A Few More BOP Times Columns

Below are links to my four five most recent BOP Times columns. Those the newspaper doesn’t put online are here as PDFs, and labeled as such. And all my BOP Times columns are here.

Less Than Golden Memories, (online) 3 November 2012
Whatever else gold has given Waihi over the years, it’s certainly provided a rich seam of conflict.

Townies and Farmers at Odds, (online) 27 October 2012
The rural-urban divide will only get wider if the agriculture lobby continues to reject efforts at environmental regulation.

New Media Good News for Old, (PDF) 20 October 2012
Might blogger Keith Ng’s WINZ scoop be an example of how new and old media can work together for the good of journalism?

Crime and the Fear Factor, (online) 13 October 2012
The media’s over-emphasis on crime coverage makes us all feel less safe. 

Oil Spills Leave Lasting Stain, (online) 6 October 2012
A bit of a personal look at the Rena disaster from a committed BOP beach runner, (and deep-sea oil drilling opponent).



Polling and Spin – Part I

[See a 25 Oct UPDATE below with some links] There was something familiar about a pro-mining an article in the New Zealand Herald last week, Public Back Mining: Poll, and it wasn’t just that the headline was rather like one that ran on July 9, Mining Poll Result Shows Kiwis Alert to ‘Misinformation’. For one thing, there were a few quotes from the mining lobby group Straterra, whose CEO is Chris Baker:

Oct. 15
Baker said the results revealed most New Zealanders supported responsible exploration and mining for minerals, “contrary to what a vocal and persistent minority would have us believe”. “But the results also show relatively poor public understanding of the reality today of minerals activities in New Zealand,” he said. “The misinformation advanced by parts of the community, however well-intended, does not help informed debate on our economic future.”

July 9
“However, the survey shows that misinformation on minerals and mining promulgated by a vocal and persistent minority is rejected by most New Zealanders, who have confidence in our regulations and who see every reason for mineral exploration,” Baker said.

It seems “vocal and persistent minority” is the focused-group phrase for – whoever – since, according to today’s article, “Baker did not identify any group.” Though the article went on to discuss Forest & Bird.

But more importantly, last week’s article (which originally ran a few days earlier in the Otago Daily Times) gave the reader almost no information about the poll on which it was based. It surely isn’t the same poll as the one reported in July, since that surveyed 750 people, and the one quoted last week apparently surveyed 1000. But who commissioned it? Who carried it out? What were all the questions?  All we are told is that it was “a recent 1000-person national poll”.

I’ve written about the news media’s coverage of polling before. And this is another case of Not Nearly Enough Information.

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New Werewolf

Issue 35 of the online newsmagazine Werewolf is up with lots of good stuff, including Gordon Campbell’s lead looking at problems a lot of people face finding a primary healthcare provider in their area. It’s titled “When Local GPs Are a Closed Book.” Gordon also investigates the conditions workers face in the NZ movie industry in “Acting Under Orders“.

There’s some satirical relief from Lyndon Hood, too, writing about Planet Key, or Planetki.

I have a couple of articles in this issue: “When Teaching Becomes Preaching“, looking at the latest round in the religion-in-schools debate; and “A Broader Union“, which follows up an iwi-CTU hui held in Tauranga in September, and looks at whether Māori can exercise some of their increasing economic muscle in favour of workers.

Rena: Good News and Bad Politics

A good crowd turned out last night at the Mt. Maunganui Surf Club to hear an update on the environmental monitoring programme one year after the oil came ashore from the Rena. Marine scientists Professors Chris Battershill of Waikato University and David Schiel of Canterbury led the update, and were accompanied at the top table by the iwi rep Rahera Ohia and the Rena Recovery Manager Catherine Taylor.

I had been along earlier in the day to the media briefing, but the public meeting was actually a lot more useful and informative, with more detail about both the monitoring and what they’ve found so far. That said, because the programme is only a third of the way through, there’s not yet a whole lot to report. The Recovery Programme has its own Web site,  so I won’t go into all the slightly mind-numbing organisational details here.

At the 11 Oct 2012 media briefing on the Rena one year on, from left, Prof. Chris Battershill, chair of Coastal Science at Waikato University; Prof. David Schiel of Canterbury University Rahera Ohia, the iwi rep for the Rena recovery; and Catherine Taylor, Rena Recovery programme manager.

My take on the update so far, based on what the scientists told us, is that the environment is recovering remarkably well, and that the clean up was remarkably effective. Schiel made the point that we, with our 8000-strong army of volunteers in sperm suits, did it right – that the hand-and-sieve approach to the beaches has turned out to be hugely more effective than any effort with heavy machinery would have been, since that tends to just drive the oil deeper into the sand.

I’m actually always a bit suspicious of “everything’s OK now” claims, and after the briefings, I’m not entirely convinced things are as rosy as the speakers last night suggested they are. (More on that below.) That said, I tend to trust the info it a lot more when it’s coming from scientists, not politicians, and I confess that I don’t know a whole heckuva lot about marine science, so it would be churlish to start second-guessing the results they presented. (Oh, and speaking of politicians, more on that below, too.)

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A New PR Union at the Port

So Ports of Auckland can sign collective agreements after all. It just did so with a new “union” called PortPro, which apparently has 33 members. (Auckland Now!, on the Stuff site,  has better coverage than the Herald, so far. Though this earlier report, from September, is interesting in raising good questions about who’s behind the “union”.)

NBR actually has some (more would be good) reporting on something I was wondering about, writing: “Ports of Auckland could find itself in breach of its good faith obligations to the Maritime Union by signing a collective agreement with a rival new union, an employment lawyer says.”

Setting up “company” or “yellow” unions is, of course, a tried and trusted tactic in busting unions, which it’s clear POAL is engaged in. The Port of Tauranga has several of these unions, which I briefly described a few months ago in a Werewolf piece on the so-called Port of Tauranga model. These “unions” offer the bosses a lot of advantages. First there’s the obvious one of weakening the union that the employer is intent on busting by siphoning off members who can later work as scabs; second, by making agreements that are better and cheaper for the employer; third, as academic James Reveley has pointed out, they’re great for PR. And this point is actually the most important, and the one MUNZ will need to work hardest to counter.

Reveley, for example, wrote about a 2001 dispute at South Island ports that was portrayed in the mainstream media as being a demarcation dispute between two unions. He quoted NBR, which described it as “about an entrenched union trying to muscle aside another union and hold back progress on New Zealand wharves”. One of them was the Amalgamated Stevedore’s Union, which isn’t CTU affiliated and whose membership rules specifically refer to employees of the labour hire firm New Zealand Associates Limited — that is, a company specific union.

But whatever the facts of the matter, both will be called unions by the employer, by the “union” and by the mainstream media, end of story. That’s not the place to engage this fight.

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Beware, the Sequel

So, I wrote a column on the Beware Americans Bearing … Well, Anything for my BOP Times Saturday spot. It’s another one that didn’t seem to make it online, so here’s the pdf version