Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009: Swearing at women, teens, children and ducks

Greedy women sabotage NZ economy: One of my readers, a public servant from Wellington, mentioned to me yesterday that he was unsure as to the actual target of the witty scalpel that is news-rage journalism - was it the news itself, or the Herald's reporting of it? The answer is, of course, mainly the latter. But there is no hard and fast rule about this. Quite often, the reporting on an issue is blogworthy because it doesn't bring out how bad (or good), say, a policy or an event is. At other times, the Herald might bring up an interesting issue, but doesn't get its teeth properly stuck in. And this is sort of what happened today.

"Govt kills pay-equity enquiries" says the headline. Apparently, the government has halted "two investigations aimed at improving the pay of women as it tries to save money by controlling public sector salaries." According to the article, female social workers at Child, Youth and Family are paid 9.5% less than male colleagues, a statistic that I find baffling in a government department in 2009. Unless it somehow represents some consistent level of seniority or extra qualifications that the male social workers happen to have (and that would raise its own questions), then I can't understand how this situation has been allowed to come to pass. Yet the investigation into this has been shot down by State Services Minister Tony Ryall (yes, him again), and over the course of the article he performs a magic trick that would have Paul Daniels spinning in his grave, if he were dead - he mysteriously, and without wires or camera tricks, turns a discussion about pay equity for women into a government press release about sustainable public sector pay!

I have some sympathy for Ryall; it can't be a fun job when your main goal is to keep down your employees' pay. But this is a different issue, and he does himself an injustice by seemingly ignoring it. "Mr Ryall said when issuing the new pay instructions that there was a worsening financial outlook and the state sector had to 'play its part'." Unfortunately for women, who according to Labour lag 12% behind men in pay, it seems that some people have a bigger part to play than others.

Fearful teens - exposed!: I have criticised the Herald for socially irresponsible reporting before, but an article on the front page today really takes the cake, as it were. Not only is the fact that a scared young couple left their baby at Middlemore Hospital and cheesed it deemed front page news, but Elizabeth Binning, police reporter, also found it necessary to release details of them the health authorities evidently recommended that ought not to, for fear of identifying the mother. "A 'source' told the Herald the mother was a 14-year-old who had tried to hide the pregnancy from her family. Authorities would not confirm the girl's age for fear of identifying her, but did say she was a teenager." Congratulations, Elizabeth! You not only published unconfirmed hearsay, you published unconfirmed hearsay that may harm a frightened girl who presumably could do with some support. What a heroic, crusading journalist!

In defence of swearing: Yesterday I nearly wrote about an opinion piece in the paper arguing that swearing in general, and swearing at children in particular, was a scourge on par with physical abuse of children. I eventually decided not to, partly due to laziness but mainly due to not really being that keen on swearing at kids. Today, however, an omen appeared in the form of a letter from Lorna Clauson of Papakura - and I knew something had to be done. "For years," she says, "I have tried to find ways to make people acknowledge that using these disgusting expressions offends much of the community ... I have never allowed anyone to use an obscenity in my presence and when faced with my displeasure the offender is usually embarrassed and often apologetic." I can safely say then, Lorna, that you have never met the patron saint of swearing, Mr Stephen Fry.
  • "Swearing is a really important part of one's life; it would be impossible to imagine going through life without swearing, and without enjoying swearing." [video]
  • "The sort of twee person who thinks swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of education or of a lack of verbal interest is just fucking lunatic."
  • "Or they say, 'It's not necessary.' As if that should stop one doing it. Things not being necessary is what makes life interesting."
I'm going to stick with Stephen here. I love swearing, if not especially at children - although Dave Chapelle saying "Fuck you, son" to his kid on a Chapelle's Show skit was comedy gold. Sorry Lorna, but I don't think this particular plague will be brought to a halt anytime soon.

On a related matter: I was shocked, amused and appalled yesterday to read some disgusting language in an article about the duck pond at the Auckland Botanic Gardens. Apparently they have to be dredged thanks to a lethal (not really) mix of festering bread and... "duck poo". That's right, New Zealand's newspaper of record likes to refer to 'it' as "poo". In fact, excretion reporter Eloise Gibson rolls out the 'p' word three times in the short (but still far too long) article. Now, I'm hardly demanding that they say 'shit' instead, although that is what I and, I imagine, most of you would use in conversation. However, in acknowledgement of the fact that most of their readers are in fact more than 10 years old, surely they could say 'faeces', or 'excrement' or even the euphemistic 'droppings'. Come on, Eloise, don't make me contact Lorna...

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