HARD NEWS - Filtering Forbidden Words
Subject: HARD NEWS 8/9/00 - Filtering Forbidden Words
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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ... there are some people who some weeks don't get their Hard News by email when everybody else on the mailing lists does. This is because the companies they work for - hello everyone at Sky Television! - operate mail filters for inappropriate language. And last week's Hard News contained the F-word. Or was it the H-word?
Yes, after a chat with the Prime Minister this week, Tariana Turia agreed that she wouldn't refer to the devastation of the Maori population under colonisation as a "holocaust" ever again. And then, before she'd even delivered her apology for doing so in the first place, she said the same thing in response to a Parliamentary question from Winston Peters.
It was a complete accident, but it provided an opportunity for Jenny Shipley to try out her new script. The one about how Labour and its Maori MPs are damaging race relations and fostering resentment in the electorate. If you were to boil it down to two words, they would be "Bloody Maoris". But if there's one thing Shipley can do, it's follow a script, so you can expect to hear this one a lot.
Shipley called for the Prime Minister to do something about Turia. Exactly what, she didn't say. But Jeanette Fitzsmons, in that sweet, Green way of hers, put the matter in perspective when she asked her own Parliamentary question. Had the minister seen the comments on the Waitangi Tribunal's report on the Taranaki claim, which had prompted both instances of the H-word from Turia?
For leaders of the opposition with leaky memories, those comments came from National's Maori Affairs Minister John Luxton and Treaty Negotiations minister Doug Graham. They described that report as conveying "the real and present day effect of our shared history" and being of "very high scholastic calibre".
Yet that report made flagrant and provocative use of the H-word in relation to Maori. Are we onto another H-word here? Like, hypocrisy?
But enough of that. Let's look instead to the whoops, sorry about that chaps department, with Statistics New Zealand's report that the figure for the July trade deficit - the one that very nearly tipped the Kiwi dollar into the abyss - was out by the not inconsiderable sum of $180 million. The export shortfall was not $330 million but the widely forecast figure of $150 million. The value of exports has been rising faster than the value of imports since October last year.
This relatively good news was received without another burst of rapier wit from Michael Cullen - which was possibly only because Cullen wasn't around to make a statement and the job fell to Trevor Mallard, who satisfied himself with welcoming the trends.
Unfortunately, the news wasn't good enough to prevent another little dip into uncharted territory as the dollar follow the Aussie and the Euro down again this week. The Dominion ran a story in response headed 'Kiwi collapse prompts calls for Cullen to go'. So who was chorusing for such a radical move? Two people. Act Party leader Richard Prebble and Importers' Institute secretary, Daniel Silva, who is not a million miles away from being an Act Party member. Right ...
What has Cullen done so wrong? Not much, really. He delivered a conservative Budget with a bigger surplus as a percentage of GDP than last year's. No mean feat given expectations. But his job, like Don Brash's, is also about choosing his words carefully and that's the bit he's yet to grasp.
Thus he stands out amongst a Cabinet A-team that is largely performing very well. King, Goff, Maharey and Mallard are handling tricky issues with some aplomb and largely staying out of trouble. Anderton wouldn't know the knowledge economy if it bit him on the arse, but could teach Cullen a thing or two about winning friends and influencing people. Marian Hobbs has been hidden away, Sandra Lee has calmed down but is still a bit flaky, I still can't understand anything Parekura Horomia says and Pete Hogdson's like your old science teacher who you never liked.
The Prime Minister herself has taken a few hits this year, which is the inevitable fate of the control freak. She copped a front-page story in the Sunday Star-Times that would have been unthinkable had she not already been carrying a bit of damage.
Under the heading 'Not in PM's backyard', the paper revealed that she formally objected to proposals for a boarding house 100 metres from her home on the basis that it would attract undesirables that would "downgrade the neighbourhood".
Such language in the submission, made last September, appeared at odds with her frequent statements then and since about fairness and inclusion. On that basis, it was certainly a story.
Trouble was, it was a pretty thin story. In the context of a fairly lengthy submission - one of 90 from the neighbourhood - the offending words didn't add up to much.
But the paper lacked a lead, so the story was dressed up and padded out with a library picture of Clark on her sunny back patio, a string of quotes from her speeches - a long enough string to conveniently push most of what she actually said in the submission off the front page - and a map showing the exact location of her house, along with a photograph in case anyone was in any doubt.
I always thought it was quite special that the Prime Minister could live in an ordinary little villa in an ordinary little street in Mt Eden. She does not even have a fence, let alone a police guard. That may all have to change thanks to the Star-Times.
But more to the point, it was a bum rap anyway. The proposed building is not a home for the needy. Anyone who's ever taken a bus from Dominion Road knows that there are already quite a few halfway houses and similar facilities in the area. People accept them and Clark made a point in her submission of saying so.
But this isn't one of those. It's a three-storey doss-house of such a shonky nature that the developer had to be forced by the council to even put in staff accomodation and a toilet on every floor. It adds another 60 beds to a 27-bed boarding house which has already been the source of trouble. Unlike the neighbouring families, the landlords won't be living anywhere near it.
I feel genuinely sorry for the people there that they've had this one foisted on them - the boarding house got consent recently. They already have to put up with night and day crowds from Eden Park and I would have thought they deserved a break.
Not that I'm apologising for night games at Eden Park. How could any reasonable person do so after that Canterbury-Auckland match last week? It was a great night out at the Park - and you can even get a good glass of chardonnay afterwards these days.
Speaking of aftermatches, how about the All Black captain down at Calibre! Yes, while some of his team-mate were probably vomiting their way along Fort Street, Todd Blackadder was having a boogie uptown. He signed one of Greg Churchill's records. Truly, he is a man of all the people.
But back to Helen Clark. She is still very clearly the most competent leader on either side of the House. It's not even close. In fact, it's so not close that Labour is growing a natural successor - Phil Goff - who would be a better leader of the National Party than anyone the National Party can come up with. Seriously,the only reason Shipley is still there is that there's no one else in line.
The Prime Minister herself has been off on the world stage, at the Millennium Summit in New York, making a speech on those old New Zealand standbys, nuclear disarmament and human rights in other countries. She got a standing ovation for the disarmament speech, but then maybe everyone got one.
She also met with US investors and canvassed the idea of a common currency and stock exchange with Australia. The latter is actually likely to happen by the end of the year and if it does the NZSE will be lamented by few. I'm also up for merging our currency with anyone going, frankly. National currencies aren't much more than an irritation in the modern world.
There would, no doubt, be upset from many quarters at a currency merger - just as there is over this week's trade agreement with Singapore. Richard Prebble came over all appalled on the Singaporeans' behalf because the agreement allows our government to do as it sees fit to protect the Treaty of Waitangi. And the Greens, Gatt Watchdog, Jane Kelsey and all were appalled because, well, it might lead to international trade and investment.
Nandor Tanczos and Sue Bradford will be further appalled on the streets of Melbourne next week, as they join the protests against the World Economic Forum. What are they protesting about? What were the hordes in the streets of Seattle protesting about? A whole bunch of different, and sometimes contradictory, causes.
Sue Bradford will be alright, but I worry a bit about Nandor. Who's going to tell the Sydney cops that the little bloke in the dreadlocks is a Member of the New Zealand Parliament and, ideally, not to be batoned, lest there be a diplomatic incident?
I'll keep an eye out for him if you like, because I too will be in Oz next week, for an audience with his Holiness Bill Gates, who, rather shockingly, has fallen clean out of the Top 5 richest men in the world list.
Assuming I don't get stuck in a two-day traffic jam, I'll be back on Friday to bring you the pre-Olympic oil. In meantime, as you scan the schedules, remember this. Any event where you have to smile is not a real sport - G'bye!
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