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Friday, 1 December 2017

Sharks in the goldfish bowl: Anatomy of the Golriz Ghahraman “Scandal”

Have a listen and lend and ear
Here’s a song now if you care
We can all just hum along
Words don’t matter anymore

Adhesive by Stone Temple Pilots

In the wake of the recent election I had been enjoying my sabbatical out of the piss filled paddling pool that is NZ politics until I was rudely disturbed by the growing cacophony that we can now title the Golriz Ghahraman “Scandal”.

And it’s important that readers note the quotation marks around the word scandal lest they think that this is actually a scandal and not just another hype fuelled week of media manipulation because the facts of this attention grabbing distraction are rather simple and can be summed up as follows.

Yes, Golriz did serve on the defense team for a Rwandan genocide criminal BUT the cornerstone of any rule-of-law based legal system is the right to a fair trial which includes defense counsel.

On the flipside however Ghahraman was definitely not clear in her previous statements about what she was doing in Rawanda and posing for smiling photos with a genocide war criminal is not a good look for any peace-loving Green MP (perhaps a National MP but not a Green one).

Also not good looking for a Green MP, is her involvement in defending another Rwandan war criminal, currently hiding in NZ (along with two other Rwandans, wanted for war crimes, in which has now become the worst kept secret in Wellington) and her actions in this area would be much more newsworthy that what she did at the Hague.

So there you have it, lawyer acts in the defense of war criminal at their trail BUT fails to clearly establish her exact role in that trial AND continues to have links with the war criminal community in NZ (of which there is more than you would suspect). 

So while it’s not a good look for her, it’s not exactly scandal material is it, and in fact, such hypocritical behavior is par for the course for politicians/lawyers/car-salespeople of any stripe (her and the Greens now included since their +5 magical cloak of morality has been removed thanks to the Greens pre-election failures and screw ups).

What might be more newsworthy, in this instance, is how and why former Labour staffer Phil Quinn decided here and now to fire off the fatal tweets that started this clickbait time waster as none of the information about Ghahraman was particular new so why did Quinn choose this time to take her to task for her pervious behaviour?

And while we are asking questions how exactly did his tweet come to the attention of the media (is his twitter feed the only one in Wellington worth reading?) and why did they run with this story, at this angle rather than any other (like the questions I have just asked) before deciding to make this a front page item and start the inevitable swarm that followed.

No it’s really the media, and their predictable seven day media scrummage around these things, which is what this post is about because in a week where the Police decided not to prosecute anyone for the 123 people dead in the CTV building collapse and things like the TPPA (and its noxious provisions) are still lurking around (followed by a cross party spat in select committee) what one Green MP did in the past pales by degree.

But, once the NZ political media engages its gears and focuses in on an issue the whole kit and caboodle starts churning and starts a cascading media avalanche which cannot be stopped and has predictable consequences and outcomes for those caught up in it.

Note: the following four paragraphs are best read while listing to or imaging the musical theme from Jaws playing (link provided for your entertainment).

First it’s the initial round of mainstream headlines that "frame" the scandal and put the scent of blood in the water. Then the issue is picked up and sent round the local internet via a torrent of quick links in emails and texts before the local blogs sink their teeth in and start laying out the range of acceptable opinions and positions for people to take and late spout to their friends and co-workers.

Next the media seize their prey and drag them down for interviews and opinion pieces (think the well paid talking heads that pollute your screens in the morning or near the letters page in the paper) while other lesser predators (think some of the more vitriolic and partisan blogs and talk back radio) move in to snatch at any scraps that remain.

Then the whole thing starts to get torn apart in a frenzy of media blurts, via Twitter and Facebook, as other parties are caught up in the feeding and dragged, kicking and screaming, into now swirling mass of thrashing, bubbling red water (think James Shaw deciding to take the blame for Golriz’s bio on the Green website and Quinn’s denial over his “genocide denier” claim).

Then the whole things catharticly peaks before people lose interest and begin to prepare for their weekends (as these stories have a habit of always kicking off at the start of the week and playing themselves out by the Friday) leaving behind nothing but a fading red stain in the water, some bits of flesh which rapidly sink out of sight and the fading strains of John Williams score.

Therefore the questions remain: why did an ex Labour staffer decide to take a Green MP to task over her previous career (and lets not get hung up on the "Phil Quinn was in Rwanda narrative" too much) and why did the NZ political media decide that this would be the “Big” story of the week and not focus on the larger issues (like the CTV building, TPPA or actual Rwandan war criminals hiding out in NZ)?

The answer to these questions can be found in the simple facts that, like any good tabloid, sensational headlines sell better than more mundane ones and that the 24/7 cycle of news demands an ongoing stream of push button journalism to keep the punters attention from flagging and Phil Quinn’s inflammatory comment that Ghahraman was a "genocide denier" was more than enough to set this thing off and push any other story back off center stage.

And the worst offender, in this instance, was Stuff which seemed to have devolved to verbatium “reporting” of the story rather than elevating its focus while the NZ Herald, in this instance, seemed to be able to have some perspective on things while the best of the lot was Duncan Garners interview of Ghahraman which did in fact touch on some of the larger issues here but still found time to sensationalize it for the stay home parent crowd.

However it’s also telling that the original “source” for this story (note those quotation marks again) is an "ex Labour staffer" (because almost every article on this led off with that very important qualifier) who just happened to be taking a shot at a member of the Green party in the wake of the same Green party saying they won’t be supporting the Labour government over the TPPA (and potentially forcing Labour to face up the highly unpalatable option of linking sweaty hands with National to pass any TTPA legislation) and thereby right out of the gate weakening the foundations of what labour had thought was a sown up coalition government.

In fact Quinn seemed to be taking his cues from the Media Whores handbook (ala Trump and much of the US political media) by first firing off inflammatory tweets labeling her a “genocide denier”, then later denying he had said such a thing (incredibly stupid in the age of internet) before later admitting that he had, which then sunk his credibility on the matter to zero.

But the NZ Political media circus is also very complicit (2017 word of the year) in this behavior by deciding that this week’s talking point was going to be a verbatim regurgitation of Quinn’s tweets, knowing full well (and with obviously endorsement from their editors) that this was going to play out as it did and suck up the public's limited attention for the five days while they were distracted from other, more important, matters.

Of course, by the end of the week, Quinn’s retraction of his genocide denier claim or revelations of Rwandan war criminals actually living in NZ has had no effect on the original style and substance of the story (or its smear effect on Ghahraman and the Greens) as it’s too late, the damage has been done. 

And the more I think about it the more this has all the hall marks of a carefully orchestrated political hit on the Greens to remind them of their place in the coalition pecking order (that being the bottom) but also to keep them on the back foot by slinging more post-election mud onto their already fragile political reputation when the Shaw is desperately trying to keep his head down and rebuild the party.

Again, I wish to say that the real story regarding Ghahraman is her defending of a Rwandan war criminal hiding out in NZ (and the how and why said war criminal even got here) and not what she did at the Hague while the larger issues of Rwandan war criminals hiding out in NZ or the Police not prosecuting over the CTV building should have been what stirred the media pot this week.

So in the end the NZ media (and their respective news cycle) are likes sharks packed into a goldfish bowl, a media frenzy over some tiny goldfish while the real catch gets way, again.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Can someone translate the Farsi into English for us?

    2. Whatever it is its spam by the look of the site traffic AI so it will be deleted.

  2. Hi
    I am an exprobation officer. Does working with criminals make me a criminal? Would defending criminals make a lawyer a criminal? Should it be so surprising that the do so? WOULD YOU PREFER TO LIVE IN A LAND WHERE THOSE ACUSED BEFORE THE COURTS ARE NOT REPRESENTED ? ? ? This whole Golriz Ghahraman 'scandal' is not only a media beat up, but a media beat up foisted on us by an entitled opposition. That is the real scandal. Seems to me that the right are staying true to form.

    1. The "Ghalraman scandal" is just another case of political hypocrisy. There is no evidence or suggestion that Golriz Ghalraman has committed a crime and there is nothing wrong about her defending an accused in a court of law (though there is at least a moral question mark over her apparent attempts to prevent a war criminal from being brought to trial).
      However she was very wrong to mislead the people of New Zealand about her actions and motives in both prosecuting and defending war criminals in a clear, though by no means unusual, case of political false pretences.
      Ghalraman tried to make political capital out of her work "enforcing human rights and holding governments to account" when the reality was that she both prosecuted convicted war criminals (when paid to do so) and defended convicted war criminals (when paid to do so).
      If she was genuinely committed to prosecuting war crimes she would have questions to ask (and something to say) about the Tirgiran massacre. She would "hold ... to account" the government of New Zealand. But how many of us will be holding our breath waiting for her to call to account the war criminals who are being protected by the very state which pays her salary?

    2. I keep angling around to doing a post on the media and this is the closest I have come but I think the time is right to start looking at political media in NZ, specially if the planned merger of the two main media outlets goes ahead.

      And for the unknown poster - I like living under the rule of law but I like it as a rule of law for all not just a few or those who cant avoid it.

    3. I agree that it might be better to approach the failings of the New Zealand mass media from a more general standpoint, rather than in relation to this one issue of the "Ghalraman scandal". It may surprise some to learn that the Iranian media, which works under a fairly authoritarian political regime, complete with political cum religious censorship, is much more willing to investigate and criticize government actions than its New Zealand counterpart. The fourth estate in this country is so subservient that it is the envy of despotic rulers the world over, and the few journalists who do dare to speak truth to power - Jon Stephenson for example - are ruthlessly suppressed. So yes, a post specifically concerned with the New Zealand mass media would be very welcome.

    4. The duopolistic structure of the mass media in New Zealand is problem, and a monopoly would be even more of a problem. The state-run media (RNZ, TVNZ) are caught up in the duopoly through their informal sharing relationships with the private media organisations. But fundamentally it is the journalists and reporter who are the nub of the problem. With a few honorable (and marginalized) exceptions they lack the courage or the wit to challenge the system. So it is hard to see any way in which the New Zealand mass media as presently constituted could become an effective and responsible agent in a genuine democracy.

  3. I didn't understand this post :-(

  4. No the spelling of the words is good I just can't understand how they go together

  5. I think I'm just not smart enough to understand your argument could you ELI5?