Category: colonisation

How to complain about Heather du Plessis-Allan’s racist comments

Women's_Mau_leaders_and_committee_in_front_of_octagonal_Mau_office_ca_1930_-_AJ_TattersallSome leaders of the Mau, a non-violent movement for Samoan liberation from harsh colonial rule by New Zealand. The New Zealand police killed eleven protestors at a Mau demonstration in 1929. 

 

What were her racist comments?

Some items from Mediawatch (Radio NZ) about radio host Heather du Plessis-Allan’s racist comments:

Broadcaster stands by Pacific Islands “leeches” claim (16 Sep 2018)

Mediawatch Midweek: 12 September 2018 (12 Sep 2018)

Media go OTT on PM as RNZAF VIP (9 Sep 2018)

 

How to complain:

The official process to complain to the Broadcasting Standards Authority is here. You have to complain to Newstalk ZB first, and then they have to respond within 20 days. If you’re not happy with your response you can escalate it to the BSA.

You can complain to Newstalk ZB either on their website here, or by filling out this BSA form and posting it to Newstalk ZB.

Here are some tips from the BSA about effective complaints. I wish I’d read this before I submitted my complaint.

 

The details you’ll need:

1. Station name, programme name, date, and time.

It is important to get these details right. ZB are using imprecise details as an excuse not to respond to complaints.

The station name is Newstalk ZB. The programme name is Wellington Mornings with Heather du Plessis-Allan, and it’s on at 8:30am to 12 noon on weekdays.

My best guess for the date of the first programme is Monday 4 September (as Mediawatch says it was the same day Barbara Dreaver was detained). My best guess for the second programme where she doubled down on her comments was Tuesday 12 September, because Mediawatch talked today about “last Tuesday”, but if it was Tues 5 Sep they could have covered it last week. I have asked Mediawatch on Twitter for confirmation of these dates, or – even better – for the full audio.

 

2. Precise details of what was said.

I suggest getting this from listening to the excerpts on the Mediawatch episodes. If I get the full audio, I’ll post that here.

 

What your complaint needs to say:

Your complaint should explain why the broadcast breached at least one of the eleven standards listed in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. There are some tips here about what each standard pertains to.

 

An example you can use (my complaint):

I just wrote this off the top of my head, and I would probably write it differently if I had read all the tips before writing it.

Nonetheless, it’s an example, so it may save you some time. (If anyone else has any examples, please let me know.)

Anyone is welcome to copy this as they wish for their own complaint. I don’t mind if you adapt it or not. No need to ask for permission or to cite me.

 

Which standards do you think were breached?

Standard 1 – Good taste and decency
Standard 3 – Children’s Interests
Standard 5 – Law and Order
Standard 6 – Discrimination and Denigration
Standard 8 – Balance
Standard 9 – Accuracy
Standard 11 – Fairness

 

Why do you think the programme breached those standards?

Please note that my complaint is both about the original broadcast from Heather du Plessis-Allan and also about the following Tuesday’s broadcast where du Plessis-Allan defends and stands by her comments. I have attempted to distinguish the two broadcasts in my below comments where practical.

Standard 1 – Good taste and decency. “Current norms of good taste and decency should be maintained, consistent with the context of the programme and the wider context of the broadcast.” Heather du Plessis-Allan said that the Pacific Islands (referring to independent countries and territories of Aotearoa New Zealand) “don’t matter”, asking rhetorically “what are we going to get out of them”, with the implied answer from her following comments being that we get nothing, as “they are nothing but leeches on us”. She also made other insulting comments about certain societies and people in them, as outlined in more detail below. This type of insult to entire societies breaches current norms of decency, as demonstrated by the widespread worldwide outrage earlier this year at US President Donald Trump’s comments referring to countries as “shithole countries”. du Plessis-Allan used a synonym for “shithole countries”, namely “hellhole” for Nauru. She also made similarly insulting and sweeping claims, such as referring to these societies as “nothing but leeches on [NZ]”, referring to “welfare sponging” in relation to some NZ citizens’ rights to superannuation in NZ territories, and suggesting in the following Tuesday’s broadcast Niue does not contribute anything to its own upkeep but that New Zealand aid is “funding all of Niue”.

Standard 3 – Children’s Interests. “Broadcasters should ensure children can be protected from broadcasts which might adversely affect them.” Whilst in the following Tuesday’s broadcast, du Plessis-Allan suggested that her comments were about the countries and their leaders, rather than the individual people in Aotearoa or in the islands, she also referred to individual people, such as people who live in New Zealand and then move back to Niue or other NZ territories with pension portability. Other comments in the original broadcast seemed also to refer to people, such as talking of “leeches” which is an insult that is typically applied to people rather than countries. (Other comments were more clearly about countries, such as calling Nauru a “hellhole”.) It cannot be reasonably claimed that no Pasifika children listening to the broadcast would take du Plessis-Allan’s comments as insulting to them as people, by reducing them to “nothing but leeches” who offer no benefit to New Zealand. It cannot be reasonably denied that this “might [have] adversely affect[ed] them”.

Standard 5 – Law and Order. “Programmes should not actively promote serious antisocial or illegal behaviour, including violence, suicide, serious crime and substance abuse.” Whilst not included in the list of examples, racism and/or xenophobia towards Pasifika peoples is serious antisocial behaviour. The programme actively promoted resentment towards Pacific Island nations as being nothing but “leeches” who “do not matter”, except, apparently, insofar as we should be upset at funding them.

Standard 6 – Discrimination and Denigration. “Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.” “‘Discrimination’ is defined as encouraging the different treatment of the members of a particular section of the community, to their detriment. ‘Denigration’ is defined as devaluing the reputation of a particular section of the community.” du Plessis-Allan encouraged discrimination against a particular section of New Zealand citizens, namely Nieuan, Cook Island, and Tokelauan NZers who have moved from Aotearoa back to one of these three NZ territories. She opposes their right to receive NZ superannuation, whereas she does not oppose this right for other NZ citizens who also qualify for superannuation by living in New Zealand for the requisite number of years. du Plessis-Allan also encouraged, and indeed engaged in, denigration of a section of the NZ community (Pasifika people in NZ and its territories) and a section of the global community. She devalued the reputation of this section of the community by saying they do not matter, and that NZ does not get any benefit from them, because they are “nothing but leeches” on NZ.

Standard 8 – Balance. “When controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.” du Plessis-Allan brought into the public conversation a controversial issue of public importance, namely whether the Pacific Islands have any value or whether they are “nothing but leeches on us” that “do not matter”. While I have not listened to every Newstalk ZB broadcast since then to see what other views were aired, I am not aware of significant effort from Newstalk ZB to present other significant points of view on this issue of public importance.

Standard 9 – Accuracy. “Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming:
• is accurate in relation to all material points of fact
• does not mislead.” “The requirement for accuracy does not apply to statements which are clearly distinguishable as analysis, comment or opinion, rather than statements of fact.” du Plessis-Allan made factually inaccurate comments, such as that “the Pacific Islands are nothing but leeches on us” that New Zealand does not benefit from these nations (despite many economic and other benefits to New Zealand, according to various official reports and statistics), that Niue is entirely funded by New Zealand, and that Nauru is a “hellhole”. She also gave a misleading impression of the rights of people in NZ territories to receive NZ superannuation if they qualify for it by having lived in NZ for the requisite amount of years, by portraying this right as “welfare sponging” and as an unfair imposition on New Zealand, without clarifying that this is the same right as that enjoyed by other NZ citizens who qualify for superannuation. These comments could be construed as statements of analysis, comment or opinion (and therefore exempt from this standard), but in later broadcasts she insisted that the “hellhole” description of Nauru was “factually correct” (she used the purported factuality as a defence of her right to make the comments).

Standard 11 – Fairness. “Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in any broadcast.” “If a person or organisation referred to or portrayed in a broadcast might be adversely affected, that person or organisation should usually be given a fair and reasonable opportunity to comment for the programme, before the broadcast.” du Plessis-Allan did not deal fairly with the Pacific Island nations (both nation-states and territories of New Zealand), their governments, and their people, when referring to them as “leeches” and saying they “do not matter”, saying that Niue is entirely funded by New Zealand, and saying Nauru is a “hellhole”. I am not aware of Newstalk ZB giving these people and organisations “a fair and reasonable opportunity to comment for the programme”.

Killing civilians

APTOPIX Ukraine Plane Emergency workers carry the body of one of the people killed when Flight MH17 was shot down
military-kill-civiliansA Gallup poll, of Americans by religious affiliation, about whether it’s ever justified for “the military” to target and kill civilians
individuals-kill-civiliansThe same poll, posing the same question about individuals or small groups
gazadeaths
Israeli and Palestinian soldiers and civilians killed in the Gaza conflict, as at July 31
shrinking palestine Palestinian and Jewish/Israeli-controlled land since 1946
afghan-child-killed A 4-yr-old Afghan boy killed in January by US Marines, who said the weather was “dusty” and they assumed he was an enemy.

John Key and the New Zealand Parliament are right to condemn the killing of 298 civilians on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, and the impeding of investigations into it by Ukrainian separatists, and to express condolences to the victims’ families. Assuming it was a “tragic blunder,” it reminds us of the risks unrelated people are exposed to whenever anybody goes to war – a similar blunder was made by the US military in 1988, killing 290 civilians.

It’s a pity our government is not so decisive and unanimous in condemning the slaughter of civilians by our allies (or “very very good friends”).

The most obvious example at the moment is the Gaza conflict, in which over 1000 people (and counting) have died, mostly Palestinian civilians killed by our new allies, Israel. This is nothing new: since 2000, Israel have killed one Palestinian child every three days on average. The latest slaughter includes potential war crimes from Israel, such as deliberately targeting schools, hospitals, power plants and homes.

Here, Key has condemned the violence from both sides, pledged $250,000 humanitarian assistance for Gaza, called for a ceasefire and called the death toll “a blot on the world.” This is a good start, but his refusal to focus criticism on who’s doing most of the blotting (unlike Labour’s David Shearer or the Greens’ Kennedy Graham) makes his response ultimately inadequate.

Language like “Israel and Palestine have to learn to live side-by-side with each other” makes it sound like Israel and Palestine are two naughty kids who can’t stop fighting in the back seat of the car, rather than acknowledging that this is a situation of oppression and resistance (if that’s not clear to you, this video is a good, clear intro). Trying to be “balanced” or “neutral” on Israel/Palestine is exactly like being “balanced” on Australian colonial genocide or “neutral” between blacks and whites in apartheid South Africa. Israel bear the vast majority of responsibility for all those killed on both sides, because they’re in the position of the oppressor, coloniser and aggressor. Without acknowledging Israel’s occupation and domination of Palestine, we cannot understand the Israel-Palestine conflict, and without addressing it, we cannot genuinely hope for peace.

(Please note that I also oppose Hamas and Palestinian rocket attacks, for both ethical and tactical reasons. But it’s also vital to remember that in normal situations, people don’t elect governments like Hamas, or fire rockets at their neighbours. As Shearer, who worked for the UN in Israel, said: “It is not normal for 1.6 million Palestinians to be blockaded into a narrow strip of land, a situation that aptly fits its description as the largest prison camp in the world” and “These conditions will inevitably sow the seeds for further conflict if they’re not resolved.”)

Even worse is Key’s attitude to the killing of civilians by the United States, such as the hundreds of thousands (at least) killed by Bush’s war in Iraq, and the hundreds of children killed by Obama’s drone strikes. Even though Helen Clark ostensibly kept New Zealand out of the Iraq war, and drone strikes are contrary to international and NZ law, New Zealand assists with both of the above by providing intelligence gathered by the GCSB.

On this, we see nothing like the righteous indignation our Prime Minister expressed at the shooting down of Flight MH17, nor even the half-criticism of the Gaza slaughter. Key complained that we were “missing in action” in Iraq, has never bothered investigating whether drone strikes are compatible with international law (hint: they’re not), and is “totally comfortable” with GCSB data being used for drone attacks, even though they sometimes mistakenly kill the innocent, because they target “very bad people.”

If Key was “comfortable” with the killing of 298 people on Flight MH17, we would be appalled – we are rightly extremely uncomfortable with this act. We should be every bit as uncomfortable with the killing of civilians in “conventional” warfare by our powerful allies. In fact, we should be even more uncomfortable with the latter: as the Israel-Gaza example shows, our allies’ military superiority and position of dominance means they are able and willing to inflict far more damage on civilians, even if our media and politicians treat those people as less important.

Fabian Mika’s lawyer is (mostly) right

Fabian Mika’s lawyer is appealing Mika’s manslaughter sentence, suggesting his cultural background and upbringing should have be taken into account as a mitigating factor in sentencing.

It looks like this is being met with the predictable outrage when anyone notes there’s still ethnic inequality in NZ, coupled with the usual panic whenever someone suggests people’s lives are more complicated than just personal choice.

The judges are no doubt right to point out the logistical difficulties of the lawyer’s idea. Nonetheless, the lawyer’s argument touches on a serious problem with punishment/the ‘justice’ system in general: it only responds to individuals for their individual choices. But no individual choice happens in a vacuum.

The justice system doesn’t deal with the wider social determinants of individual choices. In many ways, it can’t: it falls outside of the justice system’s purview to deal with (for example) economic inequality, the chief cause of high violent crime rates.

But the ‘justice’ system should at least acknowledge that these social determinants are very much unequal from one person or group to another.

You can accurately predict from someone’s class, ethnicity, or family situation that they’re a lot more likely to end up in jail than I am. (Or more likely to have a partner or parent in prison). That’s not fair, and it’s not chosen.

Yes, convicted criminals have made choices, I’m not denying that. But the social determinants of crime and punishment are true too, and too often we deny that.

One of the first lessons you learn studying criminology is that if you’re disadvantaged in society in general, you’re also disadvantaged at every stage of the crime and punishment process:
– examples of crime vs. other examples
– opportunities for crime vs. other opportunities
– likelihood of being in extreme need
– laws and definitions of crimes
– types of crimes you’re likely to commit
– likelihood of being suspected/pursued by police
– likelihood of being caught
– access to good legal help
– likelihood of being convicted
– harshness of sentencing for your crime
– your specific sentencing
– how you’re treated by society after your punishment

So I definitely think someone’s experiences and social position should be considered among the mitigating/aggravating factors in sentencing. But that only deals with the tip of the iceberg of the problem: socio-economic inequality leading to manifold inequalities in crime and punishment.

One step closer to a two-state solution

Everybody knows that a two-state solution is the best way forward for Israel and Palestine; that’s why even the US pays lip service to it.  But in practice of course they and Israel are committed to gradually colonising, blockading and bombing Palestine out of existence.

So it’s great news that the UN has voted overwhelmingly in favour of upgrading Palestine from “non-member observer entity” to “non-member observer state” (like the Vatican).  It’s a small victory but it’s a step in the right direction for the legitimacy of the Palestinian nation, the two-state solution and – hopefully, eventually, maybe – peace.

Congratulations to Murray McCully for the pleasant surprise of putting New Zealand’s vote in favour of the resolution, rather than opposing like the US, Canada and of course Israel, or abstaining like the UK and Australia.

Let them eat liver, or: It’s the inequality, stupid, or: A short note on poverty not existing

When I wrote my last blog on child poverty, I was planning to follow it up with a critique of ousted ACT leader Rodney Hide’s Herald column where he made the bold claim that there is no child poverty in New Zealand.

I was going to make all sorts of jolly yet incisive points about how I’m actually quite fond of Rodney (something I can’t say about more recent ACT leaders), but that he’s revealed an embarrassingly out-of-touch and simplistic understanding of poverty as a mere lack of money (“All kids are poor. Children typically don’t own much beyond a few toys”, “Poverty can’t be the cause … Liver … costs 70c a serve”).

I was going to point out that not everyone has grown up in the Protestant-work-ethic-Northern-European-stockpiling-rationalising-individualising tradition that he and I have, but that the economic system that’s been imposed here is set up to favour people with these values and shaft everyone (and everything) else.

I was even going to say that, despite all that, I’m considering trying out his suggestion of boiling up bones and getting a stew going for my lunches.  Anyway, I didn’t get around to writing this blog, and now Hide’s “let them eat liver” column is old news.

Still, I think it’s worthwhile to address the most important point – the idea that poverty in New Zealand is ‘only’ ‘relative’ poverty and therefore isn’t ‘real’ poverty.  Hide points to one common measure of poverty: living on less than 60% of the median wage.  In Hide’s mind, all child poverty statistics can be summarily ignored, because this measure doesn’t measure what (supposedly) really matters: how much money the country has overall.

I suppose this poo-pooing of statistics is what enables Hide to state with a straight face that it’s the welfare state’s fault that kids go hungry, despite the fact that the child poverty figures began to skyrocket precisely when his friend Roger Douglas began to roll back the welfare state in the 1980s.

But this idea isn’t just touted by extremists living in a libertarian fantasy world; deputy prime minister Bill English used this very notion as an excuse to dismiss the Child Poverty Expert Advisory Group’s recommendation to set child poverty reduction targets, claiming that “such a relative poverty measure made no sense as it did not show how rich or poor people were in absolute terms”.

But hold on a second.  Even if we go along with Hide and English and ignore the Advisory Group’s other poverty measures such as material deprivation or access to GDP growth, there’s something pretty fishy about such an easy dismissal of relative poverty, a.k.a. inequality.

This ignores a whole host of research showing that ‘relative’ inequality absolutely does matter.  The book The Spirit Level compiles some of this research to show that unequal societies with high ‘relative poverty’ like New Zealand have significantly worse statistics for life expectancy, literacy and numeracy, infant mortality, homicide, imprisonment, teenage births, obesity, mental illness and social mobility than more equal societies – across the whole society, not just for the ‘relatively’ poor.  Even though inequality or relative poverty is relative, it causes real, solid, objective, material, absolute damage.

The truth is that we’re relational beings, so it shouldn’t be surprising that how we’re doing relative to each other affects us – but neo-liberals indoctrinated into the “no such thing as society” philosophy seem to forget this.

Hide and English assume that what really matters is the ‘absolute’ matter of how much money people have.  But since when was money ‘absolute’?  Money only has meaning insofar as we give it meaning to represent the value of goods and services, and to say that this person can access this much goods and services, while that person can only access that much.  In other words, it’s only meaningful as a relative measure; relative to real stuff and real power in the real world, and relative to how much stuff and power others have.

So, when Rodney Hide licks his lips about a “windfall that doubled all incomes” but “wouldn’t budge the child “poverty” figure”, that’s exactly the point.  Doubling all incomes wouldn’t change what those incomes are relative to; it wouldn’t create any more resources.  Inflation would soon ensure that each dollar was only worth half as much, so nothing would have changed at all.  Poverty and affluence would be exactly the same as before.

Of course, if this ‘windfall’ was localised in New Zealand, it would give us relatively more access to resources than other countries; and that’s what National mouthpiece David Farrar, who endorsed Hide’s column, says we should be aiming for: “In these times of huge global economic uncertainty, the focus needs to be on economic growth, not [equality, which Farrar conflates with] increasing tax and welfare.”

But The Spirit Level shows that internal economic equality is far more important than economic growth for improving conditions in developed societies.  Perhaps it’s because we care more about how we’re doing relative to people around us than about being even more relatively rich on a global scale than we already are.

So the fatal flaw of this spurious neo-liberal argument is that it absolutises the relative; money, while relativising the absolute; inequality.

Bill English and his government are repeating this error with devastating consequences by calling the real suffering of real children ‘merely relative’ while treating economic growth as the absolute to which all else must be sacrificed (and it isn’t even working).