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Que CERRA, CERRA?

Written By: - Date published: 6:30 pm, September 29th, 2010 - 63 comments
Categories: broadcasting, democratic participation, local government, Media, news, spin, the praiseworthy and the pitiful - Tags: , , , ,

I put on the radio this morning to hear emails expressing concern about the CERRA being read out. Since I haven’t heard any such concerns being echoed back to me by any media, I briefly thought that maybe some abuse had flowed from ‘the Act’ in the past 24 hours or so.

But no.

Apparently, whereas Labour and Green party members slamming their respective politicians over support for the CERRA  goes unreported; and whereas the widespread expressions of anger, condemnation, disgust and thoughtful analyses all over the NZ blogosphere is as a deafening silence to media outlets, that’s not the case when a few of ‘the right’ people speak up.

According to even our most liberal media then, when thousands of citizens find themselves in what might be described as spontaneous concurrence, as happened over the CERRA, it’s just not important enough to warrant much of a mention.

But somewhat revealingly and quite simply, when  27 academics ,who media types  perceive as being ‘authoritative’ and therefore ‘acceptable’, seek to deliver the exact same  message that everyone else had been seeking to deliver these past weeks, the message quite suddenly and mysteriously gains admittance  to the mainstream media’s echo chamber, where it can potentially (hopefully) gain some efficacious momentum.

Which is a problem. Because any tendency of media to pre- judge the relative importance of a matter based on whether suitably authoritative members of society have deemed it worthy of mention is a very bad thing. It’s bad because it reinforces the idea of citizens as an inconsequential spectators. And inconsequential spectators can have nothing invested in defending any level of democracy.

It’s a habit of media that belies an idea that’s already developed far too far in my opinion. The failure to report our concerns over such a crucial matter as the CERRA surely indicates just how acceptable our elites and media find it to dismiss us and our concerns. We and our concerns are not news because worthwhile concerns do not emanate from us. If we think otherwise, then we need to be taught to understand that we are consumers first and foremost. And that second and last we can be sounding boards for the worthy concerns that emanate from our elites.

Of course, there are others who might claim that being a slow learner is no bad thing. But they are by their own admission, no experts on such matters and so should be ignored.

63 comments on “Que CERRA, CERRA? ”

  1. thoughtful analysis, bunji. The same mentality behind CERRA and behind Brownlee and Carter’s refusal to justify it can be seen in the unwillingness of the media to cover popular discontent with the law.

  2. Rex Widerstrom 2

    As a former reporter and editor I have to say in defence of the MSM that it’s difficult to decide when the feelings of Joe Average cross over from opinion (and thus he has the “Letters to the Editor” column and talkback radio through which to express them directly) to news (in which case I should write a story expressing them).

    Every day you’re inundated with crackpots claiming to speak for the “silent majority”. That every single missive you receive on a given day offers the same opinion isn’t even a guide – it just means that possibly everyone vexed about a certain issue has decided to put pen to paper, while hundreds of thousands of their fellows don’t care or perhaps even agree with the status quo (and no one ever writes or calls up to say “Yeah, I’m pretty satisified, thanks”).

    Not that this applies to the one example you’ve cited, Bill. The fact that clearly left-leaning bloggers and commenters were universally lambasting their parties was worthy of note (but even then, how to quantify the extent of the disquiet given the disinclination of supporters of a decision to say so?).

    As for other issues, I’d be interested to know what trigger points you think should tip the MSM into treating public opinion (other than that defined by polling) as news? And how the unquantifiable should be reported?

    [I don’t mean that in a snarky way. As someone who’s a cheerleader for greater direct democracy, having the MSM value Joe Average’s opinion is important to me. But I genuinely have trouble with how it could be reported without taking a “Chicken Little” approach every time you got a dozen letters saying the same thing].

    • Colonial Viper 2.1

      One would hope that a journo would be able to perceive a potential story and see if there was something to it? Maybe an enterprising, democratically minded journo could decide for themselves if it was worth following up and could ring up their local constitutional lawyer and ask: is there anything substantial to this noise?

      Instead of waiting for yet another press release to be handed to them before moving on it.

      • Lew 2.1.1

        It’s not like they were unaware, either. There were plenty of senior journos participating in the live twitter outrage during the debate and passage of the bill.

        L

        • tea 2.1.1.1

          Which means the media is badly comprimised and wouldn’t stand up for us if the jack boots came…cowards the lot media, the Greens, Labour…

      • Rex Widerstrom 2.1.2

        Maybe an enterprising, democratically minded journo could decide for themselves if it was worth following up and could ring up their local constitutional lawyer and ask: is there anything substantial to this noise?

        So the appearance of potentially widespread disquiet triggers the media to proactively consult the experts for validation of the opinion? Better, I agree. And I’ve often done that myself.

        But still a strategy which “reinforces the idea of citizens as an inconsequential spectators”. Hence my rhetorical questions…

        • Bill 2.1.2.1

          “But still a strategy which “reinforces the idea of citizens as an inconsequential spectators”. Hence my rhetorical questions…”

          But they could report it as news worthy ‘non-news’ should their chosen experts be of the opinion that there is nothing to see or whatever. Which either opens up debate and possibly leads to elite opinion being challenged or leads to a better understanding of matters by many people.

          Which is not treating us as inconsequential.

    • Bill 2.2

      When the sentiments of the media are indistinguishable from the sentiments of our elites, we are in a spot of bother. And I think we’re in a spot of bother.

      I mean, how there be a journalist anywhere in NZ not alert to the newsworthiness of our democracy going bye-byes in Canterbury? And since journalists pick up stories from the blogosphere and the more or less uniform reaction to the CERRA was all over the damned place…and all linking back to the analyses Lew mentions below which only needed to be read with a critical eye to ascertain their worthiness….

      Rex. When I wrote the post much earlier today, I didn’t foresee that the matter was about to be dropped again by the msm as though it was a hot potato. It’s like the fat man grumbled his displeasure and the media all shuffled out of the throne room backwards with heads bowed muttering apologies to his majesty for their stupid transgression. Or some such.

      The story has gone again as sure as it never existed.

      So now it seems that the msm don’t even only report on our common concerns when ‘respectable authority figures’ judge those concerns as worthy, but only report on matters which receive the nod from ministers. I’m quite lost for words frankly.

    • Rich 2.3

      If it’s some old lady who’s had her pot plants stolen and hence thinks plant thieves should be burnt at the stake, she’s straight on the TV/radio.

    • Puddleglum 2.4

      Maybe the whole idea that media is only a venue for stories – with all that word connotes in terms of passive consumption, receptivity and ‘sales’, ‘ratings’, etc. – needs to be challenged by one which sees media as venues for discussion and debate. Then, reporters would be reporting each ‘move’ in the discussion and debate, not always trying to find a story.

      Of course, there’s a place for ‘stories’ in the news as well – stories can provide the provocation for discussion.

      Also, we could probably link the media’s approach to only reporting the views of the right (i.e., prominent, famous, powerful, rich, etc.) people to the increasing emphasis on expertise, going back to the early Enlightenment. The idea that the few have access to or have been trained in special (occult) knowledge has precursors prior to rationalism and science, of course – indeed, many early scientists were also magicians and pursued science for the control over natural phenomena that it promised and, consequently, the social power it bestowed.

      ‘Authoritative expert knowledge’ is perhaps just the latest in a long line of authoritarian ridouts (e.g., divine right). And the natural follow-on to the worship of authoritative knowledge is the illogical assumption that on any matter there must be someone (‘the expert’) who knows better than others. As Bill points out, that’s not just lazy thinking, it’s dangerous thinking. It has the appearance of eliminating the need for politics – which is to say, the need for all of us to discuss and decide on something.

  3. Lew 3

    Particularly galling when all — every last bit — of the ‘amateur’ antipathy to CERRA was derived directly from analyses published by two of the signatories to the letter themselves (Dean Knight and Andrew Geddis) and one notable non-signatory (Graeme Edgeler), before the bill had actually passed.

    None of the objections were random moonbattery — in fact, the only reason anyone particularly cared about it was due to the alarm bells rung by those three. All the arguments were thoroughly thrashed over by the time the next morning’s Herald and Dom Post went to press; the open letter could practically have been written at the same time because nothing much substantive has changed since.

    So sorry, Rex, you’re dead wrong on this one.

    L

    • Rex Widerstrom 3.1

      But Lew, I’ve said the example cited by Bill is one of the rare exceptions. I’m talking about the broader issue… when ought the media to devote news space to the opinions of average (non “expert”) people (other than the result of polls)?

      What critical mass of opinion should trigger a report? In this case, there clearly was that mass, and regardless of the numbers involved there was newsworthiness in the fact that left wing blogs were full of criticism from Labour and Greens supporters.

      But that was a rare situation… I’m looking for a set of… guidelines (that’s not quite the word)… that ought to apply in a more general sense, so that the opinions of ordinary people are reported more often (and not just in lame space-fillers like “vox pops” pieces every junior gets sent out to do at some point in their career).

      • Bill 3.1.1

        ffs Rex. What criteria do reporters or editors use when deciding on what elitist or non-descript pap should be reported as news? None. They go with a feeling and a sense of the flow of things or some such.

        Which meant that today, instead of possibly exploring some of the implications of CERRA with various concerned, articulate and knowledgeable people on the post 6 O’Clock News slots and maybe holding some representatives to account, we got two adults playing fucking toy cars on Campbell Live. I kid you not. Two adults on the floor pushing fucking toy cars around junctions to show how a road law change that won’t take effect until sometime in 2012 will work.

        • Rex Widerstrom 3.1.1.1

          Yes Bill… aka “news judgment”.

          To which I riposte that the lack of coverage of this issue (till the experts wrote their letter) and the kind of pap to which you refer proves beyond doubt that the media no longer has any such judgment.

          So little point in suggesting we rely upon it, no?

  4. Anne 4

    To add to Lew’s spot on contribution:

    In my dolly-bird days (long time ago 🙁 ) I worked at the sharp end of AKTV2. Remember AKTV2, WNTV1 and CHTV3? All under the NZBC umbrella. The standard term in the studios and back-rooms for members of the public was “the peasants”. I doubt anything has changed, indeed it’s probably endemic throughout the MSM.

    Geez… anti-spam: OLDER

    • toad 4.1

      Don Brash used to refer to members of the public as “the punters out in punterland”.

    • jcuknz 4.2

      Further to Anne’s …. I remember one of the more objectionable journos I had the misfortune to work for chuckling with mirth as he wrote a put down letter to some poor ‘peasant’ who had the cheek to write in complaining about something DNTV-2 newsroom had done. You forgot us in the far south Anne 🙂

  5. Harpoon 5

    Can you blame them? They’re journalists. They get ‘news values’ drummed into them from the start.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_values

  6. Danyl Mclauchlan 6

    Short answer: ‘bloggers are unhappy’ is not a news story. ‘Anonymous bloggers who hate the government and the media are unhappy’ is definitely not a news story. ‘Twenty seven distinguished legal academics are unhappy with a new law’ – now you’ve got something.

    • Lew 6.1

      What about ‘two legal academics are unhappy and using words like ‘dictatorship’, ‘constitutional outrage’ and ‘screaming collywobbles’ within a couple of hours of the first draft of the bill being made public’?

      That sounds like a news story to me.

      L

    • Marty G 6.2

      revolt in parties’ grassroots over CERRA – is news too.

      don’t be an arse, danyl.

      • Colonial Viper 6.2.1

        What Danyl is trying to say is that only important people count. Which, as I read it, was exactly Bill’s observation of the way the MSM views the world.

        • Lew 6.2.1.1

          The point is that Geddis and Knight (and Edgeler, Geiringer, Price, all of whom were involved in the initial discussions on the topic) are important people by the standard to which Bill and Danyl are appealing. So that particular theory doesn’t explain the cone of silence adequately.

          My own personal favourite explanation is a sort of sluggish democratic complacency: we have a good robust democracy so, by definition, nothing can happen which endangers it, right? And if anything looked like it was endangering it, the Greens and Labour would surely scream Tory-blue murder, right? I think the notion that NZ could be declared the People’s Republic of Brownleestan, and moreover that it could be done without encountering even the most flaccid defence from the Opposition simply defies belief. It couldn’t happen here, surely? Could it?

          The measure of Labour and Green’s failure to oppose this has yet to be fully taken. Partly it’s the obvious; but partly it’s opportunity cost. National parlayed the EFA into a dictatorship metaphor which poisoned the electorate against Helen Clark; this was an actual no-fooling dictatorship being established in law — if not in practice — and what did we hear? “We have concerns, but we’ll support it anyway.” They didn’t just miss the fucking bus, they were waiting on the wrong platform.

          L

          • Bill 6.2.1.1.1

            The fact that Geddis and Knight did some of the original analysis is a good point, but even they had to put their names to a list of academics and send an open letter to get any traction. So an additional 20 odd names from a particular profession that carries or demands some degree of respect gets the msm to sit up and pay attention.

            And even then, only very, very briefly. I can’t believe the story has gone again.

            Meanwhile an obvious level of agitation by large numbers of people who were aiming their displeasure and anger at the very people they accepted as leaders in the case of party members elicited nothing at all.

            It’s almost as if people sitting up and taking notice and expressing their displeasure (surely an act of democracy) is perceived as a threat to the democratic control exercised by elites on our behalf. And as such must not be given oxygen. Meanwhile,elite control in any form is A-OK because that can never be a threat to elite control…ie, democracy.

            • Lew 6.2.1.1.1.1

              Not sure it’s so dead. Jonathan Temm of the Law Society was on Morning Report this morning talking about it.

              To his considerable discredit, Trevor Mallard is banging the drum to complain about the breadth of the Rugby World Cup 2011 Empowering Bill. You couldn’t write this shit as fiction, it’d be mocked as unbelievable.

              L

              • Bill

                Missed Jonathan Temm. Is he a regular contributor on the programme? I presume I missed a spot on Morning Report yesterday too (catching only the emails).

                But, I’m not holding my breath for it popping up on news bulletins.

                I suspect it has been consigned to the opinion columns on it’s way to disappearing completely. The opinion columns being the safe space where ‘fringe’ perspectives and detached intellectual musings live.

                The whole thing is getting beyond me.

                Not sure about walking down the street today in case my mothers old threat about faces becoming stuck holds some truth and strangers begin to point at my permanently gaping gab.

          • tea 6.2.1.1.2

            Well that and it shows Labour and the Greens to be bad at their job. Which is good law making. This is a terrible law.

            And as Lew points out diplomatically- Where the Fuck is the democracy under attack? This is unbelievable. Ecan, the supercity ‘transition’ authority and now this- a million times worse.

            How the Fuck can Brownlee show that kind of contempt and get away with it? We need Winston or someone with some balls or spine to tear the bastard a new one. I’m not seeing it from the ‘opposition’.

            This is not only contempt of New Zealand, but of our democracy and our academic institutions. Can’t wait for the bullshit from Roger kerr or Shirtcliffe or whoever to be dismissed with the same attitude.

  7. ianmac 7

    Shouldn’t this story have importance on its own merit regardless of the blogosphere concern? Does this mean that no one even bothers about the elephant in the room and instead concentrates on really important stuff like “compere awards beauty pageant crown to wrong girl!”

    • tea 7.1

      This. Journalists shouldn’t need to follow the blogosphere on this one. They should be front and centre. They should be calling the constitutional lawyers and asking them questions not waiting for lawyers from NZ Britain and New York to send them a note telling them to do their jobs.

      I remember the pitiful radio anouncement on the news about this after it was passed. Something along the lines of ‘An act has been passed to help Canterbury rebuild faster after the earthquake under urgency last night’. Yikes.

  8. What about ‘two legal academics are unhappy and using words like ‘dictatorship’, ‘constitutional outrage’ and ‘screaming collywobbles’ within a couple of hours of the first draft of the bill being made public’?

    That sounds like a news story to me.

    Me too. And now that they’ve written an open letter co-signed by their colleagues it is a news story.

    revolt in parties’ grassroots over CERRA – is news too.

    People bitching in the comments sections of blogs is not a news story Marty. You really don’t get how irrelevant we are, do you?

    • IrishBill 8.1

      The base of the two main opposition parties attacking these parties on their own blogs and across a whole lot of social media is actually a reasonably worthy political story. It’s a very hard one to get comment on though. Which is why it probably why it didn’t make it to the MSM past a wee bit in the Herald’s political round-up.

      You’ve not got very good news judgement, Danyl, and you seem to fail to understand the basic logistics involved in putting a story together.

      • Rex Widerstrom 8.1.1

        I think IB’s right in this case… the fact it was so widespread and the fact that it broke out only normally highly partisan blogs like Red Alert (whose comments are usually so heavily moderated that one has to ask, considering what made it through, how bad was what was censored?!).

        As a journo I’d have picked up on it. Maybe gone to some party activists I had in my contact book. Maybe even used social media to trawl for interview subjects. Certainly rung the powers-that-be and asked for a reaction.

        Unfortunately, it’s usually not that clear cut. Commenters at Crusader Rabbit banging on that NACT aren’t sufficiently conservative aren’t newsworthy, for instance, so Danyl’s right in the majority of cases, just not this one.

        But even with such a weight of “evidence”, Bill is right – the MSM waited till experts decreed the ordinary person’s opinions were valid before covering it. That’s something I’d like to see change, but with news judgment seemingly a dying art, I’m not sure how one would go about it.

        And even amongst journos who do have that judgment (and I like to think I do), it’s often hard to judge the “tipping point” where ordinary disgruntlement amongst a sector of the population becomes something more, and thus newsworthy.

        (Which is what I’m trying to get to above, but seemingly not explaining myself very well).

    • Marty G 8.2

      I know exactly how irrelevant you are, mate.

      but the activist base is a different matter.

      your goffice and green hq contacts ought to be able to let you know how much the activists’ revolt over CERRA affected them.

      Or you could just watch how they reacted. Very interesting to see which MPs had the brains to keep their heads down.

    • Draco T Bastard 8.3

      As ianmac said, this sort of thing shouldn’t need the journalists waiting for academics to write an open letter. It should have been front and centre news from the moment it was tabled in parliament.

      But, as I said, the MSM is owned by the dictators.

  9. Journalists shouldn’t need to follow the blogosphere on this one. They should be front and centre. They should be calling the constitutional lawyers and asking them questions not waiting for lawyers from NZ Britain and New York to send them a note telling them to do their jobs.

    I know that some journalists were front and centre on this: they talked to the lawyers etc. But the lack of any opposition meant that the story was impossible to sell to their editors, who have never heard of people like Geddis and Knight and weren’t particularly inclined to publish stories critical of the earthquake recovery based on the say-so of some legal academic blog they’ve never heard of.

    We really do rely on the adversarial nature of our political system to prevent things like this from happening and the system failed. That’s on the opposition parties not the media.

    • Rex Widerstrom 9.1

      We really do rely on the adversarial nature of our political system to prevent things like this from happening and the system failed. That’s on the opposition parties not the media.

      Good point Danyl. Maybe rather than angsting over how we fine-tune journalists’ antennae, I should be angsting over the lack of an opposition.

      The de facto modus operandi of media nowadays is “s/he said / s/he said”. Provided there are two opposing points of view, both sides will get an airing (leaving aside for the moment allegations of liberal or conservative bias in the MSM).

      Democracy just needed a spokesperson. And it didn’t get one. And so, deprived of their one and only story template, the media were silent.

      • IrishBill 9.1.1

        Yep. Can’t have conflict without official on-the-record conflicting views. That said the media has never been shy about creating authorities out of dissenting “nobodies” if they want the story bad enough (think Family First, Cameron Slater or any number of non-authoritative “talent” that gets used to create balance).

        But it is unlikely that they would do so for a story that ran against the patriotic united front narrative that followed the earthquake.

        I think the story around the letter may have had more to do with timing as it came after the discontent was voiced by Avonside residents. I also think that as we see more discontent from within Christchurch we’ll see more balanced coverage of the political issues surrounding the quake as well.

        • Marty G 9.1.1.1

          of course, there’s nothing to prevent senior journos from giving their opinions on CERRA in their opinion pieces.

          They might have if not for the Garrett fiasco (somehow) overshadowing the imposition of dictatorial powers.

          Maybe this letter will respark the issue for them.

    • Draco T Bastard 9.2

      We really do rely on the adversarial nature of our political system to prevent things like this from happening and the system failed. That’s on the opposition parties not the media.

      No, that’s still on the MSM. The 4th estate is supposed to be watching our democracy and in this they fail.

      • The 4th estate is supposed to be watching our democracy and in this they fail.

        With the exception of RNZ the media are commercial businesses, not a public good. Their job is to make money for their shareholders.

        there’s nothing to prevent senior journos from giving their opinions on CERRA in their opinion pieces.

        I believe Vernon Small has been on holiday in Europe. Most of the other columnists just regurgitate briefings they’ve received from various press secretaries.

        • Draco T Bastard 9.2.1.1

          With the exception of RNZ the media are commercial businesses, not a public good. Their job is to make money for their shareholders.

          Which just means that our state owned broadcasters need to drop the profit model and start reporting. It’s obviously not good enough to rely upon the privately owned MSM. Although, I would have thought that reporting such things as this would have boosted profits because more people would actually pay attention to them.

    • Also, David Garrett blew up. I’d had a call asking me to be on Campbell Live about the CERRA, the day after it was passed. But Garrett made a statement in the House, and it got the headlines and the interviews.

      • Bill 9.3.1

        ianmac. As far as I know Katherine has done two ‘spots’ on CERRA. But how would that compare with Nine to Noon on Garret and Act?

        Plus Garret and Act was the top or near to the top of every news bulletin. Plus Garret and Act were the focus of ‘every’ current affairs programme and the focus of off the cuff remarks by presenters here, there and everywhere.

        That Garret displaced a potential interview on Campbell Live….and that, that potential interview seems to have been the height of any exposure is something I find very unsettling. And as others have pointed out, the CERRA is by no means the only shelving of our democracy that has or is taking place.

        And that Brownlie can so off-handedly and easily switch off any spotlight that might be brought to bear, and that the politicians of all shades are continuing on as though nothing is wrong…truly, utterly, terrible.

        But then, the concern of political elites is the propriety of one of their own. And that is that. The dutiful media then steps up to the mark and treats our misguided concern over the state of our democracy like an errant child and gives it ‘time out’ in the ‘opinion pieces/columns’ before subjecting it to complete silence until it becomes refocused on proper concerns.

        • ianmac 9.3.1.1

          I agree totally Bill. This morning I was staggered at the amount of time that Morning Report gave today, to the right car turning plan, for 2012! and not even asking the question about .08 to .05! And CERRA getting a go over? Not bluddy likely!

  10. I know exactly how irrelevant you are, mate.

    but the activist base is a different matter.

    Given the choice between being an irrelevant idiot and a useful idiot I take the former.

  11. Jeremy Harris 11

    I believe it is a problem for the media… As more and more of our population moves online, the public will realise the truth (as defined by them) is not what is printed on page one of the NZ Herald, the Dom Post, etc…

    Then the paper are screwed, because bloggers are passionate, suprisingly resourceful and do it for free..!

  12. jcuknz 12

    To correct one of the ‘peasants’ here it should be pointed out that the ‘guy’ on the right watching the guy on the left pushing toy cars around is wearing a red dress so I assume unless ‘he’ was in drag ‘he’ is actually a female reporter[ess] … so much for powers of observation ;- )

    Currently I am driving without the RHR and frankly some direction of priorities is highly desirable and NZ obviously leads the world ….I’m sure many more than 7% will be killed or maimed by the foolish change away from the current rule. Tourists cause accidents basically because they are on holiday and not paying much attention to the full time job which is driving a ‘killing machine’ on narrow NZ roads. I remember one American who cancelled his rental car and flew the final leg of his holiday simply because of the winding NZ roads. My wife drove it from Q’town to Dn to save the pick-up charge while I drove our old dunger 🙂
    Of course to somebody who has survived for decades the NZ conditions driving on Inter-state dual lane [each way] highways is apiece of cake, even ‘each way’ two lane roads are easy. The only scary bits are the big trucks doing 75-80MPH, either overtaking me or vice versa.
    There is one rule I would like to see adopted and that is turning right agianst red when the road is clear [would be turn left in NZ].

  13. randal 13

    dont worry boy.
    we know everything and what we dont know is not worth knowing.

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  • Celebrating the Entry Into Force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
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  • Supporting disabled people to stay connected
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  • Next steps in firearms buy-back
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  • Jobs for Nature projects target iconic ecosystems
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