Feedback: May 28, 2016

by The Listener / 24 May, 2016
NZME-Fairfax NZ merger and the state of journalism; Catholic celibacy and abuse; and reducing our carbon footprint.
Cartoon/Steve Bolton
Cartoon/Steve Bolton


With regard to the global security coverage (“Terror unleashed”, May 14), I was in Iraq with the British Army in 2003. I would make similar observations of US forces’ activity in Baghdad and the north of Iraq as David Kilcullen and Emma Sky, but in the south-east, the Brits did it differently. We went into the towns and villages without our helmets and mixed with the locals. My name badge was written in both English and Arabic, and it was a delight when children called me by name.

In Basrah, it was difficult to find any war-damaged buildings, whereas in Baghdad there seemed to be few undamaged buildings.

Lt Col Tim Collins led 1 Royal Irish Battalion, which was the first British unit to cross the line. The first things they did when entering each town were to get the schools and hospitals going, ensure that fresh water and power were on and help the local authorities to function smoothly. I recommend his book, Rules of Engagement, as an accurate account of the British Army’s approach.

Bernard Redshaw
(The Wood, Nelson)


It must be tough being as cynical and world-weary as Bill Ralston (Life, May 21) – never getting outraged because, well, stuff happens. How wearisome life must be when nothing in politics surprises or revolts, because, well, all politicians are like that and there are no smoking guns, or if there are, they are never found.

It’s a bit rich, a cheap shot, to implicitly attack media for trying some real investigative journalism in an age when there is so little of it about any more. They don’t always get it right, but by God, if they stop doing it, then all we have is cynicism. I prefer life-affirming outrage, any day.

Ursula Cheer
(Bryndwr, Christchurch)


From long experience as a teacher in a decile 1 primary school in South Auckland, I can tell you it is rarely a good idea to leave abused, neglected children struggling with even extended family with ingrained patterns of poor parenting and associated drug and alcohol problems (Your say, April 30).

I struggle to bring to mind even one abused child who has been placed with extended family members and experienced a better life.

We should be bold and put these children into homes with love and caring despite a different culture, and let’s do it at a young age to ensure long-term damage is avoided.

Mandy Day
Letter of the week


I’m a German-born journalist who has been working here for 20 years. I’m surprised by the lack of coverage of the biggest assault on media freedom in New Zealand history.

Why is it that the Commerce Commission decides on a merger of the country’s dominant Fairfax and NZME media groups? This is not a commercial decision only. It is a matter of democracy, freedom of speech and the right of access to information.

To think that a monopoly would guarantee these rights and values is daydreaming. It’s as if a merger of New World and Countdown would bring better quality and lower prices. Alarm bells should be ringing – constitutional experts, politicians, journalists and the public should be up in arms over this merger plan. But it seems as if we’ve been dumbed down by exactly the same media that are now seeking total domination.

Ulli Weissbach
(Murrays Bay, Auckland)


It’s a long time since I’ve read such a Catholic-bashing diatribe as “Sins of the fathers” (Editorial, May 21). It launches into “the ignorance, guilt, confusion and misery promoted by the Catholic Church’s cruel … teaching on sexuality”,  in particular Catholic priestly celibacy as the cause of child sexual abuse by priests.

The best-known study on sex abuse by Catholic priests was published in the US by New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice [2004]. It did not find celibacy was a cause of such abuse. The study noted the broader social context of widespread child sexual abuse.

In 2010, the president of the US National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children was quoted in Newsweek saying: “We don’t see the Catholic Church as a hotbed of child abuse or a place that has a bigger problem than anyone else … we have seen cases in many religious settings, from travelling evangelists to mainstream ministers to rabbis and others.” The centre estimated that the incidence of US child abuse (ranging from inappropriate touching to rape) in the general population was 10%. John Jay College put it closer to 20%. John Jay’s study found 4% of Catholic clergy had abuse allegations made, of which 1% were convicted.

US insurance companies that offer sexual misconduct coverage say their studies indicate that Catholic churches are not higher risk than other denominations with non-celibate clergy (Newsweek, July 2010).

Any amount of child abuse is too much, but the rate of abuse by Catholic celibate clergy is significantly lower than the estimates for the general population.

David Gibbs
(Beach Haven, Auckland)


As an ex-DSIR scientist, I agree scientists of the now defunct organisation were encouraged to speak to the media or make public statements (Science, May 21). However, scientists at the crown research institutes that took the DSIR’s place have the problem that to get funding from the government, many have to be endorsed by the private sector, which may or may not contribute funding. CRI managers, meanwhile, are told to run their organisations like businesses, and as such they take a “this is ours” approach to data.

This is a direct result of how they are structured, the objective of which was to get as much private money as possible into them. However, a large portion of the funding comes either from the government or from overseas, so much of the better output is not even owned by us. The policy should be that facts, apart from those gained in developing a product that is not yet on the market or patent-protected, should be public. Opinions and policy should be private.

Facts relating to product safety should be made immediately available to the public. If we pay for the research, the owners of the results are the public, not politicians.

Ian Miller
(Belmont, Lower Hutt)


I suspect that wise Transport Agency (NZTA) staff would have ticked “True” in answer to the May 14 Quick Question: “True or false? Building new motorways and widening roads can increase congestion.” They would know it is true because of the phenomenon called “induced demand”.

Decades of refusal by successive ministers of transport  and officials to acknowledge the phenomenon have led to most funding going on motorways and roads, all to no avail.

Ever-worsening congestion and exhaust emissions choke our cities and towns. The Government signed the COP21 Paris Agreement. Will it now call a halt to all motorway projects, including the so-called roads of national significance programme, as a start to slashing the nation’s greenhouse-gas emissions?

Chris Horne
(Northland, Wellington)


It’s great to see gestational diabetes awareness being raised (Health, May 21). However, the disease is better described as an important early warning of vulnerability to developing type 2 diabetes, rather than as “setting women up” for it.

When diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, most people have had it for years and may have suffered health damage. Having gestational diabetes gives a woman the ­opportunity to make changes that may help her avoid type 2 diabetes or delay its onset.

Obstetric guidelines require that a woman with gestational diabetes be referred to a ­specialist service for super­vision and treatment. A vital element of that care is the provision of post-pregnancy lifestyle advice. It’s also important to ensure that the woman understands why, for the rest of her life, she should have annual diabetes screening.

Our gestational diabetes rates are escalating even though the threshold for diagnosis is higher than in many comparable countries, such as Australia. Consequently, increasing numbers of women whom obstetric ­diabetologists consider to be in need of treatment miss out altogether. Squeezed funding further restricts district health boards’ ability to address the problem.

Andrea Dawe
(Sandringham, Auckland)


A number of claims are made for the beneficial effects of organic farming on soil carbon storage (Letters, May 7), and fertiliser use is often claimed to do the opposite. The reality is that it’s more complicated.

Soil carbon is a dynamic quantity where the amount held in the soil’s organic matter is in equilibrium between what comes in and what goes out. Increasing agricultural production through judicious fertiliser use can increase the quantities of plant material and animal excreta returned to the soil.

Tilling soil is usually the most deleterious practice for soil carbon and has been implicated in the rise and fall of civilisations, so good arable farmers rotate their crops and usually include a regular restorative phase of pasture to maintain soil organic matter.

However, whether they farm organically or not, their soil carbon levels will always generally be lower than the same soil under a grazed pasture because there is less organic material returned. Organic farming, to its credit, often emphasises practices that help maintain soil carbon, but these aren’t exclusive to organic farmers. The plain fact is that when it comes to soil carbon, it’s hard to have your cake and eat it too.

Peter Carey
Soil scientist, Land Research Services


To the list of actions that would help reduce our carbon footprint (“Goodbye cool world”, May 7), add cutting food waste. In New Zealand, as in similar countries, we lose or waste about 50% of the fruit and vegetables we produce.

In other words, we could reduce the energy involved in our fruit and vegetable production by up to half. Much of the waste is attributed to the refusal of retailers to stock “ugly” or misshapen foods. It is estimated that the world wastes twice the amount of food needed to feed all the planet’s hungry.

The UN and US have both committed to halve food waste by 2030. Clearly we should also be developing policies to reduce food wastage. Food outlets should be encouraged or obliged to sell cosmetically imperfect fruit and vegetables at discounts. This would help the needy, provide additional income for growers and benefit the environment.

Stuart Dickson
(Lower Hutt)


Peter Griffin writes that there’s no coherent strategy to help households unconnected to the internet (Technology, April 30). Yet he notes that the size of the unconnected population has nearly halved and is continuing to decline.

This is because there is a coherent strategy. The Government has been a committed supporter of Computers in Homes, aimed at parents new to the internet, and Computer Clubhouse, aimed at young people, since taking office.

The Rural Broadband Initiative is funding access to remote parts of the country, and the telcos are extending their reach through a Universal Access Fund.

Hardware, including second-hand gear, continues to get cheaper and better. And the 2020 Communications Trust, in co-operation with Microsoft, runs the Stepping Up programme, which helps adults to increase their computer skills and confidence.

Don Hollander
(Newtown, Wellington)


Due to a production error, the introduction to Elizabeth Caygill’s profile (“Shelf life”, May 21) said she was doing a PhD at Cambridge.

In fact, she completed a PhD at Columbia ­University in 2009 and is a postdoctoral researcher and Fellow-­Commoner in Biochemistry at Trinity Hall, Cambridge ­University. We apologise for the mistake.

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