I admire Golriz Ghahraman. Though our work has only occasionally overlapped, I have always found her to be a compelling speaker, passionate advocate, and perhaps most importantly for an MP, a competent woman.
Some of the recent coverage of Golriz has been irresponsible. I have carefully weighed the word I wish to apply to this situation, and irresponsible is the word that I think is most appropriate.
Let me be clear. It is the job of journalists to ask hard questions, even of the MPs that I like. This is even more true now that the Green Party is in power. But the hard questions are not being asked, the cheap questions are.
Golriz Ghahraman is a woman from Iran who has embraced the Western legal system, that of courts and punitive law. It is a legal system we have strongly advocated for with the rest of the world, and sometimes outright imposed. Part of that system is having a defence and prosecution.
She ended up on the unpleasant side of that system, defending a terrible man. But that is how human rights work. They are rights that every human has, they are fundamental and indisputable. Our justice system is based on the idea of a fair trial.
In New Zealand, you cannot throw someone in prison just because they are believed to be guilty. You must demonstrate guilt, and that means giving people a chance to defend themselves. This does not cease to be true just because something happens in Africa.
It certainly does make for some nice headlines to pretend this is a problem, though. She has even been called a genocide-denier, which is patently absurd. After all, she has worked both sides, having prosecuted war crimes in Khmer Rouge. She has upheld the Western legal system.
Journalists are the eyes and ears of the public. With that comes a certain responsibility to examine the nuance. When we settle for cheap headlines, it demeans journalism and it demeans us as a society.
Now modern journalism must fund itself, as public funding for journalism has been gutted. There is going to be some degree of sensationalism, and I accept that. But there must also be a deeper analysis, a genuine asking of the hard questions.
"Did Golriz work as part of the defence team" is not a hard question, as it has been public knowledge for some time now. In fact, Herald journalist Kirsty Johnson has admirably stepped forward and tweeted that Golriz disclosed these facts before the election. They just were not interesting enough to make the news, as it is a perfectly normal part of the court system.
But suddenly it is a scandal. The truly hard questions are about where this story is coming from. Who is profiting from the coverage?
When Nicky Hager wrote his book Dirty Politics it opened the public's eyes to some of the shadier dealing happening in New Zealand politics. It has also entered public knowledge that you can recruit PR firms to dig through your opponents' digital life and find something that can be spun into a story. It is not hard to create a scandal.
Now maybe in the end it will turn out that all these stories are just news outlets chasing headlines. But these questions need to be asked. Why are these stories the ones that are entering the media, rather than the countless other scandals happening right now?
Our neighbours in Australia have literal concentration camps, which is incidentally one of the issues Golriz Ghahraman has been campaigning against. Horrific things are happening every day to New Zealanders in poverty. What has led to this being the story that we are talking about?
Whenever a scandalous story breaks, I try to look for what the powerful people are doing. Is another political party doing something that the public would not like, so they need a distraction? Does the person involved in the scandal have enemies that profit from them being taken down a peg? Someone went through the effort of digging through Golriz Ghahraman's history looking for scandal. Who was it?
I understand that modern journalists are under severe time constraints and resource constraints. But I implore you, seek these deeper questions and ask what is really going on.
* Shanti Ahluwalia is a political activist and scientist who runs the Resist organisation against factory farming.