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Communications Line: Issue Number 55 of 15 Nov. 07

John Bishop's Communications Line

Issue Number 55 of 15 November 2007

The Terrorism Evidence

Normally I am on the side of public disclosure, because I believe a well informed populace makes for a healthy democracy, but on the publication of the evidence for the police raids, I have some grave doubts.

Maybe the police did leak the stuff. They are in a battle for the hearts and minds of the public, just as the activists and hikoi marchers are. And of course the media are delighted to publish the material. Sensational revelations drive readership and ratings. But set those matters aside for a moment.

The material being published comes from the affidavit used by the police to obtain search warrants, and this evidence was collected by electronic surveillance. After the police got the warrants, conducted the searches and gathered up more property from the homes of activists, all the evidence went to the Solicitor General to decide on whether prosecutions under the Terrorism Suppression Act were justified. He decided they were not.

The words taken from the transcripts, published in the daily newspapers, and rehearsed again on TV last night, sound darkly ominous and sinister. But having reviewed all the evidence including the transcripts, and noting the difficulties of the Act itself, the Solicitor General said in his media statement, “the key reason why I am not prepared to authorise prosecutions under the Terrorism Suppression Act is because I am of the view that at this stage there is insufficient evidence to the very high standard required that a group or entity was planning or preparing to commit a terrorist act.”

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In short the evidence wasn’t strong enough even to justify the laying of charges to try and establish a prima facie case: the evidence, however menacing in tone, couldn’t pass even the most basic hurdle required by the criminal justice system. So when this material is published, the effect is that the public are being asked to make a decision about the intentions and guilt of a group of people who have not been charged with any terrorism offences.

And the public is being asked to make that judgment without the benefit of the normal checks and balances of a criminal trial including cross examination, the calling of other witnesses and whatever evidence the accused might themselves give.

This is trial by media, in the court of public opinion – as the journalists on TV One News last night described it several times. It is one sided, partial and perhaps even prejudicial; certainly it is the deliberate manipulation of public opinion. The prosecution is conducted by drip feeding sensational bits of evidence into the media. The normal judicial processes are ignored; indeed the very role of the courts is ignored. I want to know as much as anyone else what these people were actually up to in the Ureweras and elsewhere, but I cannot believe that this is a proper way of finding out.

Powers of the Attorney General

Did you know that there are nearly a hundred situations in which the consent of the Attorney-General (in practice normally the Solicitor General) is required for a prosecution to proceed? Consent is required under 95 sections of 40 different Acts in New Zealand. Eighteen of those sections are in the Crimes Act alone, but other Acts cover crimes committed in the Ross Dependency, hijacking, the use of chemical weapons on New Zealand aircraft, unlawful use of a foreign vessel on the high seas by New Zealand nationals, the unauthorized use of state emblems, inciting racial disharmony, unauthorised broadcasting from the high seas, and the prosecution of a member or dependent of a visiting military force. And there’s a whole lot more, according to Crown Law who helpfully provided a complete list.

Geering documentary is shameful

Religious matters are normally no go zones for commentators. It’s hard to say anything that won’t offend someone’s sensibilities. But I am ever bold and this is only incidentally about religious belief and more about the responsibilities of documentary makers and the broadcasters who air their programmes.

Typically a documentary examines an issue or an event. It discusses the significance of what has occurred and it airs a range of views about the issues. It tells about the context and the causes. Generally it tries to tell make sense of what has happened.

Forget that – at least in the case of The Last Western Heretic, a documentary made for TVNZ by Monique Oomen on the life and times of Lloyd Geering, the religious teacher who was tried for heresy by the Presbyterian Church in 1967.

This is one of a series of documentaries that TVNZ has commissioned on prominent New Zealanders which are to be screened next year. I use the term ’documentary’ loosely because if you expect any kind of critical examination of what this man thinks and what he has done, you will have a sad and sharp disappointment.

Most of it is shot (expertly by Wayne Vinten) with Geering sitting in a chair in St Andrew’s Church on the Terrace setting out his views. There are also sequences of the 1967 heresy trial and of Geering in Israel by the Sea of Galilee and inside the reputed tomb of Jesus.

There isn’t a critic in sight; not a word of analysis and criticism from anyone else. This transforms the piece from documentary to propaganda. Would we allow that in any other circumstances? Roger Douglas alone telling the story of the 1980s reforms? Only Graham Henry on the failures of the All Blacks? Only climate change skeptics on greenhouse gases? How about David Irving narrating a programme on the holocaust? I don’t think so.

Associate Arts and Culture Minister Judith Tizard said that it was “extremely pleasing to see this important New Zealand story being re-told”. It’s a shame it wasn’t. Nothing in it is dishonest or inaccurate in itself. But the whole approach – letting an interesting man explain his views as the producer put it – is deceptive and duplicitous. If Geering is indeed the last western heretic, those interested in his ideas, the thinking of the times, the events and their significance, are owed a rather greater duty of care towards the historical record than this piece. A worthy subject, but a woeful telling of the tale.

The reshuffle??

How quickly this has passed from view. Court cases, marches, Setchell, Fiji, Pakistan, and the stormy weather have all overtaken this. But the question remains. Has it done enough to make the Labour led government look refreshed but still a team after the same goals as before? In sporting parlance will the fresh legs make a difference? The government was looking tired, directionless, unsure of itself, troubled by a popular opposition, and accident prone. Are there signs of a new strategy, either to take New Zealand back up to the top half of the OECD prosperity table or even just to retain power? I don’t wish to wimp on the answer, but recent events have diverted attention from the two party battle for ratings, although recent polls do show the gap between them is narrowing.

Mallard’s Role

Does the Prime Minister’s determination to keep Trevor Mallard close to her and to keep him in several important ministerial positions mean he is a useful collection of body parts?

Gay Worms

“Altering a gene in the brain of female worms changed their sexual orientation, making female worms attracted to other females. The study in the journal Current Biology reinforces the notion that sexual orientation is hard-wired in the brain, said its authors.”

This is the sort of research that set me wondering a while back about whether there might be a communications gene, something that predisposes people to communicating in a certain way. Whatever else might be biologically transmitted (criminality, alcoholism, intelligence are being studied in the search for a gene for these traits), no one has suggested that language is other than learned. Language reflects class, parental influence, education and other factors certainly, but it’s learned all the same. I prepared a presentation around the attributes of excellence in spoken and written communications which I called the ACME of Communications, ACME being an acronym for the four factors that made for excellence. It’s an interesting and stimulating keynote speech.

Weird things said at awards nights

Oscar nights are legendary in the film business because of what people say, the way they gush, how their clothing gapes, and for the people that they thank. Some speeches made at the Law Awards black tie dinner in Auckland last week added a whole new level of asininity to such ceremonies. Try these samples from speakers:
• “Rochelle, our practice manager, gave me the speech.
• “Last year to get ready for this presentation, I went to Jenny Craig, lost weight, got glammed up on the night and fell off the stage. This year the diet’s gone out the door and I hope the additional ballast will keep me upright.
• “Let’s get down to the notes here, which I can’t read because there’s no light (at the presenter’s podium)
• “I carefully prepared a speech on IT and its place in the world. The 3 ½ inch floppy is something I am personally familiar with. (Applause and Laughter) This is very intimidating. Floppies used to be 8 inches and then they went to 5 ¼ inches, now they are 3 ½ inches. We are now seeing a lot more hard disks and they are getting bigger all the time. ….and now to what remains of my prepared speech”

And the most popular phrase of the night, whether concluding a short or a long speech was “without further ado’, used nine times in the presentation of 18 awards.

The country’s biggest firms seem not to be interested in these awards which are sponsored by the magazines Lawyers Weekly and NZ Lawyer, but not by the New Zealand Law Society. This calls into question the worth of the awards. For example, McCaw Lewis Chapman of Hamilton won the Corporate and Commercial Law category. No doubt they are competent, even very good, but does their winning of the award really mean that they are the best in the country in that practice area?

Climate change ongoing issue

Climate change and emissions policy are the flavour of the month, with seminars and workshops being held regularly, learned reports flying about and much consternation in the business community. See http://www.johnbishop.co.nz/writer/articles/art091107.shtml

New column at wotzon.com

Producing a column a week of interesting views and sage comments is always a challenge, but never one to resist a good opportunity to have a say, you can now find my take on aspects of life in the capital at www.wotzon.com. A new column is published each Tuesday and the wotzon service is well worthwhile too.

Air New Zealand – fly yourself soon

We’ve got used to booking our flights on the internet, paying on line and even picking our seats, and at the airport you can check in electronically. There’s no free food any more, but the booze is back – as long as you pay. Now Air New Zealand is trialing another innovation in its long standing strategy of shifting operating costs to its customers. In Auckland when you check in at the electronic kiosk, you can now also print out your own baggage label and wrap the long sticky thing around the handle of your suitcase before delivering it to the baggage counter. That was fun – once, but what’s next? Can passengers choose the flight path (over the mountains please), help watch for other planes or even take turns flying the plane? I know; passengers can hand out the sweets. There used to be a dignity about flying. Now it’s just a sweaty bus trip in the sky.

Communications in the workplace

Headlined “Well why didn’t you say so in the first place”, this piece appeared in the New Zealand Herald’s Employment Section on 2 November. It has some useful thoughts from a range of advisors on workplace communications – including me. You can download the article from my homepage www.johnbishop.co.nz

Number plates

I am constantly amazed at the inventiveness people display. Try these:

• SEWBIS, this from the Textile Art Classes and Framing
• I PLUMA – yes he does pipes and taps, and no, I don’t know if his name is Claudius.
• The vehicle from the vet clinic in Kelburn has a plate I PRRR

The prize for phrase of the month goes to Tim Wilson of TVNZ for his description of the devastated houses in California as possessing “a skeletal ashen uniformity” on One News on 26 October 2007.

Restaurant menus are a rich source (or should that be a rich sauce) of mangled English, particularly in ethnic eateries. This I liked: Beef on thick noodle soup (choice of well done, rear, medium).

It’s not mangled English, but what do you make of this item from the Positive Contributions to Race Relations newsletter from the Race Relations Conciliator?

At the Capital and Coast DHB, there is to be a four month trial of “the use of lavalava (wraparound) for surgical procedures. Surgery is often linked with exposing parts of the body and concerns by patients regarding their vulnerability and potential loss of privacy and dignity. The lavalava is appropriate for use in surgery, and special lavalavas have been designed for the CCDHB for this use.”

Condi cops C minus from Cons

Condoleezza Rice, once talked about as a Republican Presidential candidate, now rates only a C minus from conservatives, the bible of the hard right conservatives NewsMax says in a story on the Secretary of State last week.
“With critics of the Iraq War still a marginal faction of the liberal left, (in 2005) the new secretary of state was an international star in an administration that had few. Supporters urged her to consider a 2008 run for president as chatter of “Condi vs. Hillary” filled the airwaves. Three years and more than 60 global trips later, Rice’s profile has plummeted, even among the conservatives who once viewed her as their ideological savior and soulmate.
In light of her changing image, Newsmax decided to take a hard look at Rice’s performance and issue a report card on her efforts to date. Her results have been mixed at best, which is reflected in our overall grade of “C-.” Gauging the clout of an official such as Rice, tasked with so many varied and subjective duties, isn’t easy. But consider these performance points:
• These days, Russian President Vladimir Putin keeps Rice waiting outside his Moscow office like a pesky salesman peddling office supplies.
• She's in a running battle with Vice President Dick Cheney and his neo-conservative allies over diplomatic efforts with Iran.
• In Iraq, Rice and her aides have yet to offer a real plan for political reconciliation.
• Rice recently failed to keep Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf from rescinding his nation’s constitution – something he’d backed down from earlier this year.

The Newsmax story went on to say” morale at the State Department is at historic lows. A poll conducted last month by the American Foreign Service Association found that only 12 percent of Foreign Service officers “believe that Rice is fighting for them.”

He loves Jesus

Still in America, Republican Presidential hopeful, Mike Huckabee is using religion to connect with voters. The existence of the United States is “the result of divine intervention,” he told a congregation in Plano, Texas.
Huckabee said. “If you’re with Jesus Christ, we know how it turns out in the final moment. I’ve read the last chapter in the book, and we do end up winning.”

One of the current mantras of the religious right is that the American Constitution is not the result of human wisdom but came about by divine guidance. That the 1776 Constitution sanctioned slavery is not emphasised and the views of revolutionaries like Thomas Paine who wanted a secular republic where people could be free to speak and believe as they pleased are not highlighted.

Aaron Bhatnagar

Aaron Bhatnagar, whom I described as a ACT Activist in a piece on the local government elections last month, wishes it to be known that “ I resigned from ACT in May 2002, and have been involved with National ever since, currently as the Remuera Branch Chairman of Epsom Electorate (1 Jan 2006 onwards).” Duly noted.


John Bishop is a commentator, professional speaker, communications consultant, writer and trainer who publishes a free electronic newsletter on media, marketing and management matters. This can be found at www.johnbishop.co.nz. Feedback to saymoretojb@yahoo.com

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