Hard News by Russell Brown


Te Reo Māori in schools: let's just start

I was born 52 years ago today, on a date that seems unnervingly close to the 1950s. I caught the end of the free school milk years (they really did just leave it out in the sun) and I like to think I got the best of a New Zealand liberal education. We were well served by the state, with one significant exception.

The primary school where I spent most of my time now keeps a copy of the Treaty in every classroom and offers to "take all reasonable steps to provide instruction in tikanga and te reo Māori for students whose parents request it." When I attended, this was not the case. The only Māori content then was provided by a Pakeha teacher who had his kids build a matchstick and papier-mache pa each year and was regarded as something of an eccentric for his troubles.

In the couple of years I attended Greymouth Main School in the 1970s, I was lucky enough to be taught by George Wynyard, a lovely man who had just begun his career. George would eventually become the Senior Kaiwhakaako at Waikato University's Pathways programme, but 40 years ago on the West Coast there was no means for him to teach us te reo Māori. It simply had no place in the school curriculum.

Today, I feel the lack of that.

Duncan Garner wrote a tremendous column this week about being born in 1974 (young pup!) and moving through schools on the North Shore of Auckland which, if anything, seem to have been more monocultural than those I attended -- and his pride now in his two daughters, who speak te reo Māori fluently because they have received an immersive education through kohanga reo and kura kaupapa.

His older daughter is at a mainstream school now and doing well not only in her further study of the reo, but in French and Mandarin. Her brain seems, he says, "wired for language". We know this to be the case for all children -- learning multiple languages is a virtue in itself.

Duncan also records the disdain for his daughters' path from some Pakeha he knew, who "looked at me and asked what on earth was I doing? 'Why bother?' 'They’ll never speak it overseas.' 'It’s a waste of time!'."

We've all heard this argument: "They're better off learning Chinese!" (or Japanese, as the same argument used to run). The two are not, of course, mutually exclusive, but complementary.

But there's a bigger flaw in the utility argument, and it's this: if you fancy that your child will become a lawyer or a business leader or enter public life in any way, it's a given that they will need at various times to introduce and give an account of themselves in a Māori setting, and to want to have some idea of what's going on around them, both in terms of the tikanga at play and the words being spoken. It's an absolute advantage.

Not everyone needs to be able to converse fluently and, indeed, to gain that ability as an adult is a considerable achievement. (My Media Take co-host Toi Iti and his wife Tipare took a year off their jobs to take a full-immersion course to get themselves to the level of their kura-educated children.) And that's really a separate argument, one focused on redressing the slow decline in the number of Māori able to have an everyday conversation in te reo.

But it behoves us all to be able to give an account of ourselves, and even getting to that point is difficult as an adult. I'm fortunate that as a broadcaster, my pronunciation is reasonably good (much credit to Moana and the Moahunters' 'A.E.I.O.U.' for that) and I've been able a handful of times to whaikorero, and really loved doing so. But I can't really summon my own words, and I feel powerless for that.

I know things are better now than when Duncan and I went to school, but let's not leave it to chance. Let's include te reo Maori and a grounding in tikanga in the primary school curriculum, for every school. Let's use the resources we'd free up from dispensing with the dumbed-down National Standards (which, by the way, is an active barrier to schools embracing te reo) and start. It wouldn't happen overnight -- first we'd need to teach the teachers. But let's bypass the fearful and the bigoted, and just start.


Over the paywall?

This time last year, it seemed a cert that both our big newspaper sites -- Stuff and the New Zealand Herald Online -- would adopt paywalls. That is, stop being free and start charging for access, probably after a set number of free visits per month -- the so-called "metered paywall" approach taken by the New York Times.

Well, it still hasn't happened. And maybe it won't. Senior editorial staff at Stuff's owner, Fairfax, have been told there will be no paywall and the model will not be the New York Times but the eyeballs-and-data-capture strategy of Daily Mail and Buzzfeed.

I asked Fairfax Media managing director Simon Tong for comment and received a reply from marketing director Campbell Mitchell. He said Fairfax has developed a "paid content strategy" but isn't in a position discuss it right now.

Mitchell formerly helped run the metered news paywall at Murdoch paper The Australian, which starts at $4 a week for web and app access and moves up through various print subscription bundles. The paper was an early mover but currently still has only 70,000 subscribers, which isn't sustainable. One solution may be dividing up and selling particular categories of content, rather than just selling the paper en bloc.

If Fairfax was to abandon or rein in its paywall plans, that would put the Herald in an interesting position, given that the assumption has been that the two would watch each other like two match-racing yachts and reveal their paid content plans at roughly the same time. (At one point there was even talk of Stuff and the Herald sharing a paywall.) No one wants to be the outfit that started charging while the other guy is free and easy.

But I suspect the Herald doesn't need such a prompt. They've considered a number of strategies this year without apparently coming to a conclusion on the exact way forward. Going paywall just doesn't seem the no-brainer it did a year ago.

So what are the choices? And why are clickbait headlines, listicles and sidebars-of-shame apparetly grabbing the momentum? I'll be talking to digital analyst and strategist Eric Rowe about how it all works on this week's Media Take.

After that, I'll be asking NZ On Air chief executive Jane Wrightson what the agency is taking from the results of Where are the audiences?, a fascinating and well-constructed media use survey commissioned by NZ On Air and conducted by Colmar Brunton. The survey has rankled some digital-frontier types who imagined that using a VPN to watch Netflix is normal behaviour, but I'm not terribly surprised by its finding that broadcast TV and radio still have overwhelmingly the greatest reach.

The show will open with Toi Iti's look at the imperatives of Te Wiki o Te Reo, followed up with an interview with Pita Paraone.

The show screens on Maori Television tomorrow night (Tuesday) at 10.30pm, but you're welcome to get an early look and come along to our recording this evening. Just be at the Victoria Street entrance of TVNZ (it's a building site at the moment, but it's there) at 5.30pm.


Friday Music: Good ideas and grumbles

Ian Jorgensen, aka Blink, is a remarkable man: principled, organised, creative and willing to work to put his ideas into practice, be they the Camp A Low Hum Festivals, his Wellington music venue Puppies or a string of domestic and international tours, done right.

He has poured a good deal of that ground-level experience into his new book of essays The Problem with Music in New Zealand and how to Fix It & Why I Started and Ran Puppies. The essays each identify a problem -- 'Shows Run Too Late and Band Changeovers Are Too Long', 'Live Scenes in Small Towns Are Close to Non-Existent', 'The Alcohol Industry Uses the Music Industry to Further Dominate Its Presence and Influence Over Youth Culture'.

The best parts of it are chock-full of practical advice, much of it inspired by cooperative environments like the US punk scene (although the first wave of Flying Nun acts also worked in quite communal ways 30 years ago). He also takes on NZ On Air and Music Commission funding and proposes a focus on building grassroots infrastructure rather than funding recordings and videos.

I think there are some issues with some of the ideas -- do we really need a whole lot of barebones recording studios? Is there really a shortage, and how will people with existing businesses feel about the government handing out money to start-ups to compete with them? -- but they're worth looking at. I'd give Blink money to try out his ideas and see what worked in practice.

But the chapter that's been causing a stir is 'Apra and PPNZ Are Ripping Off New Zealand Businesses in the Name of Songwriters Who have No Idea What's Going On'. The first thing to note is that the title is really patronising to all the songwriters who do know what's going on and understand why they're Apra members. Pretty much all the people I know who've stayed in music rely to some extent on music rights income via Apra.

Although PPNZ doesn't exist any more (it has been merged with Rianz into Recorded Music New Zealand), the essay does cover OneMusic, the joint set of rights fees (Apra and RMNZ) collected from businesses using music. The fee schedules range from $12.65 per day live music is featured at a small venue to $19.55 for a big room. This doesn't seem as unreasonable to me as it does to Blink, but I guess I'm not running a music venue.

Where Blink does have a strong point is in the way money collected for the use of background music is distributed. I don't have a problem at all with these fees existing. They're provided for in law and if you're using music in your business -- to make your shop or cafe more congenial -- you should be prepared to pay a modest annual fee to the writers and copyright owners. But who gets the money? That's where the problem is.

Apra's radioplay logging system is really effective for distributing performing rights income from radio -- but it's a terrible way of apportioning revenue from background music fees. And that's currently what happens. Upshot: Fat Freddy's Drop, heard in a hundred cafes, don't get the income they deserve, because the revenue is assessed on radioplay.

Blink answers his own question with the same idea that occured to me: we live in the age of Spotify and Rdio. It should be possible for a businesses owner to use a streaming service that that logs exactly what gets played -- be it the Bats or Race Banyon -- and ensures the money goes to the right place.

There's potentially a further problem if the live music fee is levied and the acts that play on the night aren't Apra members. But there's a way around that, even if the artists are members: both users and creators of music can opt out in various ways. It's quite a flexible system. Not all performing rights organisations do this kind of thing.

But I don't think any of that justifies the repeated use of phrases like "crooks and gangsters" and "extorted", or the outright pissiness about other Apra activities: its various scholarships and grants and the Silver Scroll Awards.

Here's the key fact here: most of the rights revenue handled by Apra accrues to offshore copyright owners. It's not some indie band in Wellington who's paying for the scholarships, it's Katie fucking Perry. Would Blink really prefer that Apra and RMNZ completely turned their backs on the New Zealand music scene, did no good deeds and sent the money offshore instead?

The reference to a the Silver Scrolls as "a lavish, alienating joke of a ceremony celebrating ONE song" is ridiculous. The great thing about a Silver Scrolls ceremony is that each finalist's song is reinterpreted and performed on the night by another act -- often a young band or singer who gets a good fee for doing so. The event itself is free for members, but it's not really "lavish" and calling it a joke is pretty much trolling.

In my experience (I sometimes get invited, but more often see things from the press seats) it's a really soulful evening. Scribe performing Dave Dobbyn's 'It Dawned on Me' with Mark Vanilau last year was special in a number of ways. Happily, the New Zealand Herald streams the awards live now, so everyone can see them. 

Unfortunately, that perspective got further garbled in a Sunday Star Times story that contained more errors than facts (Blink himself and Flying Nun's Ben Howe posted their respective lists of corrections on Facebook) and reverted to ye olde NZ On Air-bashing (which Blink doesn't really do in his book).

But there has been some fruit borne here. Apra's Anthony Healey sought a meeting with Blink as soon as the book was published, Blink invited some other people he thought should come along and everyone seems fairly happy with what went down. That's good. Apra does account to members, but there's never any harm in being accountable to your critics too. And on the other side, it's harder to demonise people you've met.

Anyway, that'll do for now. If you're in a band, or your kid's in a band or you want to make something happen in your town, get Blink's book. I suspect he'll be along to join the discussion, as well Samuel Flynn Scott. I'll also post some other relevant material in the comments.


Here's something we can all get behind: a crowdfunding campaign for a book gathering together and contextualising all Chris Knox's visual art and graphic work: album covers, posters, cartoons, comics, paintings, the lot. Proceeds from sales go to Chris himself. I'll be contributing today and I hope and trust some of you will too. I'd like to see some businesses kick in towards the $50,000 goal as well.


New from Jordan Reyne, "'Dear John' is the tale of a Prime Minister invited to a feast where all the guests are mysteriously absent. A song about the impact of people who don't recognise their own privilege on the lives of others."

Rock'nRolla Soundsystem have made their brilliant mix CD a free download again.:

A new Tiny Ruins video:

Trick Mammoth live, from their King's Arms show last December:

There are two more clips and some background here.

Some nice, laconic indie-guitar from Miss June at TheAudience:

And Terrorball is back with another funky house tune. Very cool! (Click through for the download)

And finally - Courtney Barnett is coming! She plays the King's Arms on September 17. I'll have a giveaway or two and hopefully an interview. Cheers!


The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by:



Auckland's future: Keep calm, but think hard

I presume I wasn't the only one a bit perplexed by Bernard Orsman's story in Monday's Herald about Auckland Council "finances reach[ing] crisis point" and the council "living beyond its means" amid "a financial mess" that would necessitate a "black budget". Wouldn't official alarms have been triggered by this degree of financial chaos?

The answer is yes. And they haven't been. Yesterday, the Herald published a column by David Shand, a member of the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance and chair of  the 2007 Independent Commission of Inquiry into Local Government Rates, in which Shand notes:

The Auckland Council's latest audited financial statements (for the 2012/13 year) show an operating surplus of $246 million and total assets of $37 billion against debt of $8 billion. Either the Herald analysis is faulty or at least incomplete, the accounting standards are inappropriate (unlikely) or there is something wrong with the Auditor-General (most unlikely).

Further, the Auditor-General is required to report each year on councils which may not be financially viable. She has not referred to Auckland Council in this context.

Shand further observes that Auckland Council "is not borrowing for salaries and other recurrent expenditures, but for expenditure on capital assets and infrastructure." (As Ben Ross notes today, in showing strong operating surpluses the council is doing something central government hasn't done in a while.)

The issue lies chiefly with plans for future capital expenditure, some inherited from the old Auckland's constituent councils. These will be contained within Auckland Council's Draft Long-Term plan 2015-2025, which councillors will be discussing and receiving submissions on for the next 11 months. In the meantime, the city is not running out of money and it's irresponsible to claim it is.

Indeed, we might have been alerted by the source of the rhetoric fuelling Orsman's story: Cameron Brewer, Dick Quax and "local body financial commentator" Larry Mitchell of Warkworth, who you may not be familiar with if you don't read Kiwiblog or Whaleoil. (Note also the numpties at the Taxpayers Union last week "reacting to calls for a Crown Manager to be appointed to shepherd Auckland Council through its budget crisis". The "calls" came from former North Shore comedy mayor and current New Zealand First MP Andrew Williams talking to Leighton Smith.)

Shand continues:

It would have been helpful had the Herald given a list of some of the major capital projects being financed by debt so ratepayers can make an informed judgment on the value of this expenditure. (It would also be helpful to the debate if the council more clearly published this information.) Ratepayers can note that nearly half the capital expenditure is for transport infrastructure including new electric trains and roading projects, much of this making up for the past chronic under-investment in infrastructure by previous councils.

You don't need to be a local government nerd to know that the standout capital item on the books at the moment is the $2.4 billion City Rail Link, which promises to transform the city's rail network -- in the way the $1.7 billion Waterview Connection will improve the city's motorway network, only more so. But although the council is paying for various works around the Waterview project, no part of the project itself is having to be funded out of rates.

As Brian Rudman notes, we should have some questions about that:

As Mayor Len Brown and his councillors agonise over how they are going to fund their half of the $2.4 billion City Rail Link - to say nothing of a further $460 million for new rolling stock to run through it - one obvious question is never asked.

Why is the Government demanding that Auckland ratepayers part-fund a new rail tunnel that will immediately become part of the national rail network asset bank? Not only will the Government's rail company control the new tunnel but it will charge Aucklanders an annual access fee before we can drive the trains we had to pay for through the tunnel we helped to build.

This might not be so bad if, as Shand notes, the council didn't have such a narrow revenue base. He characterises the mayor and his council's determination on a maxium 2.5% anually rates increase as a self-inflicted wound, "a totally unrealistic target which can be met only by unacceptable cuts in services."

Shand reminds the Herald of its past use of the term "infrastructure deficit" with respect to Auckland, and in this he's on the same page as Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett in Orsman's original story, who notes that Auckland Councils have long failed to levy rates at a level to play for their plans.

It may be that Barnett is right and there are savings, on the council payroll and elsewhere, that will free up more money for investment. It does seem the council is still with structural issues, including the way its workforce is designed, that it inherited in its creation and which it will have to confront at some point. But I suspect Shand is more right when he says this:

This will require a true partnership between Auckland Council and central government, which is not presently the case. The city needs access to revenue sources such as tolls and a regional petrol tax.

Unfortunately this Government is unwilling to provide access to such revenue sources and removed Auckland's ability to levy a regional petrol tax which was given by the previous government.

No new taxes are particularly palatable and some (poll tax, anyone?) should be off-limits. But it seems to me that the capital infrastructure for Auckland's million-and-growing can't all be funded out of rising property taxes. Anyone got any ideas?


Dotcom: Further news of the unlikely

On the face of it, Prime Minister John Key's consistent claim that he had never heard of Kim Dotcom until the eve of the extraordinary armed raid on the Dotcom mansion on January 20 2012 seems unlikely and absurd.

How could he not have known of the flamboyant, controversial German occupying a huge property in his electorate? If three of his senior ministers and even his own electorate office staff were familiar with Dotcom and his issues, how could he not be?

But there has never been any evidence to prove otherwise.

"It doesn't exist," journalist David Fisher affirmed to the room at the last Wintec Press Club lunch. "I know. I've looked."

Fisher's New Zealand Herald story today does not provide that proof. But it adds information that makes it seem even more unlikely that the Prime Minister was innocent of all such knowledge:

Documents declassified and released through the Official Information Act show the Security Intelligence Service tried to block Kim Dotcom's residency application but dropped their objection 90 minutes after being told there was "political pressure" to let the tycoon into New Zealand.

And further:

The Herald has made multiple Official Information Act requests since Dotcom was arrested in January 2012 on FBI charges of criminal copyright violation, in an attempt to discover why he was given residency. The requests have never produced the SIS information - until a request in May accompanied by a privacy waiver from Dotcom.

The "political pressure" claim was made in October 2010 after the SIS blocked Dotcom's residency application when it learned of the FBI's criminal investigation into his Megaupload empire.

On October 22 that year, one SIS agent wrote to another saying: "INZ [Immigration NZ] has phoned me to advise that the INZ CEO [Nigel Bickle] is questioning why this case is on hold. Apparently there is some 'political pressure' to process this case."

The agent noted the need for the "CEO" to be briefed on the Dotcom case. The SIS director at the time was Dr Warren Tucker, who reports directly to Prime Minister John Key.

Laila Harre, the leader of the Dotcom-banrkolled Internet Party, responded to Herald in intriguing fashion.

"It should never have got that far," said Internet Party leader Laila Harre. "If the minister had been advised of the FBI investigation it would be extraordinary if the minister would not have blocked the ongoing residency process."

Well, quite. Why would Dotcom have been granted residency in light of a criminal investigation by the FBI, even if the crime in question was an adventurous take on secondary copyright infringement?

Harre has responded as she did because the new revelations lend some credence to one of Dotcom's key claims about his case: that he was granted residency by the New Zealand government, in breach of our procedures, so that he could be offered up on a plate to the Americans when they were ready to grab him.

Harre has now expanded on that response with a press statement:

The Internet Party says revelations of political pressure being brought to bear on immigration authorities dealing with Kim Dotcom’s residency application have moved beyond the personal to the constitutional.

The release to the New Zealand Herald of declassified emails between Security Intelligence Service agents raises the spectre of decisions being made that are inconsistent with New Zealand law, and at the behest of a foreign power, says Internet Party leader Laila Harré.

“These emails add to the already existing speculation that our immigration laws and procedures came second to the demands of another country’s government in this case.”

She believes that if the Immigration Service had followed normal procedure, the residency application by Kim Dotcom would not have landed on the Minister’s desk. It would have been frozen because of the FBI investigation into Mr Dotcom.

Dotcom's lawyers are now demanding to know -- with considerable justification -- why the newly-discovered emails were not released to them.

I doubt we're going to get the Prime Ministerial explanation that Labour's Grant Robertson is demanding this morning. But it does appear that this strange and remarkable story has legs yet.