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Communications Line of 6 April

Communications Line of 6 April

By John Bishop

The trial; that trial

Rape is often said to be more about power than sex. The image of three big strong men and an 18 year old woman having sex has a power imbalance whatever one’s view about the morality and legality of the situation. So it was hardly surprising to see a pamphlet proclaiming “We believe Louise Nicholas” and revealing certain information that had been and is still suppressed. The group behind the publication is seeking to redress the imbalance. Whether that will save them from fines and imprisonment is another matter.

While the trial is over the matter seems incomplete. There are too many questions being asked which people can’t answer in public. Not wishing to add to the confusion, I am asking only three. One where are Schollum and Shipton? Their wives and Rickards fronted to the media after the acquittal. They did not.

Second question: what now happens to Rickards? He’s been acquitted and in the normal course of events (if he weren’t a policeman and if this weren’t such an unsavory case) he’d expect to walk back into his job. What happens if he insists on a “proper” job? He may have employment law on his side. He is innocent, remember.

Third question: what use now is the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct? It looked like a politically astute move at first, but now is an embarrassment. The Police Commissioner is doing the inquiry into police culture, and the terms of reference of the Commission’s inquiry have been changed to “focus generally on how the police responded to the sexual assault allegations and whether the people making them were treated appropriately – according to Michael Cullen’s announcement in April 2005.

Finally spare a thought for Louise Nicholas, whatever she may have done, or had done to her, and leaving aside all the moral and legal and power issues involved, she now needs to rebuild her life. What responsibility (if any) do we have to help her do that?

Climate change – no action

It had to happen I suppose. But it took until virtually the last session. At the Climate Change and Governance Conference one of the delegates finally made the pitch for a social marketing campaign to convince people that climate change was a serious issue which needed urgent action by the New Zealand government - and immediately.

The problem as the advocate for taxpayer funded persuasion put it was that people “just don’t support what needs to be done.” Clearly the people needed to be ‘persuaded’, and it was perfectly ok to use the people’ own money to do so. After all “we” know and “we” are right. So let’s use the taxpayers’ money to convince the people that they should support a tax on the use of carbon –a move now rejected by our current government. There are simply not 61 votes in the current Parliament to support this move, the newly restored Climate Change Minister Pete Hodgson told the opening session of the conference with an air of heavy resignation. No doubt he’s right, but the true believers say Labour didn’t try hard enough to get the numbers.

Another suggestion which popped out in the same session was for an independent panel of concerned scientists and environmentalists who could “lead debate” and advise government. For an analysis of why it’s hard to get action on climate change see

Fisk’s approach rejected

Robert Fisk’s approach to journalism (see March issue) was rejected by three leading news executives taking part in a panel discussion on PR and the media late last month. TV3’s Auckland Bureau Chief, Keith Slater, Jeremy Rees, an assistant editor of the New Zealand Herald, and Nevil Gibson, Editor in Chief of the National Business Review agreed that impartial and accurate reporting was still essential, and that while opinionated journalists like Fisk had their place it was in “viewspapers” like the (UK) Independent (or magazines like the Spectator), and it was not appropriate in conventional print or broadcast media.

ACT or as we say these days the Epsom Party

The rise and fall of the ACT party is fascinating, and in two (rather lengthy) pieces I have argued that their demise is due in part to the flames of change dying out, keeping the major Douglas/Richardson reforms in place, by developing a new paradigm of government assistance (which isn’t too close to intervention) and by the mistakes that ACT itself made (and there were plenty). See

How to douse the flames of unwelcome publicity

The flare up between Stephen Fleming and Mark Richardson has died down, for one simple reason. All the parties stopped talking. It’s hard to keep a story going if no one is commenting. Incidentally when will we get to see the so called spoof programme for which the “you’re an idiot” sequence was supposedly filmed? In our lifetimes?

GUTS is entertaining

Hats off to the people behind the Goldfish Under Threat Society promotion. The poster caught my eye, being the owner of a cat that was threatened with termination by a neighbour who believed our (timid and well fed) moggie was eating from his goldfish pond. GUTS cannot be serious I thought, but off I went to the website ( and I was entertained. It’s a promotion for a new variant of Friskies cat food but very well done, and worth a look to see how imagination and technology can create awareness and sell product.

How to govern: make decisions

In the same vein, being seen to be in charge, taking decisions and doing things – any things - usually has positive benefits. There was a new Governor General (not a lot of applause), a new Police Commissioner (some applause from the ranks), a new CEO for TVNZ (a few raspberries for the recycled man), and a good rubbishing of the UN report on the foreshore and seabed (scorning foreigners who offer unwelcome advice looks patriotic), plus a new tertiary funding regimes and a tougher line on migrants. And not a lot the opposition can criticize about any of those matters. Good political and media management produces quite a good week for the government really!

Census necessary say census takers

My comments on the census in the March issue reached the census office in about four nanoseconds, and I got a response the same day.

Apparently we need to have a census so we can get a snapshot at a point in time. Why we need to have all those statistics measured on the same date and how this is more useful to information users than any other date (such as the end of the financial year) wasn’t explained.

But I was assured that “We do not ask questions in the census where there are other information sources that would enable us to get a picture across the whole population.” (Well maybe – don’t local councils know about the dwellings in their area?)

But this was the big one. “A total survey is needed to get an understanding of regional change and of change to smaller populations within the overall population. For example, births registrations are only available for people who are born in NZ. Another example is number of children born which you would think could be gained from birth registrations. However the birth registration data does not, for example, take account of women who had children overseas nor do they count women who choose not to have children. These latter two groups are vital in understanding fertility rates, and population change in New Zealand.” I remain unconvinced that this is enough to justify an exercise the size of the census, but will leave it there.

A reader up north reports that she made her five telephone calls and sent two emails trying to get the census forms to complete. Finally after the local paper published a story on her plight, the census area manager arrived clutching the forms. It seems several efforts are made to deliver forms, but if they fail – even to houses which are clearly inhabited – the delivery people simply give up. Accurate huh!

Promoting Smoking – the cigar story.

Tobacco and sports were associated for a long time, till such sponsorships were made illegal. But some associations are still possible. This is an advert I spotted in Auckland last month.

Puff and Putt, 18 holes, $200 of Cuban cigars, whisky on tap throughout the game, banquet and live music, bus transfers, prizes and an entry fee of only $149.

Sponsors are the Golf House, Burger Fuel, Chapel Bar, Mag and Turbo Warehouse, Usana Health Products and the NZ Herald. It’s organized by Havana House and Malts of Distinction. Entries closed on 31 March.

CEOs call PR shots

In small companies, CEOs call the PR shots, according to a new study from the IABC Research Foundation, reported in the Ragan Media Report.

The study found that the boss was often the best source for PR ideas and strategies. "In the small organization, much of the business occurs in the CEO's mind, so PR is integrated, and is not a separate function," the researchers said.

The upside for communicators is that there is a holistic view of communications – an enviable strength, the study says. Usually, PR people complain that the communications function is disconnected from the rest of the company.)

A potential downside is that the company is vulnerable to the CEO’s skills to build awareness, as typically small companies were not as keen as larger companies “to launch a standard-issue media relations program, or to follow best practices in PR and media relations.”

Small organizations "practice public relations based more on instinct and personal feeling than on formal training, and tend to focus heavily on the use of personal and direct forms of communications, as opposed to mass media or large gatherings, to communicate messages," the study said.

Creo formed amid big claims

Creo is a new PR agency formed from Wellington’s presence and Auckland’s Blast. No big deal except that they make the claim on their website that “The Stakeholder Performance Appraisal uses internet technology and human research expertise to derive a detailed analysis of what your stakeholders think. (Developed) by Massey University's Department of Commerce over a six-year period, (it has) recently been recognised in the prestigious European Journal of Marketing, as probably the best current source of stakeholder opinions about corporations." (my emphasis)

So what is Stakeholder Performance Appraisal? Apparently it “focuses on the measurement of present stakeholder attitudes as timely, early warning signals of future stakeholder behaviour and concomitant future business performance. It is contended that stakeholders’ frontline, holistic, perceptual appraisal of a business’s performance will reflect actual performance in terms of ROI,” according to an article by Brian Murphy et al from Massey’s Department of Commerce.

An abstract says of the Massey research article says “These results indicate that there is a worthwhile financial payoff to a business from improving stakeholder perceptual business performance through stakeholder management strategies designed to enhance optimal economic, social, and environmental returns for its stakeholders as an outcome of sustainable business performance.” See

In the language mangler

Spotted on a menu - salad leaves – why? Where is it going?

I just couldn’t resist this one

Football referees in Nigeria can take bribes from clubs but should not allow them to influence their decisions on the pitch, a football official said in a Reuters report quoted on xtramsn this week.

Fanny Amun, acting Secretary-General of the Nigerian Football Association, said bribery was common in the Nigerian game. "Referees should only pretend to fall for the bait, but make sure the result doesn't favour those offering the bribe," Amun said.

HL Mencken said of politicians in the US in the 1920’s, that an honest politician was one that when he was bought, stayed bought.


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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