Hard News by Russell Brown

The northeast gales

November has come to visit in June. Stroppy northeast winds are buffeting Auckland, casting sprays of drizzle before them. The temperature in Grey Lynn is a balmy 16 degrees. But it's alright. It'll lift before tomorrow's test match.

This is the point where right-thinking ratepayers feel good about the money that has made Eden Park drain these days like a shingle bank. If there's any place we don't want to play a return match against England, it's in a bog.

The various juddering collisions of last Saturday have left the All Blacks minus Doug Howlett and, probably, a concussed Richie McCaw. Still, at least we have two class openside flankers where England has none, and that might be the difference. The youthful Nick Evans at fullback for his first shot in a run-on All Black side can expect to be catching quite a few high balls, one would think.

I'll be there with a dozen-odd comrades from the XRSRU mailing list. It's our annual get-together, and we'll be the party scoffing it up at the Canton Café beforehand. I'm pretty sure the All Blacks will win again - if the weather holds.

Judith Collins MP has sent me a lovely email with respect to yesterday's civil unions post headed 'Your rantings'. It says: "Thanks for the free publicity. I just love the way the diversity friendly people like yourself are so opposed to any view contrary to your own. Keep it up."

I'm opposed to views contrary to my own? Guess so - although I did run several hundred words of same yesterday, so it's hardly uninformed opposition. I actually owe Ms Collins an apology, however: she was correct to say that the omnibus bill is a conscience vote. It was altered from a party vote on Tuesday night by the Labour caucus, and reported yesterday morning, but I missed it. Ooh, it's always when you're a bit cheeky, isn't it? (While we're at it, I mixed up the two current affairs items I praised this week: it was Sunday which produced the Porirua Hospital story - months of work apparently - and 60 Minutes which did the Cambridge High story.)

As for the rest, I haven't changed my view that Collins' arguments against the civil unions legislation were faulty, misleading and somewhat cynical.

There are doubtless various conspiracy theories about the change of status for the omnibus bill, but I'm happy enough to see it. The civil unions issue gains nothing from inter-party scrapping. It's just a matter of people standing up and saying what kind of country they think this is.

There are few doubts on that score amongst Public Address readers, it would seem. The Rev Margaret Mayman sent me a statement from the first meeting of Christians for Civil Unions, in which she said "A small section of New Zealand Christians has been very vocal in its opposition to civil unions, but tonight it is clear that there is also a lot of considered Christian support." She noted one of the key problems that the Civil Union Bill will resolve.

That same-sex couples do not have the same next of kin status as married couples. Currently they can not make decisionson behalf of one another when one partner is incapacitated due to illness or dies.

Another speaker supported the Bill because for two reasons: the separation between church and state; and the right of all people to decide their own stance on moral issues based on their conscience. The Bill removes the obvious discrimination in favour of married couples, while protecting the rights of religious groups to maintain their tradition's view on marriage.

Petra emailed to say:

I can only scoff at those who refer to the "sanctity of marriage", claiming the Bible as an authority on matters of marriage. Online, I have argued with many people who say that any legislative change with regard to gay marriage or de facto marriage is a Bad Thing(tm), and is not what marriage is all about - ie: that marriage, according to God, is one man/one woman and should not be messed with.

These people seem to think that marriage has not evolved since the early days of the old testament! Never mind that women and children are now protected, and no longer merely chattels to do with what one wishes. Divorce is a popular option for those who find themselves in unhappy marriages. Are divorcees debasing the sanctity of marriage? Probably more so than civil unions or gay marriages, yet you don't hear much about that, do you? I wonder how many of those who contest civil unions or gay marriages, under the pretext of destroying the sanctity of marriage, are divorced?

Kathleen Cain had a similar view:

More damage is done to the institution of marriage by some selfish or unfaithful or greedy heterosexual husbands and wives than could ever be inflicted by the gay couples who seek to declare their love and commitment to each other in a formal way. Call it 'civil union', 'marriage', or what you will.
I find it heartening that couples of any sexual orientation want to embark on a journey that requires love, loyalty, generosity, sacrifice, integrity. Far from threatening the institution this can only reinforce and enhance it.

Matthew Cavanagh commented on my note that I was less bothered than some people at the fact that civil unions aren't marriage, which perhaps is owned by the institutions that have nurtured it:

I couldn't help but wonder if that is exactly the position from which the government is approaching for this legislation. One description of the current philosophy of the Labour government is that they see the role of their government as providing the formal institutions through which they hope to encourage positive social and economic trends such as the 'knowledge economy'.

The Civil Union Bill seems to reflect this philosophy. My understanding of the bill is that it creates a legal relationship very similar to marriage. In doing so I think the government is promoting equality in two ways. Homosexual couples having their legal rights promoted through civil union is one, the other being that group rights for religious organisations are also being promoted. That is to say that religious groups are entitled to their own conception and application of marriage. This protection of cultural or group rights is entirely consistent with, for instance, the rights we accord Jehovah's Witness's to reject blood transfusions. I have a big thumbs-up for the government's approach to this issue.

Such equable notions were absent, naturally, from yesterday's Maxim opinion piece (yes, another one) in the Herald from the institute's Amanda McGrail. Her examples of tolerance were illuminating: "We display true tolerance every time we restrain ourselves from denting an idiot's car, or from giving some smart-mouthed teenager a piece of our mind." Some of us, Amanda, find tolerance through regarding other people as human beings, and not cardboard stereotypes. Still, humanity isn't Maxim's strong suit at the best of times …

Staying with the Herald, the paper quoted a letter from Sunday Star Times editor Cate Brett to Sandra Simpson in response to Sandra's complaint about the acres of full-frontal nudity on page three of Sunday's paper. It was lifted without credit from Hard News, but I don't really mind that. But Sandra's head is fairly spinning:

Boy, what I did start?

The only place I sent the copy of Cate Brett's apology to me re the Sunday Star Times' naked haka picture was Hard News ... This morning, a version appears in the NZ Herald as part of the story under the heading "TV draws a line on nudity as Sunday paper receives complaints".

I say a version because it describes me as a "subscriber" (I'm not) and said that I rang to cancel my subscription (I didn't) and that I was told there had been a spate of complaints (impossible, see above).

I did e-mail the SST and was pleased not only with the thoughtful response from editor Cate Brett but the time taken over it ... and I will continue to buy the paper most weeks.

The lazy journalism of the Herald writers (grabbing something off a website and disguising it as their own news gathering) is unfortunately becoming all too prevalent. I should know, I work in journalism.

When I discovered the cock-up, I e-mailed the Herald and received a nice reply quite quickly to the effect that they will correct the errors in tomorrow's edition - mind you, no admission was made of using your weblog as a source, it was down to journalists in different parts of the country not communicating clearly, or something.

In the meantime, though, the story has been filed, with the incorrect information concerning me, on NZPA! Oh dear, I hope this isn't my 15 minutes of fame ...

Indeed: one would hope for something a little more salubrious than willy-waving in the Sunday papers. But is this what we in the profession refer to as "making stuff up"? The Herald's delicately amended story is here.

Crikey! Channel 4 on the telly and the odd game of cricket: Kabul is no longer the worst place in the world.

The Washington Post has a solid story on the September 11 Commission's finding of "no credible evidence" of a link between al Qaeda and Saddam. The Centre for American Progress traces the whole sorry story in Anatomy of a Myth.

And finally, I should note that this post is the first via my new Ihug Connect service, which uses the Wired Country network based in the Sky Tower. Several other ISPs are retailing the same service, although I think only Ihug has the swish next-generation phone service. First impressions: 2Mbit/s, flat-rate (although they'll crank you down to dial-up speed after, um, 20GB for the month), low latency … it rocks.

PS: I've interviewed Bill Ralston for Mediawatch on Sunday morning on occasion of his first year as news and current affairs chief at TVNZ. Worth a listen, I think.