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Communications Line of 12 May 2006

Communications Line Issue Number 30 12 May 2006

By John Bishop

MPs seek newsletter pickup

Of the dozens of newsletters written by prominent people seeking more prominence only a few manage to publish stuff that is picked up by the mainstream media. Richard Prebble’s The Letter used to achieve it regularly, (but hasn’t for a while), but most others struggle even to be noticed. Prebble understood that newsletters of gossip and comment, particularly of a political nature, have to tell people something they didn’t know, so that the reader can pretend to be an insider with good gossip and information. That’s why they subscribe.

National MP Murray McCully’s publication last Friday contained a trenchant, even venomous piece on Terence Arnold, the Solicitor General whose appointment to the Court of Appeal had just been announced. (For more see

While some of Mr McCully’s choicer quotes made into the Tracy Watkins story in the DomPost, Mike Houlahan’s piece in the NZ Herald story was largely criticism from a lawyer and a former judge of Mr McCully’s comments. A reader would not have learned why Mr McCully had labeled Mr Arnold’s tenure, “the worst solicitor generalship in recent history”. Nor would anyone have learned of the decisions that Mr Arnold had made that caused Mr McCully to describe his office as “overly accommodating of the government’s political needs.”

Mr McCully’s criticism of the police investigation into the Labour Party for overspending in the last election didn’t get a mention in either story. In the very same issue of his newsletter Mr McCully also attacked journalists as “lazy hacks who have, to date, spectacularly failed to get their heads around the essence of the (overspending) issue.”

Terence and Louise

There is one important decision still with the Solicitor General’s office. That is whether to proceed against the women who distributed the pamphlet on the Louise Nicholas case which revealed information the High Court had suppressed. Will charges for contempt of court be brought? It’s not easy, legally or politically.

If the women are prosecuted it might look like the forces of the state lining up against decent people who only want the truth to be told and for “justice” (their version anyway) to be done in the case. That’s not a good look for the government. On the other hand if there is no prosecution, it’s could be a signal that it’s alright to flout the law if there’s strong public sentiment about the matter at hand. That could prejudice trials in future. Not a good outcome.

So what will happen? I don’t know, but it is just possible that Mr Arnold’s elevation to the bench means that this is a decision he won’t have to make after all. How convenient all round.

NBR backs Labour – shock, horror

Now this is news. The NBR, a self confessed bastion of free enterprise, opposed to regulation and intervention has endorsed the Labour led Government’s decision to take the knife to Telecom. Its editorial last week praised the government for its decision. Earlier the paper had run articles highly critical of Telecom.

It is worth remembering that when Telecom was sold in 1990, there were a few voices, not many admittedly, who criticised the move because the network was sold intact, and that was a natural monopoly. And Telecom has assiduously defended its ownership and use of that monopoly ever since. It was the major source of its profits.

So here’s the dilemma for supporters of free enterprise and property rights. Making Telecom give access to its network to its competitors is clearly a confiscation of property rights, and that’s a bad signal to investors domestic and international. On the other hand, how long does a government allow a bad decision by its predecessor to inhibit competition and delay innovation and investment? Helen Clark and Michael Cullen could say that they are rectifying a bad decision. They haven’t, but then, they were both Ministers in the government that sold Telecom in the first place.

Right now the terms and cost of access haven’t been determined so we have yet to see how much competition will result. My own view is that I am fully in favour of markets, but only of markets that work properly. The challenge for policy makers is to create the conditions to allow markets to function properly. The electricity market is a woeful example of a market that does not do that. But I’ll leave that matter for another day.

Not Warne Out

Still with journalism, the salacious language of the British tabloids is in a class of its own. Under the headline “Shane on you” the News of the World began its story and picture account of Shane Warne’s romp with two women this way. “Legendary bowler Shane Warne was on red-hot form the night he took two for dirty sex in a three-hour spell at the crease.”

UKTV: sex and violence have changed

Viewing the once great and glorious TV shows of the 1960s and 1970s on UKTV makes for interesting comparisons on how attitudes to violence and sex have changed. The Sweeney was the toughest and most violent cop show on New Zealand TV in 1975/6, but it is tame now. And the fashions don’t bear much scrutiny either. John Thaw in a thick red suede jacket? Well ok, but the matching red suede trousers were too much and the brown roll neck was just risible.

Recently UKTV aired Here We Go Around the Mulberry Bush, a 1969 British sex comedy romp with Judy Geeson and music by Traffic and the Spencer Davis Group. There was a touching innocence back then about nudity. Women taking their tops off (and that was scandalous enough back then) was about freedom or so we thought then. Now it looks naïve. There was a political point being made through nudity, but no doubt the unclad women also enhanced the films’ commercial appeal.

In the then Eastern bloc countries, Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia in particular, films that showed characters enjoying uninhibited sex were political statements about the desire for freedom. If the characters couldn’t talk about freedom, at least their actions might demonstrate it. Audiences got the point. Sex was a proxy for democracy. In the West we started with I am Curious – Yellow – a Swedish made piece of erotica, which was pioneering and bold filmmaking at the time. And then there was Deep Throat, which was marketed as a comedy. Sex was presented as just fun, but that was before herpes, AIDs and pornography became commonplace.

Code share equals cartel

The Air New Zealand/Qantas code share arrangement for the trans tasman routes is upsetting Wellington business interests, but there are some interesting legal and financial wrinkles to the story as well. See

What’s wrong with fresh fruit?

Normally nothing, but when it’s served whole on an international flight and passengers try to take the fruit past the MAF inspectors, it’s a not an apple, it’s a cash cow. Read why at

Gisborne: a city revived

It may be the first city to see the light, but the locals go to bed early, which is a shame, because the restaurants are good, and the city is in a revival as I discovered on a recent visit. See

You want what in the workplace!

New Zealand’s first ever awards for humour in the workplace were presented on 1 May. These were a blatant publicity stunt for the International Comedy Festival that starts in Auckland tonight, but there is a serious point as organiser Pat Arrmitstead explained to me.

Pat cites a report in the Boston Globe. “The most popular course at Harvard this semester teaches happiness. The final numbers came in this week: Positive Psychology, a class whose content resembles that of many a self-help book but is grounded in serious psychological research, has enrolled 855 students, beating even Introductory Economics”.

She says that people perform optimally in high trust environments, where they are rewarded for having fun doing what it is that they love. “The role of humour and being good humoured cannot be overlooked, especially in the face of World Health Organization statistics which cite depression as currently world health burden number four and by 2020 they predict it will be number two.”

For the record the top award went to New Zealand Window Shades which “stood out because they had events and strategies that had purpose and while they were fun, they were not just for the sake of fun.”

Cocktail Science

According to a report in The New York Times (10 May) the latest drinking fashion in New York is “freethinking bartenders who have taken to the idea of employing the techniques of avant-garde cooking to their work behind the bar, a trend that's being called "molecular mixology."

“For the martini, they blend olive juice, vermouth and gin with xanthan gum and calcium chloride and drop it into a sodium alginate and water solution to form stable olive-shaped blobs. It is served as a lone olive in an empty glass; it reverts to a liquid state when popped into the mouth. The mojito is made with rum, lime and mint and shaped into a sphere through the same process, then carbonated in a pressurized container filled with carbon dioxide to mimic the bubbly mouth-feel of a real mojito.” Dinner in a glass?

In the Language mangler

- From a real estate advertisement, a house in Wairoa was described as being “tasetefully (sic) decorated throughout”.

- An item of sports news on Xtra on 3 May reported that “McCaw was injured out of the 23-draw with the Force two rounds ago…” ‘Injured out?’ Since when was ‘injure’ an intransitive verb, able to be used in this way?

- Instant cooffee (sic) was on sale at my favourite New World supermarket in Thorndon the other day. And it was on a printed sign.


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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