It isn’t the right season to be discussing this subject but media do whenever possible so let's take a lead from them.
Early this month Harley Dear wrote to the New Zealand Herald about a 'distinct lack of national public outrage over the shocking death of retired Opotiki teacher John Rowe'. Mr Dear's sister, Lois Dear, also a teacher, was murdered in her Tokoroa schoolroom just over two years ago. As it turned out there was some outrage - most of it expressed in Mr Rowe's hometown, but people hardly took to the streets throughout the country.
The number of murders in New Zealand is at an all-time decade low at 45 murders in 2007, the lowest for a decade according to former Minister of Police Annette King.
"Every one of those murders is a tragedy, but I think it is beholden on members of this House to present the facts to the public, rather than trying to crank up a political agenda for themselves" she said, in an attack on the National Party.
So much for politics, but does Harley Dear have a point regardless of the stats? These days it largely depends where the murder is committed. If Auckland, a collective shaking of heads before moving on. If Opotiki where Mr Rowe once lived, a sense of outrage even though the crime occurred way beyond its city limits.
But there are other reasons why we should take Mr Dear's point seriously. Television has been described by some commentators as 'the cold fire'. It means that where our ancestors once sat around a campfire and exchanged stories, building an oral narrative of the world, we watch this cold glow in our living rooms. Television is what you make of it - it can be uplifting and meet societal needs. Or it can be engineered in other ways to marginalise those needs while lining the pockets of shareholders, ranging from the Government to individual companies. The latter happened here when television was de-regulated in 1989.
Our entire system was virtually handed over to the Market and to ratings-obsessed television and advertising industries. Audiences are exchanged for ad revenue and increasingly the coinage lies not in the aspirational, but in what sells. And what this system has churned out at peak time night after night for years, is murderous. The late, great TV and theatre critic Milton Shulman wrote a book called The Ravenous Eye. In it, he emphasised that it was the mosaic of screened violence which was important, by which he meant the way it patterned itself in our minds. This year was another bumper year for that. There were mid-summer murders, CSI murders, Bones, Cold Case, cop shows which feature only one crime - the top rating one. These are the stories the cold fire tells us night after night. And that's just the programming. News - whether in our overseas owned print, radio and TV media or in state-owned TVNZ - seems overwhelmingly crime news.
If, despite the encouraging statistics, murder dominates peak time programme schedules along with the daily emphasis on court and cop stories and the continuing outrage of talkback hosts and callers, the question is why? And the answer is that like sex, it sells. In terms of news it's cheap, easy and dramatic. If it rates then clearly there's a demand and so programme schedulers chase their tails and promote more of the same old. If our cold fire conditions for violence as concerned groups once - but no longer - argue, then why wouldn't it do the same for a collective acceptance of murder? There's one last, insidious element: all of this generates a shared sense of powerlessness and finally, acceptance and leaves no place for outrage.