Garth George

Garth George is a Herald columnist

Garth George: Thanks for reading, and goodbye

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Columnist Garth George with Sir Anand Satyanand, after being invested as a Member of the NZ Order of Merit (MNZM) at Government House in Wellington, earlier this year. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Columnist Garth George with Sir Anand Satyanand, after being invested as a Member of the NZ Order of Merit (MNZM) at Government House in Wellington, earlier this year. Photo / Mark Mitchell

As I sit down to write this, my last column for the Herald, I'm feeling a real sense of loss. For a tad more than 15 years, this weekly contribution has been a significant part of my life, particularly since I left full-time journalism six years ago.

One of its great benefits to me is that it has over the years brought me into contact with a wide range of people whom I would otherwise not have met, either personally or through thousands of emails (800-odd this year alone), scores of letters and dozens of phone calls.

Most of those contacts have been agreeable, some have even led to friendship, but a proportion has been anything but. I have been reviled and abused, generally anonymously, but that is to be expected when one writes forthrightly about religious, moral, social and political issues from a standpoint at odds with that generally accepted by the populace.

Last year a long-time reader of my columns nominated me for a New Year Honour, which led to my being made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

As he pinned the medal to my lapel at the investiture ceremony in April, the then Governor-General, Sir Anand Satyanand, told me he thought more from the profession of journalism should be nominated for honours.

I had to agree, for I am conscious there are journalists in this country whose contributions have been much greater than mine, especially those who have devoted their careers to the survival of newspapers.

The editors decided back in October that this column does not fit in with their future plans for the opinion pages. And while I shall miss penning my weekly opinions, and have to adapt to a painful drop in income, I hold no rancour.

One of the first lessons I learned as a cadet reporter 50-odd years ago was the newspaper journalist's Rule No 1: "The editor is always right." And Rule No 2: "Even when the editor is wrong, he shall be deemed to be right."

Mind you, back in those days newspaper editors were prominent and respected citizens of the communities in which their newspapers were published. They were somewhat remote, always wore a suit and tie and were referred to as "Mister" or "Sir", as were all senior staff unless they chose to permit the familiarity of a Christian name.

All journalists wore at least jacket and tie to work every day, whether they toiled outside or inside the office, except on Sundays when casual dress was in order. So when I see the untidy and apparently careless attire of many reporters and photographers today, you will forgive me if I cringe.

But all is not lost. My column begins weekly in the Bay of Plenty Times in Tauranga on Saturday, January 21, and will be on its website early the next week. It will also continue every Friday in the Daily Post here in Rotorua.

Meanwhile, let's take a look at what I consider to be the most serious and vexing problem facing New Zealand - and the Western World - now and in the immediate future: income inequality and unemployment.

In their book The Spirit Level, British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett reveal that among the world's wealthiest countries, it is the more unequal ones that do worse, according to almost every quality of life indicator.

The fundamental findings, which are backed by sound social science research, is that inequality damages community life and the relationships that hold nations together. They show that many social problems are more common in societies with larger income differences.

And the sad thing is New Zealand is among the most unequal of the "rich" countries. We have poorer health, higher teenage birth rates, more people in prison, more mental illness, more obesity, more drug abuse, lower levels of child well-being, huge personal debt, and less social mobility than the more equal rich countries.

In a newspaper article, Britain's Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, wrote: "Evidence-based research confirms what many have always believed: that inequality is divisive. It weakens the bonds of caring, kindness and trust between us ...

"If we are not to see a generation of young people damaged by long-term unemployment, and a society becoming increasingly anti-social, we need resolute action to tackle these insidious and corrosive [economic and social issues].

"If we want a happier and less divided society, then an important step would be to reduce the income differences between rich and poor."

As we enter the second decade of the third millennium, let us all think on these things.

Blessings for the New Year.

- NZ Herald

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