Vicki Hyde hands out this year’s Bent Spoon and Bravo Awards
A documentary which highlights the “distress, cruelty, horror, ecocide, cover-ups and contamination” involved in 1080-based pest control has won the Bent Spoon from the NZ Skeptics for 2009.
Poisoning Paradise – Ecocide in New Zealand claims that 1080 kills large numbers of native birds, poisons soils, persists in water and interferes with human hormones. Hunters-cum-documentary makers Clyde and Steve Graf believe that 1080 has “stuffed the venison business”, and have been travelling the country showing their film since March.
The NZ Skeptics, along with other groups, are concerned that wide media coverage and nation-wide screenings of Poisoning Paradise will lead to a political push, rather than a scientifically based one, to drop 1080 as a form of pest control, with nothing effective to replace it. United Future leader Peter Dunne appeared in the film, and described 1080 as “an indiscriminate untargeted killer”.
Emotions run high in the debate, with one anti-1080 campaigner going so far as to hijack a helicopter at gunpoint and last month threatening to die on Mount Tongariro unless the documentary received prime-time billing.
Members of the NZ Skeptics are involved in various conservation efforts across the country. They have seen first-hand the effectiveness of 1080 drops and the brutal ineffectiveness of attempts to control pests by trapping and hunting, even in the smaller fenced arks, let alone in more rugged, isolated areas like Hawdon Valley or Kahurangi National Park.
People say that 1080 is cruel – so is a possum when it rips the heads off kokako chicks. Environmental issues aren´t simple; we are forever walking a difficult balancing act. At this stage, 1080 is the best option for helping our threatened species hang on or, even better, thrive. It would be devastating for our wildlife were we to abandon this.
I have a particular interest in this area, having served for eight years on the Possum Biocontrol Bioethics Committee, alongside representatives from Forest & Bird, the SPCA and Ngai Tahu. Over the past 20 years I have seen 1080 use become more effective with the advent of better knowledge and application methods, though I acknowledge there is always room for improvement.
We would dearly love a quick, cheap, humane, highly targeted means of getting rid of possums and other pests but until that day comes, we cannot ignore the clear and present danger to our native wildlife. To do so would be environmentally irresponsible in the extreme. People should be cautious about taking documentaries at face value. A 2007 TV3 documentary, Let Us Spray, has just been cited as unbalanced, inaccurate and unfair by the Broadcasting Standards Authority.
We tend to assume that documentaries are balanced and tell us the whole story, but the increased use of advocacy journalism doesn´t mean this is always the case. After all, remember that psychic charades in programmes like Sensing Murder are marketed as reality programmes!
The NZ Skeptics also applaud the following, with Bravo Awards, for demonstrating critical thinking over the past year:
- Rebecca Palmer, for her article The Devil’s in the Details (Dominion Post 15 June 2009) pointing out that the makutu case owed more to The Exorcist than to tikanga Maori. Exorcism rituals, regardless of where they come from, have been shown to harm people, psychologically and physically. There are over 1,000 cases of murder, death and injury recorded on the whatstheharm.net website as a result of exorcisms reported in the Western world over the past 15 years. There are thousands more, for the most part unregarded, in places like Africa, or Papua New Guinea. These are all needless victims, often injured by people who care for them and who tragically just didn´t stop to think about the nature of what they were doing.
- Closeup for Hannah Ockelford´s piece Filtering the Truth (11 September 2009), regarding the dodgy sales tactics by an Australian organisation which claims that New Zealand’s tap water can cause strokes, heart attacks, cancer and miscarriages. Paul Henry described the Australian promoter as a shyster using scare tactics targeting vulnerable people.
- Rob Harley and Anna McKessar for their documentary The Worst That Could Happen (Real Crime, TV1, 29 July 2009). They took a hard look at the increasing tendency for accusations of accessing computer porn to be made on unfounded grounds, and how it can have devastating consequences for people.
- Colin Peacock and Jeremy Rose of Mediawatch on Radio New Zealand National. Every week Colin and Jeremy cast a critical eye on New Zealand media. That´s something we all should be doing in demanding that we get thoughtful, informed news and analysis from our media.