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The BulletinMay 14, 2019

The Bulletin: Will the world care about Christchurch call summit?

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Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Indifference from major players looms over Christchurch call summit, big changes coming for NCEA, and Peters savages Fonterra’s decision to sell Tip-Top.

The Prime Minister is in the spotlight at the Christchurch Call summit on stopping extremism spreading on social media in Paris. It comes at an exceedingly delicate time for both Facebook as a company, and tensions around extremism generally. And while PM Ardern undoubtedly has star power on the world stage, it remains to be seen if she can convert that into real power.

What are the goals of the summit? They’re laid out in this analysis by Stuff’s Henry Cooke, who writes that they’re very tightly aimed at getting a non-binding pledge to stop the spread of extremist content on social media. In practice, the prime example of something like that is the Christchurch mosque shooting video, which was livestreamed on Facebook. In an op-ed on the New York Times, PM Ardern said she inadvertently saw the video as well, and said one way to prevent another such atrocity would be to remove the power for a terrorist to broadcast it. She also insisted that she had no intention of cracking down against free speech.

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However, another narrative thread is emerging, and it’s arguably more concerning for the summit than hostility. A few important people appear utterly indifferent to it all. Stuff compiled a list of those who will and won’t be there, and it includes some significant G7 world leaders – PM Trudeau from Canada, and PM May from Britain will attend, for example. But US President Donald Trump won’t be there, which will improve the quality of conversation no end, but won’t help with coming up with something meaningful to put into action. In fairness, he’s also an instigator of plenty of violent rhetoric, so perhaps it’s better he’s not there. According to reporting on RNZ this morning, a US representative of some sort might attend.

But much more significantly, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg won’t attend, and through his control of that platform he’s arguably more powerful than any of the world leaders who will. Facebook will be represented by their Head of Global Affairs, former UK politician Nick Clegg. That’s his title at least, his role with the company appears to be more like being a punching bag that Facebook can put up for media interviews for negative feedback to be bounced off. An example of this came on CNN where he was the one fronting against calls for Facebook to be summarily broken up into parts.

Among major social media CEOs, only Twitter’s Jack Dorsey will be there. His platform of course has long had problems with failing to remove explicit Nazi content, for example, on the grounds that it leans towards a free-speech absolutist position. Stuff reports this morning that the PM has confirmed the summit will probe the lucrativeness of such a position from social media platforms.

There’s another piece of context for Facebook that could allow them to more easily brush aside what comes out of the summit. That is that they’ve already announced their own crackdown on white supremacism and white nationalism, and have recently banned a handful of extremists from a few different ideological viewpoints. To some observers they will look like token moves, but it can’t really be argued that Facebook is doing absolutely nothing of its own accord in this area.

France’s President Macron is particularly keen on the summit. But that too raises concerns of its own. They’re laid out on The Spinoff by Branko Marcetic, who notes that President Macron has become increasingly heavy handed and authoritarian while in office. His presidency has recently been rocked by months of protests, which Marcetic points out is a very different context to where PM Ardern is coming from.

There is still a strong moral case for what the PM is trying to do, says former PM Helen Clark. She says while many have focused on the livestreaming of the Christchurch attack, it’s just as important that Facebook as a publisher (this point is crucial) becomes regulated like any other publisher would be. She and Kathy Errington, the executive director of the Helen Clark Foundation, put those views across last night on Q+A.

The challenges ahead of PM Ardern are laid out excellently in this feature from the NZ Herald’s Derek Cheng. What it fundamentally comes back to is the nature of the pledge that will be agreed upon – “whether it will make any difference or even be enforceable.” Writing from the opposite side of the political divide, National-aligned blogger David Farrar offered a remarkable endorsement of the PM’s grasp of the issues and complexities around the Christchurch Call – that’s not in question. But the relevance of the summit undoubtedly will be questioned. We in New Zealand will of course be watching very closely. Will the rest of the world be watching too?

The balance of assessment across the NCEA system is set to change significantly, with the importance of internal assessment much-reduced. Newshub reports it’s an effort from minister Chris Hipkins to make the system more “robust”, allow an increased focus on literacy and numeracy, and reduce the burden of assessment on teachers and students. External exams will be worth half of the total of each and every subject.

But one school in particular is very unhappy about the change. Kia Aroha College in Ōtara doesn’t believe exams fit with their kaupapa, and principal Haley Milne says it’s a return to the “dark days” of School Certificate, reports the NZ Herald. This is one of those topics where I just have to ask for your feedback – email – because I’m sure there are many unconsidered perspectives and arguments in this summary that should be highlighted too.

Acting PM Winston Peters has politicised the sale of Tip Top into foreign ownership, reports Interest. Mr Peters said Fonterra’s move to sell the ice-cream brand was the fault of Fonterra’s mismanagement, and that it was a sad day for the country now that it was gone. Fonterra offloaded the brand as part of a strategy to reduce the amount of debt they carry. It has been sold to UK based company Froneri, which is itself a joint venture partly belonging to Nestle. Fonterra will continue to supply the new owners with milk.

Polytech staff are concerned that falling enrolment rates will lead to losses of jobs, reports Radio NZ. While general tertiary enrolments are steady, it’s a completely different story in the industry training and polytech sector. More money might even need to be put into industry bailouts this year, after almost $100 million was spent on shoring up the financial position of ITPs in the past year.

Shoppers at New World, Pak’n’Save and Four Square stores will soon be able to bring their own containers for over the counter food purchases, reports Seven Sharp. It’s a move to cut down on the amount of plastic packaging being used, and while I’m very wary of environmental moves that put the onus on the consumer rather than the retailer, it’s a small step in the right direction. For an overview of the state of plastic in supermarkets generally, our food editor Alice Neville wrote this very informative piece earlier in the year (note – that piece was produced in partnership with Foodstuffs.)

A fascinating transport choice looms for Wellington, which could have far reaching implications for city development. Stuff reports trackless trams are being talked up as a good option for Wellington, as a significantly cheaper upfront spend compared to light rail. But critics of that say such an option would only put more stress on the roading network, and say light rail is the better investment accordingly. There is expected to be an announcement on the matter this week.

From our partners: A two-tier system of energy use is developing, with those on high incomes much more able to reduce their bills than households on lower incomes. Vector’s Chief Risk and Sustainability Officer Kate Beddoe outlines what the company plans to do about that.

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Right now on The Spinoff: Julie Hill fondly remembers one of the all-time great newspaper printing screw-ups, which for filter reasons I can’t write in an email. India Essuah writes about a new report into the low vegetable intake of children, and why pointing the finger at parents isn’t necessarily the answer. Mike Rehu asks that you just hear him out when he suggests changing the name of Christchurch. And farewell Mike McRoberts, writes Sam Brooks – the nation’s favourite hunk has been eliminated from Dancing with the Stars, and can now only be found on the original reality TV show – the news.

Today’s feature is a groundbreaking interactive report, which serves as a database of homicide deaths in New Zealand since 2004. Produced by a whole team of Stuff reporters and data journalists, it’s an astonishing piece of work that sheds significant light on patterns of deaths. Notable among them: the extremely high rate of female deaths caused by a partner or ex-partner, the high prevalence of alcohol as a factor in homicides, and the quarter of male victims who are killed by strangers. Here’s an excerpt from the section about alcohol:

The actual figure is likely to be higher because there are many homicides in which we suspected alcohol played a part but were unable to confirm it. In these 336 homicides alcohol was not always the main or even secondary cause, but in case after case it was there in the background.

It might inflame the tensions at a party, bring out the worst of someone’s violent tendencies or, as in the case of Cribb’s death, cause someone to get behind the wheel drunk and then drive recklessly. Deaths with characteristics like Cribb’s make up a significant subset of homicides: car crashes in which the victim is under 30, the killer is a friend and alcohol was involved. In fact, we identified 40 cases with these exact characteristics.

Alcohol also touches many of the other issues we have highlighted in The Homicide Report. When a man dies of blunt force trauma, alcohol is a factor 49 per cent of the time.

Maria Folau is hinting that the Netball World Cup might be her international swansong, reports Stuff. The key Silver Ferns shooter has been playing in Australia, and is almost certain to be named in the World Cup squad later this week. But beyond that, she says she’s “close to the end,” after a career lasting more than a decade.

Meanwhile, para-swimmer Sophie Pascoe is just getting better and better. Radio NZ reports she’s just cracked three new World Record times at a meet in Singapore. What makes it even more remarkable is that she’s still in the process of building up to peak performance ahead of next year’s Paralympics – and if she can keep building the times set there will be scary fast.

Finally, get in Roy Krishna. The Wellington Phoenix striker has been awarded the Johnny Warren medal for the A-League’s player of the year, reports Stuff. Unfortunately for the Phoenix, it will probably raise his value even further in contract negotiations – it is understood at least 3 other clubs are chasing his signature for next season. Filip Kurto was named goalkeeper of the season, but he too is being chased by other clubs and is likely to leave the Phoenix.

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