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Posts published in “Journalism Portfolio”

Critical thinking in an age of fake news

After the school shooting in Florida fake news reports flooded the internet saying two survivors who spoke out after the tragedy were actors and not real students.

The reasons given for the supposed elaborate deception range from CNN paying actors, to the far-fetched claim that actors were employed by the government to pretend they witnessed an event which never happened. Supposedly, as part of an attempt to build political will to ban guns.

This claim crumples in the face of reason after US President Donald Trump suggested teachers should be armed. Despite this and the fact the identities of the students being confirmed as students, the claim –  along with many other fake news claims persist on conspiracy sites.

In a post-truth era of alternative facts and fake news, the ability to discern what is true is an increasingly important skill.

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New Zealand’s own Wikipedian-at-large

If Wikipedia’s English language pages were ever to be printed as encyclopaedias, over 2500 volumes would be needed to include all the articles currently contained in the online encyclopaedia.

Pages about New Zealand topics though would be fewer than they could be and might contain out-of-date information.

New Zealand biologist and the curator of natural history at Whanganui Regional Museum, Dr Mike Dickison, wants to increase and improve the 57,465 articles on Wikipedia which relate to New Zealand.

“We’re definitely behind. You can take a medium-sized city in New Zealand and look at the same sort of coverage for similar sized city in Britain or the US and they’re years ahead of getting things on there.”

Dickison has applied for a $61,315 grant from the Wikimedia Foundation, the organisation which runs Wikipedia, to be a New Zealand Wikipedian-at-large.

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Mangrove bill sidesteps RMA

A local bill currently open for public submissions would give Thames-Coromandel and Hauraki districts the ability to remove mangroves without resource consent.

The proposed Mangrove Management Bill, brought before Parliament by National’s MP for Coromandel, Scott Simpson, would allow the two councils to develop and implement a mangrove management plan.

There have been past cases where exemptions to the Resource Management Act (RMA) processes have been made. These have been for disaster recovery efforts, such as the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act. Unlike the proposed Bill, these acts have had a narrow purpose.

At the Bill’s first reading Simpson said the topic of mangroves had created angst and heartache within the community.

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The dark side of NZ’s honey bee

While we’ve been busy fighting wasps, we’ve turned a blind eye to another invader. Farah Hancock looks at the ecological impact of New Zealand’s lucrative honey bee.

Long taken for granted, the hardworking honey bee is experiencing its moment in the sun. Honey prices are rising and with global numbers reported to be in decline and feral populations decimated by Varroa mite, there have been concerted efforts to save them.

For the past few years New Zealanders have been doing just that: planting bee-friendly flowers in gardens, carefully considering pesticide use, taking up beekeeping as a hobby, and killing wasps with impunity to give the bees a chance.

These efforts might be misguided. In New Zealand, honey bees are more livestock than they are wildlife.

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A disastrous tactic against climate change

As the world struggles with how to keep climate change to the Paris accord goal of below 2C, scientists look to technologies such as solar geoengineering as a way to cool the planet. However, new research shows suddenly ceasing the method could be more disastrous for biodiversity than never starting.

In 1991, when Mount Pinatubo erupted, 20 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide was propelled into the stratosphere. In the two years that followed, the global average temperate fell by half a degree.

The cooling effect of the eruption is something scientists theorise could be replicated by planes regularly spreading sulphate aerosol. Spread high enough, the tiny particles absorb and reflect sunlight back into space for years.

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Ex-UN official appalled by NZ wildlife blunder

The dismantling of a New Zealand group which combatted wildlife crime has been described as “unfathomable” and a “blunder” by a former high-ranking international official.

The Wildlife Enforcement Group (WEG) consisted of an officer each from the Department of Conservation (DOC), Customs, and from what was the Ministry for Agriculture and Fisheries.

DOC estimates the WEG were responsible for 21 successful prosecutions against 28 defendants while they were operating. Six of these were high-profile arrests of international poachers and smugglers attempting to take New Zealand’s protected geckos.

Since the group was disbanded in 2012, no gecko smugglers have been arrested, despite evidence suggesting smuggling is an ongoing problem.

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Disbanding of NZ wildlife group paves way for poachers

Half a world away from the calm of New Zealand’s forests and the meeting rooms of slow-moving government agencies, a map of New Zealand is displayed for thousands to see. Marked on the map are the locations of New Zealand’s protected geckos.

The map is on show at the German fair Terrarstika, the biggest reptile fair in the world. Tables in the trade hall are piled high with plastic boxes containing lizards and snakes for sale. Hundreds of deals are done at the fair, some openly in the trade hall, others surreptitiously in the carpark.

There is an underbelly to the reptile trade and an expert source says New Zealand’s protected geckos are squarely in the sights of corrupt overseas dealers.

“Anything that is a little rare won’t be on the tables on display. That will be in the boot of someone’s car in the carpark and the deal will be done out there. What you see on the tables when you go into those fairs are all the legitimate stuff that anyone can trade in. The hot stuff is not on display, it’s elsewhere.”

The source, who does not want to be named, said New Zealand used to have a successful group dedicated to catching smugglers. The Wildlife Enforcement Group (WEG), disbanded in 2012 to the bewilderment of many, has not been replaced.

“It’s just crazy. Now we’ve got nothing.”

When asked by email if poachers know the group is no longer functioning, the source’s reply comes punctuated with a laughing emoticon.

“Of course they know.”

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Natural health products bill quietly scrapped

A bill designed to regulate the natural health products industry has been quietly withdrawn from Parliament before its third reading.

The Natural Health and Supplementary Products Bill was introduced 2011 by former Minister of Health, Dr Jonathan Coleman, and was intended to establish regulation for natural health products, including requiring evidence of efficacy.

In May this year, Winston Peters called the bill an “embarrassment” and said it was a bureaucratic double-up of a solution looking for a problem which would kneecap exporters.

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Police confirm agreement with spyware seller

Hacking spyware used by some of the world’s worst dictatorships may be in use in New Zealand.

The spyware, produced by Italian-based company, Hacking Team, is used by state agencies to monitor the communications of people of interest.

The Italian government was so concerned by the sale of spyware to countries with poor human rights it temporarily banned the company’s right to export.

New Zealand Police have confirmed to Newsroom in response to an Official Information Act request that they have signed a non-disclosure agreement with Hacking Team.

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South Auckland’s uncomfortable memorial

On a triangle of reserve in Ōtāhuhu stands a memorial to Colonel Marmaduke George Nixon. It has been there since 1868. Now, like other statues around the world, there are calls to remove it.

Former senior Labour official and activist, Shane Te Pou, has launched a petition urging Auckland Mayor Phil Goff to relocate the memorial to the Auckland Museum.

Te Pou told RNZ: “It should not be standing in memory of who I think was a thug.”

Nixon’s legacy is a bloody one, which historians say involved the killing of Māori women.

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Rare ‘apology’ ruling divides small NZ community

An unusual High Court ruling recommends a former school librarian and her husband send apology letters to members of a small South Island community to correct defamatory statements – or pay a fine of $100,000.

The defamatory statements were made in letters sent to around 50 Rai Valley residents after an employment dispute between the former librarian, Faye Leov, and former principal, Loretta [Muff] Newton, escalated to involve the local community.

The letters claimed Newton bullied Leov and others in the school, that she misled the school board, had been dismissed from her role and was mentally unwell.

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Three ways NZ can save its native geckos

When Fiordland National Park rangers arrived to feed Graham in mid July, they found a crime scene. The padlock to Graham’s terrarium was gone. So was Graham.

Graham the Marlborough green gecko was 30 years old, his home was a terrarium near the entrance to the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre. He had outlived the other gecko in the terrarium and provided the sole reptilian welcome to visitors.

Like 76 percent of New Zealand reptiles, Graham faces the risk of extinction through habitat loss and predators. Poachers are an added pressure to gecko populations.

The theft of a lone gecko may not have rung alarm bells for authorities, but the discovery on August 11 of a duct-taped shut lunchbox with 58 native lizards jammed inside should. Of the geckos and skinks inside, only four were alive.

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Raoul Island Survivor – outweed, outplay and outlast

Halfway between New Zealand and Tonga lies a sub-tropical island paradise few will ever visit.

Pōhutukawa, with leaves twice as big as their mainland counterparts, cover the island.

Tui, parakeets and petrel populate the skies. The snorkelling is spectacular.

But the island is not open to the public and the lucky few who are allowed to visit and stay must first make it through a Survivor-style five-day “shakedown”.

Every year a handful of people are selected by the Department of Conservation (DoC) to become Raoul Island rangers, who spend a year living on the island eradicating weeds.

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The impatient man bringing the future to New Zealand

When Steve West was young he dreamed of a future full of electric vehicles.

“I fell in love with the idea of them as a child. They were painted as the future in those futuristic books you used to get. You would know the future had arrived when you were driving electric cars.”

Now in his 40s, Steve’s  company, which develops electric car-charging infrastructure,  is propelling New Zealand back to the future of his childhood dreams.

West, the co-founder of DJ software company Serato, saw a glimmer of his childhood dreams when Tesla’s electric Roadster launched in the United States. It was a car West desperately wanted but could not get. At that stage Tesla was not interested in selling to New Zealand.

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Cop welcomes refugees with a smile

“They’re not the best jokes and I’m not a comedian, but it does break the ice.”

For refugees fleeing torture, harm or imprisonment in their home countries, ethnic liaison officer Constable Rob Stanton is the first face of the New Zealand police force they experience.

The three-hour presentation he gives to new refugees at the Mangere resettlement centre explains their legal rights and responsibilities in New Zealand.

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Is it a bird? Is it a bee? No, it’s NZ batman

While Bat Appreciation Day  may pass unnoticed in New Zealand (it is in April), you might be one of the lucky few whose backyard is home to bats (pekapeka).

Surprisingly long-tailed bats, a species listed as vulnerable, have been found roosting in the West Auckland neighbourhoods of Swanson, Henderson Valley, and Waitakere.

Once common, bat numbers have dropped significantly with one species thought to be extinct and the two remaining species listed as vulnerable and endangered.

Auckland Council’s Senior Biodiversity Advisor Ben Paris has been leading the charge in mapping where the shy bats can be found.

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