Reflections on the TVNZ series ‘National Treasure’
By Anne Stephenson, of Pa
The series introduces us to Paul, a charming, eloquent buffoon who is easy to like. He is a comedian, and loved with his high profile and history. We are introduced to his wife, daughter and grandson.
The bubble of warmth we have been experiencing is pierced by the news of a sexual charge being brought against him by a young woman: It is rape.
It is serious and the outcome if there is a conviction is haunting, although only alluded to. It is likely to mean a prison sentence.
Two opposing parties get involved and publicity is sought so that other complainants can come forward. It ends up with seven complainants. Paul’s house is searched and there are 14 boxes of incriminating material that could indicate a sexual addiction. Yet this material is glossed over and the defence lawyers sharpen their approach.
Paul tries to keep in the public eye, but on his terms, even highlighting the issues with his daughter. Paul is assisted from being open and honest by some ‘No comment’ advice.
Tested by a jury
In all the flurry and publicity, the case goes to trial and is tested out by the jury system.
Red herrings are offered, but the viewers’ perception is beginning to clear.
The viewer is let into a memory where there is no doubt Paul is guilty. The jury does not have the viewer’s knowledge — this can only be given them by others.
There is no Victim Impact Statement. In fact we see the destruction of the victim’s credibility. There is no focus on the seven other victims and what justice may mean for them.
The suspense is held until the colleague is required to put his memory on one side or the other. He chickens out of the truth of the matter for his own sake; and he does not honour his own knowing. So their collective history is protected.
A hero’s welcome
The world celebrates the release of their hero, who has admitted he is a philanderer though this is seen to be of no importance.
His lawyers are vindicated as being good lawyers, their reputations are upheld. The nasty experience is over for the offender, probably never over for the victims.
The only other outcome is that the man’s family wakes up. They have publicly stood beside Paul. But after the trial they come to believe the victims as they now have a fuller knowledge of the husband and father.
Protecting the powerful
This story is familiar and shows the difficulty that society has in bringing sexual offenders to justice.
Society and lawyers seem to protect the most powerful. And this series does present one side only.
In fact, the viewer is only partially shown the victim’s perspective throughout the whole story. Although we can see how the sexualisation of relationships is interpreted as ‘love’ by one victim.
In 1985, the United Nations offered a “Compendium of United Nation standards and Norms in crime and prevention and criminal justice”. This is a significant document to be read in the light of this series. It is easy to Google it.
The viewer may well ask: Was justice was well served as shown in this series?
Were the victims validated in their complaint?
Was the community protected for this underside of Paul’s addictive behaviour?
Editor’s note: There is a lot of social change happening on this issue — just think of the ‘Me Too’ movement.