Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political roundup: Blog wars over race, rape & freedom of expression

Radiolive broadcasters Willie Jackson and John Tamihere. Photo / NZPA
Radiolive broadcasters Willie Jackson and John Tamihere. Photo / NZPA

A vicious blog war is raging over the successful campaign against Radiolive broadcasters Willie Jackson and John Tamihere. After a blogger, Giovanni Tiso, succeeded in getting Jackson and Tamihere taken off the air via a campaign focused on the radio station's advertisers, bloggers have been vigorously debating whether this amounts to some kind of economic censorship that threatens free expression and media freedom. The debate has also encompassed highly-contested arguments about racism, feminism and identity politics in general.

Ex-Act MP Donna Awatere Huata has blogged to accuse Giovanni Tiso of 'racism' because he targeted the Maori broadcasters and not the equivalent pakeha talkback hosts - see: Celebrate, We're White, Tonight! Its a Celebration!. Awatere Huata's highly provocative post asks the question: 'How did an issue involving mainly white girls, white boys, white police, white politicians, and white RadioLive officials end up with only two scalps, both of them Maori?' Tiso responds to the racial allegations against him in the comments section.

This particular blog post epitomises how the debate about the 'Roast Busters', rape, and the Radiolive controversy has descended into an 'identity politics' scrape. Identity politics is, of course, the prioritisation of a person's identity - ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc - over issues of ideology, and especially economics and class.

Awatere Huata is one of the original 'identity politics' activists, having led the Maori nationalist movement in the 1980s, before taking her radicalism to what some might say is its logical conclusion in becoming a neoliberal politician in the 1990s, before falling from grace in the 2000s. She's back now to push Maori nationalism, and it seems to be galling for other identity politics activists to be on the receiving end of her racial allegations.

But is Awatere Huata simply an aberration amongst Maori activists? It's telling that the president of the Mana Party, Annette Sykes went online to endorse Awatere Huata's analysis as a 'Great deconstruction of how the real issue got deflected' in the Radiolive/Roast Busters scandal. Sykes has proclaimed that Awatere Huata's blog post is the 'First piece that deals with the race dimension and scapegoating while the real sideshow the police inaction remains unaddressed'.

In defence of a political sphere full of expression

In contrast to much of the vicious and nasty identity politics debates at the moment, the latest installment in the debate about Radiolive taking Jackson and Tamihere off the air is possibly the most rational and level-headed. Civil liberties lawyer Graeme Edgeler has blogged his views about Giovanni Tiso's campaign, and indeed against all such advertising consumer boycotts - see his in-depth and thought-provoking post, Think it possible that you may be mistaken. Edgeler essentially argues that such campaigns are dangerous because they ultimately reduce debate in the public sphere. It's a powerful argument and a must-read blog post.

Edgeler isn't the first to raise concerns about the impact of the campaign against the broadcasters. One of the first was Prof Andrew Geddis of the University of Otago law school - see: Of speech and its consequences. He was followed by others such as Chris Trotter, who wrote a highly controversial column, Disturbing Precedent. Since then, Radio New Zealand's Mediawatch programme investigated whether the successful campaign against the talkback hosts amounted to 'a real threat to media freedom?' - you can listen to the 36-minute document here: Mediawatch for 17 November 2013.

The original boycott organizer, Giovanni Tiso, has blogged a very interesting defence of his position - see: The business of free speech. This follows on from his previous statements on the issue (This is what rape culture looks like; and A surge in the tide). And Tiso and his campaign was also profiled in the Hearld - see Phil Taylor's Roast Busters: When people power works.

Danyl Mclauchlan has also blogged in favour of the campaign - see: Advertising boycotts and freedom of speech. He believes that 'freedom of speech' is essentially limited to not being imprisoned for your views, and he approves of boycotts because it's 'just good 'ol capitalism working as designed'. In a somewhat more inflammatory blog post, Mclauchlan also essentially blames rape apologies on people like Chris Trotter - or 'Trotterism' - see: Baby it's creepy outside. Mclauchlan and Tiso both declare that they're not worried about the homogenising impact of increased boycotts of media voices, because they believe that New Zealand doesn't have any decent leftwing political commentators anyhow. In agreement, it seems, is Scott Yorke - see his post, Killing kittens.

Leftwing infighting and identity politics

The heightened tensions over the various personal accusations being thrown around, especially on the left of the politics, has led Martyn Bradbury to make a plea for it all to stop - see: Why I think John Key might win 2014 election. But Bradbury's post only raised the temperature in the debate, especially with his accusations about Green Party activists ('Emerald Stormtroopers') being the worst offenders. He also blogged, however, to disagree with Trotter's stance on the silencing of Jackson and Tamihere - see: To my dear learned colleague, Chris Trotter - you are terribly wrong and I disagree strongly. He declared that 'what is required now is for the male commentators to step back, shut up and listen to the women and whanau'.

Another identity politics activist - who has resigned from Bradbury's Daily Blog has responded with two dissenting blog posts - Just one tiny thing and Ladies, step up to the platform - just not to the mic - the last of which, is a critique of the lack of diversity on Bradbury's Daily Blog.

Trotter has responded to Bradbury with the blog post, The Finer Points of Freedom, which calls for more debate, not less. He's also blogged today about the identity politics part of the debate, arguing in favour of universalism and against the 'perversion of identity' - see: The Equations Of Progressive Algebra. Trotter declares: 'I am at a loss to explain the New Zealand Left's extraordinary ability to demonize (and attempt to silence) not only its enemies, but also its own. The accusations and recriminations that have marred the Left's discussion and debate of the Roastbusters Scandal have left many people of a progressive persuasion feeling disturbed, disgusted and depressed'. See also, Alan Alach's With 'friends' like these.

There's plenty of other issues and debates at the moment concerning ethnicity and allegations of racism. Labour's Sua William Sio has started a campaign on Facebook entitled Stop the Racism TVNZ, with the demand for 'More ethnically diverse personel in mainstream media'.

The Labour MP's campaign follows on from an allegedly racist joke made by TVNZ commissioning editor Andrew Shaw - which is reported in Steve Deane's TVNZ defends executive after cracks at Auckland hit a nerve. For more on this, see Morgan Godfery's blog posts, Taking the piss at TVNZ: why Andrew Shaw makes combating racism harder and Living in an age of racism without racists: Andrew Shaw and TVNZ part II.

John Drinnan's column today about media matters deals with the media's vulnerability to critiques on social media - in particular the TVNZ and RadioLive controversies. He reports Canterbury University's senior Donald Matheson analysis of the role of Twitter in influencing media and advertising. On a similar issue, see Liam Dann's Why I love my Twitter addiction.

There are some major issues in the justice system relating to ethnicity, which is raised by the current case explained in Martin van Beynen's article, How much should courts discount for being Maori?. For other very interesting comments on the issue, see TV3's Justice system 'biased against Maori', Stuff's Race-based sentence won't wash, says Peters, and Caleb Morgan's Fabian Mika's lawyer is (mostly) right.

We might also soon be debating ownership of another resource - see TV3's Sharples: 4G spectrum is 'taonga'.

Biculturalism amounts to a false promise for Maori according to Elizabeth Rata in Democracy and Tribalism. She says that economic inequality for Maori has worsened alongside the rise of biculturalism, and that the benefits of colonization are being undone by retribalisation in which only an elite is empowered. Also, in terms of the changing nature of Maoridom, see Acushla Deanne O'Carroll's Virtual marae? No thanks.

Finally, for a very interesting view on the role of Maori culture from yet another politician that grappled with issues of identity politics, see Tau Henare's blog post, Culture - all the good stuff.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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