New Zealand government threatens watchblog

by Bene Diction on January 25, 2007

Politicians put their feet in their mouth every day.
So it takes a fair bit of rhetoric to get my attention.

New Zealand Chief Executive of Ministry of Social Development, Head of CYFS New Zealand, Peter Hughes got my attention with some serious foot in mouth.
And I think he deserves more attention.
Around the world would be nice.
Not just for what he said, but for why he is saying it and what he is doing about it.

It involves a blog that has been up for about a month. It’s raw, it’s anonymous and among other things it posts emails from families that have heartbreaking and enraging encounters with CYFS. It is what is called a name and shame blog. It is not unlike rate your teacher or rate your doctor, only it’s a lot harder to read because it involves families and children colliding with a bureaucracy. There is an online forum called panic.org.nz that deals with similar issues, but this blog has started to get New Zealanders talking.

Hughes is furious, and blew up in the media.

…”do whatever is necessary to get rid of this website”.

“We will be working 24/7 until that is done,” he said.

While lawyers scrambled to obey, within hours the Social Workers Registration Union put up a press release. Newspapers have been threatened if they put up the link.
And Hughes made good on his threat today, as this becomes the perfect information storm.

Hughes has dispatched lawyers to Google demanding the site be shut down.

Government lawyers have gone to the internet giant Google in their bid to shut down a website that “names and shames” Child, Youth and Family Services social workers.

Auckland lawyer Andrew Tetzlaff, who has acted in the past for a Google subsidiary, confirmed yesterday that Ministry of Social Development lawyers had contacted him because the site had been set up using Google’s Blogger technology.

He said he had no continuing involvement with the company and had simply passed on the ministry’s messages to a Google contact in the United States.

Ministry chief executive Peter Hughes vowed on Tuesday to get rid of the website.

By late yesterday, 44 postings had named 40 CYFS social workers, lawyers and others involved in taking children from their parents. Most postings were from parents, although some were from relatives, friends and children themselves.

There are 81 posts now, and they may not be up much longer.
It is entirely possible and probable Google will comply, after all as a private company, they have no dog in this fight. The only people that can really speak up about this are New Zealanders. And in the perfect information storm, different interests, concerns and needs are diverging.

When a government official threatens the media about linking to a site, when they dispatch their legal people to Google with demands for immediate removal, it gets people talking.

Opinions about CYFS Watchblog are understandably mixed, frustration levels are rising, chatter is increasing…

One of the things that disturbs me is that New Zealand does not have an independent review board for the cases mentioned at panic forum and at the watchblog.

Of the 5314 children in care at the end of last June, about half of them are Maori. The Children’s Commissioner received 343 complaints about the service in the year to June and another 56 complaints went to the Ombudsmen.

Many vulnerable families are not getting redress - which is what the watch blog is saying. Contrary to early media reports this week the blog is not run by disgruntled parents, but it is run anonymously. Why it is, is said very starkly on the sidebar.

In the perfect information storm that has kicked up this week, the needs and stories of the children and families could once again be getting lost because a politician wants what he wants when he wants it; and Hughes has made no bones he will use all his power at his disposal to see he gets it.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1

John 01.28.07 at 2:49 am

Threaten blogs in free nations generally doesn’t work out to well.

Doesn’t Hughes realize how totalitarian he sounds?

2

J 01.28.07 at 4:32 am

Does he realize that going public just draws attention to the issue? Or that the threats he’s making guarantee that the site will be mirrored all over the place?

In fairness, here in the US, posting personal information (addresses and such) would probably run into legal problems, though I think names would be OK. I wonder if Google will play ball or decide NZ is a small enough market that they can afford to play free speech crusader to offset their activities in China.

3

Bene Diction 01.28.07 at 6:22 am

Given the regret Google’s people are expressing at Davos (again about China) - the response from Google has been measured in this instance.

I think Google has frozen the site, but as I write this it isn’t down.

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/organisation/story.cfm?o_id=256&objectid=10420946

A couple of key New Zealand columnists are being quite critical of blogging today - it’s a case of tradtional media really not using or understanding the medium, they tend to only link to two blogs with any regularity and are in the frame of mind to shoot the messengers.:^)

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