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Sludge Report #24 – Jerusalem and Jeremiah

In Today’s Edition: Dover Samuels – And did those feet in ancient time…Jerusalem And Jeremiah - Speight Deep In It –- A Panegyric On The Role Of The Official Spokesperson (From A Grumpy Hack)

NOTE: Authors of this report will be anonymous and wide ranging and occasionally unhinged. Indeed you are invited to contribute: The format is as a reporters notebook. It will be published as and when material is available. C.D. Sludge can be contacted at The Sludge Report is available as a free email service..Click HERE
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Sludge Report #24

Dover Samuels and the Sewage Channel

At this afternoon’s Press Conference our Prime Minister looked decidedly tired of the Dover Samuels affair. Sludge is inclined to agree.

In the latest installment the MP and former Maori Affairs Minister at the center of the row has described the PM’s office as the “Sewage Channel”, alleging that it is they who have spread information concerning the rape allegations made against him.

And while the PM still maintains that Samuels will be presumed innocent until found guilty it seems unlikely that this will be the way her comments will be interpreted in TV news bulletin’s tonight.

The PM pointed out that the allegations of rape which were made public by the Sunday Papers at the weekend dated back to the original letters received by her office on the 16th June from the mother of the woman involved and on the 20th of June from Richard Prebble.

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It seems reasonable to conclude then – as the PM says – that the contents of those letters were by this past weekend reasonably well known both by politicians and the media.

Asked if she could make a categorical denial that her office had been the source of the information the PM replied.

“My staff an I constantly have things put to them. The media seem to have been well aware about a range of matters around this case for some time, and occasionally one can get into a conversation. I certainly do not accept the allegation that my staff have been party to spreading these allegations.”

Which, thinks Sludge can be translated as “sort of”.

Knowing the way reporters work what Helen Clark is confessing to is that conversations of the following lines took place:

Q: “So can you confirm that the PM was not aware of any rape allegations against Mr Samuels?”

A: “No I can’t.”

Q: “So that means you are confirming she is aware of the rape allegations then?”

A: “No. The PM is not confirming anything about rape allegations”.

Unfortunately from the point of view of PM this kind of response is usually interpreted in the media as a “yes”.

And did those feet in ancient time…Jerusalem and Jeremiah

As part of an ongoing campaign of irrational optimism (Isn’t that an oxymoron? Ed) Sludge has some more remarks to make about the Camp David peace process and how the talks currently underway might deliver what the world longs for, a lasting peace in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

Jerusalem - God’s beloved city - has a very special place in the hearts of the people of the world. For Jews, Muslims and Christians it is crucial and central to the faith.

Most of the old testament of the bible – common to all three of the Judaistic faiths – either takes place in Jerusalem, or because of Jerusalem. As a result of its spiritual importance more wars have been fought over it than any other part of the planet over the past few thousand years.

Now, as the Camp David Peace Summit struggles on, the world is waiting, indeed longing for, a peace agreement to settle this the oldest of conflicts.

Why is peace in Israel it so important?

Because for the congregations of the faithful of all variations of Judaism, a peace agreement over God’s beloved city will serve as a beacon of hope. If those at the focal point of ethnic and religious conflict in the world can learn to live peaceably, then maybe we all can.

And at the centre of the disagreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians it seems is the treatment of Jerusalem. Israel says it will not compromise its claim to sovereignty over the city and ditto the Palestinians. An impasse.

So what is to be done?

Following on from Sludge’s great advice of last week to think laterally, that it seems, by their timing, the negotiators took so well to heart, Sludge has a few points of simple advice for the negotiators at Camp David today on day 13 of their deliberations.

1) Consider the precedent value. There is a terrible and horrible irony in the fact that the disposition of Jerusalem should be the obstacle to a lasting peace in the Holy Land. This is a city which was led in the time of Abraham – the father of all three faiths - by the so called “Prince of Peace” Melchezidek. It is a city that is supposed to have god’s favour and protection and which was said by some prophets (Not Jeremiah mind you) to be immune from many of the pestilence’s that plague the rest of us.

2) The true sovereignty of Jerusalem cannot – if you think about it – belong to any nation state. Almost by definition, this is so. This is – and all the parties to the negotiations would presumably agree - in fact God’s city we are talking about here. In the end any human rulers are merely caretakers of some sort.

3) There is no reason, in light of a concession that the true sovereignty of the city to a higher order, why the caretakers should not be able to share Jerusalem.

4) In practice sharing is what will have to be the case in any event - because all faiths will require ongoing access to their holy sites – otherwise their might indeed be a war.

5) If the above points are agreed to in principle the practicalities of negotiating a semi-autonomous/shared sovereignty type agreement for resolution of the Jerusalem Question should then be reasonably simple, and most importantly, popular.

6) When it comes down to securing a political mandate for a compromise from the Israeli and Palestinian people it is likely that – with a good agreement - a vote against peace will be able to be sold as a vote against God. In these circumstances while nationalism may have the head of many of the people of the nation of Israel at present, this could very easily change.

7) Finally – and perhaps most importantly – there is the role of the USA and the matter of face. It is understandable that the Palestinians are reluctant to accept a compromise over Israel promulgated by the US. Afterall the US is the ally of Israel that has financed their oppression for much of the past 50 years. Therefore the Palestinian delegation should be awarded the task of drafting up a new compromise solution.

As a post script Sludge offers the following passage from the Book of Jeremiah which features the city of Jerusalem in a starring role. Negotiators might like to consider this perhaps a warning of what may befall those who would stand in the way of Jerusalem’s virtue.

“O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, thou that mayest be saved. How long shall the vain thoughts lodge within thee?
For a voice declareth from Dan, and publisheth affliction from Mount Ephrahim.
Make ye mention to the nations: behold, publish against Jerusalem, that watchers come from a far country, and give out the voice against the cities of Judah.
As keepers of a field, are they against her round about; because she hath been rebellious against me, saith the Lord.
Thy ways and thy doings have procured these things unto thee; this is thy wickedness, because it reacheth into thy heart.”
- Jeremiah Chapter 4, Vs 14-18

So there it is….peace or damnation…a simple choice really. The negotiators should perhaps also read more Jeremiah.

Speight Deep In It….

As events continue to unfold at a snails pace in Fiji there is some considerable irony that today is a public holiday in Fiji for Constitution Day, celebrating the 1997 multi-racial constitution. Meanwhile we do not yet have a government sworn in and with the Military now saying that the Amnesty given to Speight is not in force – because of his failure to comply – the circumstances which could bring about the optimistic scenario outlined in the last Sludge Report appear to be coming into position. Speight may yet find himself in jail, and possibly quite shortly.

A Panegyric On The Role Of The Official Spokesperson – From A Grumpy Hack

I'm sorry. I've had it.

The next official spokesperson who patronises me, nit-picks on a mutually understood concept, declines to leave voicemail saying who else to talk to while they're on a skiing holiday, assumes that I'm 12 years old, says they "can't be bothered" to do something in their patch, tries to make me pay for public information, or castigates me for trying to by-pass them is just going to cop it.

These things must sometimes be done.

The worst offenders are in government agencies or state-owned enterprises. Minions of listed public companies tend to be a bit more savvy and PR shops would fire their staff for the way that some government department spokespeople behave.

The very worst of all, most tragically, are former journalists. What is it that turns a one-time relentless newshound into a finger-wagging pedant?

And why should it be that the average previously reasonable individual turns into a smarmy defender of the indefensible, arguer of the incredible, and arch-deacon of the arcane detail when armed with a business card which says "strategic communications manager"?

So, from a grouchy journalist to those of you who probably don't know who you are, a few suggestions:

1/ You are the official spokesperson, so don't complain if you are quoted by name when you hadn't specifically put yourself off the record. It is quite incredible the way that spokespeople - particularly in the state sector - come grizzling when they see their names in print over something they subsequently regretted. If anyone tells you there are unspoken rules about this, they are wrong;

2/ It is every journalist's right to seek comment from whoever they want and by whatever route they choose. Police public relations, especially, take note. We are entitled to approach the commissioner or anyone else in the NZ Police without asking your permission. We may get nowhere, but don't tick me off for trying, or expect me to behave graciously if there is some internal rule that all inquiries have to go through you. I don't work for your organisation. I am therefore not bound by any rules that you may wish to try and impose;

3/ Answer the question you are asked. Don't tell the journalist what the question should be until after you have given the answer to the question that was asked. Journalists do ask the wrong question quite often. But there is nothing so likely as to make their blood boil as to be subjected to some lecture as to why the question is wrong. Just as often the question is only "wrong" because you either don't know the answer or don't like it.

4/ Don't obfuscate about facts and figures which are already on the record. If a journalist rings and asks for confirmation of a fact which is already out there, just confirm it, don't spend all morning trying to take it back again just because there is now some regret that such a fact ever got put on the record in the first place;

5/ Make it clear on your voicemail if you're never going to ring back. If you're away, leave alternative contacts and, if you fail to do so, think of expressing regret when you call journalists back days after their inquiries have expired;

6/ Journalists can be rude and pushy sometimes. Dealing with that is partly what you get paid for, so get used to it. Most often, we are only rude to people who are unhelpful. If you're getting an earful on a regular basis, ask yourself why;

7/ You are a conduit, not a gatekeeper. Well, you should be. Once you find yourself simply trying to block contact between your organisation and the media, it's time to consider resigning. The people you work for obviously have too much to hide, or at least think they do.

8/ If you haven't heard of the journalist you're dealing with, don't assume that they are an idiot or have no experience. Consider the possibility that it is you who hasn't been around for long. And make it clear with journalists you haven't dealt with before of the basis on which you are dealing with them.

9/ Public information which is gathered, collated, and presented with taxpayer funding, is public property. Don't charge the news media for it.

© Sludge 2000

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