or so the masked criminals that Gower talks to says.

Gower speaks with members of the Sinaloa cartel, a Mexican drug cartel that ships methamphetamine into Aotearoa New Zealand on a video call. They’re dressed quite plainly, with caps, sunglasses, and masks. They show the camera massive shards of meth crystals, and even bigger bags of product for distribution. All the while they’re speaking in Spanish, with subtitles showing across the bottom of the screen rather than giving them an English voice over. Just in case you missed the fact that they’re foreign.

He also makes a big deal of criminal deportees forcibly moved back here from Australia, how they’ve started a chapter of the Comancheros motorcycle gang, and are supposedly doing a roaring trade in methamphetamine.

By contrast, homegrown criminals are portrayed as noble lost souls, intelligent people that were misled, or the nice lady from down the road that your mum has over for a cuppa and a tea-spilling sesh on the weekend sometimes. There is not a single foreign person shown doing something good in this doco.

At this point we had to stop watching and count to a million to avoid throwing things at the screen.

Join us in a couple of weeks for part two of On P where we dissect even more racism disguised as investigative journalism.

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