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HARD NEWS 20/09/02 - The Last Post

HARD NEWS is first broadcast in Auckland on 95bFM around 9.30am on Fridays and replayed around 5.15pm Friday and 10am Sunday on The Culture Bunker. You can listen to 95bFM live on the Internet. Point your web browser to You will need an MP3 player. Currently New Zealand is 12 hours ahead of GMT.

This issue of HARD NEWS is also available in MP3 form at and in text form at You can subscribe to the 95bFM Hard News mailing list at and at Scoop

GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES … this is the last Hard News in its current form.

Most Friday mornings for the past 11 years, day job or not, I have got up early on Friday mornings, bashed out a script - on a good week, I would have made some notes - driven to 95bFM and done the broadcast. At a conservative estimate of 40 weeks a year that's around 450 times. It sounds a *lot* when you put it that way.

But I paused for a rest last month, and when I tried to come back, I discovered it just wasn't there any more. To be honest, I don't fully understand how I did it. It certainly wasn't about the money, because there pretty much wasn't any.

Hard News isn't going away, it is changing, but this is an opportune time to look back. I recall well how it was born. It was about this time of year in 1991, and I was not long back from Britain and editing a magazine called Planet.

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I was at an exhibition of Flying Nun art and I ran into Graeme Hill, who was then programme director and breakfast host at bFM. I had recently heard a particularly witless drivetime news broadcast, and I told Graeme he needed to get some decent news comment on his station.

"When can you start?" he said.

Next week, as it happened, on a Friday morning. I brought along some soundbites from a mad, rambling interview with Mike Moore that I'd done for Planet. The format soon settled down to something very similar to what it has been since. "Good morning mediaphiles" soon became "Good day mediaphiles", so it could be replayed on Drive.

Oh yes: "mediaphiles". I didn't invent the word. I pinched it from Barb Sumner, who used it to describe her customers back when she ran the original Magazzino store. Ta, Barb.

But much has changed since 1991. When I started Hard News, I felt that the views of people like me were barely heard in the media, at least not saying anything of substance. I was 29, a new father, and basically working for the dole editing Planet. Before I came back from Britain, I had told myself that there would be cool work in New Zealand, just little or no money for doing it. It was ever thus.

But gradually, it began to dawn on me that some of the people I was describing in robust language - media types, mostly - were actually listening. This came as something of a shock, but it prompted an improvement in the content. I still like a bit of well-worked abuse - apart from anything else, it's not defamatory - but I began to feel a responsibility to have a properly argued opinion.

Apart from anything else, people started depending on it. It has always made me uneasy when people say that Hard News is the only news they listen to - despite the name, it's not news, it's opinion - but they do say it.

The fact that there is a Hard News public out there has meant I have continued with it a lot longer than I might have. I have always been surprised by the sheer variety of people who talk to me about Hard News. I have always had more response to it than I have to any of my paying gigs. I am amused by how many of my Hard News punter encounters happen at about 1am in clubland. People get loved-up, they see me and they come over to tell me how much they like Hard News. That's nice. Each and every time.

And, yes, I do go out, and I will continue to do so for so long as I enjoy it. Being 40 doesn't mean you have to stay home and watch DVDs and go to bed early. I still love music and I'm still going to talk about gigs. And the prat who emailed me this year to inform me it was all a pose to make me appear to be down with the kids can get lost.

There are, of course, people who get Hard News but have never heard it. Hard News has been available on the Internet since December 1995, and I like to think it's become part of the fabric. There are more than 5000 people on the main Hard News mailing list, and they are scattered through several dozen countries. There are government addresses, corporate addresses and, scarily, addresses at American military bases. For many of them, it's a connection with home.

Ah, the Internet. It's been good to me. I'd like to thank all the people who have helped get Hard News there: Mark Proffit, Michael Witbrock and Rob Cawte in the early days. The wonderful Alastair Thompson at Scoop, which is one of my favourite websites. Matthew Leigh, who helped with the current list. Chris and Jubt at Amplifier, who are forging new ground. And, of course, Matt Buchanan and Karl von Randow at CactusLab, who are two of the most talented people I know.

On the radio, I've seen a few breakfast hosts: Graeme, Marcus Lush, Mikey Havoc, Hugh, and their many temporary replacements. Breakfast producers: Steve Simpson, Renee Mundy and Bianca Zander amongst them. Thanks are due to them and everyone else at 95bFM, which might just be the best radio station in the world. As I said in Metro a while back, if I am any kind of Aucklander, it is a bFM listener.

My favourite Hard News story involves Doug Myers and Bill Ralston. People used to think I sounded a lot like Ralston on the radio - which I suppose I did at the time. So one night at some corporate do, Doug Myers rushed up to Ralston and exclaimed "You called me an arsehole!" Did I? Said Ralston. "Yes! On the radio!" Er, which radio? "That student radio!"

Yes, folks, it was me. I called Doug Myers an arsehole and I would cheerfully do so again. He had written a smug little essay about local government for the Herald, in which he declared that libraries were not a public good, and it didn't benefit him if some poor sod read a book for free. Coming, as it did, from someone who had never wanted for anything, I found that not only foolish, but unspeakably arrogant.

I recall a similar response when Alan Gibbs made a speech to a conference on the family in which he advanced the neo-Victorian view that poor people's problem wasn't so much a lack of money as a lack of morals. He even went so far as to blame the contraceptive pill for this moral decline. But only for the poor, presumably. Rich people can handle contraception, right? I used some stronger words than "arsehole" in that case.

While we're with the would-be great and good, Fay and Richwhite: arrest the bastards at the border, I say. They serially failed their shareholders and they damaged this country. This year, they bailed out of TranzRail - and what a tragedy that's been - just before a flood of bad news. I find it hard to believe that they had no idea what was coming.

I make no apologies for my politics, which ought to be blindingly obvious to anyone who has read or heard Hard News. What's the point of having your own gig if you can't say what you think? Within limits, I'm both pro-free trade and pro-trade union, I am suspicious of ideology and I tend to vote Labour. Deal with it.

"Predictable lefty tosser," was NBR's assessment of those politics, in a story that otherwise pressed pretty much all my vanity buttons. But it is true, what they say about "The Left": the people on it can be rather less tolerant of divergent opinions than their counterparts on the right.

This was demonstrated for me in the course of the GM stuff I did before the election. I came into contact with some really good folk in the anti-GM lobby, and I learned a lot. But there was also a steady trickle of creepy emails, from people who seemed to take the view that anyone with an opinion other than theirs, no matter how considered, was corrupt. I found that distasteful and unnerving.

On the other hand, the Life Sciences Network really irritates me sometimes too. It is good that there are cautionary voices, good that there is a debate, good that consumers are included. Who wants to emulate the awful American food industry? Organic food does generally taste better, but then, I'm flush enough to pay for it when I want it.

For the record, I'm not desperately keen to see the existing commercial GM crops planted here, although my concern relates mostly to commercial advantage rather than health risks.

In the end, we will stop treating it all as one thing and pick our applications, but market resistance to GM food will persist for a while. Pest-resistant Bt cotton will be the first to take off outside the US, because it seems to work well, it sharply cuts pesticide use and people don't have to put it in their mouths. Your Chinese-made t-shirt may already be GE, dude.

I think people have some serious misconceptions about the naturalness of many of our current feed crops. That non-GM corn is a flaky, patented, high-yielding hybrid that probably won't last past a generation.

On that score, I need to get in a correction that slipped out of a few bulletins. It came up in one of the interviews, and nobody seemed to know any better at the time.

Braeburn apples are mutants. But they're not the product of induced mutagenesis, which aims to produce new varieties by bombarding the plant genome with radiation or chemicals. Braeburns hail from a single mutant sport in a hedgerow. On the other hand, crops that have fed the world, such as dwarf rice, were developed by this method, which seems far more dicey to me than modern genetic modification.

I also recently had a polite email from Keith Locke, the Green MP, taking issue with my crack about him and Pol Pot - yes, he welcomed the new government in Cambodia in 1975, along with many other people here. He may have said some daft things in his time - I looked up some old Socialist Action League Stuff - but he never hailed Pol Pot or sought to excuse the genocide that followed. So sorry about that. You might say that what did happen there demonstrates the perils of "regime change".

Which brings us to the world right now. I am not much of a one for conspiracy theories. While I respect the work of NGOs, I find the ceaseless protest theatre of the anti-capitalist movement contradictory and irritating. While I think that the WTO, the World Bank and the IMF have all at times been blinded by ideology and made gross mistakes - the IMF's job on Argentina being a notable example - I am certain that if they did not exist we'd be obliged to invent all three.

But in the case of the current American leadership, I find my capacity to believe the worst has expanded considerably. This is not a Presidency, it is a court of malign actors, known corporate criminals and dangerous zealots.

The ideology behind the throne - American neoconservatism - has the dual and dubious distinction of being both banal and stupendously arrogant. As the White House made clear this week, the targeting of Iraq is not actually about weapons inspections.

These people provably harbour ideas of forcibly remodelling the Middle East to suit their needs, no matter what hell that might unleash. Then maybe a little beachhead in Asia. They see a world guided not by international law but by American exceptionalism. Congress this year passed a law giving the US the right to invade the Netherlands if an American is ever brought before the international court of justice in The Hague to answer war crimes charges.

Which brings to mind the Lewis Lapham essay I read just before September 11 last year: America as the New Rome. The several Hard News bulletins that followed that day were pretty memorable. They went everywhere: forwarded by email, posted on websites I'd never heard of.

I got more than 700 emails from all over the world: most appreciative, some angry, and I edited them up and sent them back out through the same channels. It was good. In truth, I'd have written the first one slightly differently, but its predictions were fairly accurate. American civil rights have been laid waste in the past year.

Many Americans, of course, know this. Not least the libertarian capitalists over at I don't always agree with the libs, but you can depend on them for a crisp argument. If you want a withering non-Left wing critique of the Bush government's mad foreign policy, they have one there: Operation Just Because, they call it. On this year's anniversary, they mourned not just for the dead, but for American traditions of open government, civil rights and privacy. I truly felt sad for them.

I don't begrudge Americans their grief. Last year's attacks tore a hole in thousands of ordinary families. They hurt New York and its people in a way we can't really know about. And I don't begrudge Americans the noisy affirmation of their nationhood - it's a natural response to trauma.

But I genuinely did think there might be some acknowledgement of the thousands of Afghani civilians who have died in the war in their country - a war for which there was a moral and practical case. Did they not, too, die in the name of freedom?

The denial of what war actually means is a by-product of picking tinpot villains and turning on them the mightiest military force in the world. Who dies in Iraq if it goes that far? Same as last time. Thousands of unwitting conscripts. Not the draft-dodgers in the White House and probably not even Saddam.

Americans are great: bright, bold and culturally bountiful. But their democracy is broken, and their government is a threat to the rest of us. I hope to hell they can see the need to fix.

But I'm an optimist. Always will be. I love living here: I love the food, the wine and the pot; the beaches, the music and the people. I love Auckland, even though its mayor is an idiot.

I never expected to wind up doing this thing for more than a quarter of my life, but it has been good for me. It has sharpened my writing, my radio skills and my research. It has opened career opportunities. It's been fun.

So what's next? Hard News will become a weblog; part of a small but tasty invitational community of weblogs, using locally-developed software.

So there will be more of it in some ways, just more manageably for me. I'll have more time for my day jobs, and to do some new things. I've been writing a bit for Real Groove - I don't have to, it's just fun.

There will also be radio or audio under the Hard News brand, but we haven't quite worked out what that will be yet. It'll be cool. I'm excited about change after so long.

The relaunch shouldn't be that far away: stay on the mailing list, read Scoop and, of course, keep on listening to 95bFM.

Finally, thanks and love to my family, who will no longer have to watch me effing and blinding, trying to eat toast, get dressed and shave at the same time so I can get out the door on a Friday morning. Phew. And, from this form of Hard News, G'bye!


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