Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Events in History ... and Wanganui

Five years on from 9/11 I don't believe history has a full grasp of the enormity of the event. That said, the infamy surrounding 9/11 is relative. The fact the Twin Towers collapsed in New York City, USA, and did so in such dramatic fashion for all the world to see, makes it an event of greater magnitude - or at least a greater media event - than other recent catastrophes that caused more considerable loss of life, such as the Asian tsunami of 2005. Other smaller tragedies are certin to have occured on the ninth of September 2001. The enormity of the day's events in New York warrants its own moniker, 9/11. Prime Television's 9/11 docu-drama, which screened on Sunday night, was compelling to watch simply because it made me put myself in the victims' shoes. I won't say anything of the politics of 9/11, its causes and aftermath, solely because there's nothing I can say that hasn't been said before. But the Prime documentary was a good account of the human story of the event. That is, everyday people going to work to their offices on a Tuesday and winding up, through death and survival, participating in one of modern history’s most significant moments. I didn’t bother watching TV1’s ‘Path To 9/11‘, a fictionalised account of the events leading up to the collapse of the Twin Towers, because I'm certain I wouldn't learn anything from it. I flicked over during the ad breaks and saw what I expected to see - depictions of Arabs in back alleys plotting violence, and US intelligence officer who despite their CSI-like stealth were unable to foresee, or even attempt to thwart, the ultimate act of terror that we’re all remembering.

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Taufa'ahau Tupou, the King of Tonga, has died at the age of 89. His death was not unexpected. Nor was Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws' 'stand'. Laws - who I heard say earlier this year on his Radio Live talkback show that Tonga is a nation of inbreds - believes King Tupou is a despot and for that reason has ordered his city council staff not to lower the New Zealand flag to half-mast to mark his death. A despot - isn't that a man in power whose rulings, no matter how arcane, are permitted on the strength of his celebrity and the fear he invokes in his subordinates? Sounds like a despot to me, what do you reckon Laws?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Killing Poverty

There have been many suggestions on how to alleviate poverty in New Zealand. The ACT Party, for instance, says cut welfare benefits. Michael Laws, on his weekday talkback show, frequently suggests sterilisation as a means to bar the poor from 'breeding'. But it's not often poor people themselves are quoted in the media. When they are it's usually when they're in some kind of trouble. A series of articles on some of the country's poorest people, appearing in The Press and Dominion Post at the moment, make for rare and compelling reading. The articles, by Martin van Beynen and Kirk Hargreaves, go to the unusual measure of interviewing the very people who are truly destitute. One article this week, for example, featured a woman of 25 living in a Gisborne state housing ghetto who has five children and who has only blackened stumps for teeth. Some of the interviewees say there's merit in being poor - such as a well-developed sense of community spirit - which is an interesting point.

While generally the subject matter is grim it's refreshing to read an article on poverty that isn't littered with quotes from social workers, health professionals and academics. What can they say that hasn't been said before? History shows poverty will always exist and no amount of governmental reports, inquiries and plans of action will fully eliminate it. The articles went some way towards depicting the true nature of how the poorest of the poor live in this country. Exposes like this are unlikely to change the perceptions of those (Laws) in the 'let's sterilise them' camp. But in any case such people clearly have their own impidements to living a prosperous life.

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RIP Steve Irwin. Poor old Steve. At least he died doing what he loved. Or maybe Germaine Greer is right and the animal world is getting its payback for years of manhandling.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Egg Has Landed - 30/8/2006

I always thought of media and political blogging as self-indulgent puff, a glorified letter to the editor without the abridgement and intervention of a professional with news sense. So when presented with the opportunity to take over this one from my predecessor, naturally I jumped at the chance. My predecessor and I used to work together for a media baron - of sorts - and through working for said baron we both developed the growing sense we were merely conduits through which misinformation, xenophobia and stupidity passed. He started this blog as a means of taking a critical stance on the media, I read it and agreed with pretty much everything he said. He's moved to greener pastures now, too busy to keep up a blog, but I've taken the reins of his media blog empire fully intending to keep up the same tradition. What does one person's opinion matter? A lot, hopefully.

This blog won't be a Leighton Smith-fest. As we all know, Smith, Michael Laws et al, while clearly being, let's say, Muslim adverse, are often controversial for controversy's sake. It's in their job description. That's not to say what they propagate on talkback radio shouldn't and won't be challenged on this blog. But for now I'm going to start on something else, simply because I already know how to flog a dead horse.

Newspaper cartoonists aren't often flogged. When they are it's because they've done something outrageous like offend a large group of Muslims in Europe, the rage spreading to the Middle East and resulting in rioting and killing. The Dominion Post's Tom Scott has never provoked the same level of controversy, thankfully. However during the recent Israel- Hezbollah crisis one of his cartoon's feature a desecrated Torah - from my interpretation representing how Israel's actions in Lebanon where at odds with the Jewish faith - attracting a stream of letters from readers, both for and against. The cartoonists who do their job well have found a fine balance between challenging their readers without being overtly offensive. Good examples are the Guardian's Steve Bell and even our own Bromhead. A casual reader of the Dom Post could be forgiven for thinking Scott's cartoons are a public service - his forte seems to be predictable RIPs when notable public figures die. So on this occasion, some praise for Scott.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Misc - 22/06/2006

This will be one of my very few posts over the next two weeks as I frantically attempt to finish writing a thesis. Nothing particularly noteworthy has been happening since the last post. Radio Live continues to get its facts wrong, Leighton Smith and Michael Laws continue on their sensationalism-fuelled campaign to destroy political correctness (whatever that maybe), and John Banks... well who knows what he's up to. Is Radio Pacific even still on the air? Anyway, there's little or no structure to this post, so here're a few things which have annoyed me over the past week.

- Leighton Smith spoke to caller Dennis on Monday, who wondered what Green MP Keith Locke would do if he was sitting on a plane and terrorists overran it. Leighton told Dennis he would probably join up and help them. Is that right Leighton? Honest opinion or slander? I guess it's a fine line sometimes. Maybe it's just a pre-conceived and irrational hatred mixed in with a bit of stupidity. To say any of our current members of parliament would support the killing of innocent civilians is not an opinion worth consideration. Yes Leighton, there are people who disagree with you on certain policy platforms, and no, they don't all support killing civilians. Instead of ridiculing and slandering political positions you disagree with, why not facilitate debate and engage them intelligently, because that is your role as a talkback radio host.

- I've been commenting a lot on Michael Laws recently. Now I don't want to take the place of Laws Watch and will refrain from Laws attacks for a while after this post. But he really really annoys me. I'm sick of the emotive language, the sensationalist spin, and the anti-intellectualism. Yes Michael, many agree it would've been nice if the Pacific states had voted with the anti-whaling block, but calling them names isn't going to help. How hard can be it be to illustrate issues from an intelligent and insightful angle? Obviously for Laws, too difficult. And no, I don't think he'll ever change, which is why Radio Live need to fire this man, and quickly.

- If there's one thing that makes me angry, it's when news bulletins withhold key information until the last second, because they're worried about the listener switching the station. Withholding information doesn't just leave viewers confused, it can also present a distorted illustration of the situation. Here's an example of what I mean.

The news story will be introduced as follows: "Employers think a bill before Parliament will help young workers get into jobs". The story continues, and not until the final segment two minutes later do we find out the 'employers' was a spokesperson from the Northern Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA), and the bill was Wayne Mapp's 90 day Probationary Emplyment Bill. Surely using the general term 'employers' is more than a bit misleading since the EMA hardly represents anywhere near all employers. And also, it is important when the story is being detailed that listeners have all the relevant facts. Presenting a two minute story without telling us about the main actors and influences isn't going to help listeners gain a clear understanding of the issue at hand. The substance of the story becomes quite confusing and misleading when we don't know who specifically is being affected, and by what. I'll post a few specific examples in my next post. For now, I'll leave it at that.

Friday, June 16, 2006

More Radio Live Incompentencies - 15/06/2006

Another rejoinder. I really do hope Radio Live clean up their act. Here're another two examples of the sheer incompetency of their news service. I had to listen to only a single broadcast to pick up these.

From the 9am news broadcast 15/06/2006

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Regarding the story of some Air New Zealand staff being accused of giving away travel privileges for sex.

- "Air New Zealand was informed of the alleged breach by a New Zealand magazine she [Air NZ's spokesperson] won't name"

Well Newstalk ZB and National Radio managed to name Investigate as the magazine in question on their 6am broadcasts! The information was all over major news websites by 9am as well. Radio Live desperately need to get their act together.

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Regarding the story of violence breaking out between German and Polish football fans.

- 'Polish and German fans have fought running battles in the streets of Munich, where their teams are scheduled to play....mmmm....teams played at 7 o'clock this morning'

The newsreader quickly corrected the mistake that the teams hadn't played yet. The game being over by 9am. But another error somehow found itself into the broadcast. The game took place in not in Munich, but in Dortmund (about 600km away). Maybe before Radio Live broadcasts international stories they should do a quick check of BBC World. Might as well check Radio NZ for the accuracy for New Zealand stories while they're at it. At least that way they might get something right.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Incompetencies - Radio Live, Week ending 14/06/2006

A bit of a rejoinder to last week's post. Over the previous week, my dismay at Radio Live's absolute incompetency has continued. Not only have their operational skills proven utterly inept, but the sheer number of factual errors made in its news reports are just ridiculous. Let me provide an example of each.

First, Martin Devlin today on Radio Live's morning show 'Devlin Live' show made me both laugh and cringe. I'm not sure whether the producer or the host was at fault for the following operational error, but either way, it's one of a long line of examples which illustrate the terrible standards at Radio Live. One would think it's important to sort out basic operational matters before one conducts an interview. For example...oh I don't know...like confirming you're talking to the right person before interviewing them on air. Here's the transcript of a very brief interview conducted by Devlin, who thought he was talking to Dave Walker from Auckland's motorway police (the interview was to be about people throwing objects off motorway bridges).

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Martin Devlin:
Joining us is Inspector Dave Walker, who's in charge of the motorways police in Auckland.

Interviewee (sounding confused):
Hello there?

Devlin:
You collated the figures after Chris Currie's death. How surprised are you by those numbers?

...silence...

Interviewee:
Sir, who do you wish to talk to?

Devlin:
Is this Dave Walker?

Interviewee:
No it isn't Sir.

Devlin:
Oh.. it's not is it?

...silence...

Devlin cuts the interviewee off.

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OK. Sure. The BBC have made a similar mistake before, in a case I'm sure is familiar to most. And one might've been able to excuse such an operational error were it rare and restricted. Unfortunately, that's not the case in the current context. Radio Live continue to make operational mistakes over and over again. And even worse, on top that, it seems the incompetency also extends to the station's news service. It consists of a patent inability to get their facts straight. Two examples:

1) When the story broke last weekend about a Yemeni man who had been deported for security reasons, Radio Live, like other media, jumped on the story, considered by most media as headline material. But unlike other news outlets, Radio Live got an important fact surrounding the case wrong. Listeners were told the deported man was Saudi. No - he wasn't. He was a Yemeni man who had lived in Saudi Arabia for a time. Surely when news outlets all around you are proclaiming a Yemeni man has been deported, one would check the facts for confirmation. Well, it seems not to be so at Radio Live, where sensationalism tends to crowd out factually correct news.

2) If you had any doubts, this next example proves those at Radio Live really have no business running a New Zealand news media outlet at all. I'm rarely this harsh (exceptions are of course Leighton Smith and Devlin), but this is just plain idiotic. Earlier this week Gordon Copeland MP was complaining about the dog microchipping legislation, demanding working dogs be exempt. The problem is, he was referred to by Radio Live as "United Future leader Gordon Copeland". Sorry - no such leader. He never has been and likely never will be leader of United Future. Peter Dunne is the leader. And if my 10 year old brother knows that, I don't think it too much to expect a major New Zealand news outlet to. If Radio Live can't deliver the news objectively, fairly and factually correct, then they really should cease their operations and free up the radio frequencies for someone else. May I suggest my little brother?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

John Key on Hobsonville - 05/06/2006

A reader e-mailed me about an hour ago asking whether I thought National Party Finance Spokesperson John Key's recent comments about a proposed state housing development at Hobsonville received enough media attention. The crux of the issue is this: Housing New Zealand is proposing a state housing development at the former Hobsonville airbase. This plan is for low-income, middle-income and high-income housing to be built together on the waterfront site. John Key is against the idea of developing low-income housing on the publicly owned site however, because the land is too valuable and 'something pretty good' could be built there. Now, I shall refrain from stating my own view on the matter, but I think Russell Brown makes some worthwhile comments. Whatever one's perspective may be, I do believe the comments are significant. They illustrate quite clearly Key's values and morals - a man who wants to become Prime Minister. In my opinion (and I admit this is to a certain extent a value judgement) this is front page / lead story material. His opinions and views may have a major impact on the entire country should he ever hold the reigns of power. Instead of grappling with issues like cellphone use among young people, Lesley Martin's desire to write a book, and sensationalising the dangers of party pills using a one off case as an example, it would be nice if the media decided to give extended airtime to stories which could significantly impact our lives.

I'll leave the Key comments there. With regards to the sensationalising of party pill use, I'm referring to this story here in the New Zealand Herald. The headline and lead-in paragraph of the article tell us police are increasingly worried about drivers operating motor vehicles under the influence of party pills. They are also frustrated by their inablity to test drivers for the pills. Two points about this article:

1) Read this snippet
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Constable Sean Drader said young people thought it was legal to drive after taking the pills.
"But if you're driving so poorly that you are all over the road, then it is illegal," he said.

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This excerpt implies driving under the influence is party pills is illegal. Though if you look a little closer at the wording, it's clear that the only thing that's illegal is driving 'all over the
road'. There is nothing illegal at all about taking party pills before driving, and the media shouldn't be deceiving audiences into believing there is.

2) In the third paragraph we find out these police calls are based on a single incident, involving a young man who decided to swallow 40 pills before taking to the road. In all fairness, that really isn't a solid basis for publishing the police's concerns. I'm sure 40 coffees would've had a similiar effect, should we have mandatory tests for caffeine? And if they felt the need to publish the police's comments, why didn't they also consult an expert (perhaps an academic) on the strength and viability of the concerns? It's just poor journalism. The article is nothing more than a sensationalisation of a non-existent issue based on the calls of a single police officer. Not only that, but the article is framed in such a manner which is bound to confuse people.