Karl du Fresne
OPINION: The doomed television current affairs show Close Up wasn't exactly a journalistic heavyweight, but whatever replaces it is likely to be even frothier. The marketing people who control TVNZ regard news and current affairs with the same distaste as a gardener regards slugs and mealy bugs.
Taken on its own, Close Up's impending demise is worrying enough, but it takes on an even more disturbing dimension when considered in the context of other media trends.
Newspapers are shrinking as advertising support falls away. As a result, there's less news in the papers - and most conspicuously, less information about what's happening in other parts of the country since the demise of the New Zealand Press Association.
The American playwright Arthur Miller reckoned a good newspaper was a nation talking to itself. What he meant was that a civil, democratic society depends on the free flow and exchange of information and ideas.
Cheerleaders for digital media believe online platforms will compensate for the decline of traditional news media, but that remains to be seen. The internet does some things well, but is a poor substitute for old fashioned print media when it comes to the gathering and dissemination of "straight" news.
There's a new lobby group in town: Apologists Incorporated.
Their basic premise is no-one is ever responsible for anything bad that happens to them and therefore no-one should be made to suffer the consequences of wrong, dangerous or stupid behaviour.
This applies whether you are a convicted criminal, a hopeless parent, a bad tenant, a drug user, a welfare bludger or a tagger.
Apologists reject the notion that disapproval or (heaven forbid) punishment might be useful in deterring people from doing things that harm themselves and others. To them, disapproval is just another example of a judgmental society ganging up on the vulnerable and marginalised.
In their eyes, no-one is ever allowed to judge anyone else, and "discrimination" is by definition a dirty word.
Never mind that discrimination is the social judgment that allows us to distinguish between the good and the harmful.
Apologists Incorporated have become noticeably more active in recent weeks, indignantly raising their voices in defence of people's right to ignore the rules by which the rest of us try to live.
A few examples:
The howls of protest at the suggestion people receiving the unemployment benefit might be required to submit to drug tests. Clearly, drug users are entitled to expect the taxpayer should subsidise their illegal habits.
The outrage that greeted Social Development Minister Paula Bennett's announcement that beneficiaries with outstanding arrest warrants will have their benefits cut. Clearly, it's the taxpayer's responsibility to support criminals while they evade the law.
Green MP Julie Anne Genter's statement in Parliament that taggers should be allowed to "assert their mana, passage and courage" - this in response to the Hutt City Council (Graffiti Removal) Bill. In other words, mean-spirited ratepayers and property owners should stop grumbling about the defacement of buildings and the huge cost of cleaning up.
It's my generation, the idealistic baby-boomers, that's responsible for all this anguished hand-wringing.
Packaging manufacturers are pressing on with their attempts to produce the ultimate impenetrable container.
They encase products such as batteries in armour-like plastic packaging that resists everything short of an axe.
They drive music lovers mad by wrapping CDs in brittle plastic that peels off in small pieces. This is often exacerbated by tiny, sticky labels that prevent you opening the CD case and have to be removed with a razor blade.
They delight in taunting consumers by capping soft drink bottles with tear tabs that come away in your hand, leaving the bottle top securely in place. Ditto with milk bottles, where the removable seal is often anything but.
Recently I was a guest in an up-market B and B, where it took several minutes to prise the tiny foil seal off the complimentary shampoo container in the shower.
But perhaps the packagers' greatest triumph yet is the fiendish plastic seal I encountered on a tube of cream for treating muscle inflammation.
The tube came with a pamphlet that explained everything except how to open it. I studied the seal for some minutes wondering how to attack it. Then I did what I invariably do in such situations: I passed it to my wife.
She soon figured out the plastic seal had tiny notched edges that fitted snugly into a recess in the top of the cap. A quick twist and the seal was broken.
But buyers of the product are left to work this out for themselves. I will bet there are cases where the muscle pain goes away of its own accord, long before they manage to get the tube open.
- The Dominion Post