Two referendum editorials

Written By: - Date published: 9:25 am, August 31st, 2009 - 20 comments
Categories: child discipline, Media - Tags:

In the aftermath of the “smacking” referendum I was struck (as I often am lately) by the range in quality of editorial / opinion piece writing on the subject. Compare and contrast. John Armstrong writes:

The referendum’s opponents have naturally sought to downplay the 88 per cent “no” vote as not unexpected, arguing that people were confused by the referendum question which was anyway heavily loaded to increase the “no” vote, while only 56 per cent of eligible voters actually bothered to return their ballot paper.

The assumption of voter ignorance is the typical sort of patronising claptrap used by the liberal elites to conveniently explain away something that disturbs their comfort zones.

Voters understood exactly what they were doing.

Well there goes any lingering respect I had for John. “Liberal elites” and “patronising claptrap”? Lacking an argument John parades his prejudices as fact? John is wrong (and incidentally also arrogant to assume that he speaks for the No vote en masse). Voters did not send an agreed and uniform message (“understand exactly what they were doing”). Not because they were “ignorant”, but as a result of factors such as the following:

(1) The legal and social issues surrounding the referendum are genuinely complicated. In general only those who have made a particular effort to understand the issues have come to terms with them properly. This not an elitist argument (about “ignorance”), it’s an acknowledgement that most people simply aren’t interested enough in politics to follow such issues in detail, and it’s an indictment of the appallingly superficial ways in which the issues have been presented in the media. For evidence of genuine confusion or of misunderstanding of the legal issues see the voices of the voters in places like The Herald’s own comments section.

(2) Voters weren’t a uniform horde parroting one agreed message. They were a multitude of individuals who were answering the question in front of them. A different question got a different answer, as shown in The Herald’s own poll prior to the referendum. In that poll the referendum question polled 86% No (remarkably similar to the referendum itself), while a neutral question polled 50% No (which sends what message exactly?). This clearly suggests that referendum voters were not acting en masse to voice the message of John’s prejudice, they were simply answering the question as stated in front of them. For further evidence of the range of motives for No votes see for example again the same Herald comments section.

After that disappointing nonsense from John it was a breath of fresh air to read an excellent editorial on the same topic from Tim Watkin at Pundit. It deals (among other things) with the same issue of how well the context of the referendum question was understood. But I’ve already gone on long enough here so I won’t summarise it, go read it for yourself.
— r0b

20 comments on “Two referendum editorials”

  1. Lanthanide 1

    Two Saturdays ago, the day after the preliminary results were announced, I was eating at a restaurant. I eavesdropped on the conversation of the woman at the table next to me, I believe the man she was dining with was foreign as she was talking about some recent current events with him, including the referendum. She said that she voted ‘yes’, and then went on to complain that the current law was stupid. It’s possible to hold both of these ideas at the same time and not be contradictory, but I got the distinct impression that she didn’t actually understand what the question was asking, and interpreted it in a different way to the way the media was telling us to interpret it.

  2. Bright Red 2

    yeah having a question that meant if you agreed with the referendum proponents’ position you were supposed to say ‘no’ was bound to cause confusion. I think even Boscawen got it backwards on camera when asked how he would vote by journos.

    Still, I think it’s safe to assume most people were voting for the right to be allowed to smack, even if that’s a falsely premised vote because it’s legal to smack as long as its trivial (ie doesn’t really hurt them) now. Like Jacinda Arden said that time ‘it’s like voting to lift the ban on chocolate, makes no sense when there is no ban’.

  3. grumpy 3

    At least he signs his own name to his opinions, thereby giving you the opportunity to attack him personally. While you, on the other hand……….

    • r0b 3.1

      Here in this place grumpy, my name is r0b. Anyone who wishes to attack me personally is most welcome to use it.

      If you object to pseudonymously named opinion pieces (such as mine) do you also object to completely anonymous opinion pieces such as Herald editorials? If not, why not?

      • Ianmac 3.1.1

        Or even a grumpy Grumpy?

        • grumpy

          I think it’s fair enough (and good fun) for an anonymous debate like we are having but I am just pointing out that it seems a bit unfair to attack a man from the shelter of anonymity.

          I am sure John has a thick skin and it won’t be long until he says something you guys like and he will be your hero and quoted on this blog again as evidence of how right (left) you are.

          • r0b

            I’d like to claim grumpy that I’m not attacking the man. I’ve never met him, but I’m sure John is a wonderful fellow who helps old ladies across the road. I’m attacking his editorial and the views it expresses, and to a certain extend the arrogance behind the views.

            Just as I’m sure John would claim that in attacking “liberal elites” he is attacking a certain set of views, not any particular individual who has expressed them.

  4. Ianmac 4

    Thanks Rob. I like the way Tim wrote the actual content of the S59 in his comments section on his Post. I tried to explain that in a Letter to the Editor about 2 months ago. The only response was that my view was wrong and should stick to the facts. Cross purposes?

  5. r0b 5

    The only response was that my view was wrong and should stick to the facts.

    Classic. It’s a fair bet that many in the media don’t understand the law either.

  6. vto 6

    r0b “The legal and social issues surrounding the referendum are genuinely complicated. In general only those who have made a particular effort to understand the issues have come to terms with them properly.”

    I can understand how some pollie-followers might come to that opinion, being so caught up in the vortex of ‘liberal’ politics, bills and acts and s.59s, and all their convoluted machinations.

    But it also shows up how far removed from the realities of everyday life for the bulk of NZers are some. The anti-smacking issue is not at all complicated. It is very very simple. Are you saying r0b that only those who understand the minutae of the written law and its various add-ons are capable of understanding the issue? That is classic last-labour-govt approach in all its glory.

  7. RedLogix 7

    The anti-smacking issue is not at all complicated.

    For a start, the law explicitly defines at four (count em)
    situations were there is a legal defense for ‘reasonable force’:

    Parental control
    1. Every parent of a child and every person in the place of a parent of the child is justified in using force if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances and is for the purpose of—

    a. preventing or minimising harm to the child or another person; or
    b. preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in conduct that amounts to a criminal offence; or
    c. preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in offensive or disruptive behaviour; or
    d. performing the normal daily tasks that are incidental to good care and parenting.

    The sections that lie at the heart of the controversy are:

    2. Nothing in subsection (1) or in any rule of common law justifies the use of force for the purpose of correction.
    3. Subsection (2) prevails over subsection (1).
    4. To avoid doubt, it is affirmed that the Police have the discretion not to prosecute complaints against a parent of a child or person in the place of a parent of a child in relation to an offence involving the use of force against a child, where the offence is considered to be so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution.

    Any half-competent lawyer could readily use Section 1 to defend the kind of incidental smack that happens in the course of normal parenting… the kind of instant reaction most parents would have to the ‘sticking the fork into the power socket’ thing.

    That’s why it has always been as unfair and inaccurate to label the S59 repeal as the ‘Anti Smacking Bill’, as equally unfair as it was always wrong to label ordinary parents ‘child beaters’ for the odd pop on the bum.

    What changes is that in the same situation you can no longer go on to, “Wait till your father gets home, he’s going to give you such a thrashing for that”, ie corporal punishment solely for the purposes of correction.

    • vto 7.1

      Well yes, that is the legislation. A bit like laws against most things – the legislation is nearly always too much for most people. But the idea and principle behind most law is generally very simple – for example, murder, theft, etc.

      That was my point – it is very clear to near every parent whether smacking is right or not and whether it should be up to either themselves or people in Wgtn to decide that.

      But I agree with r0b about the standard of some editorials these days. I really don’t know why they carry the weight they do. Do newspaper people have some greater insight into the ways of the world and how life shoould be conducted or something? What newspapers do have is great heat-holding capacities for fush & chups..

      • RedLogix 7.1.1

        it is very clear to near every parent whether smacking is right or not

        I only wish that were so. Somewhere between the almost universally tolerable smack, and the almost universally condemned beating, lies a fairly bleak continuum of whacks, thrashings and beltings that far too many children are on the receiving end of. None of it does the child any good, and for many it harms them the rest of their lives.

        Just a few weeks ago I was yarning with a tenant who briefly related how his father had ‘always been a total bastard, whacking us kids and my mom around all the time, he’s only become a human being now he’s older’. He didn’t offer more, and I didn’t pry, but the sense of sadness and bitterness was an open sore for a few moments.

        In all the pointless distraction around how the S59 Repeal ‘criminalised’ ordinary parents for ordinary smacking, it’s real intention, to establish in law the symbolic principle that hitting children is wrong… has been deeply overshadowed. That the casual whacking and belting of kids that has been going on largely unchallenged for so long in this country, must in the final analysis, become fixed firmly as a shameful part of our history, not our future.

  8. Ianmac 8

    Not intended as a thread jack but in the Press this morning “Education Minister Anne Tolley is meeting a controversial American schools leader who pioneered a scheme heralded by former US president George W. Bush.” ie vouchers:

    • Zorr 8.1

      oh gawd… –headdesk–

      There are certain large gaping holes in that womans intellect that needed serious filling before ever being made Minister of Education. Like how to pick out a frickin lemon.

  9. BLiP 9

    I have no doubt that John Key has been similarly informed – that most people didn’t understand the question – and that there will be no fall out from his apparent “leadership” and ignoring the result.

    ACT’s poll ratings will probably go up, especially when combined with the white-trash responding to Hide’s dog whistle vis a vis the Super City, but it will be negligible. In fact, I’d wager that what ever percentage increase ACT gains is an accurate figure of the number of people who voted “No” and actually understood what it meant.

    Hopefully the next time there’s an assignment in Afghanistan the New Zealand Fox News Herald will send Armstrong and leave Gower at home – at least that way we might get some intelligent, well written political commentary. For a change.

  10. Swampy 10

    Can you state whether the Herald poll was conducted by an expert firm of professional pollsters, or in-house by the Herald itself? Spot the difference.

    If Watkin of Pundit believes the law does not ban smacking then he has to explain why he voted Yes, that smacking should be a criminal offence in New Zealand.

    Watkin’s viewpoint appears to be largely driven by invoking the spectre of the “Christian Right fundamentalist” bogeyman. With the clear contradiction between his vote and what he has written, this guy clearly has an axe to grind and cannot be considered impartial whatsoever.

    • RedLogix 10.1

      If Watkin of Pundit believes the law does not ban smacking then he has to explain why he voted Yes, that smacking should be a criminal offence in New Zealand.

      And there in a nutshell you have explained exactly why the question was so badly worded.

      Several people I know did not vote for exactly this reason, because it was a loaded question, along the lines of “have you stopped beating your wife yet?” If you have never beaten your partner, then neither a yes or a no is an acceptable answer…yet these were the only choices the petition gave us.

      I’m not trying to be a smartass here; I sincerely urge you to consider exactly what you have written, because you have exactly hit the nail on the head.

  11. Swampy 11

    Watkin writes
    “but while the mainstream churches either supported the yes vote or stayed neutral”

    Actually it was only the leadership of those churches. The individual members of the churches had a free vote like everyone else.

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