Terror in Chch

Shane Te Pou: Diversity isn’t just some box to tick

COMMENT: After Christchurch, let's take a breath and listen to voices too often shut out of the mainstream discourse – and then broaden the discourse accordingly, writes Shane Te Pou.

Kua whati te tara o te marama.

Kei te iwi Ihirama o Aotearoa, tēnei mātou te murimuri aroha nei mō ngā raukura o te pō.

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un 

We belong to Allah and to Allah we shall return

Nobody apart from the assailant himself can be blamed for what happened. Of course they can’t. He had no accomplices. Nobody loaded his guns. He wasn’t acting under orders. At that level, the culpability lies with him, and him alone. 

Acts of terror are like extreme weather events - what struck Christchurch was a white power hurricane. But weather events are tethered to climate, susceptible to long-term shifts and underlying conditions. We are remiss if we don’t examine, therefore, the ways in which our society may have created a climate that indirectly, certainly unintentionally, enabled the slaughter. Even if you think we are entirely blameless, you need not fear the questions. At the very least, it’s a discussion we must have.

There is widespread acceptance that lax gun laws were a contributing factor. The Government is stepping up on that front with impressive speed and decisiveness. Even industry leaders like Hunting & Fishing NZ are offering themselves as part of the solution, and deserve considerable credit for doing so.

Diversity isn't some box to tick, let alone something we need to 'tolerate'. We need to actively celebrate our multicultural Aotearoa, and defend our best and broadest values.

There will be a forensic investigation into how this terrorist got by unnoticed. Questions, rightfully, will be asked of police, security and intelligence forces on both sides of the Tasman. Time will tell the extent to which they dropped the ball on the white supremacy threat. We can agree, at least, that it seems likely there has been a failure worldwide to address it with the degree of seriousness and urgency it deserves.

A tougher question to confront is the extent to which our politics and media have played a part. Every attempt to even raise these questions triggers an immediate, defensive response - most artfully, the calls to “take politics out” of the tragedy, as if it weren’t the most blatantly political act imaginable. Or Pollyanna-like denials that structural racism even persists in New Zealand, like Thursday's column by Karl du Fresne in Stuff in which he finds it impossible to reconcile the easily reconcilable notion that Muslims in New Zealand can both embrace our country, and find causes to worry for their safety here.  

Whereas Du Fresne is adopting a defensive, indignant pose, plenty of other media identities are guilty of much worse, including Duncan Garner's unhinged anti-immigrant screed that prompted a rare rebuke from the Press Council. The growing overlap between opinion pages and talk-back radio has been a costly transition for the rest of us.

We need to build cross-cultural understanding, and journalists ought to lead the way so that their far-reaching influence isn't distorted by ignorance.

As with print and radio, TV news in New Zealand suffers from a lack of diversity. I'm writing this at an airport cafe in Houston and the Fox News on mute overhead displays more diverse faces than you'd find on 1 News or Newshub

Media outlets should correct this as a matter of urgency – in opinion pages and newsrooms. This isn't merely about tackling intolerance, although that would be a useful side effect. Diversity isn't some box to tick, let alone something we need to 'tolerate'. We need to actively celebrate our multicultural Aotearoa, and defend our best and broadest values.

Beyond diversifying the media workforce, there should be renewed focus on professional development. We need to build cross-cultural understanding, and journalists ought to lead the way so that their far-reaching influence isn't distorted by ignorance.

Editors and broadcasters should consider proactive outreach to Muslim and other marginalised communities. There's scope for a constructive two-way dialogue that helps advance mutual understanding – not just in the heat of an unfolding story. A free press, and freedom of expression generally, is integral to the way we conduct affairs in New Zealand. It gives these outlets great sway in national affairs – and it surely comes alongside the responsibility to act with integrity and at least some impartiality. 

As readers, too, we should display far less tolerance for lazy click-bait designed purely to rile us up by playing on divisive cultural issues. Let's make our social media choices more wisely, while at the same time demanding more responsibility from its behemoth overlords, Facebook, Google and Twitter. Let's stand up to hate speech and wild conspiracies wherever they crop up, and insist on consequences when they do. After Christchurch, let's take a breath and listen to voices too often shut out of the mainstream discourse – and then broaden the discourse accordingly.

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