Hard News by Russell Brown


Contains strong language

I understand the spirit in which the Libertarianz' Nik Haden refused to fill in his census form - today cycle helmets, tomorrow serfdom - but I don't think much of his reasoning.

It used to be the case that you and I had an interest in providing some basic information every four years because it would assist the government in making better decisions - and, more particularly, in taking into account people like ourselves. But it's a bit more than that now. I make use of public data census data quite regularly. It helps me determine the merit of claims made by politicians and in the media. I would go so far as to say that public data make me free.

Haden was, inevitably, found to have breached the Statistics Act yesterday, having proudly informed the collector at the last census that he had burned his census form.

He suggested to Radio New Zealand that he would be happy if New Zealand followed the example of European countries that do not conduct a traditional census.

I think he needs to look a bit closer at what that means. For reasons largely of cost, a number of European countries are moving towards a register-based approach; buttressed, in some cases, by sampling. (I could be wrong, but I can't see that any country is conducting the exercise solely through sample surveying.)

Register-based approaches require the state to keep and hold an enormous amount of data and, as such, tend to be employed in the nanniest of nanny states. Sweden numbers every dwelling, and keeps registers of employment, business, occupation, education, income and wealth. Finland keeps those and then some (it even tracks students in other countries), and as this backgrounder notes:

All this would not have been possible without a strong legislative framework, imposing primary use of existing data sources for statistical purposes on Statistics Finland; imposing supply of unit-level data on register holders, including the identification data; and stipulating strict data protection procedures on all parties.

And still, there are kinds of data that are missed (we referred to census figures on religious affiliation in yesterday's discussion - I hardly think it would be appropriate to keep a register on that, although you'd suspect someone in Europe would try). In the circumstances, our being small enough to conduct a direct universal survey every four five years looks like a clear advantage.

So anyway, I hope Haden's penalty is token, and can only further hope that the Libz now train their keen minds on something more substantial; such as Annette King's unfortunate musing about the introduction of British-style ASBOs - Anti-Social Behaviour Orders - a system for turning subjective nuisance behaviour into criminal conduct, to order, without the need for due process or traditional standards of evidence. No matter how silly the order imposed on you - and some are very silly - you face five years imprisonment for breaching it. To say this gets out of hand is putting it mildly:

Police in Scotland, UK are using anti-social behavior orders (ASBO) to seize cars belonging to drivers accused of minor traffic violations. Last year, the Lothian and Borders police seized 54 vehicles and issued 565 ASBOs to motorists for traffic offenses such as speeding …

"The impression I form is that there is a drift towards summary justice, which has a lower burden of proof - the balance of probability as opposed to beyond reasonable doubt," Napier University, Edinburgh, Law lecturer Ken Dale-Risk told the Scotsman. "However, I am somewhat surprised to see ASBO legislation being applied to standard road traffic violations.... Access to due process is denied and the consequences are disproportionate to the conduct."

For more examples of ingenious creation of criminal offences (from wearing hats to entering tall buildings), see the BBC's The Asbo Chronicles.

And here's No Right Turn's opinion:

The basic objection to such a system is obvious: it seeks to punish people without the procedural safeguards of a criminal trial. Those subjected to an ASBO do not benefit from such niceties as the presumption of innocence, the need for proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to counsel or the right to challenge their accusers. The entire system is conceived as an end-run around those protections. This is bad enough when used against those accused of petty crime such as vandalism, shoplifting, offensive behaviour and harassment (all of which could be prosecuted under existing law if the British police actually wanted to do their jobs). It is worse when it is used to punish behaviour which is not actually an offence at all. Unfortunately, that is what Annette King is proposing - her chosen targets are boy racers who drive loud cars, gang members who wear patches in public, and convicted criminals who live in Rotorua. None of this is a crime - but if King has her way, people will be facing punishment and possibly jail time for it.

Unlike King, I think that if the state wants to punish certain behaviour, it should pass a law criminalising it, rather than letting the police make up the law as they go along. And unlike King, I take the Bill of Rights Act seriously. If the BORA says that you can't punish people just for wearing a gang patch, or retroactively punish them again for a crime they have already served their sentence for, then that to my mind is a good reason not to do such things, rather than a flaw which must be circumvented with a tawdry legal fiction.

Here's my short, and consciously anti-social version: you can stick your fucking ASBO up your arse.

Well, PC, where are you on this one?

And finally, a couple of examples of bad news reporting. Checkpoint yesterday carried a correspondent's report (Michael someone - he sounded Australian) on Hugo Chavez' refusal to renew the 20-year broadcast licence of an unfriendly TV channel. It described Chavez as Venezula's military strongman" and the government as a "military regime".

I am not a member of the Chavez fan club: he seems dangerously autocratic. But he has been publicly elected three times since 1998. It's farcical to describe his government as a "military regime".

Much better coverage, demonstrating the remarkable polarization of opinion about Chavez in his own country, has been appearing this week on BoingBoing. In one post, readers respond to reports of the RCTV decision (pointing out, among other things, that the station urged the violent overthrow of an elected government in 2002), and in another one, there's news on student protests against the decision, the police response, and signs that another TV station may lose access to the airwaves.

And, finally, news staff at TV3 should be ashamed of the channel's report on the Speaker consulting on the status of the Parliamentary prayer.

The issue has been with the standing orders committee for some time now, and that Margaret Wilson should contact MPs asking them whether they want the prayer kept as is, altered in any way (interestingly, a Catholic Archbishop says it should be atered to accommodate multiple faiths), or scrapped, in order to report their views to the select committee, is utterly unremarkable.

So why did TV3's "exclusive" report declare that "the prayer is under attack", and why did the channel headline its website version of the report 'Plans to ditch Parliament’s daily prayer' when there are no such plans?

What a lot of bullshit.

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