Relentless and unstoppable digital forces have changed the flows of information in recent years. And there’s no going back. There’s a multiplicity of media sources out are all vying for our precious time: pushing hard news and hard bodies at us through every possible platform.
Arguably, no other sector of the economy has been rattled by such changes as that profession and bastion and truth – journalism!
To discuss this, an extensive panel was formed at the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. Cate Brett, Simon Wilson, Morgan Godfrey, Duncan Greive and Paula Penfold got together on stage and thrashed it all out. The message seemed to be that such circumstances are a mixed blessing.
Some say “the news has been democratized”, giving everyone with a digital device “a voice”. But then, “everyone” includes your friendly neighbourhood skinhead. Others claim we’re all being exploited by commercial entities, who distract us from real issues by pitching to our carnal desires. Little New Zealand media sources can’t compete with behemoth businesses, resourced to catch a bigger share of public attention.
So, how do wholesome Kiwi journalists and news sources secure capital to compete for space within the saturated market, which is rather dominated by cashed up multinationals? Annoyingly, so many solutions seem to present a paradox – because the most critical and fundamental principle underpinning “The News” is OBJECTIVITY. Therefore, relying on government funding becomes a problem if your scrutinizing the behaviour of government: “biting the hand that feeds you”!
Getting help from unions or trusts was pitched as means to secure funding. But then, that’s also a problem when such entities also have political and ideological positions which journos feel compelled to honour!
And then there is advertising, which also means pandering to cut throat corporatism … These are some of the most important questions of right now. Because a robust and free press is right up there with free and fair elections and the right to vote!
The interviewer for this session was Marianne Elliott who had trained as a human rights lawyer. She worked in the area of advocacy and communications and Afghanistan was one of the many places she has worked. She recounts her time there in her book Zen under fire, and her experiences and empathy really helped make this session successful.
Nadia Hashimi wants to portray the “heroic women of Afghanistan rising above it all”. The common portrayal is of an oppressed downtrodden group, meek and in the shadow of the men, hidden by the burka. Afghani women are a mystery, we start making our own assumptions aided by portrayals of the western armies going in to save them.
Nadia Hashimi was born in the USA but weaves the stories of her family into her stories. Many have been refugees and her book When the Moon is Low portrays a refugee story and was published before the recent refugee crisis. Ahead of her time on this issue, it had always been one that had affected her family and the people of Afghanistan.
She not only portrays women differently than the common view but her men too are often kind and romantic and opposed to brutal and paternalistic. She described romance as being a huge part of Afghani culture. Radio shows abound where people can call in anonymously and talk about their loves and relationships, she called it an obsession with romanticism and Bollywood movies are incredibly popular.
A House without windows describes the experience of Afghani women in prison. For some it is a complete erosion of their freedoms, for others whose lives are incredibly brutal it is a welcome refuge, there is no one to bother and harass them, they are fed and may even be able to go to literacy classes. The justice system is flawed and women are often imprisoned after false statements and for such crimes as running away from home. Both women described the frustration of working in the justice arena, but also acknowledged that there are some amazing people working in this area who are slowly trying to bring about change.
A question was asked about how we can best support Afghani women. Sending money can be risky as corruption is rampant. She suggested supporting the arts, Afghani women’s writing projects and women’s crafts, we can also read their blogs, listen to their stories and realise that these women are strong and resilient.
One would think that any discussion on the scrap for supremacy between Trump and Clinton would be over pretty quick: Trump’s obviously nuts! There goes that! Thanks for coming! But, believe it or not, it’s not that simple. Or so we were told by three very learned and wise humans who took the stage to give us some context on the whole quagmire. They were: historian Peter S. Field, political scientist Amy Fletcher, and TV writer and novelist Steve Hely (who helped produce American Dad! and 30 Rock).
Here is a surprising sample of what seemed to be the consensus of the multi-partisan panel:
First, it was argued Hillary has been given a markedly easier ride from the media.
After all, Trump is so scandalous and acrid that he distracts us with the kind of entertainment befitting of The Real Housewives of Auckland. But, all his antics have overshadowed what so many Americans are concerned about – Hillary’s alleged (arguably law breaking) ineptitude as Secretary of State (no, not a normal secretary, rather, senior official overseeing national security).
That cute local rag the New York Times claims as Secretary of State, Hillary used her unprotected home PC for sending and receiving highly sensitive material pertaining to national security (you know, as you do). This is kind of problematic, cos’ her private server is much easier hacked, putting thousands at risk – Americans take that kind of thing rather seriously … Further, such material should have been automatically archived for the purposes of governmental transparency, accountability and future reference.
So, these are apparently very serious, and apparently justified allegations. Yet generally overlooked by world media. So, while we all think the decision is pretty obvious, for lots of Americans the whole choice is a bit perplexing.
There was also another speculation – “is this the end of both (Republican and Democrat) parties?” Are we going to see genuine multi-party competition in the USA? With this, the discussion turned quickly to the widespread concern among Republicans that Trump’s’ damaging the party beyond repair, with Peter S. Field mooting “Trump is a sign of the end of the Republican Party”. But then, Dr Fletcher pointed out that lots of republican voters loved seeing Trump take down Jeb Bush, “whos a rich, establishment Republican”, who “never gets told what to do”, but got severely told. By Trump! Supposedly, rugged, liberty loving Republicans rejoiced at this public hanging, despite other party faithful freaking out about a future with the same Trump who gave lots of money to Democrat campaigns in the recent past – conflict of interest? In any case, it’d be cool to see the end of the two party electoral monopolization stifling American democracy.
It was a treat getting to hear from learned American citizens regarding their election. The only thing good about the whole thing is that I don’t have to make that decision.
Oh boy what an awesome festival the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival is! Exciting in the extreme. I was drenched by the time I got to my first event; Poetry readings at Scorpio Books. A packed house, and great poetry. The winner, Danielle O’Halloran, gave a fantastic live performance.
Next up a change of shoes for a very rainy Oratory on the Ōtākaro / Avon, with Joseph Hullen (Ngāi Tahu,Ngāi Tūāhuriri)
The walk follows significant sites from Puari Pa, which stretched from the Hospital to Kilmore Street, reveals another cultural layer buried under Christchurch, literally. Remains of yupuna (ancestors) have been found in Cathedral Square, under the old Library (Gloucester Street), and under St Luke’s Church (Kilmore Street).
Ngāi Tahu are driving a project to restore, beautify and rebuild the river, which was choked with sediment post quakes. Native life, such as Inanga (Whitebait) and Tuna (Eel) are coming back to the Ōtākaro to thrive. The installation of 13 Whariki Manaaki; tiled patterns based on traditional weaving designs, “weaves a Ngāi Tahu narrative into the rebuild.” (Joseph Hullen)
After a very welcome afternoon tea, it was time to go to the launch of Leaving the Red Zone, a collection of poems inspired by the Canterbury earthquakes. Joanna Preston’s poem, ‘Ministry of Sorrow’ was especially moving and powerful. Included is the poem, ‘Rebuild’ by one of the Library’s own poets, Greg O’Connell.
Feeling like festival flotsam, I made my way through the crowds of excited festival goers to The Power of Poetry. Featuring Bill Manhire, Selina Tusitala Marsh, C.K Stead, Fiona Kidman, and Ali Cobby Eckermann. Ali’s view from the Aboriginal culture was a poignant perspective, and I loved Selina’s repetition : t t t t t…d d d d …
Contemplating what condition the world will be in midway through this century seems a bit premature. But, in the grand narrative of history, the halfway point of the 21st century its not too far away – 35 years. So it is a tad irresponsible to push such ponderings into the back of our minds, given the ecological problems we face.
The way these issues connect will become much more evident over the next 35 years, as our current refugee/migration crisis will be exacerbated by burgeoning climate change migration. Basically, as seas rise and ice melts – ruining homes and food procurement – people will have to find somewhere else to make a home.
Sheila discussed the fact that indigenous peoples are often the least responsible for climate change, but also the least well equipped to adapt to the circumstances it foists upon their way of life – a life which is almost totally contingent on a very intimate relationship with healthy ecosystems.
Within their own regions, these small populations are often at the behest of larger non-indigenous populations and market forces. Therefore, they have little say in how environmental issues are tackled.
Mai Chen added to this by highlighting the increasing number of displaced indigenous people groups who must escape environmental crisis, but can’t achieve citizenship in other countries very easily. This is a bit painful, given developed countries are often the largest CO2 emitters and responsible for driving environmental degradation, but also have a strange reluctancy to receive new migrants affected by environmental crisis.
Relatedly, Dr Hayward underscored the way in which developed and developing countries are obsessed with economic growth. And this growth is usually achieved via resource intensive economic activity. Basically, we must wean ourselves off the growth model and scale back our consumer economies. Which sounds painful!
Scientist Tim Flannery had SOME good news!
He noted that in the last two years carbon emissions had stabilized, and although this wasn’t cause to get back into our SUVs, it could mark the beginning of a downward trend in CO2 emissions! He attributes this to new technologies, as renewable energy sources (wind etc) are attracting more investment than fossil fuels, and such technologies are seeing increasing utilization.
That being said, the worst case scenario still looms.
It was the first time I’ve been in the reopened Isaac Theatre Royal. My partner said the last thing he saw there was Public Enemy. I don’t know what I had been to – but we were back, and very happy to be at this WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival gala event.
WORD Literary Director Rachael King kicked off proceedings with a sense of the festival’s themes and the good news that ticket sales have already busted all records.
Then it was time for broadcaster Kim Hill to introduce the “marvellous array” of performers. She regretted not being previously advertised host John Campbell, but hey Kim we love you (and your broadcasting live from Christchurch today with WORD guest makes us love you all the more).
We learned about the places and landmarks of Te Waipounamu (the South Island) in an informative – and really entertaining – journey. There was an element of pride in our place as coming from the first marriage of the first son. Yes, we are “sanctimoniously senior”.
Caitlin Doughty has done more than 1000 cremations. She got us to put our hands up if we are getting cremated. Around 70% choose that option. In the United States, it’s more like 50%, while Japan has a percentage around 99.99%.
Caitlin took us on a “What to expect when you’re expecting to be cremated”. Not the gold standard simulation that you can experience in China, where you actually go on the crematory ride and feel the imaginary flames but … Audience member Cathy got to be “Cathy the Corpse” and we went along with her ride in her “alternative container”. There is a cone of flame, the temperature goes up to 815 degrees Celsius and that’s applied for around 45 minutes.
The rest of Caitlin’s speech included “flaming skull”, “glowing red bones” and “cremulator”.
Stephen Daisley won big at the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. His speech had the flummoxed feeling you’d expect when someone has been writing for a long time and finds the reviews (which he read out) a bit staggering.
Tusiata Avia performed two poems from her new collection Fale Aitu | Spirit House. It was made use of the idea of Aranui – the great path:
I am an Aranui girl.
Her second poem built on the repetition of “my body” and was utterly hypnotic:
My body is not an apology.
It was an powerful and absorbing perfomance.
Steve Hely told a good yarn from his book The Wonder TrailTrue Stories From Los Angeles to the End of the World. He talks about the landscape of a particularly barren place in Chile, and a 7 hour bus trip with mine workers, and the one woman on the bus puts on a movie – Austenland. Why, why, why? And he amusingly considers why the heck someone might play that particular movie to a bunch of blokes.
Ivan E. Coyote. Oh Ivan. I think everyone fell in love with you. I did, “full on smitten”. We were as taken with them, as they were with the fabulous lineup of “butch femmes” from the Yukon. I confidentally predict a flurry of ticket purchases for the rest of Ivan’s festival appearances.
Hollie Fullbrook aka Tiny Ruins soothed the savage breast with a new song about a bus trip with someone just out of prison, a song about being under the same cover.
Chaired by journalist Donna Miles-Mojab, the citizens of Christchurch and others from abroad sat and listened closely to first hand accounts from individuals who have made perilous and nerve shattering journeys away from conflict zones, to what is now their home – New Zealand.
It was a treat to be listening to such compelling narratives while sitting within The Chamber of the newly and beautifully designed The Piano.
Somalian national Dr Hassam Ibrahim, and Afghan national Abbas Nazari spoke of their manifold hardships leaving the places their families knew, to eventually arrive via boats, planes, trucks and on foot, to New Zealand’s shores, to be faced with radically different surroundings and cultural sensibilities.
They spoke of their New Zealand experience with great gratitude but also lamented leaving their homelands for a place where they may not always be understood as people. It’s not every day that you get the privilege of hearing first hand accounts such as these. It’s staggering to think that RIGHT NOW over 3.2 million desperate humans are seeking asylum throughout the earth! Forced to leave homes, friends and familiar environments to make huge transitions abroad.
“Double the Quota” campaigner Murdoch Stephens made the case for New Zealand to lift its refugee quota, and discussed the many positive economic and cultural impacts of resettling refugees in New Zealand. It was a compelling case – given that “NZ’s refugee quota has not grown since 1987”, which is pretty lame in contrast to our Australian cousins who “currently take more than three times as many quota refugees and asylum seekers as NZ per capita”.
Roger, In love with these times is your personal experience, and it is about your role in the New Zealand music industry. There is a real sense of ‘being there’ in a certain time and place. A lot has been written about the music, so I’d like to focus more on place and – since you’re also an avid reader, on your love of books and libraries.
You write that during your upbringing “Reading became central” to your life. Tell us about some books you recommend.
David Stubbs: Future Days (Faber & Faber, 2014). This is a great exploration of what was an insular but fragmented (it happened all over Germany rather than in one locale) musical phenomena. I love the music and this book helped me make sense of where it came from (German youth rebelling against their Nazi tainted parents and teachers) and how it happened and it sent me back to listen to all of the music again. Can, Neu, Harmoniam Amol Duul, et al.
Geoff Chapple: Terrain (Random House, 2015). This is really a fantastic read for anyone curious about why our country looks the way it does. Landforms are the fascinating dynamic basic structures that shape our lives in New Zealand and learning to read them is immensely rewarding.
Rob Chapman: Psychedelia and Other Colours (Faber & Faber, 2015). This is my current music read and it’s very informative and delightfully opinionated. The ex Glaxo Babies singer – and now music writing academic – describes the very different development of psychedelic music in the USA and the UK and isn’t afraid to shoot down some longstanding myths and reputations. It’s a straight shooting and unglamorous look at one of the key musical strands that defines the 1960s. I found the section on The Beatles particularly rewarding.
Richard King: How Soon Is Now. This is about the development of the independent record labels in the UK and the USA that catered to the exploding number of bands that formed during and after the punk and helped connect them to the new audience that appeared alongside them. An erudite entertaining read about the rise and almost inevitable fall of of labels such as Postcard, Rough Trade, Blast First and Mute. Flying Nun isn’t discussed but fits right in there with what was happening internationally at the time.
You grew up in Aranui and went to Shirley Boys High and you write in your book about your fond memories of going to New Brighton Library every Saturday with your family. What place have libraries played in your life?
I love books and reading and tend to look for them in a number of different places. Bookshops selling new books obviously have the latest releases but second hand book shops have otherwise unavailable gems and oddments and I will travel considerable distances to attend book fairs.
Libraries have a different selection again and remarkable ones at that. I love to browse. As a kid we went to the old New Brighton library on Shaw Ave on a Saturday while my mother did her weekly shopping. It didn’t have a big selection but did have a rotating range of books that came out from the central library in town. I got started reading pretty tame Willard Price boys adventures (one of the key characters dies in one of them by getting his foot stuck in a giant clam, or did he fall into a volcano?) before moving on to John Wyndham and Fred Hoyle and other English science fiction writers. A road that took me all the way to J.G. Ballard who I greatly admire for the quality and originality of his ideas.
My taste in fiction is rather broad, Nabokov (skip the overly literary Lolita and check out one of the greatest books ever written, Pale Fire or the funniest, Pnin) and there are a number of New Zealand writers that I have followed including Maurice Gee, Emily Perkins and Damien Wilkins. I mix up my fiction reading with plenty of non-fiction. I read a good amount of travel writing (including Colin Thubron, Richard O’Hanlon (Trawler is especially good), Nick Dyer, but the best is Norman Lewis amongst a mass of other stuff including books about music, psychology, food, nature, history, geology and art.
I remember finding the Thames and Hudson William S. Rubin’s Dada & Surrealism art book one Saturday at the New Brighton library and that really opened up my mind to what existed beyond my closeted Aranui existence. My father must have been horrified. He certainly was when I started listening to punk rock a couple of years later.
With such a vastly changed landscape post-quake it is great to have the memories – an archive if you will – of the people and places in Christchurch that you document in your book (music venues, your various Flying Nun offices) to orientate readers in the city. You used to work at the Record Factory and near Shand’s Emporium too. You write of your memories of working in ‘the Square’, a centre city so vastly altered now, and you share your memories of music venues and music stores in Christchurch. How do you feel seeing sites in Christchurch where you used to work and play? Post-quake where do you find yourself drawn to with so much changed? Where do you ‘find’ yourself when you come to Christchurch now? Is that even possible now?
Record Factory was on Colombo St. The first Flying Nun office was on Hereford Street next to Shands. I’ve been lost in central Christchurch the last couple of times I have visited. I don’t think people outside Christchurch understand the devastation unless they see it for themselves. Surely the word “munted” must has been coined to describe what has happened in Christchurch. The physical central city I grew up exploring and then working and living in seems to have completely gone.
Fortunately the people remain and I have huge admiration for those who have done so with the clear intention of rebuilding the city. Where do I go when I am in town visiting my mother? I’ve always loved the Museum, Botanical Gardens and Art Gallery and make time to check out them out, to see what is new but mainly to be reassured by what is the same. I find those reconnections amongst the mass dislocations rather vital.
You talk about what drove you as a fan was the feeling that a lot of the music would have been lost if it wasn’t recorded. It seems hard to imagine Flying Nun was such a fruitful endeavour without cellphones and the internet, with the biggest excitement being the fax machine. What aspects of this ‘old school’ way do you think made Flying Nun a success in a way that wouldn’t happen in today’s high tech, globally connected world and ‘record me!’ culture? Any special piece of advice for budding music industry entrepreneurs today?
Despite all the technological advances I think what was always hard has become even harder to achieve. A new label needs to be working with bands that are new, exciting and unique. There has to be some momentum and some early sales to get the cashflow moving and confidence up.
This is something that normally grows out of the development of a scene. A scene is a localised outburst of communal creativity normally bourne out of geographic and socio economic isolation. Bands starting up and supporting each other and swapping ideas and making and playing new kinds of music which is what happened in both Christchurch and Dunedin in the early 1980s.
The internet connects people and makes everything totally absolutely available but works against that insular hothouse effect by accelerating the ongoing homogenised fragmentation of music. It’s harder to create music that is different enough to grab an audience’s attention let alone pay for it so a band or artist can start building a career.
Can you recommend any music or artists released out of Flying Nun today or out of Christchurch in general who have taken your interest?
Christchurch is where it all started for me. The Gordons who somehow later became Bailter Space. The Pin Group were special. The Bats are a fine example of musical evolution. From being very quietly country influenced to becoming very subtley krautrock flecked. A brilliant band that endure despite the non evolutionary force that is fashion. I really rate T54. I can’t wait to see Zen Mantra in a couple of weeks time at The Others Way in Auckland. And as always I am a huge fan of The Terminals and very much looking forward to eventually checking out their recently developing “side project” Dark Matter.
You mention in your book you like to cook and are an avid cookbook collector. Share with us some of your favourite cookbooks.
I like to cook and I have a big collection of cookbooks although there seem to be so many published these days.
Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich’s Honey and Co (Saltyard Books, 2014). My wife came back from London with this book and its Israeli middle eastern cooking is very much in the style of the excellent Ottolenghi books. I see a connection here to what first enthused me about cooking in the mid 1980s, Claudia Roden’s television series Middle Eastern Cooking.
Chris Maynard and Bill Scheller’s Manifold Destiny (Villard Books, 1989). I have never cooked anything out of this book but love the idea that I could wrap up dinner in foil and cook it on my car engine as I belt along the motorway listening to The Clean’s ‘Point That Thing’.
Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham’s The Prawn Cocktail Years (Macmillan, 1997). These two excellent food writers get together to give the best quality recipes for former British comfort food favourites such as Chicken Kiev, Spaghetti Bolognese, Shepherds Pie, Lasagne al Forno and our Sunday brunch favourite, Kedgeree. Yum.
Share a surprising fact about yourself.
I have a number of loose amateur enthusiasms and geology, cartography and stamp collecting are among them. I’m very keen on volcanos and have good sized collections of postcards and souvenir teaspoons featuring them. Yes, I am strangely attracted to cardboard but I no longer collect it. Otherwise, it’s books that consume most of my spare time, seeking them out and then reading them.
Alok Jha is the science correspondent for Britain’s ITV News. Before that, he did the same job at the Guardian for a decade, writing news, features, comment and presenting the award-winning Science Weekly podcast. He has also reported live from Antarctica and presented many BBC TV and radio programmes.
What are you looking forward to doing in Christchurch?
Seeing it for the first time! I’ve heard about the city’s beauty, I’m looking forward to walking the streets and soaking up the atmosphere.
What do you think about libraries?
Some of the most important spaces in any civilised place. A place to imagine, dream and discover.
Among the first few events at this year’s epic WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival was “CAN BOOKS CHANGE THE WORLD?” This serious question arouses all manner of responses: Books ARE powerful! They HAVE changed the world! We cry. With fists in the air!
However, this intimate evening explored what drives writers to write in the first place – an important question – given that what we write can ripple out across earth. So, to traverse the topic of world-changing written thought, we were treated to a panel of clever literary people – children’s and short story writer Kate De Goldi, journalist and playwright Victor Rodger, and academic, writer and literary critic John Freeman – all of whom have won various awards and accolades.
The featured writers were probed with questions about “why they write”. John Freeman began by stating that you have to keep yourself in check :
If you start thinking you can change the world, then you will have a rough time”. You’ll prime yourself for disappointment.
Therefore, you “write in the hope that people will be able to identity with you”. Hopefully, you can tap into something that touches them by seeking to appreciate their worldview.
BUT, he went on to warn “there is no such thing as apolitical writing”, you either have to take a position on certain issues, or you take positions by default. There is no middle ground.
Kate De Goldi seemed to concur with these sentiments, stating that New Zealand citizens tend to have a problem “speaking truth to power” and taking provocative (and sometimes) unpopular positions and entering into heated discourse! She emphasized that writing is about “being a responsible citizen”, and that “if people dont read there is no democracy”. Therefore, we need to back ourselves.
Victor added to the discussion by revealing his own impressions of life growing up as part of a minority group – as a young Samoan New Zealander, most Kiwi books, plays and shows did not embody his point of view as a young man wrestling with his identity. So, “he really wanted to get his own impressions of life out there”, “to challenge cultural and racial stereotypes”. Which is critical, as his work has added important dimensions to New Zealand’s artistic scene and prompted Kiwis think about who we are as a society.
It was an edifying evening, I found myself taking in this good advice from those who have hacked their way through the literary jungle. Its good to be reminded that with the privilege of free literary thought comes responsibility. And sometimes, we wind up writing something world changing!