Tuesday, February 28, 2023

How hard can it be to check a map?

RNZ News this morning described the Esk Valley as being west of Hastings and said it had been inundated by the Ngaruroro River.

Wrong - in fact doubly wrong. The Esk Valley is northwest of Napier and was inundated by the Esk River. You’d think the name of the valley was a clue. It’s nowhere near the Ngaruroro.

Credibility matters in the media. When people in Hawke’s Bay – or in fact anyone with basic geographical knowledge – hear something like this, they are entitled to wonder what else RNZ gets wrong.

In a blog post on February 15 which I subsequently withdrew because I thought it was too negative, I criticised the media for frequently getting geographical references wrong in their coverage of Cyclone Gabrielle.

I said this: Location matters, and never more so than in a story about floods. Do journalists ever consult a map? It’s not hard.

My criticism stands.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Are we allowed to suggest that Hunga Tonga is the cause of the weather mayhem?

The most powerful volcanic eruption of the 21st century happened on January 22 last year in Tonga.

Scientists measure the force of eruptions using something called the Volcanic Explosivity Index, or VEI. (I learned about this from my teenage grandson, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of volcanoes.)

The eruption of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai had a VEI of 5 or 6, depending on which source you believe. According to NIWA, it was the biggest atmospheric explosion recorded in more than a century. As a point of comparison, the cataclysmic Oruanui (Lake Taupo) eruption about 26,500 years ago had a VEI of 8. Krakatoa (1883) scored a 6.

The Hunga Tonga (HT) eruption sent atmospheric shockwaves around the globe and was heard as far away as Alaska. The eruption plume rose 58 km, reaching above the stratosphere.

The subsequent tsunamis devastated parts of Tonga, claiming four lives there and even killing two people in Peru. The eruption also wiped out 55 km of undersea cable, but otherwise it aroused relatively little public attention. After all, it was a long way from anywhere in a very sparsely populated part of the globe.

Scientists, however, got very excited about it. An online search turns up numerous academic papers marvelling at the scale of the eruption and assessing its implications.

Why am I writing about this? Simply because I can’t help wondering whether Hunga Tonga might have something to do with the freakish weather the North Island has been enduring.

I can’t recall a wetter, more miserable summer. January rainfall in parts of the North Island was four times higher than normal; Auckland was the wettest ever. Campers, and especially those with kids, will remember 2023 as their annus horribilis.

The February figures will be far worse. We’ve just been through several weeks of catastrophic weather events and they may not yet be over.

In so far as there’s any explanation for these events, they are commonly (if vaguely) attributed to climate change, the implication being that it's human-induced. La Nina and “atmospheric rivers” have been cited, but in such a way as to imply that they are all part of the same pattern. Anyone who dares suggest otherwise, as Maureen Pugh did, risks being put in the stocks. But is there more to it than that?

Before anyone rushes to denounce me, I’m not a climate change denier. I’ m not in a position to deny anything, since I don’t possess the scientific knowledge to make definitive assertions. My own amateur observations tell me the climate is changing; the winters are warmer (we seem to get far fewer frosts in Masterton than 20 years ago) and the frequency of slips on the Remutaka Hill road is a very basic pointer to heavier and more frequent rain. Weather bombs that were once exceptional are now the norm.

Nonetheless, the science on climate change is contradictory and often freighted with ideology – so yes, I’m sceptical. I think journalists and scientists have a duty to be sceptical.

Oh, and another disclaimer: I’m generally clueless when it comes to science. When I began my fifth form year (today’s Year 11) at Central Hawke’s Bay College, I was thrilled to discover that science had quietly been dropped from my curriculum. I was such a no-hoper that my teachers decided, without any consultation, that there was no point wasting my time or theirs. The same thing had happened with maths the previous year.

But while acknowledging I’m an ignoramus, I think I have a legitimate question to ask. Even accepting that the climate is changing, what has happened this summer seems qualitatively different. It has not only been brutal and extreme but abrupt, persistent and viciously repetitive – too much so, surely, to have been simply a continuation of a familiar long-term trend. It just seems too easy – too glib, almost – to put it all down to human-induced climate change.

Which brings me back to Hunga Tonga. Notwithstanding my lack of scholarship, it seems obvious to me from the various academic papers published about the HT eruption that it had meteorological consequences. One study, published by the French National Center for Scientific Research, called it the most remarkable climate event of the past three decades. There’s a clue, right there.

Another paper, published by the American Geophysical Union, had this to say: “The violent Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai eruption on 15 January 2022 not only injected ash into the stratosphere but also large amounts of water vapor, breaking all records for direct injection of water vapor, by a volcano or otherwise, in the satellite era.

“The massive blast injected water vapor up to altitudes as high as 53 km. Using measurements from the Microwave Limb Sounder [no, I don’t know what that means either] on NASA's Aura satellite, we estimate that the excess water vapor is equivalent to around 10% of the amount of water vapor typically residing in the stratosphere. Unlike previous strong eruptions, this event may not cool the surface, but rather it could potentially warm the surface due to the excess water vapor.”

The study also notes that “the H2O injection was unprecedented in both magnitude and altitude” and says it may take several years for the water plume to dissipate.

I admit that much of the paper is incomprehensible to me, but am I wrong to assume that a phenomenon of that scale is going to affect weather patterns?

Yet another study, published in Nature Climate Change, similarly noted that the HT eruption had expelled an unprecedented amount of water into the atmosphere and could cause an increase in global surface temperatures lasting several years. So there seems to be some sort of consensus.

I learned that volcanic eruptions can have a profound impact on the weather when, in a past life as a wine writer, I heard New Zealand winemakers bemoaning the Pinatubo years.

The 1991 eruption of Mt Pinatubo, in the Philippines, had a VEI of 6. It produced what’s called a volcanic winter, reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface by 10 percent – hence the challenge of getting grapes to ripen even in distant New Zealand. Pinatubo’s eruption is also thought to have triggered the so-called Storm of the Century in 1993.

Hunga Tonga, being an underwater eruption that produced a plume of water rather than clouds of dust that absorbed sunlight, had a different effect, leading to the predictions of rising global temperatures.

Either way, it seems safe to assume the eruption will have had an effect on the weather. And being a lot closer to New Zealand than Mt Pinatubo, doesn’t it stand to reason that its impact is likely to be more pronounced?

Bearing all this in mind, it doesn’t seem fanciful to suggest that Hunga Tonga might have played a hand in the apocalyptic weather events of the past two weeks. But I wonder if that likelihood is being played down because it conflicts with the human-induced climate change narrative so feverishly promoted by the Greens and now apparently accepted by the National Party – and enforced by sections of the media.

To put it another way, are we in a Fawlty Towers-type scenario where no one's supposed to mention Hunga Tonga? (To quote Basil Fawlty, I just did, but I think I can get away with it.)

There are people who read this blog who are far better informed than I am on matters of science. I would welcome their input, even if it results in my theory being – for want of a better expression – blown out of the water.

Friday, February 24, 2023

A few more thoughts on Luxon, Pugh and the media - oh, and press secretaries too

The irony of the Maureen Pugh furore is that it has caused far more damage to Christopher Luxon than to Pugh.

Luxon has come out of it looking like a control freak, intolerant of any deviation from the party line.

This should surprise no one. He comes from a corporate background, and the corporate world values conformity above almost everything else. Original thinkers are seen as problematical and even threatening. Conventional men who play golf and wear suits are naturally most comfortable in the company of other conventional men who play golf and wear suits.

John Key came from a corporate background too, but of a different type: one that placed a high value on individual risk-taking. One difference between Key and Luxon is that Key, for all his faults, seemed to have more trust in his own judgment.

But that’s not the only reason Luxon has come out of this affair looking bad. Many New Zealanders are likely to have taken a dim view of the way he threw Pugh under the bus.

Loyalty is a two-way street; party leaders are entitled to it, but so are their MPs – even lowly backbenchers. To publicly demean Pugh by ordering her to read some books on climate change – in other words, to go and stand in the naughty corner – was a bad look. It seemed petty and vindictive.

The result: Pugh finished the week having won public respect for having the honesty to say what she thought, even though she was then bullied into a humiliating recantation. People would have realised her backdown was insincere, but would have excused her because it was forced on her by her leader.

There was a simple way to avoid all this. When confronted by scalp-hunting political journalists about Pugh’s supposed climate-change heresy, Luxon could have casually waved it away. “Well, that’s Maureen,” he might have said. “She has her own way of looking at things. National has room for non-conformists.”

But he didn’t. He responded exactly as the media hoped and gave them the “Gotcha!” moment they wanted.

I think the underlying problem here is that Luxon is scared of the media and allows himself to be intimidated. Political journalists play him like a fiddle and end up effectively dictating the political agenda. This is no basis for a healthy democracy.

Luxon seems to lack the guts or confidence to stand up for principled conservative positions, fearing that the left-leaning media will punish him. The same is happening in Australia, where the once-formidable Liberal Party has been cowed into a state of paralysis by media that are even more aggressively leftist.

It wasn’t always like this. In the 1970s, the boot was on the other foot: New Zealand political journalists were scared of politicians – or to be more precise, one politician in particular, Robert Muldoon. That wasn’t good for democracy either. There's an honourable middle ground between these extremes.

Control-freak press secretaries appear to be part of the problem too. They wield far too much power. It emerged on RNZ this morning that when word of Pugh’s verbal indiscretion got around, Opposition press secretaries went into panic mode, scurrying around to ensure that all the other National MPs were “on message”.  

Pardon me, but who’s in charge here? We don’t elect press secretaries to run the country. They are the modern equivalent of the palace courtier, wielding undue influence and orchestrating events out of the public eye. Political communications, aka the spin doctor industry, is a racket that’s out of control; a gravy train that needs to be derailed.


Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Why journalists' credibility is declining (No. 137 in a series)

In the past few months I’ve got into the habit of watching the Prime TV news at 5.30pm.

The timing is a bit inconvenient, but that’s greatly offset by the benefits. Eric Young has a very agreeable newsreading style, by which I mean he just sits at a desk and reads the news. There’s never any pretence of Walter Cronkite-style moral authority and no cues to viewers as to how they should respond emotionally to what’s on screen.

The bulletin is only 30 minutes long but that’s enough to cover the essentials. In fact the shorter duration is an advantage because it forces Prime to stick to the basics. It’s a no-frills, straight-down-the-middle bulletin that avoids the editorial posturing and embroidery common on the other channels; this, despite the fact that it uses some of the same reporters as Newshub.

Last night I was reminded what a blessed relief it has been to watch Prime. An important phone call meant I missed the 5.30 bulletin, so I took a deep breath and tuned into Newshub at 6pm.

I didn’t last long. I turned off after about a minute, but only after shouting a profanity at the TV set. I’m not sure what that was supposed to achieve.

The lead item – the event that Newshub’s editors selected as the most significant news of the day – concerned a low-profile Opposition MP who had expressed scepticism about the role of human-induced climate change in Cyclone Gabrielle.

So after 10 days or so when the New Zealand media had a real and vital story on their hands – a dramatic story about life, death and devastation on a massive scale (which, to the media’s credit, they generally handled admirably) – we were jolted back to normality with a mischievous sideshow.

Newshub was back to its default setting of political scalp-hunting, contriving to whip up a storm out of an injudicious comment from a relatively minor player whose chief failings appear to be that she’s honest and politically not very astute. It was a reminder of all I despise about television journalism.

The item should have been headlined News Flash: MP says what she thinks. This, of course, is the worst possible thing a politician can do, especially when media assassins are constantly lurking with their daggers poised.

Maureen Pugh’s statement of scepticism about climate change was seized on not because she’s an important figure in the party (far from it; although she’s National’s junior whip, she has retained her seat in Parliament by the skin of her teeth), but because her gaffe presented an opportunity to portray National as at odds with itself over a cause that the media push with totalitarian fervour.

Even watching the opening moments of the item last night, I could see political editor Jenna Lynch’s fingerprints all over it. When I held my nose and viewed it in full later, I confirmed that it bore all her usual trademarks. These included ambushing senior National MPs and demanding to know whether they shared Pugh’s scepticism – the purpose being to see them squirm – then going to government ministers and effectively inviting them to denounce her.  

I guess this is Newshub’s idea of balanced journalism. After all, both Labour and National had their say.

Predictably, Pugh’s colleagues from Christopher Luxon down scuttled for cover. I didn’t hear any of them defend her right to express a dissenting view. A sensible response would have been that National is a broad-church party, open to a variety of ideas and able to cope with minority opinions. But no: deviation from the party line is not permitted and will be punished – in this case, by Luxon giving Pugh some books and ordering her to read them. Does he not realise he risks losing more votes than he wins by throwing her under the bus? It serves only to gratify the witch-hunters in the media and enhance their sense of power.

As is so often the case, the Newshub item was infused with a moralistic tone. Lynch went so far as to imply that to deny the effects of climate change was to betray the thousands of people struggling with the effects of Cyclone Gabrielle. Brazen emotional manipulation is another part of her tool kit.

But she was able to adopt a gloating note at the end when she reported that a suitably chastened Pugh had “walked back” her comments. Job done, then; another scalp to hang on the belt. Journalists always win because they control the rules of the game.

Of course Newshub wasn’t the only media outlet to engage in the pile-on. The  sanctimonious Marc Daalder of Newsroom was in on it too, demonising Pugh as a denier, accusing her of callous disregard for flood victims (as Lynch did) and – get this – saying she should be disqualified from holding office. This from a journalist who has been in New Zealand for roughly five minutes.

Much as he might hate the thought, Pugh has a legitimacy Daalder will never possess. She’s at least answerable to voters, even if only indirectly via our cockeyed electoral system. Daalder, on the other hand, is accountable to no one other than his employers. I’ll take a wild guess and say there would be more sympathy for Pugh on the West Coast, where she comes from, than for the opinions of a privileged product of the American university system.

And even if they don’t specifically agree with her on climate change, I believe most New Zealanders would support Pugh’s right to express a non-conformist opinion. There has to be space in the political eco-system for mavericks. A parliament full of woke-friendly nodding heads, which would be the ultimate result if activist journalists succeeded in eliminating the ideologically non-compliant, would be a travesty of democracy.  

Am I saying these journalists are biased against National? Not necessarily. While overwhelmingly left-leaning, they are indiscriminate predators who, like hyenas, will instinctively seek out those they perceive to be weak and vulnerable. At the moment this means National, but there’s nothing to say that in a couple of years it won’t be the other side’s turn.

Journalism took a fatal wrong turn when it confused itself with activism and assumed the right to hector the public with ideological lectures, often tinged with an ugly spirit of authoritarianism. Journalists are not our moral guardians, and until they grasp that fact their credibility will continue to decline.

Meanwhile, I’ll be back to Prime at 5.30 this afternoon.



Friday, February 17, 2023

Cyclone Gabrielle has shown us the best of New Zealand

What an extraordinary week.

I’m not just talking about the devastation, the tragedy and the heroism, although all that was remarkable enough.

What was also exceptional was the manner in which the country responded. Cyclone Gabrielle gave us a tantalising glimpse of a New Zealand that most of us grew up in and recognised; a country where people set aside real or imagined differences and pulled together in the face of a common crisis.

It has been easy in recent years to wonder whether that country has ceased to exist. Ideological extremism, identity politics and the culture wars, compounded by the social stress and dislocation of Covid, have so dominated politics, the media and the public conversation that it often seemed New Zealand was a country at war with itself.

We have been through a sustained and bruising period of division and polarisation, the purpose of which seemed to be to pull us in different directions based on race, gender, sexual identity and other markers of “otherness”.

But in recent days we have witnessed the re-emergence of the old New Zealand: a country in which people recognise that all of us – urban and rural, male and female, Maori and Pakeha, young and old, queers and heterosexuals, immigrants and those born here – are bound by common interests, values and aspirations and need to pull together when our national wellbeing is threatened.

We have seen the very best of New Zealand in the way communities rallied and turned to their own resources, and in the way emergency services personnel, many of whom were themselves directly affected by flood damage, selflessly responded to the urgent needs of others, often at great personal risk – and in two cases, with fatal consequences.

We have seen an outpouring of public support for the thousands of people whose properties have been destroyed and who must now set about trying to rebuild their lives. Farmers, horticulturists and orchardists are some of the worst affected and it’s possible the disaster will have a positive outcome in the form of a greater public appreciation of the rural sector and its importance to the rest of us.

We have been reassured and impressed by the performance of community leaders, sector representatives and local politicians who suddenly found themselves thrust into situations for which there was no chance to rehearse. Four who stand out are the mayors (all women) of Gisborne, Napier, Hastings and Central Hawke’s Bay. It’s notable that in Auckland it was another woman, deputy mayor Desley Simpson, who stepped up, presumably because Wayne Brown either accepts or has been told that whatever his skills may be (and they have yet to be revealed), they don’t include communication.

The crisis has been good for Labour, enabling Chris Hipkins to portray himself as a man of the people, out there hearing their stories and sharing their grief. Of course this is no more nor less than any prime minister should do in the circumstances, but it’s good for his image. National is forced into the position of being merely a passive observer, able to do little more than endorse Labour’s approach. Bearing in mind the old political adage that every crisis is an opportunity, the events of the past few days can only increase speculation that Hipkins will call a snap election.

We have been generally well served by the media, especially the broadcast media, who were tested to the limit. In the first two days the mayhem was so widespread and fast-moving that it was hard for news outlets to keep up. Just as reporters were getting to grips with one major development, another story broke somewhere else. I can’t recall any other crisis when the media focus kept shifting at such a dizzying pace – from Muriwai to Tairawhiti, Northland to Hawke’s Bay. Power failures and communication breakdowns made the job even harder, but reporters rose to the challenge.

Radio in particular came into its own. It’s unique in its ability to keep on top of a fast-moving and fluid (forgive the pun) situation. Radio reporters are highly mobile and can phone in their reports from wherever things are happening. Programme schedules aren't rigid, unlike TV, and can be interrupted whenever news breaks. Moreover, you can listen to the radio pretty much wherever you go and whatever you're doing.

The crisis also served as a striking reminder of the limitations of digital technology. When a smart phone is useless because cell phone towers are out or the phone can’t be charged, a battered transistor radio – as one farmer marooned in a remote area of Northland attested this morning on RNZ – can be a lifeline. To an incorrigible Luddite such as me, all this is very affirming.

To summarise, in the worst of circumstances we have glimpsed the best of New Zealand – a New Zealand many of us feared was changing beyond recognition.

For five days, ideological agendas and their vociferous, mischievous champions have been sidelined. The constant discordant static of division has been silenced. New Zealanders have had far more pressing issues to focus on – practical issues of survival and recovery.

They have been given a vivid reminder of the importance of social solidarity at a time when it was never more desperately needed. The question now is whether this spirit can be sustained once the immediate crisis has passed.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Second thoughts on Cyclone Gabrielle and the media

Yesterday afternoon I blogged on the media’s coverage of Cyclone Gabrielle and its devastating after-effects.

 I have decided to pull that post. In view of the emerging picture, it could be seen as carping and petty.

This is a disaster of a magnitude not seen in New Zealand before – certainly not in my lifetime – and it confronted the media, as well as emergency services, with overwhelming challenges. While my blog post was by no means entirely critical, to focus on deficiencies in the media’s response now seems disrespectful to everyone caught up in the tragedy. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

What New Zealanders (that is to say, ordinary New Zealanders) think about the name Aotearoa

The jury has returned its verdict, and it’s emphatic. New Zealanders want the country’s name left as it is.

In a Newshub-Reid Research poll, respondents were asked what they thought New Zealand should be known as.

Fifty-two percent wanted the country to be called New Zealand, pure and simple. Thirty-six percent wanted Aotearoa in the mix, as in the ungainly, bob-each-way formulation Aotearoa-New Zealand.

But here’s the crunch: only 9.6 percent of those polled thought the country should be renamed Aotearoa. This is a resounding rebuff to the political, bureaucratic, academic and media elites who have tried for years to impose Aotearoa by sheer frequency of usage.

Predictably the poll results were buried deep in a Newshub story, despite the network having paid for the research. You can bet it would have been the lead item in the 6pm news if the results had gone the other way.

Newshub’s political editor Jenna Lynch chose to mention the poll almost as an afterthought in a story that was mainly concerned with taking puerile digs at National Party leader Christopher Luxon over his speech at Waitangi. 

There can’t be a sentient being in New Zealand who expects straight journalism from Lynch. She appears incapable of it. I no longer watch the Newshub News but I can imagine her reporting the survey findings through gritted teeth.  

The question now is whether the aforementioned elites, having noted the poll findings, will abandon their campaign to have Aotearoa adopted in popular usage. But of course they won’t, because they have little regard for the will of the people and like all elites, are convinced they know what’s best for the rest of us.

They will explain the survey result to themselves by concluding that their fellow New Zealanders are racists. But objections to the use of Aotearoa as a substitute for New Zealand have less to do with it being a Maori name than with the perception that it has been foisted on us without a mandate – just like Otautahi for Christchurch, Tamaki Makaurau for Auckland, Otepoti for Dunedin and Te Whanganui-a-Tara for Wellington. That the public don’t endorse any of these names is clear from the fact that you never hear them in conversation.

Yes, the name New Zealand is an historical anomaly that, in itself, says nothing about us or our national identity. But it's the name we've been known by since James Cook (there was no Maori name for the country, as was demonstrated by the use of Nu Tireni - a transliteration of the English name - by the Maori chiefs who signed a Declaration of Independence in 1835), and to repudiate it is to erase much of our history.

This is not something to be undertaken without a proper, informed debate. As long as New Zealand purports to be a democracy, voters will assert the right to decide what the country and its major cities are to be called. Any government rash enough to challenge that right will be signing its own death warrant.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Virulent bigotry at the highest levels of the media

Not once but twice in recent weeks I’ve learned of occasions when I was labelled by senior journalists in the mainstream media as a misogynist and a racist.

In one of those instances the offender was Wellington-based Ben McKay, Australian Associated Press’s New Zealand correspondent, who tried to have my blog posts excluded from political scientist Bryce Edwards’ daily online summary of political news and comment. I wrote about it here.

McKay is a virtual unknown in New Zealand, but more recently I learned I was described in exactly the same terms by a far more senior and influential editorial figure. A commitment of confidentiality prevents me from revealing who it was, but it was unrelated to the McKay episode.

I deduce from this that it’s now received wisdom within some mainstream media circles, even at senior levels, that I hate women and approve of discrimination against people on the basis of their race. This, after all, is what the words misogynist and racist mean.

In revealing this I am not seeking and don’t want sympathy. The terms misogynist and racist are so degraded by overuse that to me, they are meaningless. (They are also wholly unsubstantiated, although that doesn't seem to bother my accusers.)

However those words still carry force. Though they cause me no lost sleep they are terms of serious vilification which, if published, would probably be actionable in court.

What principally concerns me is not the attack on my reputation, but that such adolescent terms – let’s call them undergraduate-level – should be used so freely by people in senior editorial positions.

Journalism hinges on words. Used properly, they are precision tools. But a generation of journalists has emerged which doesn’t hesitate to use ideologically loaded terms of denigration to discredit people they don’t approve of.

Some of this can be put down to sheer ignorance – the inevitable result of an education system that produces journalists with only a rudimentary grasp of the English language and which does little to encourage respect for the accurate use of words.

To read any newspaper, even some of the more reputable ones, is to gasp at the amateurish writing and the frequency of solecisms that would in the past have been intercepted and corrected by sub-editors. It’s one of the great paradoxes of our age that the most thoroughly (I refuse to say “best”) educated journalists in history routinely produce work so shoddy that it should never have made it onto the printed page.

Ignorance, however, only goes so far as an explanation for the misuse of words.  A lot of it is attributable to sheer prejudice and malice, most of it ideologically based. Hence the frequency with which we see the use of conveniently vague but disparaging terms such as far-right, alt-right, racist, fascist and misogynist – labels used to discredit any political position that doesn’t align with those of the political, bureaucratic, academic and media elites. (It’s another striking paradox that while we supposedly have a proliferation of malignant groups on the right, it’s almost unheard of for the media to describe any person, group or political party as “far left” – still less to suggest that anyone qualifying for that description could have less than wholly noble motives.)  

The absurd and dangerous term “hate speech” should be seen in the same light. In the woke glossary adopted by the mainstream media, “hate speech” means any expression of opinion that upsets someone. But the term is used very selectively, since those pushing for the adoption of so-called hate speech laws are not remotely interested in protecting the feelings or opinions of people they dislike. On the contrary, they freely indulge in vile and repugnant invective against them. Hate speech laws are intended by their backers to run one way only: to shield people and ideas they approve of.  It’s hypocrisy on a breathtaking scale.

Perhaps more to the point, the loaded phrase “hate speech” has been promoted with no regard for the real meaning of that word “hate”, which describes an emotion so extreme and intense that historically it has led to genocide and other atrocities. By applying the term to the expression of opinions that do no more than risk offending sensitive minority groups, the language activists have grossly misappropriated its meaning. But it serves the valuable purpose, for them, of providing a pretext for the outlawing of ideas they don’t like.

All this has implications for public trust in journalism. When readers can no longer rely on words being used with accuracy and respect for their established meaning, and when derogatory labels are used as lazy substitutes for accuracy and considered analysis, with not even a fig leaf of substantiation, journalism loses its moral authority. It risks being reduced to the level of propaganda, vilification and simplistic sloganeering.

The Nazis were very good at this and so is Vladimir Putin. It’s grimly ironic that the same techniques are now used in the Western media by people who smugly think of themselves as liberal. The “othering” of dissenters is an inevitable (and make no mistake, intended) consequence.

I wonder, do those impostor journalists who so freely use damning terms such as “misogynist” stop to think what the words actually mean? By labelling me as a misogynist, my accusers are saying I hate my wife, my daughters, my late mother, my sister and my grand-daughters, to say nothing of my women friends. Really? Try telling them that.

That such accusations are self-evidently preposterous doesn’t stop those who make them. And the frightening thing is that this virulent bigotry appears to have permeated the highest levels of the news media, where editorial gatekeepers decide what stories to cover and which opinions New Zealanders should be exposed to.