Don Brash entitled to his outdated opinion

Earlier this week, Dr Don Brash, former National Party leader and one time Leader of the Opposition, criticized broadcaster Kim Hill for speaking in Te Reo Maori.

Not surprisingly the backlash was strong as it was swift. But as hard on the ears as it would have been listening to that exchange on the radio and as deserving of the backlash as he was, Dr Brash was merely exercising in his context, Section 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: that to freedom of speech.

As old as Dr Brash’s opinion is and outdated it most certainly is he is entitled to it. In terms of being appropriate or inappropriate, there is no doubt that it is certainly that of a man who is insecure with New Zealanders exercising and growing their knowledge of Te Reo. There should not be any doubt that his opinion is that of a deservedly diminishing minority.

In similar respects, some have suggested my opinion of feminism is – shock, horror! – outmoded too. It has not yet been labelled that of a dinosaur or that of a misogynist and I hope it is never is, because that as we shall now see would be to completely miss my point. My opinion is that to be a supporter of womens rights you do not necessarily need to be a feminist. For me it is more a case of common ideals than identifying with that particular “ism”. Does that make me a chauvinist, or a sexist type of male? Definitely not as I support greater gender diversity; 26 weeks paid ma/paternity leave. I support in general moves to improve the numbers of women in corporate board rooms.

However I do see progress. The three most people in our political system are female. We have Governor General Patsy Reddy. We have Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The Chief Justice is Dame Sian Elias. We have had females in charge of major corporations – notably Theresa Gattung in Telecom and in sporting codes where a perceived (and most probably true)old boys network exists, Raelene Castle in the New Zealand Warriors.

Likewise I do see progress. Many people in the National Party believe Te Reo should be compulsory in schools. Despite not being a National Party member or supporter, I agree that up to Year 8, it should be compulsory. There is no shame, contrary to the days when Dr Brash was in his youth when institutitionalized disregard for Maori saw it as a language taken away from them by the education system. Those days are now long behind us.

And so, as much as people rightfully think his opinion is from a time closer to the age of dinosaurs than mine probably is, Dr Don Brash is entitled to it. However dinosauresque as it is (and it is).

Winston Peters attacking the media?

Some journalists and commentators have expressed fears for the well being of journalism in New Zealand after Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters served legal proceedings against members of the media. This came about after it emerged during the election campaign that his social welfare information had been accessed. Now, with New Zealand having slipped in the world press freedom rankings, concerns are growing about the trend.

This is not the first time the media have struck grief. During the fallout following a leaked report regarding the G.C.S.B. a few years ago it emerged that Parliamentary Services had tracked the activities of journalist Andrea Vance. Earlier following a complaint from former Prime Minister John Key about the Teapot Tapes, there was a raid on media offices by the Police in search of evidence that might link someone to the incident where a tape recorder recorded the conversation of the then Prime Minister and then A.C.T. leader John Banks.

Other instances included a raid on left wing journalist Nicky Hager’s house, following his authoring the book Dirty Politics, examining the relationship between National, A.C.T and right wing blogger Cameron Slater. A blogger named Martyn Bradbury (a.k.a. Bomber)found that his financial information was improperly accessed by Police when they suspected him of complicity in the Dirty Politics computer hacking.

All of this should be a concern to readers, journalists and people involved in social justice alike. Although New Zealand is still a very highly ranked nation in terms of press freedom, last years slip down the rankings may have potentially damaging consequences in the long term for our day to day reputation.

I believe that the law needs to be amended to check the power of politicians when it comes to censoring journalists. This is not a wartime environment where sensitive information that jeopardize New Zealand’s national security is being leaked, but rather a frayed peace time environment where trust is at a dangerously low level and suspicion is the operational setting.

In the case of New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, his relationship with the media has never been very good. He has frequently accused them of bias, not doing their job or asking things they have no need to know about. The danger stems from the fact that Mr Peters is now part of Government where the public expectation about transparency and maintaining a responsible relationship with the media is everything. Mr Peters and the new Government need to be careful because if the media feel like they are being shafted, it could be a long and not very pleasant 3 years in office for him.

Media appear to miss big picture on environment

Media coverage of environmental issues differs from one nation to the next. In North Korea for example it would be non-existent, whilst in a free country like New Zealand the media are able to research and report on it with relative ease then. So are we, the public, who rely on the fourth estate being told all that we need to know about the environment?

But how often do we hear about less sexy stories such as the leakage of toxic substances from e-waste into our ground water system? How often do see discussion of the ecological footprint that measures our use of resources? how often do we talk about acid rain or even the acidification of the oceans?

These are background issues going on. They are not sexy in the sense of being appealing to a reporter. The reporter might not have an editor who terribly cares for particular aspects of the environment, thus, even though they might be key parts of the bigger picture, these issues continue to be ignored. Perhaps there is also a bit of self censorship going on. A reporter makes their name by the number of articles they can get to air. If they find that their articles are not being accepted by the editor, it is reasonable to assume they will look for subjects that they can report on, where a reporter can get exposure.

In New Zealand the sexiest issues are fresh water and climate change. We all want clean water to drink. We know that nitrates getting into the ground water and into surface waterways contaminates the water. We know that cattle in water ways tend to defecate and urinate, which may introduce micro organisms (tiny pieces of poo)into waterways. The perception (both true and false – or exaggerated)about drinking water with such organism in it is obviously going to generate public angst.

New Zealanders also want – though they might not be so willing to make changes to their habits in terms of their preferred modes of public transport – to reduce carbon emissions. Politicians to varying extents agree that public transport and greater use of railways is necessary and there is much coverage around this. But, despite having demonstrable links to those same carbon emissions, the acidification of the oceans is not such a major priority. Despite acidification directly threatening the food chain in the ocean, the potential destruction of the coral reefs and completely destroying tourism and fishing industries in tropical nations, it does not seem to have attracted the same level of attention.

Perhaps also some issues such as acid rain, or electronic waste are too complicated to fit in a 30 second sound byte that has to tell the gist of what people need to know. Explaining that substances such as americium which is used in smoke alarms might get into ground water if they are just deposited in dumps with no protective cladding lining their base, might be possible, but how many people would know what americium is? It would be reasonable to suspect that not very many do.


Zealandia: the continent we already knew about

Recently, to great interest, the media made an astonishing discovery. Lo and behold, out of nowhere, it was found that New Zealand is the surface portion of an undersea continent. News agencies seized on it. From the B.B.C., to R.T., to C.N.N. it was big news that under the sea was a continent that geologists had decided to call Zealandia. Here was a major discovery that the media had to rush to tell the world.

Except that it is not big news at all. In fact, it is not even news. As a student starting a geology undergraduate degree in 2000, I learnt about it from one of my lecturers then. I have spoken to several people who did geology majors at University – some as much as 45-50 years ago and some relatively recently – and they all clearly remember Zealandia being mentioned in one course or another they did.

On the pin board in my room at home is a map of New Zealand. It has the visible land mass of New Zealand shown in grey. Underneath you can see the 88% of Zealandia that is submerged  – a vast undersea rise running for 900 kilometres out to sea from the Canterbury (about 560 miles).

If one uses a bit of imagination and draws a straight line from the current mouths of the Waitaki and Clutha Rivers, it is quite conceivable that the vast linear collapse under the sea extending for hundreds of kilometres was actually caused by sea bed currents.  A smaller system starts off the coast from where the Buller River runs out to sea. On a map they look just like a river system would in a digital elevation model – a 3 dimensional graphic created from terrain elevation data – showing actual relief.

So, I am rather bemused in all honesty about the fact that the media have only just caught up with something that New Zealand geology students at University have been learning about for half a century. Perhaps not so amusing is that it should be considered news when a look at any geographic information systems (G.I.S.) output based on a bathymetric data set from the National Institute of Water and Atmospherics (N.I.W.A.), would have shown it existed all along.

Paul Henry must go

For decades Paul Henry has been a broadcaster on New Zealand television and radio. He has worked for numerous broadcasters. He has become one of the most recognisable names in New Zealand broadcasting. Unfortunately, because of his (mis)conduct, he is quickly becoming the most divisive.

Paul Henry has an unacceptably long record of improper conduct that besmirches his very public position as a broadcaster. After the latest one, his claims that he never intended to offend anyone are ringing hollow. Singer Lizzie Marvelly had been invited to appear on a forum. She backed out, citing his comments. When one looks back at the litany of gaffes he has made – and his apparent inability to learn from them – one wonders how much longer he can continue. Some of the highlights are below – the full list is a bit too long for this article, and one gets a general idea of their nature anyway:

  1. When former Governor General Anand Satyanand was in office, Mr Henry had an interview with Prime Minister John Key. During the interview Mr Henry asked Mr Key, whom he gets along well with, whether Mr Key was going appoint a Governor General who sounds like and is a New Zealander.
  2. In a broadcast colleague Alison Mau alluded to a Santa themed bikini piece she was wearing under other clothing. Mr Henry asked Ms Mau if she would expose more of the “Santakini”. Ms Mau said no. However Mr Henry persisted by asking children around her if they would like to see the garment in question.
  3. In a television interview, Mr Henry embarked on a piece of unfortunate word play with the surname of the interviewee, Sheila Dikshit. However when Mr Henry introduced her he pronounced it as “Dik-shit”. That in itself was not necessarily offensive as he could have mispronounced the syllables. However he then chose to embark on a bit of word play, in which he quite deliberately commented on her name and played with the syllables in it.
  4. Shortly before former T.V.3. presenter Hilary Barry quit her job at that channel, there was another unfortunate live incident in which he publicly commented on Ms Barry’s breasts. There is never any justification for such commentary ever. A broadcaster who had been in the industry as long as Mr Henry has been would know this full well. This is nothing other than sexual harassment.
  5. Now Mr Henry has committed another offensive act. Just like the Hilary Barry incident, it involved comments about women’s breasts, during an interview. This shows he either cannot or will not learn from his past. Again it is nothing other than sexual harassment – an offence that any lesser person would have been sacked forthwith for committing.

That he has not been subject to serious misconduct proceedings by his employers, is nothing short of incredible. The time for excuses is over. The time for Mr Henry to face the consequences is here. Paul Henry is not fit to continue broadcasting. He has had his chances. He has blown every one of them. Paul Henry must go.