Hard News by Russell Brown

Taking care of business

You will notice that at the top right of this page there is an advertisement; our first. It's a freebie for Amnesty International's Freedom Week, and if you click on it you can donate to the appeal via a form on Amnesty's secure site.

We are now selling commercial advertising in the same tile format as the Amnesty ad, and rates start at $100 per week, which we think is pretty cheap. Public Address drew 30,000 visits from about 11,500 unique visitors last month, and we expect those numbers to grow once we actually do some marketing.

We're trying to be accessible to retail advertisers and smaller companies, and we're particularly keen to advertise records and books and deliver sales through to Real Groovy, with whom we have an affiliate relationship. Anyway, if you're interested in advertising with us, email me via the Feedback link on this page and I'll happily refer you on to our salesperson, Renee Jones.

The choice of Amnesty to kick off isn't an accident - Amnesty is an NGO in which it is possible to have maximum confidence. You'd be surprised at who does donate to their cause.

The plan was to line up some accompanying editorial for the week, and I had intended to finally transcribe my interview with George Joffe, conducted while he was in the country to give evidence at the hearing of Ahmed Zaoui.

But unfortunately, the tape has proven to be a bit of a nightmare - the café where we talked was not a good room in which to operate a condenser mic. I wound up importing the audio onto my Mac and EQing out as much of the noise as I could. But bouncing it back down onto microcassette (I have a microcassette transcribing machine with a foot pedal) just wouldn't work, so it might take a day or two more to transcribe. (BTW: does anyone know of either an affordable hands-free transcribing solution for MacOS X, or of a foot pedal to work with a MiniDisc recorder?)

So what to make of Mr Zaoui? Frankly, he appears to have been promptly ushered into the "too hard" box on arrival in the country, which is perhaps understandable. No one wants to make a horrible mistake. But, judging by the tone of the Prime Minister's comments to Hugh Sundae on 95bfm this morning, there will be no further airy dismissals of the lie-in-unison comments as mere flippancy. If Lianne Dalziel hasn't had a bollocking yet, she's presumably due for one today.

Anyway, we are now in the unsatisfactory position of seeing the decision of the Refugee Status Appeals Authority, which found that Zaoui is a refugee rather than a terrorist, subject to a secret review process based on SIS information that can't be revealed. It's to be hoped that the SIS information is of better quality than that it has made public so far. I've yet to see firm evidence that Zaoui is a danger to us, although, of course, in Winston Peters' world, being a "suspected" terrorist is the same as being guilty.

In line with the policy that Fairfax inherited from INL of deterring people from coming to its website, Donna Chisholm's fascinating SST backgrounder on the Zaoui case - which suggests that Zaoui was subjected to abuse during his New Zealand prison internment - has been removed from Stuff after one day. If you want to read it online, you'll have to sign up with ArchiveStuff and pay $5 - or more than twice the cover price of the entire Sunday Star Times.

Speaking of the SST, they've quoted Tracey Nelson's All Black game stats on page B2 of yesterday's paper, and attributed it to Public Address, but haven't credited Tracey for her work! Most ungentlemanly…

We had two interesting illicit drug stories in the media over the weekend. The first, the Herald's A Deadly Diversion, was a backgrounder to last year's student GHB deaths and it was excellent. The stark, fact to stand out: that these nice, middle-class young people had become blasé about GHB's unfortunate occasional side-effect - sudden and profound unconsciousness. Hey, people always woke up. Except this time. The story's reality was in its mundanity.

The same could not be said for last night's Sunday special on the so-called Methamphetamine Makers Co. Ltd, which was dressed up in all the usual TV drug probe daftness - kooky prismatic lenses all over the place. But it was a fascinating story, not least in the way it showed how P addiction can turn even the most hardened criminal brain into a sieve.

It's understandable that media reports will focus on the handful of P-heads who become homicidal, but the broader reality is, again, more mundane: P just turns you into a freaking idiot.

For decades, people in New Zealand have been making and consuming substances to keep themselves awake, but it has been a relatively stable subculture. Smoked methamphetamine - with its ruinous combination of the instant hit and the 12-hour high - has blown that all apart. It has already been and gone from any kind of hip scene in Auckland; it's out there in the 'burbs now. I was told over the weekend that marijuana growers are having trouble shifting product at the moment: it appears to have been substituted by the P. Now that's scary.