Speaker by Various Artists


Broadcasting and the Public Interest

by Dylan Reeve

Recently I got involved in a Twitter discussion about public broadcasting and the future of TVNZ. It was precipitated by Gareth Morgan’s recent announcement that his new political party, The Opportunities Party, would sell off TVNZ and invest the money in public interest broadcasting:

TOP will sell TVNZ (which is now a commercial operation) and use the proceeds to set up a Public Journalism Fund as part of NZ on Air. The existing Platinum Fund money will be folded into this. RNZ will be able to compete for this funding alongside other platforms.

– The Opportunities Party Platform

I think this is the wrong approach and one that is ultimately counter-productive. Attempting to have this discussion online in snippets of less than 140-characters wasn’t helpful, so I’ll try to elaborate here. I am not a politician. I have no special insight into the nature of broadcasting. I understand technically how TV is made, and I think I have a reasonably good understanding of the business of TV and also, to some extent, the way we consume TV.

What is TVNZ currently?

It’s often pointed out, whenever discussing the potential for selling TVNZ, that it really is nothing but a commercial broadcaster. It’s basically a more successful Mediaworks (but without all the radio stations). It spends money on making and acquiring TV shows, and earns money from advertisers. It returns the money it makes to its shareholder, the government, in the form of a dividend.

So then, if it’s no different than TV3 (sorry, +HR=E) why should the government own it? That’s a very reasonable point – while it operates in that way there really is no compelling reason for it to be in public ownership.

But, the main thing that’s perhaps overlooked is that this doesn’t have to be how TVNZ operates. While it’s publicly owned its mission can be changed. It responds to the instructions issued to it by the government.

What did TVNZ use to be?

TVNZ has moved through many incarnations, but for the last 30+ years it’s been largely a commercial-ish operation. Playing commercials to generate revenue. What has varied most is how the company has been tasked with delivering a public good to its audience.

During the 1980s and 1990s TVNZ found itself becoming increasingly profit-focused. That was a deviation from its early years as a purely public broadcaster modelled in part on the BBC. Then in 2003, after substantial movement toward broadcasting reform, the Labour government gave TVNZ a Charter which established the broadcaster’s role in addressing the public good. TVNZ was still commercial but now had clear public service objectives and obligations.

How well the Charter worked can be debated, but it generally struck a reasonable balance between commercial operations and public service objectives.

Ahead of the 2008 election the National Party made it policy to remove the Charter. National won the election and the Charter was finally abolished in 2011. Since then TVNZ has been a purely commercial broadcaster with no obligation to the public good at all. All programming decisions are ultimately profit-based.

What do we want?

The biggest problem with trying to determine how best to deliver public service broadcasting is deciding exactly what that is.

The policy documents from The Opportunities Party are focused purely on journalism. To me this seems like a narrow-minded view of the ways in which a public service broadcaster can serve the public.

Beyond simply informing the public there is also benefit in entertaining the public. Currently NZ On Air does an admirable job of this, and once TVNZ was returned to its commercial operation its $15 million in Charter funding went to NZ On Air, which mae it available to all broadcasters in the hope of reaching the widest audiences. But ultimately, as broadcasters are almost universally commercial (Maori TV is the exception), there are commercial realities that mean certain types of programming simply don’t get made.

My view is that TVNZ should be used in its current form to provide a platform for content that might not always be commercially attractive. But beyond that I think it should be expanded to also address purely public service interests. To deliver programming without any regard to traditional commercial metrics.

So, what to do?

I have a pretty simple (I think) plan for what I would do if I were suddenly in charge.

TVNZ would return to something closer to it’s pre-2008 model. TVNZ 1 and TVNZ 2 should remain as commercial channels, competing head-on with Mediaworks and others for advertiser money. However, Charter-style public service considerations should be reintroduced with a certain amount of airtime devoted to meeting public interest needs, even if that means not returning the highest potential profit. This serves to put quality public interest programming on the platform where it’s most likely to attract an audience.

Additionally, one or more purely public interest channels should be established. This is basically what we used to have with TVNZ 6 and TVNZ 7. Channels where the objectives are different. Where programming can be more niche and specialist. Where there are no concerns about advertiser conflicts of interest or commercial ratings.

I would have TVNZ stop returning a dividend to the government. Instead all commercial profits would be used to fund the public interest operations.

Could the operating profits of TVNZ cover the cost of public interest broadcasting? Probably, but if not I have another step to my plan …

Public service broadcasting would be funded by all commercial broadcasters. Mediaworks, NZME, Sky and others would all be charged some form of license fee or operational levy for the right to broadcast commercially in NZ. That revenue would form a fund for all public broadcasting: Radio NZ, TVNZ’s public service operations and Maori TV.

Why not sell and restart?

Some people suggest that we should sell TVNZ and use the profit to start afresh with a new public service broadcaster, or expand Maori TV to have a wider remit in its public interest broadcasting.

This would definitely be an option, but it seems to me that it’s squandering a lot of resources for no good reason.

TVNZ isn’t a commercial broadcaster by nature, it’s a commercial broadcaster by instruction. It’s what the government has told it to be. It can be told differently by the government. If we sell TVNZ then we lose that ability – it no longer takes instruction.

Letting go of TVNZ isn’t just selling buildings and equipment (although there’s a LOT of equipment) – it’s selling market share. TVNZ’s two main channels regularly command more than 50% of the viewing audience between them – often even more! Starting a new channel means starting with no audience.

Maori TV has been broadcasting for 13 years, and while it has a specific focus on te reo, it’s also a general public service broadcaster. It currently commands a minuscule audience when compared to its commercial rivals. Similarly, TVNZ’s non-commercial channels TVNZ 6 and TVNZ 7 never managed to attract significantly large audiences.

If part of the goal of public service broadcasting is to reach a wide audience then it makes sense to go where that audience is – and luckily for us, we already own the channels that attract the biggest audiences!

A word about populism

People often deride commercial TV as populist.

I don’t think that’s a problem. Public interest broadcasting doesn’t have to be unpopular or exclusive. It can be many things, including popular.

Often when we have these discussions people think only in terms of investigative journalism (this seems to be the case with Gareth Morgan) or academic documentaries. But public service broadcasting is more than that. It’s seeing ourselves and our culture reflected on screen – this has been NZ On Air’s objective, and with opportunities to do the same thing but without commercial pressures we can deliver even more of that.

Look overseas to the BBC, PBS and Australia’s ABC. Their programming runs the gamut from wildly popular pulpy entertainment (Top Gear) to “important” journalism and documentary. The same should be the case here.

Public broadcasting is more than just investigative journalism and stuffy documentaries. But we still need a home for that too!

Dylan Reeve is a television editor and post-production supervisor – and the co-director of the feature documentary Tickled. He blogs about various things at Edit Geek and Also Dylan.


Ann's story: helping doctors understand medical cannabis

by Veronica Stevenson

The author of this post, Veronica Stevenson, is a filmmaker who has launched a PledgeMe crowdfunding project with Victoria Catherwood to make an educational documentary to raise awareness about medical cannabis among doctors. Victoria explains her goals and motivations in this video.

After seeing the media around the crowdfunding campaign,  the woman referred to by Victoria as "someone close to me" has stepped forward. She has asked to be called Ann. Veronica tells her story in this post.


Ann has battled with cancer for 8 years.

"I don’t know where the disease came from, I never smoked. I’d had regular mammograms all along."

One day Ann felt a lump in her breast.

"It was painful, and I heard breast cancer lumps weren’t painful and so I dismissed it. Tried to ignore it, thought it was something to do with menopause. Then I needed a mastectomy."

After nearly four years without sign of a single cell, suddenly it was back. A scan showed her lungs contained an estimated 48 tumors.

"When I found out, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather. I got an oncologist appointment immediately and he said there’s nothing out there to treat it. Just lead your life the best way you can. It might be six, it might be 12 months."

It’s true, treatment for this type of cancer (adenoid cystic carcinoma) is particularly difficult – its resistance to radiation is well-known. Still, she tried but eventually, "I said look this isn’t working – they’re not getting smaller."

The last four years have been spent in pursuit for pain relief and quality of life. This pursuit has taken much from her.

"I’ve lost 30kg since it came back, 20kg in the last year." At one point Ann was losing 5kg a month. "It has only stabilised now with cannabis increasing my appetite."

The pain of 48 tumors sounds terrifying. At the beginning, the only relief in the face of all that pain was morphine. But its side effects were such that Ann was forced to give up her career – one that had spanned forty years as a public health worker.

After the nightmare of morphine they switched her to OxyContin, an opioid pain medication with a bad reputation. That didn’t deter an increasingly desperate Ann.

"I looked up the side effects, heard it was hillbilly heroin and it was highly addictive. I didn’t care. But one afternoon I tried to reduce the dose and the pain came back."

That was four months ago. Since then Ann has found "green fairies in my garden" – the first of the code used around the subject of her medicinal cannabis.

"I admit that when the idea of vaping cannabis was proposed I did poo-poo it. I only knew what it smelled like because a roommate at university used to smoke it."

Now, Ann is a cannabis convert and joyfully shares the benefits with me.

"When I vape I can breathe better, belly breathe, and my chest is less tight."

She goes on to say with effortless lingo "If I vape bud I can decrease my taking of the OxyContin by 40mg and now, four months later, I average 120mg a day, when before I was taking 160mg."*

This reduction was cause for special celebration because "OxyContin really affected my mood, I would get super fatigued and tired."

With her faculties clear of high doses of opiates Ann finally feels stable, and for the first time in a long time, a little more social. This is where the downside to taking cannabis comes in.

"With vaping I can function – hold a decent conversation, but I can’t leave the city. It liberates me from side effects and pain and improves quality of life but restricts me as to where I go."

Ann’s concerns about travel are well founded.

"The density of the breast prosthesis is clay-like and I think it triggers them (airport security). I was going to pull it out and put it through the scanner I get so sick of it."

Knowing she is already a subject of scrutiny, Ann is reluctant to travel anywhere, even within New Zealand. Even if she could fly somewhere, there is the issue of getting access to cannabis in this new location.

"I can’t (go away) because I don’t know if I’ll be able to get a supply and don’t want to put people at risk."

She remains socially isolated because of cannabis’s illegal status as a medicine. 

Risking it all for Ann

Victoria, a fifth year medical student has already put herself at risk by educating Ann about cannabis use and publicly insisting the education among Doctors is insufficient. I asked her why she did it.

"The pivotal moment for speaking out was a call from a Dr Gilly Newton Howes in a New Zealand Medical Journal article last year, where she said 'This is a public debate the medical profession needs to be actively engaged in, bearing in mind the role of medicine in the public arena'. This was a green light in my mind."

Victoria has also had many "secret conversations" with surgeons, practicing pain specialists and GPs, who are all encouraging her.

Victoria, in true Doctor-to-be style feels that ‘the most important thing is to be able to educate and inform a patient of their options and the best way to administer that option. Ihere’s no information about what type of bud, what’s best to take for what illnesses. You see the cannabis shops overseas who have experts, but when I started I knew nothing. I’ve self-educated a lot. I’ve watched Weediquette on VICE  and there was that NZ guy (John Lord) who grows it in Colorado. He was a dairy farmer in Waikato and now has a big business in the states growing cannabis!"

Ann’s story is full of pain but she considers herself one of the lucky ones. "I feel so sorry for the people who don’t know about cannabis or can’t get it. Because the cancer doctors aren’t recommending it … It’s unfortunate because there’s probably people I know that want to take it. But because it's illegal I can’t talk about and neither can they.

"So, we just don’t know."

It’s stories like this one that started Victoria and myself along this path to educate doctors about medical cannabis. Please help us create an educational resource so patients like Ann don’t have to wait four long years for the green fairy to finally show up.


*There is a scientific basis for Ann's OxyContin reduction, outlined in this journal article. The reduction of OxyContin doses is possible because:

It is known that CBD and THC inhibit the enzyme cytochrome P450 which is responsible for breaking down drugs in her liver.

This means it can increase the efficacy of OxyContin by increasing its lifespan in the body.


2017: My mother and her hundred year old tree.

by Hilary Stace

My mother Jeanette was probably crafting haiku when the stroke caught up with her. My daughter and I found her a few hours later lying on the floor beside her chair. A gold-covered notebook with her poetry jottings was beside her. It was open at a page about aeroplanes and airports.

at the airport

not sure which hair colour

to watch for


the plane airborne

its shadow


She was alive, but barely, and could no longer speak or walk. She was 89 and up until that day was intellectually vibrant and fiercely independent. She gave us time to say goodbye and died quietly a couple of weeks later in the local hospice. Each time the cherry tree outside her house spreads its cooling blooms across the road another year is marked since she died. Ten now. I am living in that house surrounded by many of her books and plants. My parents smile at me from a photo propped on a book shelf.

Soon after her death a box arrived from Japan. It contained 24 plastic bottles of green tea and among the Japanese writing on the labels was her haiku in English.

in the park

looking up at the tree

the same age as me

Jeanette had won an international haiku competition sponsored by a Japanese green tea company. Had she told us? Possibly, but we hadn’t heard. Because we her children never really respected her poetry writing. Perhaps because parents are always slightly embarrassing to their children. Perhaps we thought of it as just a hobby, one of her many interests, and the Poetry Society merely one of her clubs.

She had a full set of Landfall in the spare bedroom, earthquake-safe on their shelves behind rubber cords, and was occasionally published in it. Since 1939 her work appeared in numerous publications and I remember at school acting in one of her plays for children from the School Journal.

After we all left home she started squeezing in time and space for herself. She discovered a flair for haiku. The way you could get a pithy observation of the world into a few syllables suited her busy, minimalist style. When computers came along and then the internet (slow dial up) she was an early adopter. Each morning the haiku group – kindred souls from around New Zealand and possibly elsewhere – chimed in via email to critique and sometimes savage each other’s sparse words.

Her output grew with poems about family, gardening, current events, growing old and death common themes. Haiku were frequent but also the longer form tanka and other poetry styles.

Grandson’s visit

We compare notes

On his parents


the twin towers burn

on this spring day

I plant tomatoes

Dying Plant

Death begins at the leaf’s tip.

Strange that from the outermost part

the slow withdrawal, the creeping retreat

of life should start.

I had always thought

that death starts in the heart.

She also wrote many loving and observant poems about her grandchildren, including a stillborn baby: hidden, unacknowledged pain.

A fellow haiku enthusiast from Katikati in the Bay of Plenty provided the impetus for the development of a haiku pathway in a public park in the town as a millennium project. Boulders inscribed with poems line peaceful paths under trees. The pathway opened in 2000 and my parents endured a long bus trip to the event as by then neither of them felt capable of driving long distances. Why didn’t one of her many adult children drive them? – I don’t know. Eight years later I finally went to see it for myself. Her rock was positioned beside a seat and read

one at each end

of the park bench

a man                a woman

We don’t talk about emotions much in my family but as my father Nigel’s health deteriorated she wrote:


Nigel is dying

I am trimming the dead fronds

From the maiden hair fern


Now I will rake up

the fallen leaves

in the front driveway


Nigel is lying on the bed

his breathing is difficult

the leaves are blowing away

He died in 2001, more than 61 years since they married. Then they had been fresh graduates from Canterbury University, starting a new life together in Wellington in the early and uncertain days of an overseas war which New Zealand had joined.

My mother was lucky in that as an intelligent young woman in the 1930s she had the opportunity to have an education. At university in Christchurch she was taught by Karl Popper in his brief, unhappy sojourn in New Zealand, and academics including I.L.G. Sutherland who had started questioning white New Zealand’s relations with its indigenous population.

Her new ideas sometimes perplexed her conservative middle class family and her husband, whom she met in the university’s journalism class. He was the editor of student magazine Canta. Although he had directed to study engineering by his father his work would always be with words – for many years he published journals about engineering. They both travelled to World Power (later called Energy) conferences which were often held in cities behind the Iron Curtain. Travelling provided good material.

crossing the date line

back to yesterday

not even a jolt

Second wave feminism in the 1960s hit when Jeanette’s youngest children were still at home. She returned to university for a Masters degree in Sociology followed by employment with the Society for Research on Women. She enjoyed New Zealand’s centennial of women’s suffrage in 1993. A hundred years earlier some of her Canterbury relations had disapproved of that scandalous Kate Sheppard and the Christchurch suffrage activists.

My Suffrage Year Poem

I’ve loved every minute

of suffrage year,

the meetings, the medals,

all those bits on the air


All those wonderful women,

not just Ada and Kate,

who kept themselves busy

getting men in a state


Can’t wait for another

great suffrage book.

A small bit of funding

was all that it took.


You can dig out great grandma

if you’d like to know

if she signed the petition;

they’ve got the records on show.


All the money, the grants;

in a flash the time’s gone.

Is one year enough?

It could go on and on.


So all you men

you can come out from cover.

Alas – suffrage year

is now nearly over.


My one great regret

that I won’t ever see

what they’ll dream up next time

in twenty nine three.

Jeanette and her sisters grew up in a house with a maid and a picture of conservative Prime Minister William Massey on the wall. Over her lifetime her politics veered more and more to the left. I don’t know when she penned this prescient little poem.


Thanks to the people’s party

I got my start

now I’ve made my pile

our ways must part

She was also a long time peace activist and member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

peace group meeting

the two of them

still sniping

Although we didn’t appreciate her talent, my friend Jane did. Jane offered to be her literary executor, to which Jeanette agreed. The Japanese green tea competition success finally inspired the family and Jane agreed to select some of her best for a posthumous collection we would call Green Tea, after the surprise bottles. We found poems – haiku, tanka and longer poems ‒ in ring binders and on hard and floppy disks and on pieces of paper, often numerous versions. How to tell which were works in progress and which the final form? Somehow Jane managed. Then we siblings squabbled about what to put in or leave out. I was keen to include one inspired by a last road trip with Jeanette to a café near the Manawatu Gorge.

outdoor café

a leaf

in her latté

So we collectively produced a nice little book of poems, Green Tea. Jane says they are popular with students at her high school who need poems for school requirements – short, accessible, often humorous. The profits from the small print run added to a little prize in Jeanette’s name for the NZ Poetry Society.

So, finally, we appreciated her talent and the thoughts she left us with. Her words often accompany me when travelling.

checking the map

the road disappears

into a fold


ferry terminal

slowly the wharf

starts to move


in the sounds

imagining Captain Cook

around the next point

My mother never made a fuss about much but she was proud of her famous cousin W.D. (Bill) Hamilton, who was an Oxford evolutionary biologist. His mother Bettina, my mother’s aunt, was a friend of Landfall founder Charles Brasch and the older man acted as a mentor for Bill although they were usually in different countries. A 450-page biography of Bill was published in 2013 by a Swedish Sociologist from Chicago; she stayed with my mother during her research. Several years earlier my mother wrote a poem about her famous cousin which succinctly summarises this large book.


my famous cousin insect man Bill Hamilton

enthralled by them all thrips lice aphids parasites

and all the social insects bees wasps termites ants

everywhere he finds his treasures with their secrets

under rotting bark in childhood Kent in Brazil

longs for a weta to be sent from New Zealand

offers a twist to Darwin not just the fittest

what about altruism some insects may die

let close kin reproduce their DNA survive

the questions come quicker than the time for answers

late recognition for the unpretentious man

sometimes forgets to give his once-a-year lecture

in Africa to search out source of HIV

is dead in a few weeks killed by a parasite

As her generation slowly passed on poems about dying and death increased.

they discuss options

cancer stroke heart attack

and all the rest

they laugh as if

they are given a choice

Being a prepared woman, she had also written her own eulogy. In it she considered the word ‘numinous’ and marvelled at life, although she was not sure what tense she would be in at the time of reading. That became my job at the funeral, at which we also handed out little paper haiku to those who attended. I also read out her poem:


It occurs to me

that growing older

has much in common

with the state of pregnancy.

Somewhere ahead

something is about to happen

it is not yet revealed

exactly what we can expect.


With no turning back

from the way we are set upon

no way will it not happen

only in time will we know.

One January evening a couple of years ago, my daughter and I were walking in the Wellington Botanic Gardens, which has a popular summer concert series and light installation. We admired an enormous Puriri tree underlit by a gold spotlight. Sitting on the circular seat at the base of the trunk we looked up at a huge complex of golden furry boughs. Then we noticed a plaque recording that the tree was planted on Arbor Day 1917. Jeanette was born in March 1917, and often visited these gardens.

We had found the tree which inspired the Green Tea win and consequently the book, and her family’s belated respect. The tree’s vastness would have challenged her, as in her 80s she told my daughter she thought of herself as about 27 – certainly not as aged as a majestic tree.

This year, 2017, the anniversary of her birth, the summer lights are on again at the Wellington Gardens. This time the 100 year old Puriri is underlit with a flattering pink glow.

Now we too sit on this circular seat, contemplate the magnificent spreading boughs nurturing numerous epiphytic plants, and remember her. And realise at last how profound was her influence on her family’s culture and values.


Shenzen's hire-bike explosion

by Paul Campbell

Shenzhen is a city with about twice the population of New Zealand. Forty years ago it virtually didn't exist.

Back then, it was a market town of 30,000 on China's border with Hong Kong. Now, it's new, it's growing fast and – with its authorities worried about pollution and infrastructure – it's opening a new subway line or two every year. Electric vehicles are everywhere, buses, taxis (petrol-powered taxi rides pay an extra tax), the ubiquitous blue electric cargo trikes.

Most importantly, the city banned two-stroke motorbikes and scooters, replacing them with electric bikes and scooters, everywhere. At night time you continually have to dodge the scooters coming up behind you silently without lights (more range).

Shenzhen is where a large chunk of the world's electronics comes from. Chances are, you have something that was made here, especially if you bought it cheap on AliExpress or eBay

People flock here from all over the world to build electronics - if you win a Kickstarter, try to raise $10k, and instead raise $10m, and have that "oh shit! what do I do now?" moment, you move to Shenzhen. There's a Kiwi bar, CraftHead, where the hipster hardware hackers hang out, started by a couple of kiwis from Timaru and Dunedin. The house beer, Kia Kaha, is brewed with hops imported from back home.

So what's the latest biggest hi-tech thing in Shenzhen – in fact in China –this month? Bikes! Or rather a sort of cross between Uber and Amsterdam's yellow bikes.

When I was here two months ago short term rental bikes were starting to show up on the streets, with just one or two companies renting them. Now, there are almost 10 different sorts, each with its own distinctive colour. Here's a random pic from the street outside my hotel this morning:

I think I counted five different company's bikes in that lineup – from the front Ofo (yellow), Mobike (orange/silver), Bluegogo (blue), XiaoMing (light blue). Amid the crowd of companies competing to own this business the clear leaders at this point seem to be Mobike and Ofo.

The best part is that people are using them, lots and lots of them, everywhere, all over China

So how does it work? Let's take Mobike. You start by downloading their app (everyone here in China has a smartphone, forget about ATM cards, you pay at the store by having the cashier scan a QR code in WeChat), and pay a one time 300 kwai (~$60) deposit. The original Mobike (see the pic above) with the distinctive orange spokes, can be rented for one kwai for half an hour (~20c).

Mobikes have a GPS and a cellphone transceiver, both powered by a generator in the wheel hub. The app will help you find a bike – you can even reserve it for a short while. When you arrive at the bike, you scan its QR code, unlocks it (using Bluetooth) and off you go. When you're done, park the bike legally on the footpath, pull the lock on the bike, and walk away. 

Mobike have sort of gamified the app: you get points for renting a bike, for signing up friends and for reporting broken bikes – and you lose points for forgetting to lock it or for leaving it somewhere not in a public space. (You even lose a whole lot of points for "abandoning the bike while being chased by the police"!) The app will also measure how far you've biked, how many calories you've burned, even show you (creepily) GPS tracks of where you've biked in the past.

The next biggest competitor is Ofo, which has a much more lo-tech solution. There are no electronics in the bike itsef and when you rent it, the app simply tells you the number of the bike's combination lock. Kids seem to prefer these, they're cheaper, only 100 kwai deposit ($20) and 0.5 kwai per half hour (10c).

Mobike has responded with MobikeLite, which also costs 0.5 kwai per half hour to hire. It's not quite as distinctive as the signature bike, but more practical. It has a carrier basket and instead of an inhub charger the electronics are powered from solar cells in the bottom of the basket. Finally, they have non-pneumatic tires (look at all the holes in tires the second picture above).

When I walked back to my hotel this evening, maybe two thirds of the bikes being ridden were rentals. So far they've only been released in the big Chinese cities, but even that that means that someone, somewhere can make tens of millions of cheap bikes suddenly on demand.

There are some downsides. Signs are popping up telling people where they can't park their bikes. And out the back of Huaqiangbei, the giant electronics market a few blocks from here, a giant tangle of bikes seems to form every day. Vendors with street-facing storefronts are simply pushing them into the street out of frustration. There are reports of competitors locking up or vandalising each others bikes.

China has some things going for it that make this work: dense cities, a multi-generational bike culture - a generation and a bit ago there were only bikes – and very low public vandalism. In cities like Shenzhen there's a large itinerant labour force, many of who may go home to their rural village for New Year and go try their luck somewhere else next year. The cost of owning a bike and getting it on the train would be too much for them.

Would it would work in, say, Auckland? I don't know. The sprawl works against it and the dearth of public places to actually leave a bike probably makes it way too inconvenient. But these same Chinese companies are already planning on doing NY, LA and San Francisco.

Oh, and breaking news, just sighted yesterday: the first electric bikes for hire – and the first electric car . I don't really understand how they get charged ...


Fleeing Syria for the sweatshops of the West

by Clinton Logan

In a subterranean room Yassin upends a 15 litre tin and pours a viscous stream of industrial adhesive into an open container. He is a Syrian refugee in Istanbul. This is his work.

As toxic fumes permeate the cold hue of the airless space, a group of young men crouch on undersized stools, stitching and stapling soles onto leather uppers. There's no natural light, ventilation, or protective clothing. The atmosphere is thick with carcinogens.

Number 3A looks like the hundreds of other entrances that flank the backstreets of Istanbul. A rough hand-painted profile of a woman's boot adorns the wall, street code for the operation that exists inside.

I've been here for 20 minutes now, bonding with the workers, joking about, getting them relaxed enough to start shooting their portraits.

My head pulses as toluene displaces the oxygen in my lungs. As the chemical rockets into my nervous system, a feeling of intoxication and lightheadedness creep in. Right now I'm struggling to set the ISO on my camera, a simple action I've performed a million times before without difficulty.

There's a feeling of dazed disinhibition within the factory. It doesn't take much to launch the group into collective fits of laughter.

It's clear we're all completely high on glue.

The men are all Syrian refugees who've been forced to flee the complete destruction of their country. Undocumented workers that toil away for 60 hours a week, earning $3 an hour making footwear destined for western cupboards. It's tedious work often leaving them with back problems, hand numbness, eye strain, and rashes from harsh chemicals that sit about in open containers.

Turkey has admitted more than 2.7 million refugees since the start of the Syrian civil war. Most consider themselves lucky to be alive, but it's come at a cost. The fact that they are unable to officially register for work has made them vulnerable to abuse. The denial of basic human rights within Turkey's mostly unregulated textile industry is rampant.

Emilio, the foreman, considers he's doing them a favour. If it wasn't for him, they'd be in the streets without food or money. But his complete lack of concern for their physical well-being is difficult to witness. Safety standards are non-existent.

Even more disturbing are the massive numbers of children that are entangled in this invisible industry. Unicef claims more than a million of Turkey’s registered refugees are school-age kids working in conditions like this or worse. Their age makes them especially vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. The psychological, cognitive, and physical harm done to these children — many of whom have spent five years out of school — is now considered irreversible.

A whole generation has been lost to this civil war, and the impact to humanity is incalculable. Steve Jobs was the biological son of a Syrian immigrant. How many other potential Jobses are now trapped in these factories destined to spray-bleach jeans for a living?

Sweatshops like the factory at 3A are usually associated with Asian countries, and many consumers buy European products under the assumption they've been produced in worker-friendly environments.

But a loophole in EU regulations allows manufacturers to cut parts in their home country, export them for low-wage assembly, and reimport as completed products. The finished articles can then be labelled as being made in the originating country. Items that are "Italian" or "German", along with their higher price tags, don't necessarily come from ethical supply chains.

Tragically, the problem is systemic and extends way beyond footwear. From bananas to inflatable lawn Santas to mobile phones, modern consumerism relies on a marginalised group of humans getting totally screwed over for our retail gratification.

During my time in Istanbul I continued to visit the sweatshop and say hi to Allbalo and the rest of the gang. Even though our spoken communication was limited, we quickly became friends. They loved their portraits and seemed genuinely happy someone was taking an interest in their plight. They know they're being exploited, but they're also painfully aware there's nothing left in Aleppo to return to. At this point they're trapped in a hellish no man's land without a means to escape.

I know this post does little to help their situation, but we all have a collective responsibility to apply greater scrutiny to the systems that enable the exploitation of fellow humans. Companies need to adopt open and transparent supply chains, and people need to become more aware of the social and environmental cost of their rabid consumption habit.

We need less product and more empathy in this world.