Hard News by Russell Brown



It takes no particular genius to tell that law-and-order will play its traditional role in the election campaign. National will come out today with a somewhat reined-in version of the no-parole-for-repeat-violent-offenders policy it took into the last election, and according to Garth McVicar on Morning Report today, other parties will announce Sensible Sentencing Trust-approved policies before polling day.

The nub of National's new policy is that people convicted of murder will be required to serve their full sentences with no possibility of parole if they have an existing record of violent offending. The surprising thing is how few offenders this will affect: 10 of 144 people convicted since 2002, most of whom are already doomed to stay behind bars until at least their dotage.

Other violent offenders will lose the chance of parole over the last third of their sentence, but will be monitored by some unspecified means after their sentences end. Which sounds like parole without all the established practices and monitoring infrastructure, and without the incentive to behave well in prison.

Whatever the rational questions to be asked about such a policy, it will play well, especially given that the verdict on one shocking murder case is likely to come down just before polling day.

In the meantime, I'm sure it is too much to ask that McVicar could shut up and stop undermining the police at least until he has some vague idea of what he is talking about. He and a former senior cop were indignant that an Otara liquor store owner could be among those charged after a brawl outside the store.

He was charged, and Dave Pizzini, the officer in charge of the investigation took the unusual step of contacting both men to explain the background of the case to them. The ex-cop has unreservedly withdrawn his criticisms, McVicar hasn't. The interview Pizzini gave on Checkpoint on Friday makes it clear the police have not lightly brought charges against the store owner.


In the Weekend Herald's interesting assessment of Helen Clark on Saturday, Richard Prebble was quoted rubbishing the government's record on the basis that "Government expenditure as a percent as GDP is now one of the highest in the OECD."

This didn't sound right to me, but I was surprised at how difficult it was to find a table that ranked OECD members on this measure. It appears I'm not the only one: this conservative blogger had to make his own table from 2007 raw figures, which placed New Zealand 51st, at 46.6%, with most of the OECD above it. And this economic analysis puts us fourth from the bottom of the OECD, table, with government accounting for only 38.1% of GDP.

So it appears that Prebble is just pulling numbers out of his ass, but can anyone help with definitive, up-to-date numbers and any relevant commentary?

UPDATE: Thanks to reader Rich from Observationz, who found some more very close to home on the Treasury website. For the 2004 year, Treasury says New Zealand has the second-lowest government spending as a proportion of GDP in the OECD. And Richard Prebble just makes shit up.

Amid the general air of chaos, it might have been easy to miss Apple's share price suddenly slumping 10% late last week. The plunge wasn't anything to with Wall Street: it was because Steve Jobs was supposed to be dying. He wasn't -- and there's quite a lesson in there.

A report on CNN's iReport "citizen journalism" website on Friday morning said this:

Steve Jobs was rushed to the ER just a few hours ago after suffering a major heart attack. I have an insider who tells me that paramedics were called after Steve claimed to be suffering from severe chest pains and shortness of breath. My source has opted to remain anonymous, but he is quite reliable. I haven't seen anything about this anywhere else yet, and as of right now, I have no further information, so I thought this would be a good place to start. If anyone else has more information, please share it.

The markets have been nervous over Jobs' health for months now, and this report, as you might expect, set off a frenzy. The SEC has been passed information on the hoaxer, but it's not clear what it can do.

There's been a lot of soul-cearching out there in blogland. Sarah Perez on ReadWriteWeb asks "Did citizen journalism just fail us? You bet it did.". I'm not so sure. I think she gets to the nub of it in her own post: "Apparently, it's as easy to become a citizen journalist on CNN as it is to sign up for a new web app from an internet startup, if not easier. The process involves nothing more than filling out a name, screen name, and email address."

Citizen journalism isn't about random punters shouting whatever they want: authority still matters. And, frankly, CNN was wrong to think it could get itself some citizen mojo without having any real relationship with its supposed citizen reporter. Publishing "unedited, unfiltered news" in such circumstances was always going to end in tears.


Meanwhile, an apology is due to Tiki Taane. I assumed that the samples of David Lange's Oxford Union Speech in his track 'David Lange You Da Bomb' came from the MP3 we have archived on this site (and which still gets hits from Wikipedia every day), and I was a bit miffed that he was charging for the track, when I'm keen to see it used freely but non-commercially.

Turns out, Tiki licensed the audio from TVNZ (the Sound Archives copy I have also came from the original broadcast of the debate) in August 2006. He was charged $35 a second for a 10-year worldwide licence, which came to some $1300. He originally intended to use it on his Past, Present, Future album, but it "didn't sit right" with the other tracks, so he's only recently made it available, via his website.

If it's cost him that much, he's clearly obliged to try and recover some of the cost at $2 a pop. I initially had a similar experience with Radio New Zealand/Sound Archives when I tried to free up the audio (I eventually got the right on a verbal agreement with Ian Fraser as TVNZ CEO), and I suppose there's some justification given that Tiki intended to make commercial use of his recording.

But I dislike situations where organisations claim copyright solely by virtue of having a copy of the work. TVNZ wasn't the originating broadcaster of the Oxford Union coverage, and I rather suspect its right to globally license it could be challenged by another party. (IIRC, the Film Archive's copy of the debate is an off-air recording of NBC coverage in America.)

This is where I think copyright isn't beneficial: there's no creator to protect, and a probable desire on the part of those involved that the recording should be public property (indeed, I have a letter from David Lange and Margaret Pope to precisely that effect). But this happens all the time.

Anyway, thanks to Tiki for getting in touch (and sending me a copy of his track!). I have a lot of respect for the way he does things.

PS: BTW, I had to rush out after posting this morning, and didn't extend an invitation to tomorrow evening's Media7 recording.

The topic is Fonterra -- and whether its (ahem) sacred cow status in the media has been foreclosed by the milk scandal. We're looking at shit going into streams and why it's taken five years to become a story.

Waikato Times editor Bryce Johns is on our panel, as is Bryce Johnson, of Fish and Game New Zealand, and John Hutchings, the senior Fonterra executive who’s been handling the implementation of the Clean Streams Accord.

If you can join us early evening tomorrow, click "Reply" and let me know asap.

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