Hard News by Russell Brown



Last week, Whitney Houston's funeral was broadcast live on eight American TV channels, including CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. She'd have wished for that kind of reach when she was alive, but it was the spectacle of her death that procured it.

Had she quietly succumbed to cancer, this would not have happened. But Houston unwittingly wrote the script for her blaring send-off through the decade before. Long before she admitted to a drug problem in 2009 (drug of choice: rock cocaine) she had turned up messy and confused in public appearances. Dying in her bath was just giving permission for the real onslaught.

Hours after the service, the spotlight moved to her daughter, who was alleged to be "getting high" after the funeral. No one in the media seemed particularly troubled that being pursued in this way might compound the 18 year-old's trauma.

Amy Winehouse died amid the clamour of her personal life as rolling news: every bit of barf and biffo captured by the snappers. Charlie Sheen was alive to to star in his own jaw-grinding spectacle. And in this country, Zac Guildford and his alcohol problem made wall-to-wall news in the way only an All Black's fall from grace can do.

Celebrity substance abuse is news -- and this week on Media7 I'll be talking to a man who believes that's a bad thing on more than one level.

As the child of Rat Pack actor Peter Lawford and Patricia Kennedy, sister to John F. Kennedy, Christopher Kennedy Lawford was born into fame. He brought his own spectacle with it; struggling for years with addictions to heroin and alcohol, then undergoing the unpleasant process of having his Hepatitis C successfully treated.

He's now the Goodwill Ambassador on Drug Dependence Treatment and Care for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. On his appointment last year he told the UN news service:

It is possible with education to change the way people behave and it is possible with treatment to change the behaviour of people who have drug dependence. So I think we may never get rid of the substances, but we’ll certainly decrease demand. We’ve done it with smoking in my country and other countries around the world. We’ve completely, in 25 years, had a 180 degree change in the way society engages tobacco. We can do the same for drugs and alcohol.

Ironically, he'd probably have had better luck getting his message across had he still been an addict, rather than 24 years clean. Pitches to major TV news shows since his appointment have largely been rebuffed.

Well, I'm happy enough to have the man Jon Stewart didn't want to talk to, and I have a few issues to discuss. The UN office Lawford represents hasn't always been a friend of harm reduction strategies. And I'm not sure that medicalising all drug use is necessarily the wisest way forward. Sometimes, people are just getting high and having fun; what exactly are you treating there?

If you'd like to join us for tomorrow evening's Media7 recording, we'll need you to present yourself at the Victoria Street entrance of TVNZ some time between 5.15 and 5.40pm. As ever, try and drop me a line to let me know you're coming.

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