Brent Edwards takes a bow

It seems thoroughly unfair that hot on the heels of losing Dita de Boni from our political commentariat, we’re saying goodbye to Brent Edwards as political editor at Radio New Zealand.

the craft crying

But it’s not all bad news – he’s moving to the position of director of news gathering at Radio NZ. He and Mary Wilson, who’s moving to director of news programming, should make one hell of a team.

So here’s his sign-off. It should probably be required reading for #nzpol nerds.

… with ministerial press secretaries and political advisers on their case, public servants increasingly appear to consider the political implications of anything they do, including when it comes to releasing what should be publicly available information.

Couple that with the rise of political spin, a practice adopted widely around the world, and politicians’ natural aversion to speaking in a straightforward manner it is little wonder the political debate has become less and less relevant.

Politics has become a profession and now politicians are judged by how they practise their profession.

While that might be good for politics, it is not necessarily good for democracy.

Language is power

Two otherwise-unconnected stories tell us a lot about how our perceptions and attitudes can be deliberately manipulated with the use of language:

At The Intercept, The Orwellian re-branding of “mass surveillance” as merely “bulk collection”:

Just as the Bush administration and the U.S. media re-labelled “torture” with the Orwellian euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques” to make it more palatable, the governments and media of the Five Eyes surveillance alliance are now attempting to re-brand “mass surveillance” as “bulk collection” in order to make it less menacing (and less illegal).

At Ars Technica, NYPD caught red-handed sanitizing police brutality Wikipedia entries:

IP addresses linked to the New York Police Department’s computer network have been used to sanitize Wikipedia entries about cases of police brutality.

One of the edits changed “Garner raised both his arms in the air” to “Garner flailed his arms about as he spoke.” Another line that said “push Garner’s face into the sidewalk” changed to “push Garner’s head down into the sidewalk.” The word “chokehold,” Capital New York discovered, was twice replaced to “chokehold or headlock” and to “respiratory distress.”

In both cases, you’ve got clear-cut examples of the people at the top of the heap using their influence to rewrite history and law – at least, in the minds of enough people that it suppresses criticism and resistance.

There are many other examples of the power of language in NZ politics, like the “Taxpayer’s Union” co-opting the democratic, mass-member language of the labour movement to sell a few extreme rightwingers’ free market/small government ideology or “Mum and Dad investors” co-opting the idea of hardworking families getting their fair share to sell, well, sales of strategic state assets into private, mostly overseas, hands.

The challenge is to keep saying it like it is and refusing to buy into their framing.

Not the war on men you’re looking for

It’s headline news: Labour supports re-starting a Law Commission review initiated by Simon Power to investigate possible changes in our judicial system including the option of adopting an inquisitorial approach in cases of sexual violence. Shocking stuff!

Hang on, why is that headline news? Because the Herald and David Farrar have chosen to spin this story into a tale of Labour’s continued War On Men.

Tom Scott has helpfully illustrated the debate with a cartoon in which the personification of Justice is clearly asking for it with her slutty attire and manhating ways.

There are so many things I want to say but just can’t find the words for. The statistics are all out there: the utter everyday common-ness of sexual assault. The under-reporting. The horrifyingly low level of prosecutions, much less convictions. The trauma and pain that survivors go through on a routine basis just to get a smidgen of justice.

All I can really focus on are these two incredibly ignorant statements from DPF’s hysterical little post:

Bear in mind that even if you are married to them, that is not proof [of consent].

If it is what you say vs what they say, you will lose.

And all day today, I’ve seen men on Twitter and Facebook say things like “if this happens men will be afraid to be in a room with a woman without a witness!” or “what if my ex suddenly decides to attack me with a false accusation?” or “how can I possibly prove my innocence when it’s their word against mine?”

Here’s the thing, men. If those ideas horrify you, you need to understand one thing: that’s how women feel all the time. These are the thoughts we’re already having. The reality is that somewhere between 1 in 3 and 1 in 4 women will experience sexual violence in her lifetime – and that’s an overall statistic, because it’s far higher for women of colour, for example.

I can appreciate that when the only version of this story you hear is the David Farrar “Labour will murder everything you hold dear” spin, you might start to get worried, and you might decide to completely ignore the realities of how our justice system treats sexual violence (9% estimated reporting rate, 13% conviction rate, awesome!).

But the only thing Labour is guilty of is considering an expert, independent review of our justice system. That’s all.

On the other hand, after a day of reading awful, heartless comments like “this is just about protecting victims’ feelings” I have to say this. If it were the radical man-hating straw-feminist outrage that the Herald and DPF are trying to sell you, you know what? It’s about damn time that the people who commit sexual assault are held to account for their actions, and far beyond time that we stopped persecuting their victims by putting them in the impossible situation of proving they never consented.

(Hat-tip to DawgBelly: 1, 2)