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The ups and downs of Down Under press
by Jake Highton
Jan 23, 2010 | 628 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The press in New Zealand and Australia is impressive. It is livelier, brighter and deeper than the press in America, where newspaper dullness passeth all understanding.

Newspaper columns Down Under are more numerous, more essayish, more provocative and more thoughtful. They range more widely too.

One day in the antipodes, during the recent holidays, I read a column in the New Zealand Herald declaring that human progress is compatible with protecting the environment. The piece frequently cited Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” a 1962 book that launched today’s green revolution.

The column cited Albert Schweitzer’s reverence for life. It quoted his prescience on global warming: “Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth.” On the same page a column urged unbelievers to make humility a New Year’s resolution.

The papers Down Under also run letters that are highly critical of the papers themselves. The amazing thing about this is that papers in America will run letters critical of issues and note problems in their communities but seldom ever print criticism of themselves.

The Star-Times in Sydney, Australia, printed a letter declaring: “There is not enough space to chronicle all of what passes for thought in your editorial...Your smarmy digs about democracy and your half-baked attempts at humor are juvenile, sickly and employ muddled logic and sloppy thinking.”

Wow! American newspapers criticize everybody and everything--but not themselves.

Here’s another vicious jab appearing in the letters column of the The Australian: “Your paper has happily published graphic mockery of Christ and his followers over the years but has not yet had the courage to publish the Danish cartoons critical of Muhammad.”

Touché. Just a handful of the 1,400 daily newspapers in America had the guts to print the cartoons offensive to Mulims.

Moreover, thousands of good cartoons have been killed for decades by editors of American newspapers. Editorial writers in America would justly deplore such censorship in China and Iran.

In America, censorship is more subtle. It is secretive self-censorship.

The death last month of David Levine, biting caricaturist and satirist for the New York Review, reminded me of blatant censorship in America.

Levine drew a brilliant cartoon of a smiling Henry Kissinger humping a naked woman representing the world, her head a globe. Dr. K’s nakedness was covered by an American flag.

The Review, supposedly an intellectual publication read by adults only, refused to print it. Fortunately, The Nation magazine did. It knows that an artist’s vision should never be censored.

Another of Levine’s great cartoons that was widely printed in America depicted President Johnson showing his scar from a recent operation. Levine’s scar was a map of Vietnam.

Another death in December is worth note: James Kavanaugh, former Catholic priest. Never heard of him? The Vatican surely did. He told truths it deplored.

In 1967 Kavanaugh wrote a book, “A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church.” His targets were such outmoded doctrines as a celibate priesthood, opposition to abortion, opposition to divorce and opposition to premarital sex.

A New York Times reviewer said the book was “a personal cry of anguish that goes to the heart of the struggles of the Catholic Church.”

Training for Everest

Mt. Cook is a must-see if you ever travel to the South Island of beautiful New Zealand.

The craggy, jaggy Mt. Cook (12,316 feet) is where New Zealander Edmund Hillary did his “basic training” for the successful assault in 1953 of the highest peak in the world, 29,028-foot Everest.

The romantic in me would like to believe that the Brit George Mallory, not Hillary, was the first to reach the summit of Everest in 1924.

Mallory was last seen by his team several hundred yards from the peak before disappearing in a cloud. His body was found in 1999 at 21,300 feet. Did he die on the way up or on the way down? The answer will never be known.

Sham labels

The Australian wine industry is ever-growing in quality with such outstanding vineyards as Margaret River and Jacob’s Creek. Its labels, however, are just as phony as those in America. Here’s how the label reads on a bottle of shiraz cabernet merlot:

“Showing berry aromas of blackberry, cherry and blueberry framed by spicy, savory oak. With subtle cigar box and minty overtones. The theme continues on the palate with excellent oak flavors.”

Ouch! My ears.

New Zealand and Australia are civilized countries--except for the raucous, caterwauling or rock and pop assailing the ears in restaurants, bars, hotels and airports.

Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.
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