Hard News by Russell Brown

18

The crybaby philosopher

Earlier this week, Act Party leader Jamie Whyte notified the world that he had delivered a speech entitled Race has no place in the law and, it seemed, sat back in anticipation of plaudits for his tremendous argument.

Sadly, the next day he posted a screed almost as long complaining of the "vitriolic hostility" with which his speech had been greeted, slating his critics as "pathetic" and characterising journalists who had reported on it as "the thought police".

Whyte raged. He told Morning Report's interview Guyon Espiner that he just didn't understand basic political principles, and accused Radio Live's Lloyd Burr of being unable to "read or think" when Burr attempted to press him on errors in his speech.

The irony, of course, is that Whyte's argument has been met with plenty of reasoned debate; it simply hasn't been to his liking. One of the more obvious flaws in the speech is that Whyte contrived himself a definition of "legal privilege" (such privilege accruing to Māori being his chief grievance) encompassing things that largely do not concern the law -- most notably, this:

Some state run or state directed organisations openly practice race-based favouritism. I know a woman who has raised children by two fathers, one Pakeha and the other Maori. If her Pakeha son wants to attend law school at Auckland University, he will have to get much higher grades than her Maori son.

I will not go on. There is no question that the law in New Zealand is not racially impartial. 

The question is why race-based laws are tolerated, not just by the Maori and Internet-Mana Parties, but by National, Labour and the Greens.

Whyte is referring to the University of Auckland's Targeted Admission Schemes, which are designed to improve access to higher education for under-represented groups: Māori, Pasifika, people living with a disability. The scheme, as Whyte must surely understand is, is not the consequence of a "race-based law". Indeed, it is not what Whyte says it is in quite a number of ways. As Matthew Denith points out:

The Māori quota for some university courses is a very real thing, but people like Whyte either haven’t looked into how the quota operates, or he has deliberately chosen to ignore said processes in order to make an inflammatory point. The quota provides extraseats aimed at getting more Māori into certain subjects (like Medicine and Law), so Pākehā do not miss out: if, for some reason, there were no Māori applicants for places in Law or Medicine one year, those spaces simply would not be filled. It’s not, then, as if Māori are taking places away from Pākehā. The quota is a top up, rather than a reserve system. As for the lower grades allocated to these quota seats; this is simply a recognition that most Māori come from lower socio-economic areas and we know, from the statistics, that grades on average are lower across the board in lower socio-economic areas. As such, the quota recognises this disparity as being yet another barrier to entry. That being said, it’s not as if universities let morons into these courses, and people who get in under the quota have to perform to the same standard as other students once they are in.

Lawyer and business consultant Joshua Hitchcock also makes this point in response to Whyte -- and also describes as "nonsense" this unsubstantiated claim from Whyte:

Of course, many Maori are better off, better educated and in better health than many Pakeha. And these are often the Maori who take most advantage of their legal privileges, especially those offered by universities and by political bodies.

From the real world, Hitchcock responds:

The large majority of my peers at law school were upper-middle class paheka kids from suburban Auckland.  They came from the Grammars, or private school.  Us Maori were almost all provincial kids, many on scholarships because our parents could not afford to send us away, and working several jobs to pay the rent.  Most had grown up poor, brown, and considered unlikely to succeed by almost every teacher they met along the way.  Most have gone on to working low paid law jobs as advocates for Maori – and the most disadvantaged Maori at that – before the Waitangi Tribunal, Maori Land Court, Family Court, and in the public sector.  Law school was not a path to riches, it was a path to service.

Whyte has taken the privilege we can actually detect in evidence: that Pakeha with the benefit of growing up in higher socio-economic groups overall do better at all levels of the education system and are thus over-represented in higher education, and flipped it, sans eveidence, to assert the opposite.

There are more subtle flaws in Whyte's argument. The UTAS is, as already noted, also there for people with disability. Let's take Sacha Dylan's definition in the debut post for this site's Access blog, that:

Disability is what happens when your needs don’t match the world as it is right now ... Disability combines personal experience and social process. It is the interaction between how the world functions and how people function.

It's not difficult to apply this perspective on disability -- a fundamental mismatch between what a person needs and what the world actually offers -- to the other groups served by the UTAS. This does not mean being Māori is a disability, but it is clearly, on the evidence, an impairment in being able to tap the power of education. Would Whyte kill off the additional places offered to the disabled? Does he claim, as he does in the case of Māori, that disabled people would do better if they received no help? (I did in fact query Whyte about this, via Twitter, but received no reply.)

Whyte carefully exempts the work of the Waitangi Tribunal from his criticism: 

The reparations made to iwi by the Waitangi Tribunal are NOT an example of this. The Treaty of Waitangi gave Maori property rights over the land they occupied. Many violations of these rights followed. The remedies provided by the Waitangi Tribunal are not a case of race-based favouritism. They are recognition of property rights and, therefore, something that we in ACT wholeheartedly support.

But he seems unable to grasp the fairly basic idea that "remedies" for the theft of property on the part of government should also extend beyond the (partial) return of the proprty and address the material harm suffered by the owner of the property. As Tim Watkin says on Pundit:

That's why affirmative action, such as places for Maori at universties, is right and fair. And it works. Whyte suggests that the legal privileges haven't meant material gain, but he's wrong in that. Since the Maori renaissance of the early 1970s and the arrival of affirmative action, many Maori social statistics (while still behind Pakeha) have improved. Life expectancy is catching up, education rates have improved, and so on. 

I doubt Whyte would pretend that Lady Justice has always been blind. He may even be honest enough to accept that he and perhaps his forebears have (directly or indirectly) benefited from that historic lack of blindness.

Although he basically conjures facts to suit himself, the real problem in Whyte's speech is that it is the work of a man who seems incapable of any sense of proportion. The presence of, say, a fairly powerless Māori advisory board to the Auckland Council is rolled up towards this amazing assertion:

Maori are legally privileged in New Zealand today, just as the Aristocracy were legally privileged in pre-revolutionary France.

"Just as"? Really? Dentith notes in response to this point:

Let’s just let that sink in. He first compares the status of Māori in Aotearoa (New Zealand) to the aristocrats of the Ancien Régime, which as analogies go is pretty weird. In the Ancien Régime the nobles were gluttons whilst the people of France starved. Yet, in Aotearoa (New Zealand), it is Māori who play the role of the French populace and Pākehā who are predominately living the high life off of the back of the unfortunate, indigenous people of this place. 

The Race Relations Conciliator Dame Susan Devoy also responded to this argument, describing it as "grotesque and inflammatory" and "incredibly naïve". Whyte duly responded -- you can see gthis coming, can't you? -- by declaring that Devoy "can't think straight".

What we're really seeing here is the time-honoured libertarian fallback that it's not their argument that's wrong, but reality. As someone noted to me yesterday, Whyte's three-day tantrum is the response of every libertarian in every comment thread ever.

But Whyte isn't just the put-upon libertarian on the the internet, he's the leader of a political party -- albeit a profoundly unpopular one -- likely to form part of an agreement to govern the country.

A man as intelligent as Whyte endlessly claims to be would have anticipated, even embraced all this criticism, rather than expressing hurt and astonishment at it. What we have seen instead instead is a crybaby philosopher, a manchild who seems almost pitiably innocent of the job he's supposed to be doing. We can only speculate what absurdity Whyte would generate in the unlikely event he enters Parliament.

For the time being we can only note for all the Prime Minister likes to list the alarming oddballs who would line up in a coalition of the Left, the really strange people would seem to be on his side of the line.

11

Media Take: In the Eye of the Storm

I'm flying solo on this week's Media Take -- for a very good reason. My colleague and co-host Toi Iti had an engagement in the Urewera on Sunday. He was present when Police Commissioner Mike Bush visited six whanau -- including that of Toi's father, Tame Iti -- to apologise for the raids seven years ago in Ruatoki that traumatised families and were ultimately deemed unlawful by the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

A great deal has been written and said about the investigation and attempt to prosecute Tame Iti and others under the Terrorism Suppression Act, but in a media context the story is particularly notable for the apparent attempts by some in the police to leak and spin the most inflammatory elements of the evidence they had gathered. Some news organisations really got played.

It was into this media storm that Toi and his brother Wairere were thrust as family spokespeople. To this extent, the report Toi presents in tonight's show is his story as well. I say this not having seen the report itself -- the timings meant we had to record the show yesterday evening without it. But I'm very confident it will be worth your while watching.

Also in tonight's programme: I talk to Katherine Reed, Associate Professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, about the new face of serious reporting: Buzzfeed and Vice. As big media organisations have withdrawn to some extent from foreign reporting, unlikely players -- a website founded on amusing listicles and cat pictures; and the spawn of a snotty fashion mag -- are diving in.

Former AP Moscow correspondent Max Seddon was Buzzfeed's first hire foreign correspondent hire, a year ago, and his work at and around the MH17 crash site has been pungent and readable in a way you could never imagine him being as an AP correspondent. In particular, reading his tweets in real time has been quite a vivid experience:

Vice News's video reporting from the same place has also been notable. It upends the grammar and pacing of traditional TV news reporting in favour of a kind of first-person immersion in events.

It doesn't always work out. Both Vice and Buzzfeed have had reporters taken hostage by Ukrainain rebels. And back home, Buzzfeed has just been obliged to sack its hyper-ambitious "viral politics editor" Ben Johnson after it became clear he'd been committing plagiarism on a substantial scale. It might reasonably be observed that the line on plagiarism is not exactly clear at Buzzfeed, which has built its fame on "re-purposing"others' content.

But it's very definitely a thing. One of Reed's former students, Chris Hamby, caused quite a shock in announcing just after winning a Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories on chronic heath problems among miners that he was off to work for Buzzfeed. But it's not like he'd been working for a traditional media organisation when he won his Pulitzer. He'd been with a non-profit called the Centre for Public Integrity. Perhaps the real key here is that journalism's future might not necessarily be a job at The Daily Bugle.

And finally on the show, a great chat with film-maker David Blyth, who dropped Angel Mine on middle New Zealand 36 years and has taken his own path ever since. We recorded an extra 10 minutes for the Media Take website and even then David wasn't done. Here he is afterwards, holding court with a group of film students who'd been in the studio audience.

So, we have a really good show for you tonight, at 10pm (note the earlier time) on Maori Television. Tell your friends.

13

Friday Music: Why anyone does it in the first place

Florian Habicht’s Pulp film is warm, funny, satisfying and true. And its first few minutes are just brilliantly, awesomely exuberant. They're why people buy records and go to gigs and obsess over bands, and why people play in bands in the first place.

By the time we'd seen the whole film and had Jarvis Cocker himself join us by Skype for a Q&A afterwards, the audience for last night's first New Zealand screening of Pulp: A Film About Life, Death, And Supermarkets didn't so much leave by the exits as float out of them. This is a life-affirming film and you should try and see it at the Film Festival.

I knew a little of the territory, having seen Eve Wood's 2009 Sheffield music documentary The Beat is the Law, which you can watch online here. Sheffield people have an idea of themselves that is borne out in both films. They're funny buggers and it was a pleasure to meet them.

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I have previously mentioned here a forthcoming Shayne Carter "piano album", for which Shayne deliberately took himself out of his comfort zone by putting down the guitar and writing on the piano, an instrument he'd never played before. Well, it's still forthcoming, but near, and Shayne is doing a little crowdfunding to get him over the line with mixing, mastering and manufacturing. You can read more and make a contribution here. There's also a video ...

And there's that book of Chris Knox's art and graphics still being crowdfunded too. In that case, you can have the satisfaction of pre-ordering the product.

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You know there are ways in which a dreamy rap about getting it on with a Greek god could go wrong, but Coco Solid's new (here on iTunes) single 'Oh My Zeus' gets it really right. It's meta-clever and funky.

Bristol-based New Zealander Sammy Senior has posted this thumping ghetto funk take on The Fatback Band's 'I Found Lovin'':

A dazzling bit of Latin dancehall reggae from the Auckland-based Chilean vocalist Jah Red Lion, produced by New Zealand's Dub Terminator and released on the local label Soul Island.

You can buy the 100% Aotearoa-produced EP (which also includes the cracking 'Never Leave Me Alone') here on iTunes.

Also on out today and on iTunes‘This Love’, by Dave Dobbyn with the Orpheus Choir of Wellington, is a tribute to the Pike River 29. Not at all what I usually post here, but I'm a sucker for Dave's big, wide, essentially civic tunes. Is there an emotional equivalent to "public intellectual"? Poet, I guess:

Aaaand ... something comes out of that Lorde-and-Diplo partners-in-crime thing. A terrific remix of 'Tennis Court' that has "feelgood anthem" written all over it. Release or download please.

Artist of the week at TheAudience: Kaine Harrington, aka American French Fries, a solo project born in a bach. His guitar sounds sweet:

Thanks to Paddy Buckley for the tip on this post about Ibiza's Glitterbox club night (where the roster includes Hercules & Love Affair, Kenny Dope, Joey Negro, Late Nite Tuff Guy, David Morales, Todd Terry and Dimitri From Paris), which features a free download of Late Night Tuff Guy's disco-delightful 'Do You Wanna Get Down'.

And finally ... I'm not going to shit you, if the name Fonzi Thornton came up in a pub quiz, I'd be guessing. But he turns out to have an incredible career as the "vocal contractor" on a string of classic records from Chic's 'Good Times' to Roxy Music's Avalon to every gold or platinum album Luther Vandross ever made. My curiousity was triggered by this joyous rework posted this week by Yam Hoo?:

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The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by:

theaudience

95

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.

45

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.