Posts tagged ‘free-trade agreement’


The political caricatures of old have taken human form, but they’re still nothing like us

09.05.2015

That’s another British General Election done and dusted. I haven’t followed one this closely since the 1997 campaign, where I was backing John Major.
   Shock, horror! Hang on, Jack. Haven’t the media all said you are a leftie? Didn’t you stand for a left-wing party?
   Therein lies a fallacy about left- and right wings. I’ve never completely understood the need to pigeonhole someone into a particular camp, when I would say most people on this planet hold a mix of views from both sides. Now that politicians are not unlike caricatures—there has been a “rightward” shift where the policies being adopted by some are so outside economic orthodoxy that they look like what their Spitting Image counterparts would have uttered back in the day—this holds more true than ever. We know what subscribing to certain parties’ views fully and completely is like: we risk looking loony, and, if taken too far, we risk becoming loony.
   But the spin doctors and advisers aren’t in to transparency. They are into their talking heads conveying what they feel the public responds to, hence Mitt Romney, once an advocate of universal health care in his own state, becoming an opponent of it when he ran for president; or, for that matter, Ed Miliband’s insistence on the ‘budget responsibility lock’, to demonstrate that he had a handle on the economy, when Economics 101 told us that austerity isn’t a good way to help the economy along and Miliband began sounding like Cameron lite.
   My support of Major in the 1997 General Election, which went against the prevailing view at the time, was down to several reasons. Unlike Cameron, Major didn’t practise austerity, but he did practise conventional economics with the government going more into deficit through increasing spending during the early 1990s’ recession, knowing the stimulus to be affordable, and knowing it had to be paid back once the economy was healthy again. It is interesting to note Sir John’s own goal while campaigning for the Tories in this General Election, when he said at the Tory Reform Group annual dinner, ‘We need to acknowledge the fact we have a pretty substantial underclass and there are parts of our country where we have people who have not worked for two generations and whose children do not expect to work.
   ‘How can it be that in a nation that is the fifth richest nation in the world, that in the United Kingdom we have four of the poorest areas in Europe? I include eastern Europe in that question.’
   How indeed. The John Major who was prime minister will have answered that easily, and his own record illustrates just why he avoided such consequences in the 1990s that Cameron was unable to.
   The second reason was that I really believed the ‘classless society’ speech, and if you have read his memoirs, or even biographies written about him, then there was a real personal experience woven into that. Critics will point at the fact the speech was written by Antony Jay (Yes, Minister) or the fact that Britain invented To the Manor Born and such sitcoms, but, generally, why should only certain classes have the ability to excel and do their best? Everyone should have that opportunity, and the measures implemented under the Major premiership, while not as far to the left as traditional socialists would have wanted, struck a good balance in my view in an immediate post-Thatcher period. We should always be wary of sudden shifts, whether they’re swings from the left to the right, or vice versa. A pragmatic approach seemed sensible.
   Third, it was precisely that Major was not a Thatcherite, even if Margaret Thatcher might have believed him to be when she made him Chancellor of the Exchequer, a job that he wanted most of his political life. But what we had in his very shrewd opponent in 1997 was Thatcherism, or at least monetarism. As we know from Tony Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s early move in allowing the Bank of England to be free of political control, their belief that this would avoid boom-and-bust cycles was not realized. However, the evidence does show that the freedom has coincided with a period of low interest rates and stable inflation, but equally one can credit the work of the Tories in handing New Labour a booming economy in May of that year. As Major noted at the time, it was rare for a government to lose while the economy was improving, but the Labour campaign, ably assisted by biased media at the time, and the easy pass Blair got from the British establishment despite being very, very vague about his policies, was hard to beat. All he had to do was utter ‘Change’ and ‘It’s about New Labour, new Britain.’ It hid, to those of us watching the General Election and the year before it, New Labour’s Thatcherite aims. I am not even that sure what Blair, Brown and Peter Mandelson were doing in the party to begin with.
   This might be contrasted with a Tory party weakened through allegations of sleaze (and we know now that no party is any less sleazy than the other, but it depends on when you are caught out) leading Major to fight a campaign largely alone with the occasional publicity boost from the Spice Girls. No matter how specific the PM got, it didn’t matter. (Or, as I had told many of my design classes at the time when I was teaching, the Conservatives’ Arial was no match for Labour’s Franklin Gothic, a typeface family that, incidentally, was used by Thatcher in her 1983 election campaign, and by Labour in New Zealand in 1999 and 2002.) It was frustrating to try to discern what Labour’s specific policies were from Down Under, watching the General Election campaign with keen interest. And those lack of specifics worried me from the start, which explains why when I ran for office, I issued a manifesto early in the game. I liked being first, even if the electorate didn’t put me there.
   Whether you agreed with Labour or not, and many would argue that the Blair and Brown years were not stellar, the divisions in their party—which I imagine we will see reemerge in the next few days—indicate that even within there is a great deal of polarization. The Thatcherites are in there, except they are called Blairites. And while Sir John put his weight behind his party out of loyalty, and from his earlier political years witnessing how ‘Labour isn’t working’ (the Wilson–Callaghan years must have been formative for him given his age), his comments at the dinner are telling on just where modern Conservative economic policies under George Osborne differed to his own and those of Norman Lamont. If people are suffering, if they aren’t getting their shot at the ‘classless society’, then is the place any good? If the class divide has grown, contrary to Sir John’s own views, and weakened Britain as a result of the contraction of economic players in it, then even the “right” can’t support that. To me, I thought conservatism was letting everyone have a shot, and about solid, national enterprise, and this century hasn’t given me much faith that that applies very widely.
   Labour might have campaigned on that and on preserving the NHS although having listened to Miliband, I was never totally convinced. Perhaps, I, too, had concerns about Labour vagueness, and until this General Election I had not followed the Shadow Cabinet closely enough to know the thinking and histories behind the players. That area, I will leave to others to comment. In some respects, the caricature comment I made above applies to Labour, too.

Contrasting the Tories this time with the party I knew a bit better through observation—the two terms of John Major—I feel they are very different. And, sadly, I draw parallels with the National Party here at home, where people attempt to compare incumbent John Key with Sir Robert Muldoon (1975–84), and I simply cannot see the parallels other than the colour of the branding.
   Sir Robert resolutely believed in full employment, the rights of the unemployed, the state ownership of assets, energy independence, and his ability to fight his own battles. Had attack blogs been around then, he wouldn’t have needed them. I do not agree with everything about his premiership, and his miscalculation of public opinion over the Gleneagles Agreement and the environment is now part of history. However, his terms are still being misjudged today, with an entire generation happily brainwashed by both the monetarist orthodoxy of the 1980s and a prime-time documentary (The Grim Face of Power) aired after his death (probably to avoid a defamation suit) to belittle his legacy. (The contrasting documentary made many years later, Someone Else’s Country, was buried on a weekend afternoon.) We did not have to wait months for a telephone, nor did we not have cars to buy; yet the belief that the electorate has a collective memory of only five years means we haven’t a hope of comprehending fully what happened thirty years ago. But to those of us who pride ourselves on a decent memory, and I believe if we seek public office we must have one, then things were never as bleak as people believe. He was sexist, yet I do not believe him to want to preside over a divided New Zealand, and his own books reveal a desire for unity. Unfortunately, looking at a man born in 1921 through the prism of 2015, plenty of his sayings look anachronistic and passé, but once context is added, the New Zealand we look at today looks more divided.
   We, too, have an underclass that has emerged (those begging for change weren’t there two decades ago, nor were so many food banks), through economic policies that have weakened our businesses. Both major parties deserve criticism over this. For a country where experts have said we must head toward technology to end our reliance on primary products, other than software patents, we have had a strange record over intellectual property with a prime minister who was against certain copyright amendments before he was for them (and voted accordingly). A New Zealand resident who adopted the same rules over copyrighted materials as Google and Dropbox has been indicted by the US Government—that’s right, I am talking about Kim Dotcom. It’s a reminder that we haven’t done enough for our tech sector, the one which governments have said we should aid, which can help our overall economy.
   We are hopelessly behind in how much technology contributes to our economy, and we have done little to support the small- to medium-sized businesses that form the backbone of our economy. Instead, we have been selling them short, welcoming ever-larger multinationals (who usually pay tax in their home country, not ours) and giving them more advantages than our own. Since when has allegiance to these foreign players ever been part of politics on the left or on the right? If we are to support businesses, for instance, we should be negotiating for our own milliard-dollar enterprises to make headway into new markets. Xero et al will thank us for it. Globalization is as much about getting our lot out there so they can pay tax back here. Politicians should be patriotic, but toward our own interests, not someone else’s.

Therein lie my many posts about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on my Facebook. It is precisely because I support business that I am against a good part of what has been leaked so far. (I am aware that many trade agreements are negotiated in secret, so there is nothing new there.) It is precisely because I believe in a level playing field for Kiwis that we should be careful at how we liberalize and in what sectors and at what pace we should do it. The curious thing there is that the substantial arguments (obviously against it) have come from the “left”, or friends who identify as being left-wing, while some who have identified as being right-wing have bid me an indignant exit from the discussion by attacking the players and not their utterances, and yet somehow the lefties are branded the woolly, emotional wrecks?
   As I wrote last year, ‘All I want are facts, not emotional, ideological arguments. On the evidence for me, things are leaning toward the anti side. I come from the standpoint of the market being a man-made construct and people are not numbers.
   ‘… [T]here are cases going on with tobacco companies where they are using IP to argue that plain packs are contrary to trade agreements. So where do you draw the line with public health versus a foreign enterprise profiting? I’d like to see healthy people not taxing the system, and plain packs were a foreseeable development IMO for a tobacco manufacturer. [I know this is an argument that is typically trotted out, but I use it since there is at least one case out there.] A wise tobacco company would have acquired businesses in other fields (as some have done), just as Coca-Cola, seeing the tide turn against sodas, have bought up water, energy drink and juice businesses. It’s wise investing, and it’s progress.
   ‘There is nothing wrong with the notion of a trade tribunal but what has been emerging from the leaks are ones where corporations can be compensated for loss of profits based on, say, plain packaging. If a government is democratically elected to implement such a policy, and corporations have always understood investments to be subject to the laws of the land (including the risk of divestment in some), then should their rights trump that of the citizens? This is the danger here, and this is the heart of the sovereignty argument.
   ‘Another example is with software patents, which our country has voted to do away with. It’s been shown that that would spur innovation.
   ‘The tendency is that TPPA is against these moves, although given the secrecy we do not know for sure. But reading other IP provisions it does not take a big leap of the imagination.
   ‘… Do I believe in global free trade? Absolutely. But I also believe in making sure that people have the means the buy the stuff I sell, and to me this treaty (based on what has been leaked) does not ensure that. I also believe in social responsibility and that citizens have their basics looked after so they can participate in commerce. I am pro-innovation, especially in smaller enterprises where some great stuff is taking place, and we have reasonably robust IP laws already and conventions that govern them. I’m not saying I have a complete alternative that replaces it, but some of the work we have done at the Medinge Group touches on these issues.’
   One argument in favour is: if we are not party to this, then does this mean we will get shut out of it? I’m not entirely sure we will in that we are already one of the freest markets in the world, although I welcome arguments and past examples. In the areas I know well, the absence of a free-trade agreement with the US, for instance, have never hampered our firm exporting there, but I realize for our primary producers there have been obstacles. But do such agreements mean unimpeded access when it’s so easy, even under WTO, to erect non-tariff barriers? And why should corporations’ rights trump citizens’, as opponents are quick to point out?
   ‘At the end of the day,’ to borrow a phrase, all human systems are imperfect. And the market is just as human as any other. My belief is that your own citizens, and their welfare, must be placed first, and we should support our own people and our own businesses. The political caricatures that certain parties have now rendered into human form don’t necessarily appear to understand this, certainly not by their actions. This is at the crux of the arguments that I saw from Labour supporters in the UK General Election, and to some extent from those who opposed National and ACT in our one last year. Labour’s loss here, too, in my view, can be placed on a leader who himself came across as unsubstantial on TV as his opponents; and his refusal to resign can be contrasted to the behaviour of Miliband and Nick Clegg yesterday. He could have always pulled a Nigel Farage.
   The sooner we get away from notions of “left” and “right” and work out for ourselves where we’d like our country and our world to head, we will start working together without these false divisions. I might add that “being Asian” in this country is yet another false division. No wonder most people are sick of politics, politicians and “politics as usual”, because most of us cannot be bothered pigeonholing ourselves. We just want to do what’s decent and honourable and have the chance to get on with it.

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Posted in business, globalization, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, UK | No Comments »


Optimism marks out the Indian decade

17.01.2012

Jack Yan at SIMCUG
Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication

I’ve had a wonderful time in Pune and Mumbai, two cities to which I had wanted to go for some years. Like some New Agers say: be careful what you put out into the universe. It can come true.
   My main reason for going was to address the Knowledge Globalization Conference at FLAME in Pune. FLAME’s campus is remarkable: 1,000 acres, near a fancy golf course, and completely teetotal (which actually suits a social-only drinker like me). The scenery in the valley is stunning, and the sound of the water trickling down the mountain during the winter was particularly relaxing.
   But as with any place one visits, it’s never the scenery that makes it: it’s the people. And in Pune I found a sense of optimism from all people from all walks of life, one which I hadn’t seen for quite some time.
   I also ran into Deo Sharma from Sweden, whom I first met in 2002 in København. When there are coincidences like that, you know you’re on to a good thing.
   Equally inspirational was addressing the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication. This talk, arranged through my friend Nishit Kumar—who learned I got a bigger buzz sharing knowledge than sitting on a beach relaxing—was attended by 600 students at different year levels. When you see a school like that, and students prepared to ask tough questions (both in person and later on Twitter), you feel encouraged that Pune has an incredible future ahead.
   And before I advance to my next point, Mumbai was just as fantastic, and I need to acknowledge my old friend Parmesh Shahani, who let me stay with him in a home that beats some of the art galleries I have seen.
   Everywhere you go in Pune, you see schools. A lot of tertiary institutions. Like so many Asian families, Indians place education highly. I had two parents who never seemed to go out on the town because we weren’t made of money, and everything they had went to my private schooling. I can well comprehend this mentality.
   Which, of course, begs the question: why isn’t our country doing more in this sector with India?
   I realize things are gradually changing as we incorporate more air routes directly to India and the government begins focusing on our fellow Commonwealth nation, but, as with capitalizing on the wave of Hong Kong emigration in the 1990s, I fear we might be too slow. Again.
   This is nothing new. I’ve been saying it since the mid-2000s, on this blog and elsewhere. Privately I’ve probably been uttering it for even longer, before we nominated Infosys of Bangalore as one of our Brands with a Conscience at the Medinge Group.
   And yet in the quest to get a free-trade deal with Beijing, we brushed aside India, a country with whom we have a shared heritage, a lingua franca, and a lot of games of cricket.
   When I first went to India in 2008, one Indore businessman asked me: why on earth did New Zealand pursue the Chinese deal ahead of the Indian deal?
   ‘Follow the money,’ I swiftly answered, a response to which I got a round of applause.
   I know the numbers may well have been in China’s favour, but sometimes, there is something to be said for understanding what is behind those numbers. And there is also something to be said for looking at old friendships and valuing them.
   We can’t turn the clock back, nor might we want to, but it seems greater tie-ups with Indian education could be a great way to expose the next generation to more cultural sharing.
   While in Pune, there was news of two Indian student murders in Manchester, which won’t have done the British national image a great deal of good. Australia already suffers from a tarnished image of racism toward Indian students, one which the Gillard government is hurriedly addressing with advertising campaigns featuring Indian Australians. It strikes me that there is an opportunity here in New Zealand, now that I have apologized for Paul Henry. Only kidding. I don’t think that I had much influence doing so unofficially, but I felt I had to get it off my chest, and I did apologize.
   I was frank about it. I was frank about Henry, and I don’t mean Benny Hawkins off Crossroads. I was frank about the Indian immigrant who had to change his Christian name to something sounding more occidental before he got job interviews—prior to that he did not get a single response. But, I also noted, none of this would be out in the open in the mainstream media if New Zealanders, deep down, were not caring, decent people. The incidents would have been covered up.
   Despite what we might think, most folks didn’t realize that we had a decent high-tech industry, that we are the home of Weta, and that Tintin, The Lord of the Rings and King Kong were local efforts. Although Players had only been out for three days by that point—and not to particularly good reviews, either—few realized a third of it was filmed in New Zealand.
   They still think of sheep.
   But there is a generation which, despite a huge domestic market and the optimism in their own country, wants an overseas experience, and the occident is still regarded as the place to do it in.
   When they heard there was the possibility of high-tech jobs in a beautiful land, ears pricked up.
   I realize the OECD stats say we’re average when it comes to innovation, but I know it’s there, under the radar, growing. People like Prof Sir Paul Callaghan reckon it’s the realistic way forward for our nation. Interestingly, this message sounds an awful lot like the one I communicated during my 2010 mayoral campaign.
   And if we are to grow it, then maybe working with our Indian brothers and sisters is the exactly the direction we need to follow.

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Posted in branding, business, China, culture, India, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | 2 Comments »


TPPA could turn the clock back

30.11.2010

During the campaign trail, people tended to ask me if I was left or right. While I cheekily said, ‘Forward,’ many a time (and had at least one imitator), there’s something to be said for abandoning what are, effectively, nineteenth-century constructs.
   And unless you are DI Alex Drake in Ashes to Ashes, you need not concern yourself with constructs.
   What society needs is a dose of right or wrong, because all the constructs do is blind people to seeing a contrary argument if they happen to have branded it “left” or “right”.
   There’s no ‘I can see your viewpoint’ because that viewpoint is never aired.
   Fortunately, we didn’t have too much of this problem during the mayoral election though I did have a few people express surprise that I had once run for the Alliance. Meanwhile, Mayor Prendergast was surprised on the night of our TV debate that I sat with Young Nats—though three of them were, indeed, on my campaign.
   If we are all proclaiming we are “independents” and deny any connection with the larger parties, then surely the best quality we could have is to be non-political and unite people from “left” and “right”?
   And, as I also said on the campaign—and long before that—I know of very few people who are “all left” or “all right”.
   A while back, I had a discussion with the co-leader of the Alliance, Kay Murray, and she mentioned that there was a certain policy where the Alliance and ACT saw things the same way.
No Ordinary Deal: Unmasking the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement   It was with this frame of mind that I read Prof Jane Kelsey’s piece in INM‘s New Zealand Herald today.
   New Zealand is to host the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) talks on December 6, in which, says Kelsey, we would be ‘deepening our commitment to free market policies that affect our jobs, our social and cultural well-being, and ultimately the sovereignty to make decisions as a nation …
   ‘The TPPA would lock us into a model where markets and big businesses rule, ignoring the reality that it has failed.’
   I applaud the Herald for publishing Prof Kelsey’s op–ed, given that there are certain media part of larger groups that may have reasons to limit New Zealanders’ awareness of globalization.
   As much as some would like to hide the figures, the reality is that many globalist policies have failed to generate New Zealand enterprise. They have not enabled us to take advantage of the internet by providing a system geared against us as producers. The level playing field with which Labour tried to sell the promise of Rogernomics in the 1980s, thereby appealing to the fair play nature of New Zealanders, never materialized. And it desperately needed to.
   The result has been a largely technocratic system that has seen foreign enterprises already dictate much of what is done here in business—including accounting practices that have seen taxes that would have once been due here go offshore.
   To those National supporters that were part of my campaign team, I said: I am not against some of your party’s principles. I remember the National where progressive Kiwi-owned enterprise was on the cards as a given, and I believe in that. The main parties no longer really want to discuss this topic, if my memory of the 2008 General Election serves me correctly.
   I would not want to speak for them, but I suspect the younger members of this group would agree with me, having grown up in an era where values and social responsibility have been emphasized more than in the decade—or generation—before. Humanism is sometimes best delivered at the local level by organizations that know their community best, though there obviously are exceptions. They are no dummies: they will have observed this themselves, and may well have judged that market theory needs to be tempered by good (and not overbearing) governance.
   Having your formative years in a recession might be a good thing if you are forced to consider things at that community level. We’ve had quite enough “me decades” in the last 30 years that it’s about time we had a “we” one that had long been forecast by some in the marketing trends’ business.
   And I wonder whether the Prime Minister sees it quite this way.
   I almost wonder whether he favours having a small group called the information-rich and a larger group called the information-poor as this seems to be the next divide that certain forces are poised to take us in.
   In fact, I’ve had Prof Kelsey’s new book, due to be launched this week, for the last fortnight, and it makes excellent reading. And while given to me by friends on the “left”, it takes no political stance and analyses the TPPA for what it is.
   I had no idea that when I received it as a gift I was getting it pre-publication.
   No Ordinary Deal: Unmasking the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement has been edited by Kelsey and contains essays dealing with each aspect of the TPPA.
   If we thought that the fight against the Copyright Act amendments was tough, TPPA will see a new round, where there will be an assault on internet users’ rights to protect the US entertainment industry.
   Prof Susy Frankel, one of the authors, notes in the book:

It is possible that the TPPA negotiations will require more stringent protections of digital copyright works and more confind exceptions to those protections than the New Zealand law provides …
   The AUSFTA makes all reproductions of copyright works, even those transient in nature, a copyright infringement. New Zealand law does not make the creation of transient copies that allow the Internet to function a copyright infringement. This is important because it means that people cannot be sued for simply using the Internet and looking things online.

This means New Zealand’s unique digital copyright laws could be clawed back to become closer to US law, but there is equally a risk of what is permitted here, thanks to how we define fair dealing versus fair use, narrower.
   Meanwhile, Kelsey warns in her Herald piece:

Ironically, the government may also guarantee rights to foreign firms that it refuses to recognise for Maori under the Treaty of Waitangi.
   US firms are demanding even easier foreign investment rules that would be locked in for all time, when opinion polls show New Zealanders want to stop more land falling into foreign hands. Likewise, the idea of stemming currency speculation by introducing a financial transactions tax may be prevented by these “trade” rules.

All of which hint, to me, at the continuation of a slanted playing field where we remain at the bottom.
   Indeed, when it comes to services, Kelsey is right to point out (in her book) that:

The negotiating positions of governments participating in the TPPA seek to enhance the comparative advantage of their domestic firms, so as to boost their countries’ export earnings from services and strengthen their national economies …
   Achieving [the Obama administration’s goal of trebling services’ exports] would intensify the dominance of US corporations within other countries’ service markets. The US already reports a surplus in its cross-border trade in private commercial services with negotiating TPPA parties, standing at US$10·5 billion in 2008.

We are in part countering the imbalance with tourism at the moment, but given that there are other services—and we spent a good deal of the last generation building our service economy—we may expect an assault from the US.
   These are not the only sectors, but New Zealand needs to brace itself for a continued weakening of our economy should we put all our chips into the TPPA.
   I can say this with some greater cred that I am no longer campaigning: strengthening this country’s economy and building jobs is imperative, and we need to embark on that before opening us further to foreign private enterprise.
   I would prefer to see policies that enhance New Zealanders’ innovation and enterprise, aid our exports, build our infrastructure so we are content providers, and balance these needs with those who are disadvantaged. We need to reverse our continued slide into indebtedness through innovation and that our government, regardless of its label, needs to “govern” to ensure a balance for all citizens.
   It is too tempting, and too easy, for the New Zealand Government to believe it can relive the days of the boom—one that was founded on very little substance, mind—by effectively turning the clock back. Taking the technocratic experiment one step further by now removing the advantages we enjoy in intellectual property and services—now that manufacturing and energy have gone—isn’t something I can see working.
   Having backward policies isn’t going to suddenly take us in to the boom of yesteryear and make the economy rosier, and the Prime Minister, who apparently was no stranger to hard work if his PR is to be believed, needs to realize this.
   He needs, indeed, to position himself and his party to work even harder to promote that idea of progressive enterprise, rather than a route in which we are sold up the creek again. Assenting to the demands of foreign governments, lobbyists and corporations is not the way to do it.

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Posted in business, internet, leadership, media, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, technology, USA | 3 Comments »


Paul Henry is only the tip of the redneck iceberg

08.10.2010

Yesterday, I began watching the Indian media get hold of the Paul Henry story. Indians are, rightly, up in arms with the TV host’s insult of Chief Minister Smt. Sheila Dikshit’s name—this, plus the incident questioning whether Governor-General HE Sir Anand Satyanand was a New Zealander, shows a pattern where Henry thinks poorly of people with Indian ethnicity.
   The Indian people might want to know that the insults to their people are not restricted to Mr Henry: his colleague Paul Holmes has been rubbishing New Delhi and India in the weeks leading up to the Commonwealth Games, using the fact that few New Zealanders have been there, and pushing unfair stereotypes about hygiene. Mr Henry is also not alone in making fun of Chief Minister Dikshit’s name, with sportscasters giggling about it like children.
   Henry has received the flak because he perhaps had more of a profile, and is already down after the comments about Sir Anand. Isolated incidents we can probably forgive. But, collectively, it shows our media still have plenty of representatives from the redneck sections of our society—and I am happy to tar those members with the same brush as the one I have used on Henry. Right now, I hope there are many broadcasters feeling at least a little shame for joking about the Chief Minister’s name.
   And we wonder why politics is under-represented in New Zealand by minorities, how Parliament—or even the local body elections that I contested—do not reflect our rich cultural mixture. This week, we did not have to look very far: one of our institutions, the fourth estate, is quite prepared to treat Chief Minister Dikshit with little respect; and one of its members is willing to imply that a Governor-General, who speaks with a New Zealand accent, does not sound ‘like a New Zealander’ because he has Indian roots.
   It’s not as though we begin on the best footing when we go to India. When I spoke in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, two years ago, one question asked of me by a member of the local business community was why New Zealand had cooperated with China over free trade prior to considering India as a trading partner. I answered him frankly, ‘Follow the money.’ To me, even being someone of Chinese ethnicity, I see benefits working with India, with its proficiency in English, its common law heritage, and its respect for intellectual property. Of course China is important—but not at the exclusion of a fellow Commonwealth country. The gentleman justifiably felt India had been sold out.
   The Indian Government has rightly summoned our High Commissioner asking for an explanation. Our nation has had to apologize to India for Paul Henry. Yet one thing remains very clear to the Indians: Paul Henry is a civil servant working for state television. Words are not going to mean an awful lot to Indians, if they are not backed up by action by our government. Read between the lines of the Ministry of External Affairs’ official protest: they want him fired. Their words:

It is hoped that the government of New Zealand would take immediate demonstrative action against the said individual to send out a clear signal that such behaviour is totally unacceptable.

They mean that a 14-day suspension isn’t going to cut it. And that was for the Sir Anand issue, not for the Sheila Dikshit humiliation.
   Having been to India, I know the industry of the Indian people—and I know that they can do whatever they put their minds to. If they begin crying boycott, we are in such trouble that even a smile from the Prime Minister cannot cover.
   Paul Henry has done one good thing: expose some of the unacceptable thinking that he and others harbour. But just as Sir Peter Jackson strengthened our national image, one man has now weakened our country’s image as a progressive, multicultural and embracing nation.
   TVNZ, which has flip-flopped between defending Henry and giving him a light slap on the wrist, needs to do more soul-searching than CEO Rick Ellis, or Henry sympathizer and spokeswoman Andi Brotherston, has done so far. Does the network truly condone this sort of behaviour? A mere suspension, and the use of the Dikshit clip for days after the Sir Anand affair, are saying that it does. And in such a case, Paul Henry is being unfairly targeted as the sole offender: the circumstantial evidence is that TVNZ has a far sicker culture than even I had imagined.
   To think: usually, I go abroad holding my head up high because I come from New Zealand. People are willing to help me out because they respect our nation. I’m going to brace myself for a much harder time when next working in India, because some of our country’s less palatable members have been able to get away with pushing their agenda for too long.
   I initially thought that the Facebook page demanding a TVNZ boycott was going too far, given that there are responsible TVNZ staff, too. However, I have not watched a single second of TVNZ programming this week, as an unconscious decision. (Commonwealth Games coverage on Prime has helped.) Maybe the supporters of that Facebook page have a point, because as the days pass, and there continues to be inaction from TVNZ, it is becoming apparent that more heads need to roll. My idea of getting Henry to meet with the New Zealand Indian Central Association is looking more meaningless by the day.

Image credit: Map of India by Umesh Rai.

PS.: TVNZ spokeswoman Andi Brotherston has tendered her resignation.JY

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