Journalism awards provide some solace

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Report by NewsroomPlus.com Contributed by Adam Ring 

If you’ve ever caught yourself lamenting the current state of local journalism, then the recent Bruce Jesson Foundation awards should provide some timely solace, and a reminder that journalism is alive and well in New Zealand.

The awards, established in 2004 in honour of the journalist and politician Bruce Jesson who died in 1999, provide grants of up to $4000 in advance to complete works of “critical, informed, analytical and creative journalism”.

This year the Bruce Jesson Foundation has awarded $3000 to Wellington-based Errol Wright and Abi King-Jones of CutCutCut Films for The 5th Eye, an investigation of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and its role in the global Five Eyes network.

The other $1000 goes to Auckland journalist and lawyer Catriona MacLennan for a report on the feasibility of adopting the living wage at Auckland Council.

The 5th Eye tells two stories in parallel – an investigation into the GCSB’s role in surveillance for the United States and its allies, and the 2008 break-in at the Waihopai spy base in Marlborough by three Catholic activists who successfully deflated a dome covering a satellite interception dish. Wright and King-Jones say the break-in was “a misadventure of sorts that saw the three almost fail in their mission through a series of mishaps and twists of fate”.

The footage was shot over the past seven years, and the Jesson grant will enable the film-makers to complete the edit in time for a 2016 release.

Catriona MacLennan’s report on the Living Wage aims to update a 2013 report on the feasibility of paying all Auckland Council workers and contractors at least the living wage – a pay rate high enough to support a couple with two children assuming that one parent works fulltime and one half-time. It is currently estimated to be $19.25 an hour. The minimum wage is $14.75 an hour.

In 2013 the council paid 1544 workers less than the living wage. At the same time it paid more than $100,000 to 1500 well-paid employees, a number that has risen to 1920 this year.

Wellington City Council has voted to support payment of a living wage both to contractors and employees but Auckland Council voted against a living wage.

In presenting Catriona MacLennan with her award, foundation chair Sir Edmund Thomas said he was well aware of her writings in the legal area and her journalism “invariably set the highest standard”.

The foundation has also given three Emerging Journalist Awards and $500 each this year to journalism students, all from Massey University in Wellington. They are:

Pantograph_Punch

Elizabeth Beattie’s story – available in full on Pantograph Punch.com – is a reflective account of her Nana’s struggles with mental illness, before the days of modern clinical and educational reform and understanding.

A mix of observation and personal reflection, the writer grants us a rare, inside view of mental illness, seen from within a family unit. How it manifests in – and effects – each relationship, is a fascinating and moving story.

From early in my childhood, I knew my Nana wasn’t like other Nanas. She never did baking with us on weekends, or read stories to us, and she wasn’t allowed to look after us on her own.

Instead, she would get up in a crowded Dunedin cafe and burst unexpectedly into song, her favourite choice being a quivering rendition of ‘Pokarekare Ana’. She would give impromptu speeches at public gatherings, and determinedly insert herself into formal photos of church elders. She once rang up a radio station and convinced the hosts that she was a former gold medalist in the Olympics. Once live on air, they only twigged something was amiss when she revealed to them live on air that she was well into in her seventies, and that she had a trapeze in her bedroom.

Marjorie Lusty spent much of her early life in and out of hospitals and asylums (including Seacliff Asylum – the institution that treated, and famously misdiagnosed, Janet Frame), struggling to find stability in a society that had yet to advance its understanding of mental illness and its treatment.

Her relationship with hospitals and institutions, and treatment in general, was paradoxical, something common among sufferers of Marjorie’s generation.

In Nana’s time, people experiencing mental illness who were subject to compulsory treatment were consulted as an afterthought to treatment, if at all. From 1935-39, only 22.4% of patients were institutionalised voluntarily, and although the number of voluntary admissions had increased to 47.5% in the period from 1955–59, mental healthcare treatment was still very much in its infancy. As some indication of attitudes, the size of the institutionalized population formed around half of all in-patients in the country.

It is this paradoxical relationship – between sufferer and treatment – that is most revealing. The writer shows us a woman who on the one hand craves independence, creativity and freedom, but must, on the other, often retreat to the calm and routine order of in-hospital care to combat overwhelming and uncontrollable feelings.

But when overwhelmed, Nana would often choose the structure of institutionalised care, sometimes without advance warning. And so my mum’s memories of Nana as a parent are scattered with her disappearances:

“She’d drive to Porirua Hospital and book herself in,” she recalls. “and I didn’t know her behaviour was abnormal, because I had nothing to compare it to.”

Through Elizabeth’s relationship with her Nana – who spent her later years living with the family full-time – we see how much the changes in treatment and understanding have effected people like Marjorie and their families. It’s a sad yet powerful reminder of how far we’ve come in treatment and perception.

For more details on the Bruce Jesson Foundation visit: www.brucejesson.com

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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues.
Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia’s FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand’s The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.

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