NZ Bus has bowed to blackmail and changed its mind about allowing the slogan there’s probably no god – now stop worrying and enjoy your life to appear on the sides of its buses.
As a commercial operator, the company is entitled to make that decision. It no doubt reasoned that disgruntled theists would stop travelling on its buses and might well start a campaign to encourage others to do the same.
The god-botherers must believe that their creed is pretty weak if they see something as innocuous and understated as this particular slogan as representing a threat. Most atheists would say there is almost certainly no God, conceding only that it isn’t possible to prove the case one way or the other. The non-existence of God comes as near as possible to being a fact, since there is absolutely no empirical evidence to support a claim to the contrary. Read the rest of this entry »
Because it is the only broadcast medium in the country that takes the time to examine issues of consequence to New Zealanders at length and in depth. It can do so because, and only because it is a non-commercial radio network. It is not beholden to advertisers, does not need to concern itself with ratings – though many of its programmes outrate its commercial competitors – and its programmes are not interrupted or abbreviated by the irritating presence of advertisements.
Radio New Zealand’s success in commanding a large and loyal audience with programmes such as Morning Report, Nine to Noon, Checkpoint, Afternoons, Kim Hill’s (and formerly my own) Saturday morning show, gives the lie to the proposition that the public are not interested in social and political debate or intelligent conversation. They are.
In contrast the free-to-air commercial television channels offer us quasi ‘current affairs’ programmes such as Close Up and Campbell Live whose function is less to inform than to entertain and whose mandate is to retain the ratings momentum generated by the channels’ preceding news, sport and weather packages.
The entertainment ethos that drives these programmes – and the channels’ network news bulletins as well – is that the viewer has a limited attention span, requires constant stimulation and novelty, and has little appetite for the serious examination of social and political issues. To be palatable, what information the programmes offer must be served up in tasty, bite-sized chunks. Nothing too long, nothing too tough, nothing requiring chewing. The viewer must be given no excuse to reach for the remote to change the channel. Read the rest of this entry »
Railing at the water cooler? In despair about the quality of our television news bulletins? Think you could do better with your monosyllabic nephew as camera operator and the pneumatic blonde from the dairy armed with a list of pre-prepared questions? You need Charlie Brooker’s How to Report the News. Enjoy!
Lunchtime today. I’ve made some lettuce and tomato sandwiches for Judy and me. (Mollenberg Swiss Bake sandwich bread, Heinz Seriously Good Mayonnaise, butter, salt, pepper.) Yummmmm! And two cups of Bell tea. (I don’t feel alive till I’ve had it.) I take the sandwiches out and put them on the table that sits on the deck that overlooks our lovely Herne Bay garden. It’s a beautifully still, balmy Auckland day. I call Judy and go back for the cups of tea. Just as I take my first step from the kitchen onto the deck, one of the neighbours at the back of our property starts up his petrol-driven hedge trimmer. We retreat indoors and close the doors and windows.
If I were paranoid, the timing would suggest that the neighbour had been waiting for us to sit down with our sandwiches and tea and had started up his petrol-driven hedge trimmer at this particular moment as part of a campaign to drive us from the district.
But I’m not paranoid. My neighbour is almost certainly at work and has no idea that Judy and I are about to sit down and enjoy a quiet lunch in our lovely garden. And it isn’t actually him wielding the petrol-driven hedge trimmer. One of an army of professional gardeners who make a more-than-decent living from servicing the properties in our street alone, is the source of the appalling racket. And our neighbour would have no reason at all to want to drive us from the district. We’re very quiet, responsible people. Read the rest of this entry »
I have been to several New Zealand prisons to meet or interview men convicted of murder or manslaughter, including Dean Wickliffe, who shot a Wellington jeweller during the course of a robbery and gained further notoriety by twice escaping from Paremoremo, John James Murphy, convicted of murdering a young woman on Papaparaumu Beach and burying her body in the sand, and Dr David Minnitt who shot his wife Leigh and was found guilty of manslaughter. I’ve also given talks to prison inmates and made television programmes about their life inside.
On every occasion when I have spent time in a New Zealand prison, even those most forward thinking in their approach to crime and punishment, it has taken me days and sometimes weeks to overcome the deep depression, the black despair which overtook me as I walked free through those gates and back into my normal life.
I have formed the view that no one is competent to express a view on New Zealand prison life until they have shared that experience.
When is a quote not a quote? When is a quote something you didn’t say or even think in the first place? When you agree with a proposition or statement put to you by a journalist, that’s when.
This happens more regularly than you might think. How? Let’s take a hypothetical case.
Your company, The Good Guys, is in the spotlight over a spat with one of your competitors. The media are gathering. As far as possible you stay away from them. You resolve to handle this crisis, in public at least, with calm, good humour and dignity.
You’ve managed to get through a print interview with considerable poise, and carefully steered away from invitations to criticise your competitors, The Super Guys.
The journalist is nothing if not sympathetic to your cause. You feel as though you’ve got a friend at court. When she says, “But their business practices are a bit dubious, aren’t they?” you can’t help but chuckle and you say that you don’t disagree with her. Read the rest of this entry »
“Key booted for Brooke by TVNZ” was a front page headline in this morning’s Herald. Shock! Horror!
The story began: “Television NZ bumped Prime Minister John Key from its prime-time current affairs show so it could feature former All Black Robin Brooke saying sorry for groping a teenage girl.” Read the rest of this entry »
Today’s Herald makes interesting reading for anyone who thinks that, despite his Wall Street millions, John Key’s state house background makes him more sympathetic to those on lower incomes. GST is to rise by up to 2.5%. Such an increase disproportionately penalises those at the bottom of the economic heap – lower income earners and beneficiaries – since a much greater proportion of their income is spent on essential items such as food, power and rent. They are to be compensated by an unspecified decrease in personal taxation and an unspecified increase in benefits and Working for Families.
On last night’s Campbell Live, the Prime Minister gave Campbell a guarantee that lower income earners or beneficiaries would be no worse off after the changes in the budget. ‘No worse off’, but not necessarily ‘any better off’. Middle and higher income earners, on the other hand, will of course be better off as a result of any decrease in income tax, since that is an economic truism. So, in a nutshell, the rich will get richer and the poor stay where they are, which in real terms means ‘go backwards’. Read the rest of this entry »
In an earlier incarnation, more than a quarter of a century ago, I was contracted by the State Services Commission to media train public servants. With my Fair Go colleague Judith Fyfe – she of the huge, eccentric specs – we put people from pretty well every government department through crash courses on handling the press, radio and television. We enjoyed these sessions and so, mostly, did the participants. But, after a time, we began to notice that the personalities, and even the wardrobes of our students, very much reflected the departments they came from.
So the Foreign Affairs people were witty, urbane and looked as though they’d just stepped out of a Moss Bros commercial.
The Social Welfare people were rather worthy, appeared not to have had time to brush their hair, and their wardrobe must have come from their local op shop. We concluded that this might be deliberately intended to help them fit in with their clients.
The Treasury people, who all had first class honours degrees from Oxbridge, were dressed like university dons and invariably began by making it absolutely clear that they had nothing to learn from anybody, least of all subhuman media whores like us. We enjoyed reducing them to gibbering wrecks during the interviews. Read the rest of this entry »
Mr Ngô writes letters. He writes letters in a small, neat hand on almost transparently thin paper. He writes letters for other people, people who can’t write letters for themselves.
Mr Ngô is the Last Public Letter Writer.
Mr Ngô is 80 years old. He is tiny, less than 150cm tall, with bright eyes, a ready smile and dignified, old-fashioned courtesy. He has been working at the Main Post Office in Saigon for 63 years. He retired officially many years ago, but he still comes to work every day. He still sits in the same place and people still queue up patiently for him to write letters in their native Vietnamese, or translate for them into English or French.
His short sight isn’t so good these days. He has to use a magnifying glass to make out words in his worn little dictionaries, soft and fattened with constant handling. Mr Ngô is very precise. The words must be correct. These are letters of importance, of special events, of births, deaths, marriages. You don’t go to a Public Letter Writer on a whim.
This special job is carried out in a special place. The Main Post Office in Saigon is worthy of any European capital. It was built in grandiose French style in the 19th Century and is one of the most imposing buildings in the city. The Town Hall, you think. Parliament Buildings. No, the post office. It’s a place you’d be proud to work, even for 63 years.
So if you ever go to the Main Post Office in Saigon, you should try to make the acquaintance of Mr Ngô. It is a privilege to meet the Last Public Letter Writer.
We used to have this weird habit of paying mega-bucks to travel business class, then skimping on our accommodation. It makes no sense. You spend hours in a plane, days in a hotel. We’ve come to realise that the quality of your hotel room dictates the overall pleasure of your trip. The best day is enhanced, the worst day is soothed by a spacious, pleasant room and charming staff. We don’t want spas, multiple flash restaurants, bars or enormous foyers – we just want a lovely room and somewhere to get breakfast, but hey, we’ll happily wander down the road to the nearest diner if the accommodation’s good enough.
We’ve talked about this trip to Vietnam for years. Other priorities, too much work, bird ‘flu etc have delayed it until now, so we decided to do this properly and in comfort. This is one of the trips where you save and splurge. We wanted comfort to cope with bouts of culture shock. Read the rest of this entry »