Sunday, August 8, 2010

Karl du Fresne: TV3 joins the wowser crusade

Sigh. Just when I was starting to think TV3 News wasn’t so bad after all (a cynic would say it’s because anything looks good alongside their competition), they do their best to drive me away again. Their lead item on Tuesday night was a shocker, though I mean that in the metaphorical rather than the literal sense.

It seems TV3, along with much of the mainstream media, has become an enthusiastic and uncritical accomplice in the concerted campaign of fear and panic over liquor abuse. This is the only possible explanation for its decision to lead the 6pm bulletin with a British “expert” on liquor and drug abuse, a Professor David Nutt, tut-tutting (or should that be nut-nutting?) over the government’s supposed capitulation to the liquor industry on the proposal to reduce the legal alcohol limit for drivers.

Nutt had nothing to say that hasn’t already been said by the vociferous New Zealand wowser lobby, led by the excitable Prof Doug Sellman. His statements were not new and neither were they news. They were simply one more expression of opinion – and a highly emotive one at that – by yet another sanctimonious academic who claims to know what’s best for us. The only thing new was that this time it was a sanctimonious academic with a British accent, which if anything made it even more irritating
As with climate change, we have given up expecting dispassionate, detached, objective statements from academics and health activists crusading for restrictive drinking laws. They are evangelists on a holy mission.

Nutt took the hoary old line that the government is in thrall to faceless liquor barons, and that only this can explain its decision to stall a reduction in the legal alcohol limit until more research has been done. This time-honoured wowser propaganda may play well to the impressionable, but it overlooks the fact that governments have wider responsibilities than to lobby groups, whether they represent the liquor industry or the latter-day temperance crusaders.

It may be that the government is holding the anti-liquor activists at bay because it recognises that there is a very large body of New Zealanders – those who don’t drink to excess, and therefore don’t deserve to be shackled by restrictive liquor laws – whose voices haven’t been heard in the debate. Much is made of the fact that the Law Commission report on the liquor laws attracted thousands of submissions, but by their very nature such exercises mainly bring out the committed activists. If the government is taking its time over liquor law changes because it wants to ensure the process isn’t wholly captured by the temperance evangelists (as the Law Commission appears to have been), then good on it. That’s called democracy.

Perhaps the anti-liquor campaigners, having succeeded in controlling the debate this far, suddenly sense the tide is turning against them. That may explain why they are turning up the volume, with “experts” like Nutt calling for lawyers to sue the liquor industry and urging a total ban on liquor advertising and supermarket wine sales. It might also explain Prof Sellman’s hysterical claims to a select committee recently about the level of alcohol-induced harm likely to result from the Rugby World Cup (70 serious or fatal road accidents, 400 babies with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, more than 10,000 physical and sexual assaults … phew!).

It’s the wowsers’ prerogative, of course, to indulge in doomsday fantasies in the hope that we will all be terrified into complying with their agenda. But it’s disappointing that news organisations like TV3 should be buying into their alarmist nonsense and giving them spurious credibility.

What time’s the Prime news bulletin on? I might have to change my routine.

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Anonymous said...

Your frequent use of emotive terms such as "wowser," "evangelical""sanctimonius" and so on reveals more about your own emotive attitude to alcohol. Sellman can be hardly described as hysterical as most of his statements he gives are based on proven research facts. You have our head in the sand re this matter.

Anonymous said...

In regard to the ramping up of the anti-liquor debate, comment is called for on the article's paragraph 'It’s the wowsers’ prerogative, of course, to indulge in doomsday fantasies in the hope that we will all be terrified into complying with their agenda.'

The 'terrifying' thing is that of New Zealand Members of Parliament succumbing to the subjective and emotive generated by the anti-liquor lobbyists.

A factor becoming evident in New Zealand is that law making by parliament is becoming governed by the media headlines that use the 'bad news' thrust to sell publications. The anti-liquor lobbyists know this and milk it for all its worth.

Mike said...

What on earth do these wowsers think they will achieve by reducing the blood-alcohol limit? The recidivist drink-drivers will take absolutely no notice, and there will be no reduction in drink-driving. What we desparately need is an effective judiciary which will commit these morons to lengthy jail sentences - I for one will be happy to pay for my share of more jails!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous sounds like another wowser!! What I see happening is exactly what Karl du Fresne is saying plus the approach which penalises the majority for the activities of the binge drinkers in Our Society. Here I am referring to the pensioners such as myself who are far from binge drinkers but have already paid more for their bottle of sherry because of Jim Anderton's knee jerk reaction in taxing drinks over 14% to try to stop teenagers buying alcopops. Of course his tax has had no effect on his target whatsoever only on the likes of us pensioners.

Anonymous said...

Unless and until there is empirical evidence to show the level of causation of road accidents involving drivers with blood alcohol levels between .5 and .8, there can be no case made for a change in the law. The available research demonstrates that where alcohol is involved there are two key groups represented: those drivers substantially over the present limit of .8; and young drivers 18 - 24 years old. Joyce is right to commission the research rather than to succomb to the emotional bullshit given currency by the media.

Hori R Heta said...

For the love of the wee man, booze keeps people in work and without many people working in the jobs of police, fire, ambulance, nursing, undertakers, and list goes on , all those bludgers would be out there, unemployed. Death and those dieing keep the wheels turning in society and it makes my job safe. Life goes on, one way or another.