Saturday, February 9, 2013

Oscar contender lied about NZ role in Tehran escape

(First published in The Dominion Post, February 8.)

SADLY, it’s too late to urge a New Zealand boycott of the over-rated film Argo, which has been nominated for several Academy Awards, including best picture.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a moderately well-made drama, although hardly an exceptional one. The final act, in which fugitive American diplomatic staff are smuggled out of Tehran in the aftermath of the 1979 Iranian revolution, is tense and well-executed.

But what should have had New Zealanders waving protest placards outside cinemas was that the film, although ostensibly factual, unfairly and inexplicably misrepresented this country’s role in the American diplomats’ escape.

Argo suggests that Canadian diplomats gave refuge to the Americans after the New Zealand and British embassies refused to help, which director and star Ben Affleck has admitted is untrue.

In fact the fugitives were initially sheltered by the Brits and later received help from the New Zealand ambassador in Tehran, Chris Beeby, and his second secretary Richard Sewell, both of whom are now dead. 

The author of a book about the affair said Dr Beeby went out on a limb to provide assistance, despite Iran’s importance as New Zealand’s biggest customer for lamb. He frequently visited the Americans, provided them with food and rented a vacant house in case they needed to make a quick escape.

What’s more, it was Mr Sewell who obtained Iranian disembarkation forms for the Americans and took the huge risk of driving them – masquerading as a Canadian film crew – to Tehran Airport. Robert Muldoon, who was prime minister at the time, reportedly knew of the New Zealanders’ involvement in the plot.

Affleck’s only explanation for the film’s misrepresentation of the part played by New Zealand and Britain was that he “needed to get a sense that these six people [the Americans] had nowhere else to go” other than to the Canadian embassy.

Most New Zealanders would probably say that’s not good enough. But now that the film has been feted in the Academy Award nominations, on top of its box office success, the falsehood has gone global. As someone once said, a lie can be halfway around the world before the truth has got its boots on.

 * * *

THE LETTER WRITER who complained in this paper that the so-called Treaty “debates” at Te Papa were nothing of the sort was right.

Only one view – the pro-Treaty one – was represented in the “debate” I attended and the few dissenters were silenced by moderator Kim Hill, with the vocal support of the audience.

Unfortunately, pretending there’s unanimity on Treaty issues won’t make it happen. The very reason many people distrust the current constitutional review is that they suspect one side of the argument over the Treaty’s place in our constitutional arrangements – perhaps the majority side – isn’t being heard.
* * *

THE STEADY creep toward separatism continues.

In a recent advertisement seeking a new chief executive for the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, the preamble stated that [the] NZNO “embraces Te Tiriti O Waitangi”.

It went on to explain: “Te Runanga o Aotearoa comprising our Maori membership is the arm through which our Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership is articulated”.

The ad then listed some of the attributes sought in the appointee. These included “a proven track record of successful implementation of Te Tiriti O Waitangi within an organisation”.

But hang on a minute. The Treaty was between the Crown and the signatory tribes. It was about sovereignty and governance. What relevance could it have to the running of the nurses’ union?

But wait, there’s more. Another desired quality in the new CEO was “ability to implement biculturalism within an organisation with consideration to Matauranga Maori” – Matauranga Maori meaning traditional Maori knowledge.

These requirements were listed above virtually all others, so we can assume they are considered more important than leadership experience or negotiation and advocacy skills, which were well down the list.

Do you get the impression something is seriously out of whack here?

The health sector, along with education, has long been susceptible to woolly language and feel-good ideas about biculturalism.  But I have yet to hear anyone explain how anyone, other than a privileged Maori elite, will benefit from the creation of a divided society.

I’m no fan of Winston Peters, but he was right when he recently condemned  “the warped view that Maori will only progress if they have a separate system for everything”.
* * *

HAVE THE famous Tui billboards done their dash?

Once fresh and irreverent, they are increasingly lame and laboured. They may have reached their nadir with the recent example that read: “Mate, I won’t piss in your wetsuit – Yeah, right.”

This wasn’t only lame and labored, it was borderline offensive and so juvenile that I wonder whether the advertising agency responsible for the billboards has given the job to a fourth-former who comes in once a week after school.





Jigsaw said...

I totally agree about the so called Treaty 'debates' at Te Papa. I don't see how you can call it a debate when the 'different' sides are almost the same. I sent an email to RNZ but don't expect a reply. A comment that was suppsoed to represent something that David Round had said was greeted with derision as far as I could hear.

Vaughan said...

It shows the poor quality of other movies this year if Argo wins the Oscar for the best movie.

Once you know the basic outline of the plot the rest is unsurprising, and Affleck is suprisingly wooden.

And to deliberately defame nations who actually helped is inexcusable.

Skyfall is a far better produced movie and far more enjoyable.