Clark Shoots Messenger

June 30, 2008

A tape of Helen Clark’s speech to a journalism conference in which she criticised the media has been released after an Official Information Act request by a member of the public and the intervention of the ombudsman.

On the tape, Clark is severely critical of journalists for their alleged lack of knowledge of world events, historical context, and “letting the facts get in the way of the story.”

Shouldn’t the criticism be for not  letting the facts get in the way of the story?

She claims TV3 political editor Duncan Garner had told a seminar that “politicians always lie”.

“I’m sorry, politicians don’t always lie. I’m quite appalled by that statement. I think it’s important that scrutiny is not confused with cynicism,” Clark said.

Of course politicians don’t always lie, but Garner says what he actually said was that the first instinct of politicians when cornered was to lie.

Clark says there are large gaps in journalists’ general knowledge, and in geography, sociology, and economic matters.

“Very few journalists have any comprehension of the range of relations New Zealand has, the range of issues New Zealand is involved in.”

Most journalists were too young to remember seminal events in the country’s history, she says.

“Today’s political editors of the two main TV channels were barely in their infancy, if born, when Norman Kirk brought the troops back from Vietnam, the Springbok tour, sent the frigate to Mururoa – events that to many of our age group were seminal events,” Clark said.

“Muldoon and David Lange are basically ancient history too and world war one and two are antedivulian.”

Lack of institutional knowledge in newsrooms is a concern but she’s got to remember that it’s not only young people who don’t share her memories of what she considers important. It’s 27 years since I started journalism and I don’t remember Kirk bringing the troops back from Vietnam – I would have been at high school at the time.  The Springbok tour happened a few months after I started work and I remember reporting on it, but it isn’t nearly as important to me as it obviously is to her.

Clark said trends in journalism included “making the story all about them”, a “rush to judgment” on blogging, a refusal to send journalists on overseas trips, and competition that was leading to inaccuracies.

“There wouldn’t be a day go by when something isn’t just plain wrong,” she said.

There are journalists who blog but not all blogs are journalism and not all rush – some of us take a carefully considered path to judgement ;)

I’ll concede that mistakes happen too often and it must be frustrating – but sometimes it’s not the reporting that’s wrong when it doesn’t reflect your own view.

Clark said New Zealand was fortunate to have a free media, however, and politicians still needed journalists as much as the media needed political news.  

Clark courted journalists when she became Prime Minister, and she got a pretty gentle run for a time. Now they’re reporting a different view of the world from hers and she’s taking it personally.

[Update: Karl du Fresne has another view on the media here]


Heading Feds Requires Change from Sheep

June 30, 2008

Taking on the presidency of Federated Farmers is pushing Don Nicolson to change from running sheep on his farm to leasing it for dairying.

His 212 ha farm is too small to justify the cost of employing a manager but too big for him to run by himself while also serving as president.

“My intention is to give it [Federated Farmers presidency] 24/7 attention, but I can’t do both. There is no way given the economics of sheep farming that I can employ a manager.”

His experience illustrated one of the major challenges facing farmers and a reason he was looking at joining the flood of sheep and beef farmers changing to dairying.

Last year, he made a net profit of just $1 a stock unit over his 2500 stock units. Leasing to a dairy farmer would earn him a net profit of $200,000.

“It makes no sense to stay in the sheep industry.”

Even without taking on the presidency the difference in income from dairying or sheep and beef is a pretty compelling argument for change.  But even so, this is a reminder of the sacrifices made by people who take office in voluntary organisations.

The Oamaru Mail reported last week that North Otago Council of Social Services was disbanding because it had too few members. It’s the lament of just about every voluntary organisation be it sport or leisure club, religious, service or lobby group, or political party.

Yet the voluntary sector is still a vital part of our communities and society. We’re fortunate that there still are people willing to play an active role in them in spite of the cost in financial, and personal terms and the many competing demands for their time, talent and energies.


Reef fish rule

June 30, 2008

New Zealand’s low productivity is a national disaster  according to professional company director Kerry McDonald.

Newly elected Federated Farmers president Don Nicolson  wasn’t referring to that when he made the following comments, but the reef fish he criticises contribute to the problem:

“I saw the reforms (subsidy removals) that hurt farmers, and then a transformation in the economy where we stopped seeing people leaning on shovels and growing a career through legislation, like planners and consultants. I call them the reef fish. If you analyse it, the reef fish diminished in the 1980s. We are in a revival of them again from the mid-1990s when the RMA (Resource Management Act) gave them a whole lot of ideas.

“I saw these reef fish nibbling at my production and I didn’t like it. Why should we produce more and more and more to keep these reef fish in a job?”

Carrying the analogy further, Nicolson believes the reef fish have grown to become “piranhas and sharks” – contentious perhaps, but that is how he feels.

It is not only planners and consultants, it’s many armies of people in make-work activity which goes hand in hand with the tick-box mentality bedevilling us and sabotaging productivity.  

Computers were supposed to reduce paper work, instead they’ve increased it and a lot of the paper is generated by people in jobs which require other people to set aside the productive work they are doing to deal with it.


Mothering not always natural

June 30, 2008

Deborah Coddington  is right to be concerned about the lack of care new mothers and their babies are getting from our health system.

Current policy concerning mothers and babies is to get them out of the hospital as soon as possible, regardless of how they are coping.

I blame the feminists who, in declaring quite rightly most deliveries are straightforward and mothers are not ill, went overboard in their quest for minimising hospital care (especially if male obstetricians or general practitioners were in charge of the birth) and made mothers feel pressured to get off the delivery trolley, pick up their blinking newborns and sail home pretending they could cope.

When our children were born 23, 21 and 19 years ago it was usual for women to have 5 days in hospital following a normal delivery and up to 10 days after a caesarean.

Now Ministry of Health policy stipulates that the Lead Maternity Carer will determine when mother and baby are clinically ready to be discharged; and that this is usually within 48 hours of the birth at least a day before breast milk comes in.

  

The Ministry’s list of reasons for delaying discharge includes feeding problems, so in theory mothers and their babies are able to stay until breast feeding is properly established. But this isn’t what happens in practice: women are often discharged within hours of birth and some maternity centres even offer incentives such as free napkins to encourage early discharge.

 

 Some women are happy to get home as soon as possible after delivery and of course should be free to do so; others may be unable, or choose not to breast feed. But many wish to feed their babies themselves and some of these need the immediate assistance which is available 24 hours a day in maternity centres to do so.

 

Without that help there is an increased risk babies will fail to thrive and mothers will develop mastitis or opt for bottle feeding in desperation.

 

I haven’t found any research into the link between feeding problems and our appalling record for violence; but an unhappy baby and the unexpected expense of formula will put strain on a family.

 

A birth blip has put pressure on maternity services and even without that it isn’t sensible to tie up tertiary and secondary hospital beds with well women. It may be better to establish mother care units but however it is done we need facilities that ensure 24-hour, on the spot assistance and advice is available from lactation specialists until breast feeding is established.


PGW wants 50% of SFF

June 30, 2008

The grapevine was right: PGG Wrightson is planning to take a 50% share in Silver Fern Farms  (formerly PPCS) at a cost of $220m.

This announcement answers the question asked on Rural Network: who killed meat industry taskforce?


ETS for agriculture is economic stupidity

June 30, 2008

David Bellamy’s biological arguments for excluding agriculture from the Emissions Trading Scheme (see post below) are complemented by economic arguments from Muriel Newman:

The primary sector remains the backbone of New Zealand’s prosperity. Last year it earned 47 percent of the country’s export returns of $35 billion. Dairying was the single biggest export earner with receipts of $7.5 billion, or 21.6 percent of the total. Meat exports ranked second with $4.3 billion or 12.4 percent. In third place, wood exports were worth $2.1 billion, or 6 percent.

The primary sector exports around 90 percent of all of the food produced in New Zealand. This is in sharp contrast to Australia, which only exports a quarter of its food production. An estimated 40 percent of New Zealanders are employed in the food industry.

New Zealand’s prosperity has, of course, always been dependent on farming…

That’s why it is incomprehensible that a New Zealand parliamentary party is undermining the farming sector. The Green Party should be ashamed of itself for blaming farmers for increasing food prices, when farmers, like everyone other New Zealander, are facing rising costs caused by increasing fuel and power prices, higher mortgages, and an escalation in rates and other government charges.

In fact, it is Green Party policies like biofuels, emissions trading schemes, and an over-reliance on solar and windpower that are the cause of much of the cost pressure increases that are occurring in New Zealand and around the world. That is why their call for an inquiry into supermarket pricing smacks of hypocrisy and political game-playing – especially in light of their opposition to the government’s proposal to delay the entry of farming into the emissions trading scheme.

Absolutely right. They don’t appear to understand that if it costs more to produce food it will cost more to buy it.

The government has estimated that at a conservative price for carbon of $50 a tonne, under their proposed emissions trading scheme agricultural payouts will fall by 12 percent for dairying, 21 percent for beef, 34 percent for sheep and 43 percent for venison. 

Anyone who has even the most rudimentary understanding of our economy will realise that these charges will not only ruin the viability of the farming sector and cause food prices to escalate to unprecedented levels, but will further undermine the wealth of all New Zealanders.

Why would any government commit to something which will be hugely expensive, damage the economy and do nothing for the environment. It is economic and political madness to impose such high costs for no benefit.


Bellamy – Belching Farting OK

June 30, 2008

Dr David Bellamy gives a compelling biological argument for excluding agriculture from the Emissions Trading Scheme in Cows and Sheep May Safely Graze:

Cows and sheep are Mother Nature’s own brand of internal combustion engines. They get their energy by “burning” cellulose, the same stuff wood is made of… Each one is a solar powered, self building, repairing and regenerating mobile mini supermarket. The solid waste from which is recycled, returning organic compost to the soil…

Exhaust from these internal combustion engines both large and small contain carbon dioxide and methane … The molecules of carbon that make up their flesh, wool, hide, burps and farts is not fossil carbon.  

It was sequestered from their pasture rarely longer than a year and most within a few days before their release back into the atmosphere.

Although somewhat modified by human influence they are part of the 97% of the main cycle of carbon dioxide that makes the living world go round. Not the 3% that the global warmers say are tipping the World, towards an omnivore driven armageddon.

This means that the decision to include agriculture in the ETS is a political one which will impose huge costs with no environmental benefit.

My case rests, when it comes to the future of New Zealand butter, beef, lamb, leather, mutton and wool please don’t fart in the face of common sense.

Quite.

 


PGG Wrightson to take a slice of Meat Industry?

June 29, 2008

My last post is only minutes old and it’s already stale:

The rural grapevine reckons that a deal between PPG Wrightson and Silver Fern Farms is iminent. It is expected that PGGW will do the procurement for SFF, and possibly take a stake in the industry.

All will be revealed at a press conference which has been called for 11am tomorrow in Christchurch.


Meat Industry Disunity Scuttles Taskforce

June 29, 2008

Disappointment but little surprise has greeted the news that the Meat Industry Taskforce  has disbanded.

Taskforce chairman Sir John Anderson said yesterday that consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), which was commissioned to complete an industry analysis, could not get informed consent from all industry participants.

In addition, Sir John said that in the last week one company had announced it was withdrawing its support for an industry strategy, saying it was pursuing its own plans, making it impossible to compile a report.

Meat and Wool New Zealand (MWNZ) established the taskforce earlier this year to create a red meat industry strategy to address international marketing, supplier dynamics and processing.

Owen Poole who chairs Alliance Group said his company supported the taskforce and was disappointed it had failed. 

Mr Poole said the strategy could have been the catalyst for industry aggregation, and the fact PWC was going to seek contributions from farmers, meat companies and unions, would have produced meaningful results.

“I see it as a lost opportunity,” he said.

Silver Fern Farms chief executive Keith Cooper said he supported any initiative to create an industry strategy, but the taskforce never released its terms of reference, so companies did not know what it was trying to achieve.

Mr Cooper said Silver Fern Farms (formerly PPCS) was not the reason the taskforce failed.

“In regard to the Meat Industry taskforce announcement, from a Silver Fern Farms perspective, we were never asked for informed consent by PWC on the issue.”

The company supported any initiatives to improve supplier returns.

“Silver Fern Farms supported any initiative about reviewing the industry strategy or structures.”

Anzco chairman Graeme Harrison was also supportive but not surprised it had failed, given the reluctance of the four major meat companies to co-operate on industry issues.

“Unless the four companies were prepared to talk in meaningful ways, then it was never going to happen.”

While he had reservations about the size of regulatory and commercial hurdles the taskforce faced, he said it would have provided an important circuit-breaker for farmer confidence.

Mr Harrison said commercial reality would now play its hand and there would be change.

“Sooner or later, something will happen and it will be a commercial decision.”

The 07-08 season was a very tough one for sheep farmers with falling returns and steeply increasing prices for fuel, fertiliser and other inputs. The outlook for next season’s lamb prices is more optimistic, but even so they’ll be hoping that whatever happens in the industry happens sooner not later.


If there’s no power crisis…

June 29, 2008

… why is Lake Hawea  going to be taken below its minimum level to generate more electricity?

Contact Energy will lower Lake Hawea below its statutorily imposed minimum level of 338m above sea level in the next few days, and says it will use the extra water very carefully.

But that was questioned yesterday by the chairman of Lake Hawea Guardians, who said Hawea and its surrounds would suffer for years if the lake falls to 336m.

The company does have resource consent to take the extra two metres – but only when it’s in the national interest to have reserve capacity. Hawea locals are questioning how this condition can be met if there isn’t a crisis.

Guardians of Lake Hawea chairman Grant Fyfe called on the Government to acknowledge that New Zealand faced a power crisis and to take steps to protect the lake. He said an extra 2m would provide only 20 more days of draw-off.

The guardians vehemently opposed any reduction below 338m, he said.

“Hawea is going to suffer the consequences for months or years to come from having a lower lake, but the country as a whole isn’t making any sacrifice.”

Mr Fyfe said minimum operating levels were introduced in the 1970s when the lake fell to 327m, exposing river deltas and causing constant dust storms that carried as far as Ranfurly.

This wasn’t good for the environment or the people in the area. Nor for stock and the dust lowered the quality of wool on sheep which grazed near the lake.

Energy Minister David Parker said the situation at Lake Hawea was a reminder that the environmental consequences of electricity production were borne mostly by people in small, distant communities, rather than in cities.

We know that – but why is Lake Hawea being sacrificed with the consequent detrimental effect on the environment, people and stock, if there isn’t a crisis?


Maori Party want ag in ETS earlier

June 29, 2008

Tariana Turia said in an Agenda interview that the Maori Party wants agriculture brought in to the emissions Trading Scheme earlier than requried by legislation before parliament at the moment.

Has she considered the impact of that on Maori farmers, farm workers, rural contractors, shearers and freezing workers; and the impact of higher prices  which would follow for Maori who buy dairy products, meat and wool?


Feeling the heat

June 29, 2008

Kathryn Ryan wore a sleeveless dress on Agenda  this morning while I  watched, still feeling cold in three layers of merino clothing.

Is it really that hot under the lights in a TV studio, or could TVNZ turn down the heating and save enough power to let the rest of us choose our own lightbulbs?


Pope’s attack on Bassett’s book reminds me

June 29, 2008

Michael Bassett’s book Working With David, Inside the Lange Cabinet,  is sitting on my books-to-read shelf so I read this attack on the book and its author by Margaret Pope  with interest. It reminded me of an incident after a celebrity debate in Queenstown about 18 years ago.

Garrick Tremain and David Lange were in opposing teams and in ribbing Lange, Tremain blamed him for his (Tremain’s) wife not letting him have a secretary.

Lange took it with a grin but after the debate Pope went up to Tremain and abused him in very basic language for what he’d said.


Did you see the one about…

June 29, 2008

Picks of the week from Homepaddock:

EFA anti-democratic – Clark

It’s not what you say

Feds chief not out to win friends

Ag & science not mutually exclusive

Porn in the paddock 

And from around the blogosphere:

Another ugly view from inside government & Click here to understand the the power of blogs from Show Me The Money.

Good Lord but he’s out to lunch from Dig N Stir

Some questions about unions from Keeping Stock

The Hive in general, and on the ETS in particular eg Every New Zealander should read

And Bullshit detector rings alarmingly from Poneke


Two Wronged Not Right

June 28, 2008

Several bloggers are blaming the Prime Minister because a disabled man was forced to walk 200 metres along a wet street.

Her car was blocking disabled car parks outside the Christchurch Town Hall and police wouldn’t allow his wife to park there. But Helen Clark was in the Town Hall at the time and knew nothing of the incident until contacted by media.

She can’t be blamed for where her driver parks and the over officious actions of the police.

The headline : PM forces disabled man to walk is not a fair representation of the facts. Just as the headline What war? Key’s abridged history and story about John Key’s comments on New Zealand’s relatively peaceful past were not a fair version of what he said either.

Balanced reporting doesn’t mean getting stuck into the Labour leader unfairly today because National’s leader was misrepresented yesterday.


Do You Want Cheese With That?

June 28, 2008

NZ Conservative reports that cheese is now an optional extra on Dominos pizzas.

That explains the comment under the masthead at Half Done: No Dairy Products Kept on this Blog Overnight.


Porn in the Paddock

June 28, 2008

Most city people who move to the country adapt well, but there are always the odd exceptions who can’t, or won’t, understand that agriculture and horticulture are not nine to five businesses; and that necessary activites aren’t always quiet and sweet smelling.

City slickers considering a quieter life in the country be warned: farmers are not going to stop their early morning milking or their dogs from barking so you can get a good night’s sleep.

And some daytime farming practices aren’t exactly seemly:

Waikato Federated Farmers president Stew Wadey said he had fielded a number of complaints from newcomers unused to the smells, sounds and sights in the country.

“We’ve had a straight-laced person from higher society move into a lifestyle block and she was appalled that we had a bull servicing the cows, which is obviously a natural process. She complained it was provocative and pornographic.”


Benefits of Blogging

June 27, 2008

Bernard Hickey has become an evangelist for blogging. 

Let me explain why after 19 years as a journalist I’ve never been so excited about being a journalist and why I think blogging will over time become the main venue for political and other debate.  It will also become another way for communities to form and for people to talk to each other about the things that matter.

I share his enthusiasm and agree with his reasons. But one advantage that he doesn’t mention is that what you write is what people read without editing by someone else.

I know subs are lovely people who sometimes save journalists from themselves by correcting potentially embarrassing, stupid and/or litigious mistakes. But sometimes they also take your carefully worded prose and leave it the worse for their intervention.

I was taught to write news stories so they were structured like an inverted pyramid with the most important points at the start. That meant if lack of space required some cutting the sub could start at the bottom without ruining the story.

Columns are different from news stories in that the point often comes at the end so the concluding words are as important as the intro.

The worst subbing of one of my opinion pieces was many years ago and simply chopped the middle from it so the intro was no longer connected to the end and the phrase which made sense of the headline was lost.

The cut to my offering in Paddock Talk  today was minor by comparison. I’d concluded it by saying:

The taskforce has hired PriceWaterhouseCoopers to prepare a strategy report which is expected to take 12 weeks. That may seem a long time for farmers desperately seeking a solution to their own problems, but as the cheese advertisement says, good things take time and a strategy which leads to a healthy future for the meat industry will be a very good thing indeed.

Somewhere between my outbox and publication the last 19 words disappeared, which probably doesn’t matter to anyone except me, especially now that events have over taken what I was writing about.

The Meat Industry Taskforce was disbanded today. Federated Farmers  has a press release expressing disapointment and the grapevine is buzzing but I haven’t been able to find anything in the media about it yet.


Bomb Scare Costs

June 27, 2008

Offices, shops, the museum, library and several shops in Oamaru’s CBD  were evacuated yesterday, about an hour after a phone call at 1.50 warned of a bomb in the Trust Power call centre.

A sniffer dog could have been sent from Christchurch by helicoptor but a policeman told some of the evacuees that they’d been told that would be too expensive so  the dog was driven down by road – a trip of about 3 1/2 hours.

It arrived at about 6.20 and the building was declared safe by 8pm.

The helicoptor, according to the grapevine which I accept is not a reliable source of information, would have cost $1,200.

I don’t know the cost of a seven hour return trip by road for the dog and its handler, and for the police officers who had to keep people at bay for nearly six hours. Nor do I know the cost to the businesses which had to close; the return trip a Dunedin accountant had to make today because he had to leave his laptop in an office when it was evacuated yesterday; the revenue lost by around 20 retailers, the call centre, a physiotherapist, and other businesses,  which were evacuated or closed beccause the main street was shut off; and the power from the lights, heaters, computers  and all the other electrical bits and pieces which were left on when people left their buildings and not turned off over night as usual.

The police did all they should have yesterday: the evacuation and street closure were prudent and the Oamaru Mail reports they are following “a positive line of enquiry” in the serach for the person who made the hoax call.

But had the dog come by air rather than land everything would have been back to normal nearly four hours earlier. Those people who lost time and business would no doubt think that the cost of the helicoptor would have been worth it.

Footnote: Poneke left this comment on a previous post:

For most of the 290-plus years I was a journalist, the media had a policy of not giving oxygen to bomb and similar hoaxers. We simply did not report them, except in the rare circumstance of them causing massive disruption such as to peak traffic in downtown Auckland, where the public deserved to know what had caused the chaos.

Now every piddly little hoax, of which there are several a week, is reported everywhere.

I wonder if the reporting fuels their frequency?

Yesterday’s court news in the ODT has a report on the trial of a man accused of making a hoax call about a bomb scare at an Oamaru Service Station a few months again, but police don’t think there are any connections between this and yesterday’s call.

The building where the bomb was said to be is directly opposite the ODT and around 100 metres from the Oamaru Mail so it was going to be noticed by the media; and shutting down about a third of the CBD is big news in a small town.

I don’t know whether reporting every little hoax fuels more. Do people who do this sort of thing take any notice of what’s in the news? 

In this case, the grapevine – which again I’ll admit is not always reliable – has many tales about the hard calls that are being made from call centres to people who can’t, or won’t, pay their bills. We’ll have to wait until the court case, if there is one, to know whether this was the act of an aggrieved debtor or not.


Bomb Scare a Hoax

June 27, 2008

No surprise here, yesterday’s bomb scare  which led to the evacuation of shops and offices in Oamaru’s main street was a hoax.

A bomb scare closed part of the Oamaru central business district for more than five hours yesterday in a hoax police branded “irresponsible”.

The business district in lower Thames St was brought to a halt just before 3pm as police evacuated buildings and cordoned off the area after a bomb threat was received at 1.50pm through a call centre operator at TrustPower in Tauranga.

The target was Oamaru’s three-storey TrustPower and Pulse Business Solutions building, which houses TrustPower’s South Island call centre.

 

 


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