RNZ woes – what does it mean for science coverage?

By Peter Griffin 19/02/2010 12

If you work in or near the media, you’ll have heard the nervous buzz from journalists over the last few days about the depressing options facing Radio New Zealand if it is to cut costs and stay within its flat, $38 million budget.

The Journz mailing list where a smattering of Kiwi hacks hang out has been fairly downbeat on the subject today and the Save Radio New Zealand Facebook group has been racking up the numbers – nearly 4,600 members so far.

If you listen to Radio New Zealand across its programming from Morning Report and Checkpoint to Nine to Noon and This Way Up, you’ll notice that the station has a strong commitment not only to quality content and thorough, balanced journalism, but that science and environment stories get a lot of attention. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that RNZ probably has the biggest commitment to science and environment coverage in the country – which is exactly how it should be for a public broadcaster.

On the Our Changing World show it employs two producer/journalists Alison Ballance and Ruther Beran (on loan from Australia’s ABC while Veronika Meduna is on maternity leave), who produce a solid show every Thursday night looking in some depth at the scientific research that is going on in New Zealand. Ruth did an excellent piece recently looking at some of the problems the Australian Synchrotron has been facing of late which is important to New Zealand as we are an investor in the project.

Kim Hill’s Saturday morning line-up of guests includes a good number of scientists and Hill, a companion of the Royal Society of New Zealand has done a huge amount for local science communication efforts with her interviews with the likes of Professor Sir Paul Callaghan. Her interview last year with 9-11 conspiracy theorist, Richard Gage, was controversial but showed a sceptical and science-literate mind at work.

Source: NZ Herald
Source: NZ Herald

Elsewhere, the commitment to science and environment coverage is actually on the increase. In the general newsroom, there aren’t strictly speaking any reporters who get to focus on science all the time, but new hire Will Hine, formerly of the Southland Times has been given the go-ahead to devleop the round and has hit the ground running. It heps that seasoned science writer Kim Griggs is employed in the RNZ newsroom and helps set the news agenda.

Ian Telfer keeps a close eye on the environment beat and other reporters such as David Reid and Heugh Chappell regularly pick up science-related stories. Kathryn Ryan seems to be having a growing number of scientists on Nine to Noon and Bryan Crump in the evenings regularly conducts 10 – 12 minute interviews with scientists. Over the weekend you’re likely to hear a bit of consumer-focused on the This Way Up show with Simon Morton and Chris Laidlaw regularly looks at science and environment related stories in his panel discussions.

To cap it off, the Royal Society has a popular science lecture series that is broadcast on Radio New Zealand each year. So from my perspective as head of an organisation trying to encourage science communication in this country, RNZ is a bastion of decent coverage – from three minute reports through to half-hour documentaries. The thougth then of management being forced to take the knife to formats that work and are delivering good quality journalism, is pretty depressing.

In the world of commercial media, the first things that get cut in terms of editorial costs are areas of specialist coverage. Newspaper sections shrink or disappear entirely. Specialist commentators are laid off in favour of generalists who can churn out words on any subject. The result of that, I think, has been a real erosion in the quality of commentary coming from the mainstream commercial media. Even the pundits themselves are beginning to realise that. Take Tracey Barnett’s revealing column in today’s Herald in which she admits:

Someone finds a way to start the news narrative and like clueless lemmings, we all jump into the same plotline to finish each other’s sentences, clinging to page one. You don’t notice it when you’re a daily reader. But when I returned to it with fresh eyes, I saw entire waves of news narratives that felt hopelessly unimportant to any sane man’s idea of the big picture.

Ironically, her column sits beneath another woeful blast of hot air from Jim Hopkins on the subject of Climate Change, where Jim lemming-like parrots the contents of a flawed Daily Mail article. Hot Topic’s Gareth Renowden explains where Jim went wrong – again.

The worst thing Radio New Zealand could do is chop programmes that actually allow journalists to work on longer-form stories, shows like Our Changing World and This Way Up which I occasionally contribute to. Just when our state broadcaster is ramping up coverage of important science and environment issues, it would be a huge leap backwards to discard this type of coverage, in favour of the generalist approach of the commercial media.

Sure, our public broadcaster has to be sustainable and focused on containing costs, but I think there’s an increasing awareness of the fact that RNZ sets the standard for the media in general in this country, particularly when it comes to science and environment reporting.  That’s something worth maintaining.

12 Responses to “RNZ woes – what does it mean for science coverage?”

  • Hopefully RNZ drops the Kim Hill show. Her so-called interview with architect Richard Gage last year was awful. Throughout the terrifying ordeal, Kim Hill sits up on her high-chair vomiting down on Gage’s credentials by calling him a conspiracy theorist. At one point she asks “are you a conspiracy theorist” to which Gage replies “no, I’m a technical architect”. Kim Hill is out of touch with reality, and should step down before she damages RNZ’s reputation any further. 9/11 Truth is an international movement, and Kim Hill taints New Zealand’s image in the eyes of the international community. Thank goodness that TVNZ had some kind of standards when they did an interview with Richard Gage on Close-up.

    The only nutjob conspiracy theorists that I am concerned about, are the ones who are inventing lies about Iran. Iran is having trouble enriching uranium, yet we have people claiming that Iran already has nuclear weapons and that they want to “wipe Israel off the face of the earth” (both are total lies). With nonsense like this spreading through newspapers world wide, I feel compelled to ask the following question: why are establishment conspiracy theories acceptable? Back in 2002 and 2003 we were displayed with a sopping wet orgy of nutjob conspiracy theories regarding WMDs (yellow cake, anthrax, nukes) – all of which were total lies.

    These conspiracy theories killed over one million Iraqis. On the other hand, questioning 9/11 can only be a good thing, because 9/11 was, after all, a crime. Therefore it should be properly investigated. When I flew up to Wellington last year to see Richard Gage’s event, I met a retired science teacher who just put it like it is. He didn’t let politics influence his views, unlike Peter Griffin, who obviously can’t handle anything which challenges corporate power.

    Back to the topic of RNZ – I topped up my print account at the library today, and if I get around to it then I’ll demand Kim Hill’s resignation. Quality media can’t afford to be weighed down by unneeded baggage.

    – Jeff Mitchell,
    New Zealand 9/11 Truth (http://nz911truth.org/)

  • Jeff, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree about Richard Gage, Kim Hll and just about everything else you’ve written. The 9/11 controlled demolition hypothesis just doesn’t stack up. Gage’s Wellington lecture was a surreal experience. Most people now agree that the US largely has itself to blame for 9/11 for a complex mix of reasons. There is no need then to invent some wacky conspiracy theory about what happened on 9/11 to suggest the whole thing was engineered. The reality may not be as intriguing but its just as shocking.

  • If the evidence doesn’t stack up, then why does Obama’s information czar want to ban or tax conspiracy theories? See this [http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1084585] for the white paper. Various federal agencies in the US are saying that people who don’t buy the official line on things are dangerous extremists, who want to commit acts of violence.

    What really irritates me is how the mainstream media won’t touch on anything controversial. Did you know that the US government funds a terrorist group called the Jundallah, so that they can carry out terrorist attacks in Iran? I’m baffled as to why the media won’t cover these alternative view points. It looks like I’m going to have to get a degree in history, and invent my own media.

  • Peter,

    Sorry, I posted in haste yesterday. From reading the initial post I did not realise that you are *the* Peter Griffin, the journalist specialising in scientific topics. I should have had a closer look at your site first. In view of your stated aim
    “Our aim is to promote accurate, bias-free reporting on science and technology by helping the media work more closely with the scientific community.”
    I thought you might be interested in this peer-reviewed article on nanothermite found in WTC dust:

    This follow-up article may also be of interest:

    Phillip Rose

  • I do thank the RNZ producers and Kim Hill for at least inviting Richard Gage AIA to share with the NZ public the scientific analysis around the collapse of the three WTC buildings on 9/11. Sadly, in this particular interview, instead of being sceptical and scientific, Kim Hill resorted to name calling and distraction away from the science choosing to defend the official conspiracy theory instead.
    The truth is we now have, nearly nine years on from these events, much scientific evidence to warrant a new independent investigation into the three WTC building “collapses”. The official NIST and FEMA reports presented their own selectively gathered facts to support the official conspiracy theory, ignoring the evidence of molten metal, 118 fire-fighter testimony of explosions and the freefall collapse of all three WTC buildings which violates the physical laws of momentum.
    The Science is finally proving that 911 was in fact an inside job, not made up by Conspiracy “nuts”.

    It deeply concerns me that our media does not report on this scientific evidence. For example, the over 1,000 architects and engineers who have recently signed a petition calling for a new investigation. The highly credible scientific paper – “Active Thermitic Material Discovered in Dust from the 9/11 World Trade Center Catastrophe”, whose authors include Danish Professor of Chemistry Dr Niels Harrit, Mr Kevin Ryan formerly of UL Laboratories who guaranteed the steel for WTC and Dr Steven Jones, (a prominent physicist, former U.S. professor of physics from a top university, and a former principal investigator for the U.S. Department of Energy, Division of Advanced Energy Projects) who have found nano-thermitic unexploded material in the dust – (see The Open Chemical Physics Journal, Volume 2, http://www.bentham.open.org/pages/content.php?TOCPJ/2009/00000002/00000001/7TOCPJ.SGM)
    Or perhaps the views of a professional firefighter, Eric Lawyer of firefighersfor9/11truth who states that the Book for Forensic preservation of evidence from a crime scene was blatantly ignored!
    Peter, do you not agree that people may lie, Governments may lie and Computer Models can be made to lie, but that scientific laws do not lie. Let us at least examine the scientific and forensic evidence of that day to determine what actually caused the collapses to at least ensure the future safety of high-rise buildings. No need as you state for a “wacky conspiracy theory” in order to do this.

  • Helena, I agree people may lie, Governments may lie, computer models may be manipulated. But scientists have analysed what happened that day, probably most famously in this Popular Mechanics piece from 2005 (http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/military_law/1227842.html) and debunked the myths around there being a controlled demolition of the buildings as well as numerous other conspiracy theories about the Pentagon, Flight 77 etc.

    This has all been rehashed over the years since the tragedy and the conspiracy theories have not gained any traction because that’s exactly what they are, theories. Gage is so deep into his 9/11 Truth campaign that he simply can’t concede any ground now even though his main claims have been debunked. If he’d stuck in his talk to the science alone he’d have had a much more credible argument but he can’t resist the intrigue of the big conspiracy theory and that’s where he comes undone when he is talking about it.

  • Peter, I commend to your attention a book that may well be available in your public library:
    “Debunking 9/11 Debunking: An Answer to Popular Mechanics and Other Defenders of the Official Conspiracy Theory” by David Ray Griffin. In this book, Professor Griffin meticulously exposes the fallacies contained in the Popular Mechanics article and subsequent book. He also demonstrates major faults in reports and stories put out by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (a.k.a. NIST, a branch of the US Department of Commerce, therefore a political organisation), the New York Times, Vanity Fair and Time magazine. NIST itself has subsequently disavowed some of the debunking claims made in the Popular Mechanics series.

    I would be happy to lend you my copy of this book if you will contact me. Peter, as a journalist and science reporter, you owe it to yourself and to your readers to expose yourself to information that just may contradict the Establishment view on scientific matters. Before you formulate a theory, you must first look at the facts of the matter.

    But we’re really not talking about facts here, are we? We’re talking about world view, or Weltanschauung, as the Germans put it. My job and career does not depend on my adopting a particular world view. You, on the other hand, are an establishment journalist, and the funding for this excellent site is very much Establishment dependent, coming as it does from the Royal Society. These factors inevitably affect what one believes, or at least professes to believe. I must add that I am encouraged by your support of Wikileaks, which, while a safe view to hold in New Zealand, would not be regarded as such even in Australia. :-)

    Phillip Rose

  • Kim Hill was NOT being skeptical. She was openly hostile and derisive and determined to shout Richard Gage into submission. If it was ‘science literate’, it was pre-Copernican . A priori.
    Has Mr Griffin heard of Michael Chertoff? His relation to Popular Mechanics? Has the author ever heard of ‘perception management’?
    Phillip Zelikow? Does he know of these names and the roles played by these men in the atrocity of 911?
    Has he heard of KROLL. Or the FDNY transcripts. Does he know what a shear-stud is and its relevance to the mysterious collapse of building 7 or read the official report? Actually, after reading his comments, has Mr Griffin HEARD of building seven, or done Richard Gage the respect of watching his presentation on DVD before verdict?

  • Ok. I took a look.
    keep reading. next on your list is “The mysterious collapse of Building 7″ by D.R. Griffin.
    Then ‘The top Ten connections between NIST and Nanothermites” by Kevin Ryan,
    followed by Kevin Ryans exposures of the tenancies and security of the WTC complex.
    You are almost there.

    quote you:
    “Sure, there are unusual things about what happened that day – 7 World Trade Center was the first collapse of a skyscraper attributed to uncontrolled fires. There’s the sulfuric compounds in the debris of the towers fueling the suggestion thermite may have been used as an explosive to bring the towers down. And the towers did seem to come down in a fairly uniform way, rather than toppling over and taking out swathes of lower Manhattan.”
    ‘The mysterious Collapse of World Trade Center 7’ by D.R.Griffin will give you real grip on what you are contemplating here.
    quote you:
    “Of all the things that happened that day, the collapse of this building[7] is the most puzzling, given that the official explanation for its collapse – damage from debris falling from the WTC north tower and fires throughout the building weakening the structure, isn’t really supported by evidence from previous skyscraper fires.”
    no kidding? Damn right. Then and since. Check out the Hotel Orient fire if you want to see ‘uncontrolled fire’ over 44 stories. It is still standing. The fires in 7 were negligible. scattered. Isolated. It had 81 47 story high steel columns and it came down in 6.5 seconds because of “office furnishings fire”[NIST]
    quote you:
    :)”If you wanted to humor Gage for a moment, you could dream up a semi-credible conspiracy theory for the collapse of this building alone. Given that the building housed tenants including the CIA, the SEC and other US Government agencies, its tempting to think there may have been something held in 7 World Trade Centre that someone didn’t want getting into the wrong hands. 7 WTC collapsed hours after the twin towers and was totally evacuated before it did. That would be enough time for a small crack team to get into it and wire it for demolition extracting or destroying from whichever offices, the sensitive whatever it was – files, data, gadget, photos – who knows.”
    “Maybe the Government knew it would be impossible to secure the disaster zone around WTC 7 and decided to literally bury whatever was in there it wanted to keep secret…”

    You call Gage a crank, and us nut jobs, but you write this? Just a point. Demolition industry insiders say building 7 could not have been arranged in the 5 hour window. Not possible. More likely a misfire and reset.
    If you suspect building 7, as you rightly should and even slightly appear to , you are on the cusp of the whole conspiracy. Better be careful. You could be a crank soon yourself.

    Again. Chertoff is an insider. He became homeland security. His nephew controlled the Popular mechanics story.

  • Also. Your quote “There’s the sulfuric compounds in the debris of the towers fueling the suggestion thermite may have been used as an explosive to bring the towers down.”
    I believe it is correctly known as Thermate. When elemental sulfur is ADDED to thermite.
    Just study it for a moment..
    NYTimes Feb 2002 Glanz and Lipton wrote:”A preliminary study of the steel using electron microscopes suggests that sulfur released during the fires -no one knows from where- may have combined with atoms in the steel to form compounds that melt at lower temperatures”[‘A search for clues in the towers collapse’]
    How do atoms of sulphur COMBINE , with atoms of steel? unless at extremely high temperature.
    I understand it is known as ‘eutectic reaction’.[heating of the steel into a hot corrosive environment approaching 1,000C[1,832F]results in the formation of a eutectic mixture of iron, oxygen, and sulfur that liquefied the steel. at melting point ‘all the constituents crystallize simultaneously’/eutectic point, wikipedia] But you can check that out.

    Your passing reference to sulfur pertains to science findings of temperatures actually way above 1800F, where steel analyzed had ‘been turned into swiss cheese’, where one inch steel columns had been reduced to half inch thickness, with edges curled like a paper scroll, thinned to almost razor sharpness, with gaping holes some larger than a silver dollar letting light shine thru a formerly solid steel flange.

    Inside that passing reference to ‘sulfur compounds’ you are actually talking about partial evaporation of steel at extreme temperatures, enough to BOIL structural steel.. 5,182F ! Boil it ! That is five thousand degree F.[quoted Glanz’s paraphrase of WPI Prof.Jonathan Barnett after studying WTC beams said that fire “would not explain steel members in the debris pile that appear to have been partly evaporated in extraordinarily high temperatures”[pp47. D.R.Griffin. Mysterious collapse WTC7][NYTimes/Kenneth Change reported Prof. Abolhassan Astaneh-Asl, civil engineering Berkeley, discovered horizontal I-beam from WTC7 “[p]arts of the flat top of the ‘I’, once five eights of an inch thick had vaporized”ibid] Something melted and vaporized that steel. Something not produced in ‘office furnishings fire’.

    NIST said it didn’t bother to test for sulfur because its presence could be explained by gypsum wallboard [calcium sulfate] in the pile. Niels Harrit, a chemist at the university of Copenhagen responded by saying ‘although gypsum contains sulfur, this is not elemental sulfur, which can react, but sulfur in the form of calcium sulfate, which cannot”. I am sure a sciblog writer can check these facts out and confirm or deny them.

  • Sorry to burst your bubble Griff, but Popular mechanics is full of scientific fallacies and editing bias.
    Popular mechanics has been thoroughly debunked.
    Also Kim Hill exhibited zero scientific knowledge and merely engaged in ad hominem and strawman attacks.

    You cannot give me one fact from that hit piece regarding the collapses of the towers that I cannot debunk in a heartbeat

    NOW, let me educate you, there is irrefutable evidence of controlled demolition:

    FACT 1: The north tower ACCELERATED through the lower section at a uniform 64% freefall, which means that the lower section exerted resistance equal to 36% of the weight of the upper section, Newton’s third law of equal and opposing forces states that the top block thus exerted 36% of it’s weight, which means it’s exerting much less force than when supported at rest. This means a large portion of the resistance was removed by explosives.

    FACT 2: The top section of the North Tower almost fully disintegrated before the lower section started to explode downward, this disintegration would absorb any momentum and expelled the mass laterally, there was NO piledriver left to cause any kind of gravitational collapse!!!

    FACT3: The top section of the South Tower topples to an angle of 22 degrees. Basic physics shows that the shift in center of mass due to the angle means that any torque imparted by gravitational pressure on the lower section accelerates the rotation of the top mass. The base of the top section acting as a fulcrum.

    The more gravitational pressure the top section provides, the more toppling would occur. discontinuation of the upper section’s toppling proves the removal of the lower section’s resistance, disproving gravity induced collapse and proving explosives.

    An off centre, leaning mass CANNOT cause a symmetric collapse.

    FACT 4: The symmetric, even collapse of WTC7 is IMPOSSIBLE without demolition as all structural supports must be removed simultaneously across each floor, and this repeated in sequence for each successive floor.this is impossible in a collapse resulting from structural or fire damage, as such causes result in organic uneven damage.

    Even a slight integrity inequality ALWAYS leads to a messy uneven and in most cases partial collapse.

    FACT 5: The 2.2 seconds of Freefall in WTC7 that NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) ADMITS to is IMPOSSIBLE without Controlled demolition as all structural supports must be removed ahead of the collapse front, otherwise ANY intact structural resistance would slow the collapse to a rate less than freefall.
    Freefall means all the object’s gravitational potential is converted to motion, in order to crush tonnes of structural steel and concrete, a large part of that gravitational potential must be used, which would slow it down to a rate much less than freefall.

    This proves beyond any doubt that the resistance was removed by explosives. The ONLY building collapses involving freefall speeds are controlled demolitions.

    FACT 6: Office fires don’t burn hot enough to weaken the steel. Steel has a high thermal conductivity, the large steel frame would draw away heat rapidly from hot spots. Quote from the FEMA report (Appendix A). “Recalling that the North Tower suffered no major structural damage from the intense office fire of February 23, 1975, we can conclude that the ensuing office fires of September 11, 2001, also did little extra damage to the towers.”

    The team at NIST could not get their computer model to collapse, in the end they managed a partial asymmetric collapse that looked nothing like the actual event by removing all thermal conductivity!!!

    The smoke emanating from the towers turned black for a while preceding the collapses. Dark smoke implies the presence of soot, which is composed of uncombusted hydrocarbons. Soot is produced when a fire is oxygen-starved, or has just been extinguished. Soot also has a high thermal capacity and may act to rob a fire of heat by carrying it away.

    Videos of people standing in the gash from he plane before the collapse proves the fires had progressed past their hottest point and combined with the sooty smoke, were cooling. Steel strengthens when it cools, it had survived it’s weakest point. Why should it fail?

    No steel high-rise has ever fully collapsed from fire.

    FACT 7. Nanothermite a high-tech military-grade explosive was found throughout the WTC dust and analysed by top scientists, and published in the peer reviewed Open Chemical Physics Journal. All throughout the dust, iron-rich micro-spheres were present, the only way they can be formed is through a highly explosive, extremely high temperature event whereby the steel is vaporised, forming small round droplets due to surface tension.

    Game over.

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