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Editorial: Some things never change. Why?

Sat 6 May 2006 In: Comment

To paraphrase Whangarei's Northern Advocate newspaper, after a year of legally recognised civil unions in New Zealand some things have changed, some have stayed the same. Shamefully, one of the things that have stayed the same is the smorgasbord of rarely-opposed anti-gay rhetoric which still gets laid out across the comment and readers' letters pages of Auckland's NZ Herald newspaper. Whether or not to embrace Civil Unions was a touchstone social issue just over a year ago when it was being hotly debated in public, select committee and in Parliament. Opponents, generally cheer-led by the maniacally religious who dressed up their desire to see all New Zealanders straitjacketed by their particular interpretation of the Bible, tried to repress anyone who doesn't buy into their blinkered and nonsensical world view. That hasn't changed. They're out there still, albeit frustrated, bewildered and a bit pissed off that the rest of the country sees them as an anachronism. For a few years now those of us who habitually keep a close eye on expressions of public opinion noticed that the venomously anti-gay seemed to find a particularly ready outlet in the Herald. Sure, there were the odd minor bouts of hissing and spitting in other publications, but the Herald seemed to be particularly flush with anti-gay letters to the editor and the rantings of stealth fundamentalist Sandra Paterson and the - to give him some credit, openly religious - grandaddy of all crusty old bible wavers, Garth George. But after Parliament read the mood of the nation and tilted towards the view that repressing gay and lesbian people to shore up the self-importance of the insecure and bigoted was unfair, the fuss died down. But why had the Herald seemed to be so particularly suffused with anti-gay sentiment, we wondered? Was it the influence of long-serving staffer George? Then George retired and became just another - albeit very, very regular - guest commentator. We crossed our fingers, clicked our heels, and hoped that the apparent institutionalised homophobia at the Herald had suffered a mortal blow. Apparently not. In the past week or two, while the pages of the rest of nation's media have been either neutral on the subject or frequently positive with interviews with happily CU'd same-sex couples and the like, the Herald has been totally out of step, with letter after letter decrying many aspects of Civil Unions and equality for gays and lesbians. Why? Perhaps the environment nurtured by George in the comment and Letters pages still lingers in the psyche of phobic letter writers as their natural home? Or has that historical environment attracted like-minded staffers who remain to prioritise and filter? Perhaps the historically right-wing Herald, the traditional paper of big business, is so against the current government that it sacrifices our lives on the ‘Labour, the party that even supports homosexual equality, is destroying society as we know it, time for a right wing Government!' pyre? Or maybe it's more personal and the anecdotes of homophobic repartee at the pool side soirees of senior management aren't so far off the mark after all? Maybe gays and lesbians and the supporters of our rights and responsibilities have given up on the Herald as a medium to express their balancing views? Could it be that Herald does not have the moral courage to stand up for a long-persecuted minority and ensure that some semblance of representational balance is reflected in its pages? It does, after all, still proudly wear the mantle of New Zealand's - or at least Auckland's - newspaper of record Maybe research has indicated to Herald management that there is a ready buck to be made from becoming the ‘Fox News' of New Zealand's newspapers? Or are the religious right's networks and letterbots are still functioning on autopilot since the public fall from grace of the Christian Heritage Party, the Brethren, Destiny Church and the Maxim Institute, still drowning out reasoned letters from thinking folk? Is Auckland's population so much more hideously and articulately anti-gay than the rest of New Zealand? Whatever the reason, that one thing remains the same: the Herald's, and only the Herald's, letters and comment pages continue to disseminate almost unopposed anti-gay bitterness. Why? Jay Bennie - 6th May 2006    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Saturday, 6th May 2006 - 12:00pm

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