Thursday, 14 February 2013

race relations commissioner

so we're coming up to the end of an era: race relations commissioner jorid de bres is to retire on 1 march, after spending 10.5 years in the role.  the diversity action programme newsletter provides details of some of his achievements.

i hadn't met any race relations commissioners (or conciliators) before mr de bres stepped into the role.  i'm not sure if that's because he has had a much higher level of community engagement or because i didn't get out much in the years before 2003.  probably a combination of both!

the diversity action programme and the annual human rights diversity forums have, i think, had a significant impact in bringing community activists, NGO's, academics and central and local government institutions together.  great for networking, for sharing ideas and learning about projects, for informing others about issues faced by various groups in the community.

but more than that, the race relations commissioner & his staff has played a huge role in managing issues of racial conflict and tension, and in advocating at government levels for changes in policy and practice.  i have to say that i have, on the whole, been heartened by the response in nz to the comments by mr prosser.  that people have been so willing to lambast his comments on a wide range of media & social media must, i think, reflect some of the work that has been happening in communities throughout nz.

it is therefore a matter of some concern that the amendment to the human rights act that is currently going through the processes of parliament proposes to disestablish the position:

the Act will no longer name the Race Relations Commissioner and Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner. Instead, they will be appointed as Human Rights Commissioners to reflect that Commissioners are first and foremost members of the Commission and operate at all times on behalf of the Commission. To ensure the formalised leadership roles are retained in the areas of race relations and equal employment opportunities and an additional role is created in the area of disability rights, the Act will provide that there must be a Commissioner (other than the Chief Commissioner) appointed to lead the work in each of these priority areas.

it's all very well to say that, under the proposed new structure, the commissioners will undertake the same duties without the specific designation.  if that's the case then i don't understand the need to remove the designations, and thereby the visibility of the work they do.  what purpose does it serve?  it's not like we've solved all problems of discrimination by race, it's not like there are no longer disparities in income, in life expectancy, in access to employment and housing, in just being able to go about our daily business.

i can't make any definite statements in relation to crime against people of colour, because while police record the ethnicity of convicted criminals and we regularly get to hear all about the percentages, they refuse to record the ethnicity of victims of crime.  and so we don't have data about race-based hate crime, we don't know if it's increasing or decreasing, we don't know what areas are most dangerous.  when you refuse to record a thing, then you can easily pretend it's not a problem.

there is still plenty of work that needs to be done by the human rights commission.  to take away the name and the current structure is to take away the importance of that work and the importance of these issues in our society.  but more than that, this move may be a way to cut funding and cut the work of the commission in this area without it being so visible.

it's an unnecessary move, but it's likely to happen within the next few months.  hence the delay in appointing a replacement for the current commissioner, and why he has been continuing in his role after his term ended in september.  i don't know what can be done to stop the bill from passing in it's current form, but in the meantime i want to wish mr de bres well for the future and give my heartfelt thanks for the work that he has done to make our lives better.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

here we go again

somebody says something stupid about muslims.  then it has to be picked up by every media organisation who rush around for comments.  of course they'll find some muslims who will be angry and upset, given the serious stupidity of the comments.  then the media report how OUTRAGED those muslims are, as well as interviewing the original culprit to give more air to his views.

today they couldn't get the original culprit so they went for people with similar views, who then get a chance to put out more stupidity, while the interviewers put on the appropriate expression of incredulity at such ridiculouness, and continue to ask more questions designed to increase the level of such.

then you have the flow-on effect - talk-back, twitter, facebook.  and that's where the damage gets really done, and we go to have another go of the merry-go-round. freedom of speech.  but what he's saying is true.  look at all these awful things muslims have done.

we go through this once every 6 months or so.  if it's not women wearing burqa's banned from buses, it's cartoons, it's various politicians or authors.  some little spark and "we" get to have "the debate" all over again as to whether muslims are good or bad, happy or sad.  leaders of political parties get to have their faces in the news and posture about inclusiveness and to express OUTRAGE at such terrible remarks.  let's see how many political points we can score on the back of this current incident.

frankly, i'm sick of these conversations and i'm sick being used as a political tool.  and that is exactly what happened in this case.  the whole story started with david farrar, who wrote an oh-so-supportive post expressing his OUTRAGE, knowing very well what will happen in the comments section, and very much expecting that it will be picked up by other media.  his objective?  to drive a wedge between nz first and parties of the left, to make a coalition of the left unpalatable to the left-voting public and thus for right-wingers to be able to push the line that a vote for the left is a vote for nz first in government.

it worked swimmingly in 2008, and it will no doubt work again.  and there's the added bonus of being able to bag the MMP voting system, as if no fools ever get elected through electorate seats.  bob clarkson, anyone?  and the reason this tactic works so well is because voters who vote for parties on the left tend to be less tolerant of discrimination than parties on the right.  and parties on the right are not going to lose their voters by coming out and condemning this kind of thing, because those voters are never going to vote for lefties.

this was a very calculated move by mr farrar, and i certainly don't feel the need to give him cookies for writing a post supportive of the muslim community.  because i actually don't think that's what it was. it was rather a post against a political opponent, a strategy. and once again, we have to sit and watch people use the muslim community for their own political gain, while they have very little care about the wider impact on our lives.

but this strategy only works when the media decide that it's a story.  when they choose not to ignore the rantings of an outlier, but instead make a big issue out of it.  and yes, i know the argument about shining a light on this stuff so that it can shown up and countered.  and yes, twitter was pretty good in terms of speaking out against these particular comments.  but on the other hand, the comments on the seven sharp facebook page were not so nice.  and comments in other places, and on talkback?  still pretty awful.  still influencing people - the sort of people who will make decisions about who will get a job or who will get a rental house; people that will be teaching our children or providing us health services.  there isn't enough light to counter the darkness caused by this stuff.

i'd much rather the media didn't play along.  but i guess it tends to be a ratings winner, it certainly gets people talking and engaged.

so what's the answer?  how do we stop political types taking advantage of our community for their own political goals?  well i don't think there's a country in the world which has solved that problem.  but at very least, we can be honest about what's happening here, and call it out for what it is.

Monday, 11 February 2013


well, i've had a nice break from blogging.  as summer rolled in, the words emptied out of my mind, and while there were a lot of things that were going on, i just didn't feel the need to say anything about them.  i managed to write a serious post last week at the hand mirror, about waitangi day.

not feeling so serious today, so i thought i'd write about the replacement current affairs show on tv1, 7#.  clearly not a serious news show, but then, from what i heard, it wasn't meant to be.  i watched the first episode last week with low expectations, and wasn't overly impressed.  i managed to catch the one on the kawhia food festival, which is reasonably close to home for me, especially since i have totally fallen in love with ocean beach this summer:

i enjoyed hearing from temuera morrison as well, and am totally looking forward to watching mt zion soon.

i thought tonight's episode wasn't bad actually.  which is good, because i do actually want to give this programme a go.  i do want it to succeed.  probably because i like the presenters, and because i really never was a fan of close-up.  i think the latter was infotainment pretending to be news, and at least this is honest and up-front about being infotainment.  there is no duplicity here.  and because i never looked to close-up for my news, i don't miss it at all.

i have been watching a lot more of campbell live over the last year, especially because they have been doing a lot of serious news - on kim dotcom, on novapay & the closure of christchurch schools and on poverty.  if i'm planning on watching news, then yes, campbell live are doing the job reasonably well.  and if i want infotainment, then 7# aren't doing it very well, but i think they're improving.  and i think there's potential.

today's story about sexting was quite a sad one, particularly in terms of the pressure young women were feeling to send images, and the rather callous views of the young men who didn't seem to care at all about these women as people.  the thought that one of them thought it was ok to have these images in case the young woman "turned mean"? ugh.  there is plenty they need to learn about basic humanity and the real question is who is going to teach them.

they're clearly not getting it from their parents, and the internet doesn't seem to be of any use at all.  so how exactly do we teach young men that women aren't a thing to be used and manipulated, and humiliated just because they can. 7# never gave any answers, but it did ask the questions.  it's a start.

oh, and if you're ever planning to visit ocean beach, be warned there is a huge sand hill to climb before you get to the beach.  and wear solid closed shoes until you get near the water, because black sand.  but once you get there... enjoy.