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Monthly Archives: June 2015

Spitting tacks as competitive sport; a Friday night rant

I have to get this out while I am still spitting tacks. In fact, in my mind’s eye I can hear the little ‘plick, plick’ sounds as little upholstery tacks spray my computer screen. What has caused this screen-denting fury? I wish it was climate change or workers’ rights, or some event in the world that would prove I have the soul of an activist. But no. It’s just an opinion piece; a little mind-burp that pushes the kind of buttons that read ‘Take that, feminazis of the PC brigade!’ blah, blah. Usually these things pass me by and I take little notice. Nevertheless, this one got me. A Melbourne columnist has opined that women’s sport is simply inferior to men’s:

Like most sports fans, of both sexes I hasten to add, I prefer to watch the very best in their chosen field and in just about every major sport, the male competitors are vastly superior to the female equivalent. That’s not merely an opinion, it’s an indisputable fact and to say otherwise is to deny human biology.

Women may be smarter and more skilful than men in many areas but when it comes to size, strength and speed, the male of the species has the fairer sex well and truly covered. They can run faster, jump higher, throw further.

So why would I watch the WNBA when I could watch the NBA? Or women’s football instead of the AFL? Why would I or anybody want to watch an inferior product?

See, what riles me is not actually the proposition that women don’t throw a ball or run etc as fast as men. I actually don’t care that biology creates such a division. I can see why women’s sport tends to attract fewer sponsors, less money and less media time. I love it when we do celebrate women’s success in sport, as in our rowers in the olympics, or other athletic sports, or netball, and I want better visibility and financial support for women’s sport, but I can see the pragmatic and hard-nosed side of the argument that says ‘women’s sport often attract less attention and therefore female athletes will be paid less.’ I don’t really get offended by that debate.

One main problem with Rita Panahi’s perspective is that she only judges women’s endeavours in comparison with men’s. Women’s sporting efforts can only have validity if they are equal to, or greater to, men’s. Panahi cites the match up between the Williams sisters and Karsten Braasch in 1998 as a prime example; when in response to a challenge, he beat them both beating Serena 6-1 and Venus 6-2. The fact that the author even chose this story says volumes about the regard in which she holds women’s sporting efforts. No matter who the Williams sisters beat; if they have a vagina, it doesn’t count.

But that’s not really what we do, as sports watchers. I don’t watch Serena smash the ball and think “yeah, but Djokovic would do it harder”. I watch to see what Serena’s opponent does in return. I don’t watch Lisa Carrington power down the course thinking “yeah..but Mahe’s faster, if his guts are right”. I see Lisa in her context, and Serena in hers. It’s the competition in front of us that defines the competitors, not the shadowy ones that aren’t even on the field. This can be a little harder for me with some team sports, but it’s really not hard to watch any good sporting competition in its own context for the joy it affords. Why else do we watch school sport? Paralympics? it’s competition, baby! Many of us have some kind of atavistic, emotional response to a good sporting competition and it doesn’t matter who the hell is playing.

But even Panahi’s testosterone preference is not what annoys the tacks out of me (although it gets pretty close). We can argue about the quality of women’s competition until I run out of tacks. But really, what turns me into a kind of frothy Gatling Gun is what this kind of writing means for our girl children. Why the hell would any girl bother to play competitive sport in any age group with this kind of joyless literal one-upmanship?

I’ll never forget Glenn Osbourne saying on the Code years ago on MTS when talk turned to Netball. “Pfft” He reckoned. “Who cares about netball.” And changing the subject back to the real sport; union or league, I forget which, never mind that many young girls watch shows like that for when their stars appear. I had a young friend who was playing netball at intermediate at that stage. She was watching, and her mother told me the next day that her daughter was so gutted to have her chosen sport thrown away like some used snot-rag. Now I have a daughter of my own, and I have no idea if she’ll be sporty. But if she does travel down that road, she should be encouraged to play, to compete and to love sport, if that’s what lights her fire.

For Panahi to say:

But here’s a shameful confession that will no doubt enrage the sisterhood: I couldn’t care less about women’s sport.

she is not actually engaging in a measured critique of pay packets and media exposure and sexual exploitation that some of the article purports to be (which I don’t object to). She’s really saying ‘Girls, don’t bother.’

And I just hate that. But I’ll leave the last word to another Australian columnist Megan Maurice who refuses to be outraged and just treats Panahi’s words with the flippancy they deserve:

Back at home, the Australian netball selectors defiantly named an entire team of women to represent the Diamonds at August’s Netball World Cup in Sydney. This is despite Panahi’s assertion that women aren’t much good at sport really and no one should bother watching them.

It will be a real blow to the more than 18,000 spectators who have already purchased tickets to the sold out World Cup final when they realise they’ve all come to watch a bunch of women. Let’s hope this move isn’t too costly to the Diamonds.

Te Ururoa and Shark Week on Māori TV

Te Ururoa and Shark Week on Māori TV

Right. Disclosures. First up, I voted Māori Party in the last election and have personal relationships with one or more people connected to this story. Make of that what you will.

What do we make of the allegations of interference in MTS programming by Te Ururoa Flavell or his staff? If you haven’t caught up on the emails here they are. In them, Māori TV approaches Te Ururoa’s office to ask for his participation in a panel to discuss Whānau Ora in a forthcoming episode of Native Affairs. The mail trail alone is not particularly spectacular, or rendolent of scandal. David Farrar is of the opinion that these are ‘absolutely routine’; there can indeed be quite intense negotiations between MP staffers and media people about the nature of appearances made by those MPs on TV programmes. And then there is the added pungence of a meeting scheduled with MTS executives and Te Ururoa, after which the decision was made to cancel that particular show. To summarise:

  • MTS asks for Te Ururoa to appear on the show.
  • Te Ururoa’s press secretary says (effectively)  “Minister happy to come on, but I’m not sure of the format. Why speak to a whole bunch of politicians, including from New Zealand First? Have you considered talking to Whānau Ora practitioners instead? Would you like some phone numbers?”
  • For their part MTS says “Please can the Minister come on? Yep, we are considering those perspectives, it’s important to get this kaupapa aired.” “Really glad he can come on.”
  • [meeting between Te Ururoa and MTS executives]
  • MTS: “Oops, hang on, show has been cancelled, our apologies.”
  • Press secretary: “Oky-doke, thanks for the update.”

So. Just as DF says, right? No drama, just a polite negotiation. But of course, Te Ururoa is not just an MP, he’s a Minister. He’s one of THE Ministers responsible for MTS. This doesn’t change my own opinion that there was no political interference whatsoever, but I can see why this exchange might warrant a second glance. So, here is my second glance. The first port of call is to go the the legislation: the Māori Television Service (Te Aratuku Whakaata Irirangi Māori) Act 2003

10     Independence of Service

  • (1)The responsible Ministers, or any other Minister, or any person acting by or on behalf of or at the direction of any Minister, or Te Pūtahi Paoho, or a member of Te Pūtahi Paoho, or a director acting without the authority of the board, must not direct the Service, or any subsidiary of the Service, or any director, officer, or employee of the Service in respect of—

    • (a) a particular programme:

    • (b) a particular allegation or complaint relating to a particular programme:

    • (c) the gathering or presentation of news or the preparation or presentation of current affairs programmes:

    • (d) programme standards.

I’ve bolded the relevant words where issues might be said to arise in this case. This is where the tyre hits the tarmac for Clare Curran, and Andrew Little who is rapidly sniffing large rodents as they both trumpet that Te Ururoa “broke the law”. The key word here is “direct”. The Minister must not direct the Service, for example, in respect of ‘a particular programme’ or the gathering or presentation of news or current affairs. The most basic rules of statutory interpretation mean we have to take the natural and ordinary meaning of words, and we also need to see how the word is used elsewhere in the statute and not just to impose a convenient meaning that best fits our desires. So, according to the Concise Oxford ‘direct’ means to ‘control the operations of’..something, and ‘to give orders to’ someone. The Act doesn’t define the word ‘direct’. But it does use it elsewhere. And the word gets used gives us clues as to what Parliament meant by its use. What do the responsible ministers direct? Did you know the responsible Ministers and the chair of Te Putahi Paoho may ‘direct the board to amend its statement of intent’ under s16(1)(d)? Neither did I. Even more fascinating:

under s24B(1)(a)  responsible Ministers must— (a) direct the Secretary for Radiocommunications to, and the Secretary must, transfer from the Crown to Te Pūtahi Paoho management rights to two 8 MHz ultra high frequency ranges, within the limits of 502 to 694 MHz, for the period from 1 December 2013 to 30 November 2033

and back to that ol’ statement of intent thing, under s34(1)(a) [and (3)]

the responsible Ministers and the chairperson of Te Pūtahi Paoho jointly direct an amendment to the statement of intent…

It looks to me very like the word ‘direct’ has been chosen by Parliament to reflect a notion that the Minister has very limited powers to direct certain things to happen, and then, ‘direct’ is restricted to the sense of  “give  orders” to inferiors in the decision-making process. Directing, in the context of this Act clearly means to order an inferior. This is what the Ministers MUST NOT DO in s10, as set out above.  I don’t think the word’s relevant meaning in the context of legislation is intended to stretch to include statements of opinion, or advice or suggestion. Simply put, the Ministers must not give orders to MTS about any of its programmes, or about the gathering and presentation of its news and current affairs.

OK I realise context means something, and that the person receiving advice or suggestions might perceive an order in there somewhere. That’s why I don’t object to the questions being asked, I just can’t see very legitimate grounds for finding that there is any kind of ‘directing’ going on in the email exchange. It’s a pretty long bow to draw to claim the following statement even begins to emulate where a Minister’s proxy/employee might be considered to ‘direct’ MTS in respect of a particular programme or in the gathering of news ect:

I’m just not convinced that you’ll enlighten your viewers by having a panel of politicians talking about Whānau Ora. Have you considered interviewing whānau, providers or the commissioning agencies as well? Or iwi/other Ministers on the Whānau Ora Partnership Group. Happy to help with contacts if you want them.

Not only is this not ‘directing’ as the Act seems to use that word for what the Ministers do, I don’t even see how this reaches a threshold for political interference. The programme was being planned, the talent was prepared to go on, regardless of the presence of other MPs. I’m really struggling to see political interference. What I see are common sense suggestions. Why not have fewer pollies and more practitioners on a show like this? The emails alone are bolstered by the temporal coincidence of the planned meeting between Te Ururoa and the MTS executive. It was after this meeting that the show was canned. I can’t speak for the meeting from any kind of direct knowledge, but Te Ururoa stated in Parliament:

I met with the chief executive officer of Māori Television once in May 2015. The meeting itself had been confirmed in my diary since February 2015, when I believe I had my first meeting with him. I did not discuss, and do not discuss, planned news items or editorial decisions, as those are matters for the staff of Māori Television to consider.

Sorry to be unfashionable but there is nothing here to persuade me to think this meeting was anything other than the two participants said it was. Because Clare Curran has helpfully provided evidence to confirm this statement in releasing the memo from Pāora Maxwell to staff setting out what was discussed:

On Wednesday I met with the Minister of Māori Development the Hon Te Ururoa Flavell. It was an opportunity to outline our plans for the coming year. We talked about our strategic pillars, partnerships and alliances, people, communications/brand content and multi-platform. The minister was very interested in our progress and supportive of our direction of travel. He has very clear objectives around Māori language speakers and he wants Māori TV to be part of that journey.

[Actually, of far more concern was Paora’s observation a couple of paragraphs down that Find Me a Māori Bride “might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s important that Māori TV caters for everyone’s tastes”. If that’s not damning with faint praise I don’t know what is!]

So we have a meeting with a clear ‘reporting’ agenda and a series of emails about setting up an interview, and a provision is an Act whereby a responsible Minister may not direct MTS about a programme. These puzzle pieces don’t fit. Not unless you force them and slather them in Krazy Glue. You want want puzzle pieces that do fit? The long parade of resignations of high profile journalists at MTS and the chopping and changing of current affairs/news programme content by MTS executives. There’s a common denominator there, his name is Paora. Now there’s a story. Not that anyone at Māori TV can tell it.

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