Posts Tagged ‘bad journalism’

You would be forgiven for thinking that New Zealand didn’t do anything major on the international stage just before Christmas if you just followed the mainstream New Zealand media. You would of course be wrong, but forgivably so. What we did was take over, with the help of Malaysia, Senegal, and Venezuela, a resolution from Egypt calling for an immediate halt to settlements in Palestine. New Zealand has actually done something really good by helping to keep this resolution alive, and the US was actually really smart from a peace-seeking perspective in abstaining from using their veto under the justification that there is no legitimate attempt to make peace by Israel, because, well, there isn’t, at least by their government. Obviously the Israeli peace movement still exists, it just hasn’t yet enjoyed the support of the government, ever, and all the government-level peace talks to date have been more about having an excuse to continue oppressing the Palestinians under the shield of the US’ security council veto than about actually moving towards a peaceful solution.

Israel’s reaction, typically, has been to completely spit the dummy and attempt to shun those countries involved.

There has been some reaction to this fact, generally supportive from the left, and contempt of the measure from the right. Before I respond to that reaction, it’s worth quickly noting that there are good people in Israel, and good people in Palestine, but each country is in the grips of powerful movements, respectively driven by paranoia and frustration with the blockade. There are also outright criminals or at least demigogues on both sides, (not necessarily equally in frequency or extremity, but definitely present) most notably those who are involved in settlements, disproportionate military strikes, and eliminationist1 rhetoric on the Israeli side, and those involved in terrorism, promotion of violence, and other violent resistance to occupation on the Palestinian side.

However, this shrill reaction against the UN resolution is coming from zionist voices. To be clear, when I say that, I’m not implying any vast “zionist conspiracy” controlling mainstream media in democratic countries like the certain extreme right-wing anti-semitic bigots believe, I just mean by that word that some Jews believe they have a right to colonise as much of Palestine as they see fit with no consideration for the inhabitants of Palestine or for peace or for law, and they are the ones pushing for diplomatic consequences and dismissing New Zealand as not understanding what is going on. Most people actually supporting Zionism have no objection to the term when used to describe Israeli colonialism in a factual manner.

The defense I linked is a typical establishment, right-wing tactic to belittle serious moves to curtail unacceptable behaviour. Israel has been behaving like a bully, and this resolution calls them on that behaviour and demands they stop. It makes clear that settlements colonising Palestine are illegal, which was already international law, and it actually provides Israel some incentive to come to the negotiating table in good faith, (ie. they will want a negotiation that allows for land trading to bring those settlements into Israeli territory, which means the Palestinians might actually have something to trade other than the moral high ground of “you would be complying with international law”) which previously they have had no need to do.

It’s clear that critics of this sort of measure misunderstand peace in a way that is best elucidated by the late great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who said:

True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.

That is, in this context, that peace isn’t achieved when Palestine stops making demands of Israel. It is achieved when the fighting stops, trust is built, and criminal actions by both sides are judged fairly under a law that can be accepted by everyone, even if that law can’t offer full restitution. (or even if the most that can be agreed to is a truth and justice process where nobody actually goes to jail, even for actual crimes) So even if I believed the tension could be ended somehow by not passing this resolution, justice demands it be done, as the settlements in Palestine are colonialism and an attempt to eject Palestinians from what is effectively conquered territory, no matter your position on the British Mandate of Palestine under international law. Thus if we are to have any hope for a genuinely peaceful approach to Israel and Palestine in the future, I have to believe that peace is still possible even with international law calling for an immediate halt to all settlements. Because Israel’s security doesn’t depend on its army, or security screening based on profiling, or oppressing its Arabic population to ensure a Jewish majority. Rather, it depends on building trust in the region so that at some point it can start slowly relaxing its military and end conscription, so that it can rely on good relations with its neighbours instead of profiling, and it can rely on real democracy to protect its jewish citizens and their jewish culture, rather than this strange streak of eliminationist zionism we see in certain parts of Israel, where it is apparently okay to have Israeli arabs only so long as they remain forever a minority.

These defenses of zionist Israel are the same line of thinking that protests that Palestine doesn’t recognise Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Sure, neither do I, and I doubt anyone who actually believes in secular democracy would, either. There is no right to a religious, cultural, or racial hegemony, and a “Jewish state” is arguably at least one of those things, if not all three. Israel currently exists. Unless a one-state solution is negotiated, Israel will likely continue to exist, although perhaps with less de facto territory and different de jure territory. None of that gives Zionists a right to insist that Israel must be a Jewish country, the same way the KKK doesn’t have a right to insist that the USA must be a Christian nation. They have a right to a free nation where Jewish culture can be preserved. We consider these types of policies human rights abuses when Islamic theocracies push them, so we should be consistent with a Jewish “democracy” like Israel.

Why do we get this? Why do we know what we’re talking about? Because New Zealand is a multicultural nation whose government was born of settlers and colonialism. We oppressed our native population to the brink of extinction, letting disease and war kill them, seizing their land, and even, in Parihaka, killing those who peacefully protested using legal means to protect their rights and property. When that didn’t work, we tried to assimilate Māori into a British New Zealand, punishing children for speaking their own language or talking about their own culture in school, so that they could no longer value it. This, too, almost succeeded, to the point that Māori is arguably a different language today than it used to be because so much of it has had to be reconstructed due to the loss of critical knowledge about old Māori vocabulary. (some of this is being re-integrated, but sadly there are likely to be holes where neologisms and loan words will kill off the original word)

And then we came out the other side. As we became a more open, tolerant, and democratic society, laws were changed. Māori language was protected , revitalised, and then promoted. Parliamentary seats that were once a means of ghettoisation of Māori voters were turned into a vehicle for genuine political representation, and breaches of the law that made settlements illegal were investigated and heard in court, and reconciliation, apologies, and even some degree of reparation was made for those illegal actions by the government in Treaty settlements. We’re not perfect. There are still issues to sort out, still injustice and inequality that is worse for Māori than for Pakeha or even some other ethnic groups. But we have started and it is clear we intend to continue, and even if it’s not enough yet, there is the promise that one day we might actually get it right.

If New Zealand doesn’t know how to start recovering from colonialism, nobody in the world does, and Israel has no hope to ever be secure because it will inevitably be at war with enough of its neighbors to put its existence in peril, either from conventional force or by forcing it to use the nuclear weapons it presumably has but officially denies. If New Zealand doesn’t understand colonialism, then Israel is fighting a rearguard action with a United States that will, eventually, be unable to afford to continue funding their military (which, effectively, it currently does to a large degree, as “foreign aid”) as its status as a superpower continues to wane. Peace is the only viable long-term strategy Israel has, and they have been running from it. Our history in New Zealand teaches us that there is no path to peace without first promoting justice, and that survival is possible (and even, arguably, profitable) for a minority culture if they are willing to participate in a free and democratic society that provides them the cultural acknowledgement and promotion that they deserve. Israel needs to stop putting off its responsibilities and start paying the prices that peace demands2.

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In running tradition, I would like to call out another press gallery reactionary for not understanding politics.

While I have no intention of voting for this merged Mana-Internet Party, it’s not an affront to democracy that it exists and that it wants to rely on electorate politics to succeed.
(And before we get really into things, I’d like to mention that in the past I’ve said similar things about parties I vehemently dislike and consider a cancer upon our parliament. Also, to be on the record, I think the name “internana” is about the most hilarious thing I’ve heard all day, and I believe the name “Winston Peters” came up in conversation, so that’s pretty impressive)

National have happily abused “Act” and “United Future” as one-man micro-parties with no real agenda and little public support to prop up their government for another term without having to make compromises with the Mäori Party. They and their fans can just quiet down for a while now Hone wants to give them a taste of their own medicine. Labour and the Greens both offered support to end coat-tailing, but National wouldn’t have it, (correctly realising it would hurt their electoral chances in the short-term) and refused to implement the independent recommendations they themselves arranged for, presumably on the deluded hope that the public would vote for watering down MMP with a system that removed its close-enough-to-proportional approach and replacing it with a system half-full with a bunch of safe-seat-warming buffoons.

No, what’s an affront to democracy is our ludicrously high party threshold. If Kim Dotcom wants to buy his way into parliament, let him win enough of the party vote to win a single seat outright. From there, with the ability of any New Zealander to vote for him, stop voting, or vote for someone else instead, the worth of his ideas can be judged by the public, and all it costs is the time for a quick trip to whatever local facility they use to host votes in in your electorate. One of the incredible upsides of MMP has been that it has let the public see how ridiculous some of the marginalised political voices on the Right are, and that it has been kind to the public’s desire for a sensible left-wing party. (If we have to put up with New Zealand First over our current threshold for that, I suppose I will merely resort to mockery in my suffering, as usual)

And Hone Harawira, who like Rodney Hide and Peter Dunne, doesn’t have that great of a claim to have earned his way into Parliament with rip-roaring public support, (although he at least has the legitimate claim to representing a community that deserves its voice being magnified) should not be the gatekeeper for a new political party. While I maintain that Mäori are the proper judges of how to protect their own political rights, and that the Mäori roll is an appropriate judge of whether they support their own electorate seats, I’d just as soon see all electorates gone, when another better way to support the voices of our indigenous people is chosen by our indigenous people. Electorates lock in bad candidates based on uncompetitive backroom selections, and they turn small parties into personality contests, where they continue to isolate voters into groups that feel empowered by electing two-faced wonders who will kiss a sufficient amount of babies and promise you things they don’t even understand. (Like common sense, or patriotism)

No, what’s an affront to democracy is that people have been sold this dumb idea of electorate seats, so that ordinary people can apparently lobby a local boy (or girl, if you’ve transitioned to the 21st century) about their problems. This is a ridiculous notion of politics. You are better off writing a letter to someone who understands your issue from a party (or preferebly, many parties) that may be sympathetic. Most likely that someone will be an aide of course, but aides are there for a reason.

We have a diverse enough parliament that farmers, conservationists, business, social reformers, and even to some degree IT enthusiasts are all represented by people who can understand them to some degree. Voting for whatever idiot decides to run in Ohariu or Epsom isn’t going to give us anything extra, and in fact the idea that that is the only legitimate way to do politics takes away from just how much the party vote has improved our democracy. National actually values capable women now, Labour is only a bit less diverse than the country, we have a disabled MP in parliament, and New Zealanders actually support at least the generalities of how our voting system works. So let’s not get mad at coat-tailing. Let’s get mad at electorates.

Public editor of the New York Times, Arthur Brisbane, asks their readership if:

…New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.

and is then surprised and claims he was misunderstood when its readers essentially answer with a chorus of “yes, you moron” replies, and comments hopeful that this would result in a paper that actually reported the facts as facts and opinion as opinion. He went as far as to call this process being a “truth vigilante”.

Journalists must aggressively seek to ascertain and report the truth. It needs to be not just a profession, but more than that, a calling, to tell the truth about the powerful and what they’re saying. When someone makes a claim, it’s okay to fact-check it, and okay to tell us whether you found anything, or even if you couldn’t find anything. We like to know these things. You don’t need to hand us your conclusions, (that’s for the editorial pages) but please, for the sake of journalism, hand us all your evidence, and put your fact-checking next to the statements that are being fact-checked, so casual readers don’t miss them.

A “truth vigilante” would be someone who runs around punching anyone who lies to them. A person who aggressively challenges the claims of the rich and powerful is a “journalist”, especially if they admit it when they are corrected after going either too far, or not far enough. Here’s hoping the New York Times will listen to the thousands of people around the world that are speaking truth to power, and start catering to the vast market for actual journalism that we’re all so thirsty for, because they really did understand what they read the first time, and they know what they want.

The other day, I had the distinct displeasure of tripping over, hitting my mouse, and accidentally clicking over to one of Chris Trotter’s articles, which as always, was large on opinion and short on research. In an earlier life, I have joined the chorus of voices on the populist left that point out that the old guard like Chris Trotter (and now I guess also Pagani) are vastly unrepresentative of the left, even among Labour supporters, and once again he proves our point for us.

I’m not going to wade into whether Occupy encampments in New Zealand have lived up to their American counterparts, or the legacy of other non-violent movements, such as the independence movement in India or the civil rights movement in the USA. Those sorts of questions are, I think, best answered by people who actually participated in those movements.

The truth is absolutely that they have not had as clear an impact or as easy a job as foreign occupations have. There are probably good reasons to this that are not the fault nor under the control of New Zealand occupiers. In that sense, there is some truth to the general thrust of his piece. That’s not what I want to object to.

I didn’t even write this post to address the spurious claim that the movement should go away, as if we don’t have freedom of political assembly in New Zealand. (constitutionally, there’s no question that we do. In practice, the ability of councils to evict Occupations has now relegated freedom of assembly in New Zealand to theory at best. A council should not be allowed to evict a protest)

No, what I want to object to is his stupid throwaway line near the end of his piece:

New Zealand’s Occupy Movement has fizzled for all of the above reasons, and more, but its single greatest failure has been its refusal to transform its manifestly untrue claim to represent 99 per cent of the New Zealand public into anything resembling reality.

Chris Trotter fails to understand the refrain of the Occupy movement. Occupiers haven’t claimed to represent the whole 99%. Their refrain, “We are the 99%!” is one of solidarity, something you would expect the old guard to understand- protestors pointing out that they are like you, regular people, and that you are welcome to join, that they are part of the majority and ignoring their opinions is undemocratic. They are pointing out that their opponents take positions which hurt the vast majority of society, and that what they want is populist reform that puts large corporations and the wealthy elite back in their place. Occupations don’t believe in representative politics, they are as horizontal a heirarchy as can be practically managed, and practice participatory democracy.

If you don’t understand that, Chris Trotter, you’re not qualified to comment on Occupy encampments.