Stephen Joyce – “Yes minister, your F grade IS well-deserved.”

March 10, 2010

There’s a not-so-subtle form of political agitation that Government ministers employ when they want to stir the pot and push through some ill-conceived short-term policy change that will save them money and make them look good to some sections of the electorate.

It’s called “dog whistle” politics and the simple technique is to make an emotionally-charged announcement in a speech or other forum that gets the media’s attention and then gets the hounds racing.

Tertiary Education minister Stephen Joyce made a dog whistle announcement yesterday in a speech to the Wellington Chamber of Commerce.

The language of dog whistling has to be carefully constructed. There are two methods – scare mongering and aspirational – and both are usually employed.

Here’s a sample of Joyce’s aspirational language. The language of “improving outcomes”:

  • Increasing the number of young people achieving degrees
  • Increasing the success rate of Maori and Pasifika students
  • Increasing the number of young people successfully moving from schools to tertiary
  • Improving the outcomes of level one to three study
  • Improving the educational and financial strength of providers, and strengthening the research outcomes.

Who could disagree with these sentiments. Of course we want to improve and increase the outcomes of tertiary education. But, as always, the devil is in the details.

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Dominion Post cleared of contempt – the right decision?

October 11, 2008

An interesting decision this week in the New Zealand High Court. Contempt of court charges against Fairfax Media and Dominion Post editor, Tim Pankhurst, were dismissed. Earlier this year the Dom Post published extensive details of a police affidavit alleging weapons offences and related charges against a group of people who were arrested after a long surveillance operation which uncovered supposed “terrorist” training camps in the Urewera ranges.

The contempt charges were brought by the Solicitor-General who argued that the trials of 19 people associated with the case could be prejudiced by the publication of details in the affidavit.

There was an interesting line in the judges’ decision that deserves some exploration.

“Publications which are unlawful can never be regarded as responsible or justifiable,” the judges said.

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Fairfax journalists lock-out threat: Where’s the EPMU?

August 31, 2008

Fairfax Media journalists at the company’s Australian titles are on strike, but their return to work tomorrow is not certain as the company has threatened to lock them out. The four day strike was in response to the company’s announcement last week that it was mounting a “business improvement” plan that would see more than 500 job cuts to save the company $50 million. Obviously at the expense of jobs and quality journalism.

One of the key principles of the union movement is international solidarity. The journalists’ union in New Zealand, the EPMU should be doing a bit more than it is right now.

Sydney Morning Herald columnist Mike Carlton was sacked for refusing to file his column on Friday and other Fairfax columnists are backing him. This dispute is getting ugly across the Tasman, but it appears that there’s none of that action happening in New Zealand. Why not?

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Fairfax cuts journalists’ jobs – global trend is down

August 28, 2008

The decision by Fairfax Media this week to cut another 100 jobs from its New Zealand news operations continues a downward trend in journalists jobs that’s worldwide.

One small bright spot though; Fairfax journalists in Australia are not lying down over this. They are organising union meetings and have a good website at Fair go, Fairfax.

Alan Kennedy, a long-time Fairfax employee who recently retired, is scathing of the company’s management and he’s right, of course:

[Fairfax journalists] are seeing an increasingly incompetent management team still paying themselves astonishing salaries, cutting and then cutting again as they pursue a model that is bringing diminishing returns. The one-trick ponies in management cannot see past making savings through retrenchment, non hiring and in their current manic campaign to slash the salaries and conditions of the most experienced staff.  [Alan Kennedy]

Newspapers like those owned by Fairfax are reacting to changing circumstances, but it is a short-term response. It is really a “cut nose,” “Take that face!” exercise. Profits are sliding so cost-cutting measures are put in place. This leads to a further decline in quality – despite what the company says – which can only mean further losses in sales and advertising and a bigger drop in profits.

Of course, Fairfax is not alone in going down this slippery slope. Last year New Zealand’s other large news media operation, APN, announced similar cuts to its newspaper staff and the outsourcing of most of its sub-editing operation to a company called Pagemasters. Ironically, Pagemasters major shareholders include APN and Fairfax Media.

Fairfax is hoping for $50 million in savings from its 5 per cent staffing cut. The news was reported in a very straightforward way in the Fairfax-owned Sydney Morning Herald, which concentrated on the share price bounce and finance market reactions.

The copy reads like a close cousin of a media release issued by Fairfax Media announcing a “business improvement plan”.

This is the third wave of business improvement initiatives we have undertaken over the past three years. Over the course of the 2006 and 2007 financial years we achieved $52 million in ongoing real cost reductions. Cost synergies associated with the merger of Fairfax Media and Rural Press and the acquisition of Southern Cross radio produced a further $53 million in savings ($45 million Rural Press, $8 million radio). All of these synergies will be realised by the end of this financial year.

With the new organisation structure in place and line management operating effectively, now is the time to launch a third wave of business improvement which will deliver benefits over the next two years.

Media companies fit for the modern media world need to be lean and agile. This far-reaching program will position us well for the next stage of our growth and development.” [Fairfax media release]

Journalists’ union leader, Andrew Little was less sanguine in his media comments:

“Fairfax’s proposed redundancies will be a huge blow to already strained newsrooms and to New Zealanders’ democratic right to be properly informed about their country’s major issues,” said Mr Little, national secretary of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union. [NZPA]

New Zealand and Australia now join the long list of countries in which newspaper companies are shedding staff. A recent post at Julie Starr’s Evolving Newsroom carries the bad news.

Judge sets precedent for online reporting – will it affect the Veitch trial?

August 26, 2008

This week in the Manukau District Court, Judge David Harvey issued a supression order banning online news organisations (and presumably bloggers) from naming two men who have been committed for trail over the murder of 14-year-old John Hapeta on August 12.

The supression order does not apply to print and broadcast media. The judge’s reasoning is interesting. He argued that people (including potential jurors) could “Google” the information during the trial leading to possible prejudicial outcomes and also that material on the Internet tends to go “viral” within a short space of time.

According the the NZ Herald:

Judge Harvey teaches the Law and Information Technology course at the University of Auckland. The course looks at the way technology impacts on evidence, jurisdiction and freedom of information.

Judge Harvey has also written a textbook on the internet and law called

Perhaps he needs to read my material on the techno-legal time gap. I’ve written about this idea – which is fairly basic – that the law and regulatory regimes do not always keep up with the technology and what it can do.

Communication and New Media

Communication and New Media

I also wonder if this ruling might be a precedent that the judge sitting on the Tony Veitch case might consider. There’s already concern that some media outlets may have breached the sub judice rule by publishing details of the charges against Mr Veitch over last weekend.

As others have pointed out, the idea that we might all have to go through our online archives and delete references to pending, or live court cases is a bit scary.

Lawyers for the various media companies are scrambling to interepret the ruling and there may well be a challenged to the suppression orders.

The Veitch allegations: Who’s leaking, who’s spinning, who’s paying?

August 25, 2008

Well, the mystery has not been resolved. Who leaked information about the police charges against Tony Veitch to the Sunday papers?

The police have denied it was them and are instead saying that a campaign by Mr Veitch and his representatives is being mounted to undermine their investigation into allegations that the former sports presenter bashed a former girlfriend on perhaps more than one occasion.

So where did the leaks come from?

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EM leaps 17 places in the national rankings – “Woo hoo”

August 24, 2008

Note to self:

Congratulations EM, you’ve cracked the NZ top 50 blogs at number 47 for July. Well done, keep up the hard work and get Harper to mix a celebratory bucket.

Grateful hat tips to the folks at TUMEKE! who do all the number crunching. I will be buying these lovely people a beer at the first opportunity. BTW: I hate that question mark, you can replace it with a specific description of my politics: “Non-aligned socialist”.

Postscript: A big thanks too to readers and browsers. I hope you’ve been informed, entertained and/or outraged enough to come back.

SST – dancing to Zoe’s beat?

August 24, 2008

I wrote last week that I’d probably have little to say about the Tony Veitch case now that it’s before the court. I also wondered if the news media would do the same.

No chance actually. Now I find myself back in it too; trying to make sense of the spinning. I read this stuff and feel like it’s a public rehearsal of Tony Veitch’s defence arguments. It is trial by media. Only in this case it’s the complainant who seems to be in the dock.

The Sunday papers are all over the story again this week with revelations about the incidents covered in the charges laid against Veitch a week ago.  The Veitch saga: What Kristin told police (SST) Water assault charge for Veitch (HoS)

But what really caught my eye was another interview with Zoe Veitch in the Sunday Star Times.

Veitch’s wife: ‘We shouldn’t have given in to her demands

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The process and the pundits: Tony Veitch arrested

August 18, 2008

This could well be my last post on Tony Veitch for some time. He was charged this afternoon (Monday) on six counts of assault and one of ‘reckless disregard’. According to his lawyers Mr Veitch will strenuously defend himself. His first court appearance is likely to be Monday next week.

This is my likely last post because, as of about now, the sub judice rule kicks in. According to my media law bible: “one should not say or do anything that might create a real risk of prejudice to a fair trial”. (Burrows & Cheer, 2005,p.387)

So, I guess it’s lucky that the PR flacks got in over the last couple of weeks to get the ‘poor Tony’ spin into the news cycle. We can now all google that stuff till the cows come home; it predates the charges so is not technically within the period of sub judice.

This post is, so I’m going to be careful and brief; when a matter is before a court (literally sub judice = under a judge) anything that prejudices the trial, or brings the process into disrepute is contempt of court.

If the trial is before a jury there is the constant fear of prejudice – jurors and potential jurors being influenced by pre-trial publicity. The question, according to B&C is therefore: “How great is the risk that this publication might influence the jurors (or witnesses)?”

This question cannot be easily answered; there’s no scientific measure of ‘influence’ over a jury. However, we can say that in this case there’s been a lack of balancing information recently.

  1. We have the allegations being canvassed high and low – how many kicks and punches, etc; was Ms Dunne-Powell’s back broken or not?
  2. We knew it was serious when Tony’s pals began to move quietly to the back of the room.
  3. We know that Mr Veitch resigned from his high-paid jobs when the story refused to go away.
  4. We know that Mr Veitch is not really like that and we know that Kristin Dunne-Powell is, at least, accused of stalking by Veitch’s supporters.
  5. We can surmise that a certain Mr Holmes might be called as a character witness.

All of that is hearsay and it’s now in the public domain thanks to the media’s close attention to the case.

But that’s all we know. The speculation will now have to stop in the news and in the blogosphere.

The End of Part 1.

A curiouser and curiouser tale – Mrs Veitch speaks up

August 17, 2008

What a fascinating account of the Tony Veitch affair in the Herald on Sunday this week. Tony’s partner, Zoe has given an amazing interview to the paper in which the curious issue of Kristin Dunne-Powell’s motive bubbles close to the surface of the text, but without ever being made explicit.

There’s a similar story in the Sunday Star Times by Donna Chisholm, but with none of the real impact. [“We’ll fight to  bitter end”]

Jane Phare’s story in the HoS stops short of suggesting anything really sinister, but a picture emerges of a young woman obsessed with a failed relationship and driven by something unhealthy:

Zoe Veitch, 27, said her husband’s former partner, Dunne-Powell, had had a “hold over us for the majority of our relationship”.

Speaking publicly for the first time, Veitch told the Herald on Sunday yesterday that Dunne-Powell appeared to react each time she saw Tony Veitch or the couple together, or if they were photographed socially.

“There was always something from her within a couple of days. It was always very reactionary.”

Veitch said that she had hoped once Dunne-Powell was married “she wouldn’t be bothering us so much”. “I’ve always said to Tony that if she is happy in her own marriage she will leave us alone.” [Veitch’s wife strikes back]

Another curious twist in this story and the word on everyone’s lips this afternoon… Read the rest of this entry »