When spin doctors go bad



When Jack Nicholson bellowed that famous line in the 1992 movie, “A Few Good Men“, few would have thought that it would apply twenty years later; down under here in Godzone; but that this time the tables would be turned against an apologist for the Establishment.

Mark Unsworth – a right-wing lobbyist for a professional “government relations consultancy” company, Saunders Unsworth, seems to find difficulty “handling the truth”. Especially when that truth comes from respected and reknowned environmental scientist, Dr Mike Joy…

On 16 November, the New York Times carried a story on the upcoming release of “The Hobbit“. The article made reference to Tourism New Zealand’s publicity campaign centering around a supposedly   “100% pureNew Zealand” theme.

As we should all know by now, New Zealand is not  “100% pure”. In fact we probably haven’t been “100% pure” for several decades now.

Dr Joy stated as much and was duly quoted by New York Times,

There are almost two worlds in New Zealand. There is the picture-postcard world, and then there is the reality.”

Green MP, Eugenie Sage, backed up Dr Joy’s brutal truth, and was quoted in the same article (from a statement she made in Parliament last month),

We promote our country as 100 percent pure and 100 percent Middle Earth. But to swim in our rivers, which is the birthright of Kiwi kids — you cannot do it in the majority of the rivers that the Ministry for the Environment monitored.”

See: New Zealand’s Green Tourism Push Clashes With Realities

And you know what? They are telling the truth. The clear, unvarnished, simple truth.

As early as  July 2010, NIWA reported,

There is now considerable evidence that the combined effect of light exposure, bank damage by livestock, and poor water quality has substantially degraded the ecological health of pastoral streams. Nutrient enrichment, when combined with sediments and other stressors, can cause irreversible shifts in aquatic ecosystems, particularly in downstream lakes and estuaries.


The fact that some heavily polluted rivers – mostly in dairying areas – have turned the corner in recent years gives us cause for optimism for the future, says Dr Davies-Colley. For instance, the NRWQN shows water quality has improved in some Taranaki rivers and the Manawatu. A programme of widespread riparian fencing and planting in Taranaki probably explains most of the improvement there, he says.

But although science identified the effectiveness of these measures 15 years ago, implementation has been lacking, according to Mr Deans. “There’s a bit of fiddling while Rome burns, I’m afraid. Unless we take action, we’re going to see continuing water degradation and be in a worse position in five or ten years’ time.”

See: How clean are our rivers?

When we read articles in our own media such as this,


Full story


… then we know we have a serious problem.

The Herald article above revealed in no uncertain terms, that we were turning  our rivers  into open toilets,

The results showed water quality was poor or very poor at 52 per cent of monitored river sites.

A further 28 per cent were graded “fair” – with a risk of illness for those swimming there.

Only 20 per cent of monitored river recreation sites were graded good or very good.

Health effects from swallowing water tainted with faecal micro-organisms or other bacteria can be unpleasant. They include diarrhoea or vomiting, and infections of the eye, ear, nose and throat.

See: Ibid

The New York Times article simply mirrors what we already know; our dirty little secret. A “secret” that is becoming more widely known with modern communications and tourists spreading the word,

But New Zealand’s reputation as a pristine place might not be exactly warranted. Since European colonization 150 years ago, as much as 90 percent of the country’s original wetlands have been drained to make way for towns, farms and roads. The wetlands are considered to be of international importance for supporting numerous species of birds, fish and plants.

For creatures like the black stilt, which lives in such places, it may be too late. There are only about 100 left, making it possibly the rarest wading bird in the world. It is just one species out of the 2,800 that the country’s Department of Conservation considers endangered.

In 2008, New Zealand ranked first among 146 countries in Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index , which ranks countries on the quality of their environmental policies. The report compares international data on criteria like habitat loss, greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and protected marine areas.

In 2012, however, the country slipped to 14th. New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, half of which are caused by the agriculture industry, are the fifth-highest per capita among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the association of free-market democracies. Most other countries in the O.E.C.D. have managed to reduce per capita emissions, but New Zealand’s have increased 23 percent since 1990 — from about 66 million tons of carbon dioxide in 1990 to about 83 million tons in 2009, according the country’s Environment Ministry .

Pure Advantage, a nonprofit group promoting green business, estimates that the country will overtake the United States in per capita emissions in less than eight years, putting it almost into the world’s top 10. But total emissions in New Zealand, which has a population of 4.4 million, are far lower than those of the United States, with 312 million people.

This month, New Zealand refused to commit to a second round of emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 international agreement on reduction of greenhouse gases. Instead, it will align with several of the world’s largest emitters, including the United States, China and India, in negotiating an alternative agreement. That could be approved by 2015 and in effect by 2020.

This is a day of shame for New Zealand. Our reputation as a good international citizen has taken a massive hit, Moana Mackey, a member of Parliament who is the climate change spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, said in a statement.

See: New Zealand’s Green Tourism Push Clashes With Realities

Indeed, this very issue came up in a BBC  interview last year when Dear Leader was challenged by Steven Sackur about our supposedly “clean and green” and “100% pure” image,


See @ 10:50


Key dismissed Dr Joy’s research as “Mike Joy’s view“.

Since when is a river too filthy to swim in considered a “viewpoint“?

For Mark Unsworth to then send this offensively-worded email, criticising Dr Joy’s research,

From: Mark Unsworth [mark@sul.co.nz]
Sent: Wednesday, 21 November 2012 12:15 a.m.
To: Joy, Mike
Subject: Ego Trip

Dear Dr Joy
Is your ego so great that you feel the need to sabotage all the efforts made by those promoting tourism in NZ because of your passionate views on the environment ?
You have the right to hold strong views but you ,as an academic whose salary is paid for by others taxes, must also act responsibly .
Letting your ego run riot worldwide in the manner you did can only lead to lower levels of inbound tourism.

You may not care given your tenure in a nice comfy University lounge ,but to others this affects income and jobs.
Give that some thought next time you feel the need to see your name in print in New York .And possibly think of changing your name from Joy to Misery-its more accurate
Mark Unsworth”

See: Facebook Page

…   is not just the hallmark of a narrow-minded person – but the height of futility.

Abusing a scientist doesn’t clean up the Manawatu River and make it suitable for swimming in.

Using gross insults such as “you guys are the foot and mouth disease of the tourism industry‘ will not change the tonnes of CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, etc, that we daily spew into the air.

And what does it mean to say “you have the right to hold strong views but you ,as an academic whose salary is paid for by others taxes, must also act responsibly” ?

Is Mr Unsworth suggesting that anyone paid by the taxpayer should keep the truth to him/herself? Isn’t that what authoritarian regimes try to do; squash dissenting opinions and hide facts from everyone?

And since when is detecting, recording, and reporting levels of pollution “holding strong views“?

If the pollution of waterways like the Manawatu simply a “strong view“, I challenge Mr Unsworth to drink a glass of  ‘water’ from that river. (Note: have a medic with a stomach-pump standing by.)

Mr Unsworth; when it comes to choosing whether to believe an environmental scientist whose purpose it is to seek the truth about human impacts on our land and waterways  –  or to believe a spin doctor like you, who is paid to tell us whatever your employers want us to hear – who do you think we’ll believe?

Can you guess?

It beggers belief that someone with Mr Unsworth supposed education (?) cannot grasp a simple, inescapable fact; the truth about our degraded environment and poisoned rivers cannot be hidden.  People are not fools, and eventually the truth will out.

The NY Times has called us on our claim to be “100% Pure”. The bullshit has, literally, hit the fan.

So what are we going to do about it?

Sulk and malign the messengers of the truth?

Or get our act together and clean up the mess that we, ourselves, have made in our own country?

Time to roll up our sleeves, Mr Unsworth…





NZ Herald Editorial: Green growth potential not to be wasted

NIWA: How clean are our rivers?


New York Times: New Zealand’s Green Tourism Push Clashes With Realities

NZ Herald: Lobbyist stands by ‘ego trip’ email

Other blogs

The New Zealand story: 100% pooer!



= fs =

  1. Theodore
    24 November 2012 at 7:43 pm

    Perhaps Unsworth thinks that by burying his head in the sand, it’ll all just go away? Or did someone PAY him to slag of Dr Joy??

  2. Samwise
    25 November 2012 at 11:01 am

    Unsworth is in serious denial.

  3. Citizen Gee
    30 November 2012 at 5:54 pm

    Unsworth can take a hike.

  4. Sally's husband
    16 December 2012 at 12:29 am

    I think Mr Unsworth needs to think a lot longer before he opens his mouth. He’s a nasty little fellow with an over-sized ego.

    My respect is for Dr Joy who calls it like it is, without fear or favour.

  1. 27 November 2012 at 10:11 pm
  2. 9 January 2013 at 5:35 pm
  3. 10 January 2013 at 10:18 am
  4. 29 January 2013 at 2:00 am
  5. 13 May 2014 at 8:00 am
  6. 23 May 2015 at 8:01 am
  7. 18 August 2016 at 8:01 am
  8. 26 August 2016 at 8:02 am
  9. 28 February 2017 at 2:40 pm
  10. 5 March 2017 at 8:03 am

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