Editorial: Extremes of correctness

Last updated 23:24 27/05/2008

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Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres can't have enough to do, The Dominion Post writes.

He has decided to undertake a review, though he has had no complaint, into what he calls "some of the issues" arising from an article in The Dominion Post last week saying that Pacific Island migrants are a drain on the the economy.

The article was based on research - part of a three-year study - by Massey University economist Greg Clydesdale. It was not complimentary, finding that Pacific Islanders' crime rates, poor education and low employment are creating an underclass.

Interviewed this week, Mr de Bres seemed as irritated by the fact that the research was done at all and that a media outlet had the temerity to report it as with any "issues" that the study might have raised. The commissioner seems unhappy that the paper gained access to Dr Clydesdale's research and to believe - erroneously - that those who disagreed with it had no chance to comment.

He needs to reread the article. Pacific Island Affairs Minister Winnie Laban was quoted as seriously rejecting Dr Clydesdale's findings, which may well be flawed. So was Samoan Advisory Council spokesman Tino Pereira.

Mr de Bres seems in danger of forgetting this is a democracy, in which academics have the freedom their institutions allow them to comment and critique society and newspapers have the right not only to report such comment and criticism but also to decide what prominence to give what is, by any definition, news.

The Human Rights Act charges Mr de Bres with, among other things, encouraging the maintenance and development of harmonious relationships between individuals and among the diverse groups in society. His sensitivity to matters that unsettle one or more of those groups is thus understandable. But that sensitivity surely does not mean the commissioner shies away from controversial issues, even when they upset those at its heart?

The Bill of Rights Act guarantees New Zealanders of whatever hue "the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form". If Massey University allows Dr Clydesdale to research the delicate area of immigration, the act allows the media to report his findings. Anyone affronted has a range of options.

Dr Clydesdale's peers can subject his analysis to scrutiny in several ways; newspaper readers have the right to complain to the New Zealand Press Council, a self-regulatory body with a membership weighted in favour of the public, not journalists.

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The Massey academic said last week, with resignation, that critics would call him racist. Mr de Bres's inquiry implies the commissioner thinks he is, and that this newspaper is, too. Such kneejerk reaction implies intellectual poverty, akin to that shown by those who recently suggested coverage of a Mt Victoria brothel was anti-Asian.

Mr de Bres is entitled to his review. But if it does not find that it is totally legitimate for an academic to research immigration policy and for the media to report it, then the review will be flawed. Society is benefited in no way by political correctness taken to extremes.

- The Dominion Post

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