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Communications Line - Issue Number 27

Communications Line - Issue Number 27 of 16 March 2006

By John Bishop

Fisk is an angry man

Robert Fisk, the journalist the left loves to love because he is so good at finding evidence that the Americans are doing it wrong in the Middle East, had plenty of harsh things to say about his colleagues in his Arts Festival appearance in Wellington last night.

He criticized “agency journalism” of the impartial description of the events, balanced comment from either side variety. Fisk is an angry man because of the lies, betrayals, injustices and slaughter he has seen in thirty years of reporting. Journalists should be emotional and report what they feel as well as what they see, and challenge the assumptions and presentations of those in power, he said.

On that matter Chris Finlayson MP and shadow Attorney General would agree. He told the National Press Club last week that he preferred journalists with clearly stated points of view. “Declare your colours, but be fearless and courageous in your opinions,” he said and cited Chris Trotter and Michael Bassett as his favourite New Zealand columnists.

The disaffection of those in power for journalism that questions their actions has a long history – particularly in wartime. (Philip Knightley’s The First Casualty (of war is truth) is an excellent account of wartime manipulation and censorship. The military generally thinks of journalists as:

“the most contemptible race of men that exist, cowards, cringing, hanging around, gathering their material from the most polluted sources”

as General Tecumseh Sherman wrote after the battle of Shiloh in the American Civil War. Told that journalists were after the truth, Sherman retorted, “Truth eh, that’s what we don’t want. We don’t want the enemy any better informed than he is.”

Shadowing: a new style of decision making

There is an interesting trend developing in the way in which we now make big decisions in New Zealand; we are now required to second guess what third parties to our decision making processes may do. I call it shadowing, because it’s always there, and there’s not much one can do about it.

There have been two dramatic examples of shadowing in recent weeks. One is the decision of Conservation Minister Chris Carter to overturn the granting of resource consents by the Environment Court to the developers of the marina at Whangamata. Legally, he can do that, but it can hardly give anyone confidence in the RMA process that he would do that. The other example is Transpower.

Transpower wants to build a transmission line across the Waikato to get more power to Auckland. Ok it’s controversial and there are arguments over property rights, compensation, alternative routes and the like. Nothing unusual in a controversy of this sort. What is unusual is that another body, the Electricity Commission, the industry regulator gets to look over the plans and to judge whether the investment is needed, and whether the proposed route is the right one.

Hello, isn’t this what Transpower has just determined, and shouldn’t it now be allowed to go through the process of negotiating with landowners and getting resource consent.

Transpower is also in trouble with the Commerce Commission over its pricing practices. The Commission is (or at least was) threatening price control, and rate of return regulation. While all of this is happening Transpower's annual report comes out revealing a raft of people on high salaries; shock, horror! There’s criticism from Ministers and mumblings from others about seeking explanations and proper justification.

I don’t hold any brief for Transpower, and I am not here to defend its decisions. However it did strike me as bizarre that an enterprise owned by the government, run by a government appointed board, and spending government money, can’t decide its prices, investment decisions and the pay of its employees, subject, of course, to the usual processes.

The whole arrangement looks like an elaborate and expensive charade in which Ministers now have to convince various semi-independent but government run bodies that some course of action is desirable. As all of these bodies are government entities, the question must be asked: why bother? In the case of the marina at Whangamata, Chris Carter used a power he has as Minister to overrule a decision by the Environment Court which had allowed the development. If decisions are going to be taken on political rather than legal or environmental grounds, why bother with the hearings in the first place?

Why not go back to politically based decision making in the Beehive? Let’s resurrect the old Cabinet Works Committee. It would decide something was in the national interest, get legislation passed putting compulsory liens over all the land in the path of the power lines, fix the rates for compensation, and decide the charges for transmission. And that would all be done by lunchtime.

Is the census sensible?

Filling in my census form last week (ours are still to be collected incidentally) I came to question its value. The state already knows I was born, where and when, and that I have neither died nor left the country. My address is also known, my qualifications, income, marital status, the number and ages of my children, and my occupation are also recorded. Likewise the size of my house, and whether it is mortgaged can be obtained from existing records. Other surveys tell the authorities whether I am looking for work. What the state’s planners will gain by knowing my religion, voluntary work, smoking habits and ethnicity is open to question.

The slogan, We are going to grow, so we have to know, sounds plausible, but and whether this information is best obtained through such an elaborate and expensive exercise as the census is open to serious methodological question about accuracy and cost effectiveness. So why if we do need all this information why do we do it this way, rather than by data matching?

Don’t mention David Benson-Pope

I don’t claim to know the man, but I do recall visiting a flat which he shared with a mate of mine back in 1975 when David BP was the President of the Students Teachers Association of NZ. He was an avid Monty Python fan and over dinner that night he taught me the Philosophers Drinking Song from the famous Bruce’s’ sketch. He was funny then. In his time in Parliament he has presented as a humourless owl, devoid of personality, joyless and ultimately very boring. Would you want to spend a wet weekend with him? No.

None of which helps answer the questions of whether he did behave inappropriately as a teacher, or whether he actively or unintentionally misled Parliament, or whether, and if so for how long, Helen will stand by him. My guess is that she will back him unless the opposition can prove either that he lied, or that the public cares. According to ex Nat advisor Richard Long in the DomPost on Tuesday, the public doesn’t care. I think he’s right. However lying to Parliament is something else, but we aren’t there yet.

Email; wasting the time of the gullible

Tired of the endless messages about the value of friendship, love, family, taking time for reflection or to find inner peace? Weary of the requests to send messages to some desperately ill kid who’s going for a world record in something before she/he dies? Sick of the requests to click here to donate and of being asked to send the message to ten other friends before the day is out. Click here and enjoy (it is not rude or offensive)

Irving: a judgment

In all the words that have been written about historian David Irving, it is worth recalling the judgment made in his libel action against Deborah Lipstadt. In her book Denying the Holocaust, Lipstadt identified Irving as one of the most dangerous proponents of Holocaust denial. In 2000, he sued and lost. Trial judge, Justice Charles Gray concluded that:

Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence; that for the same reasons he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favourable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews; that he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-semitic and racist and that he associates with right wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism.


Odd stuff in sport

Cricket So what do I make of the Fleming/Richardson exchange? It has the smell of authenticity to me. Three reasons. After Fleming calls Richardson an idiot and makes other criticisms, Richardson is shown on the video on the internet just standing there looking genuinely stunned. (TVOne and TV3 both cut this part of the tape in their reports) If this is fake, or being done for a spoof show, then Richardson would be grinning and relaxed after the “take” was over. He is not.

Secondly Fleming’s criticism of Richardson is accurate enough to be genuine. Richardson was sharp in his question line, and Fleming’s reply that Richardson was a boring batsman and in no position to criticize a slow scoring rate is a valid response. And thirdly if this was a spoof surely the exchange should be funny. It isn’t funny; it’s cutting. And that suggests to me that the exchange was genuine, so logically, the subsequent tale about its being a spoof item has to be concocted a spoof programme has to be concocted.


Far be it from me to put the mockers on the Hurricanes, but I do note that while we are second on the table, we have yet to play any of the other top seven teams. The Crusaders, Brumbies, Waratahs, Bulls, Highlanders and perhaps even the Chiefs are not pushovers. It’s a cliché, but it is not how you start, it’s how you finish that counts, and the Super 14 is an unforgiving format for teams that stumble towards the end.

Tito is a true ‘Cane I wronged Hurricanes player Paul Tito by suggesting in the last issue that he had picked the Blues to beat the Hurricanes. He didn’t although his picks in the DomPost’s sports section showed that he had. The error was theirs, and they have apologised. It was corrected the next day, but I didn’t see the correction, for which I apologise. Thanks to all the readers who drew this to my attention. (As the Tito piece was the last item in the newsletter, I am impressed and grateful that you read that far.)

Alick Shaw is well

Wellington’s Deputy Mayor was upset at my reference to his health in the last issue. “I am in the best of health and humour. Recovery is not unheard of after major surgery,” he assures us. Pleased to hear it.

Want a result – tell a story.

Storytelling is back and it’s in use in business and in change management. Read more in this piece published in Human Resources magazine.

In the Language Mangler this month

Mikes’ Meals – TV ad featuring Mike King promoting trim pork

Gormet lamb burger, a handwritten sign in downtown Wellington.

beach access just meters away Do they charge you for going onto the sand, asks an anxious reader about this sign in the Coromandel?


John Bishop is a Wellington based business writer and commentator who works as a professional speaker, writer and commentator on media, political and business. Feedback to


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