Saturday, December 23, 2017

Gerry Eckhoff: Response to the Dave Witherow column in the Otago Daily Times

At first glance it would seem that the Otago Daily Times, Arthur Wellesley and the writer of a recent and contentious column in the ODT - Dave Witherow, do not have all that much in common. 

The connection is the famous statement of Arthur Wellesley - better known as the Duke of Wellington or the Iron Duke who famously said – “publish and be damned”. 

The Duke was alleged to be having an affair with a “scarlet women” and was subject to a blackmail attempt in return for their silence. The allegations were published. The Duke went on to become Prime Minister despite the English being scandalized.

Almost 200 years later, in British English, “publish and be damned” has altered somewhat to mean that you should take a risk in saying what you think is true although the result may be harmful to you.

All too predictably, outrage has been expressed by all manner of citizenry of NZ that someone should have the temerity to seek to have published, an article challenging the value of Te Reo. The ODT published in the great traditions of a free press within a free nation. 

That can’t be all bad - can it?

Apparently, speakers of Te Reo find it insulting if words or names Maori are wrongly pronounced or misspelt.  As one whose surname is often misspelt in NZ since 1860, I struggle to believe my ancestor - Albertus Gerrardus will still be offended, but then I don’t believe in Taniwhas or mauri residing within a water body either. Nor do I believe that trolls live under bridges, although I probably did when I was two.

The single most disturbing aspect of this debate is the trend of vilification of those who hold differing views such as Mr Witherow, from the unverified majority. It now seems that those who don’t accept the utterances of our political masters and followers of all authorised thinking, are to be abused with the most vociferous condemnation. 

The great global warming /climate change debate is also a case in point where those who express a differing opinion are subject to outpourings of scorn from those who always know best. Only recently at a meeting held in our very own Otago University, the vice chancellor had to ask for some courtesy to be extended to those who hold differing views on the subject of climate change. 

In Australia, a University initially refused to allow supporters of traditional marriage to hold a seminar to promote their particular point of view or views.  Statues to soldiers of the Confederate states were torn down by those who believe that such statues symbolize slavery. 

One surmises that the pop group (of three talented musicians) - the Dixie Chicks will become persona non-grata given the association of the word Dixie with the Southern states of America - and if not, why not? And how about burning the vinyl of the fabulous song of civil rights campaigner Joan Baez – “The night they drove o’l Dixie Down.”  

Rather interestingly the American academic Thomas Sowell refers to - quote – “the rise of the vulgar pride of intellectualism” unquote, emanating from society’s so called elite which includes journalists. They do however have one thing in common. They are invariably wrong and shown to be wrong.

Too often, debate that should be promoted in an arena of safety, such as a university or a newspaper, is shut down before it can evolve.

Readers will recall the now famous cartoon published in France which clearly offended the Muslim population. Most countries and their so called free press have refused to publish material that may offend groupings or those with differing cultural values. 

After the murderous attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, four million people marched on the streets of France bearing the slogan -  Je Suis Charlie. (I am Charlie) They marched in support of freedom against terrorism.  They marched in support of free speech – they marched in support of a free press - uncowed by intimidation in all its forms. 

A question that perhaps the critics of Mr Witherow should be asked is: How many people would wear a tee shirt emblazoned - Je Suis Dave W? 

The answer may surprise many of us. 

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