OnPoint by Keith Ng


Bar brawls aren't my thing

One word that Debra Hill Cone said on National Radio was instructive. She described Deborah Coddington's North & South article as "courageous".


i.e. N&S knew that asking such a question was going to open them up to accusations of racism, but the public deserved to know, and so they went ahead and did it. This was, therefore, courageous.

The instructive element was that this kind of sentiment is reinforced, if not fueled, by said accusations of racism. The more they are accused of racism, the more courageous they appear for asking that question.

I can appreciate the spirit with which Coddington railed against what she perceives to be uncritically positive reporting on migrants - though, given her own exhaustive list of Asian crime stories, that's a difficult claim to sustain. However, I really want to dispel the idea, implied by the likes of Cone, that Coddington's being lynched because Asians don't like to be criticised or the PC brigade doesn't allow criticism of Asians - and that this sort of shutting-down of criticism is what N&S is standing up against.

I just want to make this clear: It's okay to investigate crime among Asians. It's okay to ask whether there is a lot of crime among Asian migrants. It's even okay to present evidence that says this is the case. That does not equate to racism.

(Though one might want to get more specific than "Asian", as it's pretty rare that you'd have cause to tar Chinese, Koreans, Indonesians and Indians with the same brush.)

However, right to criticise does not mean right to make shit up. The line between critique and baseless accusations is not a fine one, and I'm not about to suggest that an experienced journalist such as Coddington is unable to tell the difference. Mostly because it's really fucking obvious.

Balance: If you're doing an article saying that Asian migrants are criminals, you interview someone who represents Asian migrants. This isn't Journalism 101. This is the sort of stuff that Lois & Clark wouldn't have ballsed up.

Oh, but wait - she did interview other Asian migrants: Justin Zhang from Skykiwi, Lincoln Tan of iBall/Herald columnist, as well as Pansy Wong, I've just learned (thanks Tze Ming).

So let me get this straight.

1) She interviewed three people who actually have connections with and knowledge about the Asian migrant communities, but didn't report on a single one of the interviews (yet, still still quoted Tan's column).
2) She quoted, instead, from one Asian who actively dissociated herself from the Asian migrants who are the subjects of the article.
3) When two well-placed sources - the Minister of Immigration and his National Party counterpart - said they're not aware of such a problem, she dismissed the opinion of these sources and calls them ignorant.
4) She didn't interview the police Asian Community Liaison Officer, the first and by far most obvious port-of-call on the subject.
5) When the stats pointed clearly in the opposite direction from where she wanted the article to go, she fudged the stats.

With every interview subject, you have to weigh up their credibility, their motives and whether what they said was relevant or interesting, etc. Not every interview gets used, and and not everything they say is taken at face value.

But here, Coddington had three senior politicians, two prominent community members, one set of core crime statistics and a partridge in a pear tree disagreeing with the her claims.

This actually raises some interesting questions. There is a public perception that Asian crime is rampant. Some police are concerned about Asian connections in drug crimes. Yet apprehension stats among Asians are far below average, and has gotten lower, and people in the community don't seem fazed. Why?

Is Asian crime actually uncommon, but just gets more attention (and a higher profile) because they're Asian? Is the police unit responsible for Asian crime 'very concerned about Asian crime' because it's their frigging job description?

On the other hand, could it be that law enforcement engagement with the Asian community is lacking, and therefore crime is less visible, only showing itself in the high-end incidents?

But instead of asking these questions, she simply dumped the contradicting interviews, chided the politicians' opinions, and stuffed the stats up a big red herring. Then proceeded to fill up the column inches with gory case details and claim that Asian migrants are mostly criminals. (Not that they're all criminals, mind you. Just most of them.)

In a sense, I think they missed their own point. It could have been a legitimate story.

In a Herald on Sunday column, three days shy of a year ago, this is what Coddington described as "irresponsible" (hat tip: Kumanan):

In August 2002, for instance, [Winston Peters] reckoned immigrants were necrophiliacs, triple murderers, rapists, fraudsters or HIV carriers... in Parliament he quoted approvingly from a letter published in the New Zealand Herald claiming Chinese students were responsible for 'theft, fraud, fighting, assault, intimidation, vehicle crashes, disorder, domestic stabbings and a sideline of extortion and weapon-carrying'."

Ms Coddington, I am accusing you of irresponsible journalism that sought to promote a sensational claim at the expense of any regard for balance or fairness. I am accusing you of intellectual dishonesty in omitting, ignoring and distorting evidence that clearly contradicted your preferred proposition.

I challenge you to respond through whatever means you see fit, but Public Address will be open to you if you choose to respond in kind.

Click here for more NGA.

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