Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fear-Mongering, Propaganda and Poor Journalism in the New Zealand Herald

An article in the New Zealand Herald today was brought to my attention via Facebook, and to say the least I was quite shocked. The title of the article was "Sex at 14 - I learned all about it in class" by Elizabeth Binning. It (kind of) tells the story of a teenager from the Hibiscus Coast (North of Auckland) who is pregnant at the age of 17. 'Big deal' so far right? My gripes with the piece started right from the title, and continued through just about every single sentence all the way to the end.

The "Journalist" Elizabeth Binning is pushing for an anti-Sex-Ed angle throughout the whole story, which already shows her colours. Comprehensive sex education is demonstrably the best way of reducing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Abstinence-only education has proven to be a complete failure in the United States (Guardian) and has been ineffective in general (Wikipedia). People who push propaganda against teaching teenagers sexual and reproductive health are not only counter-productive but they are chewing away at the progress that has been made in many places.

Beyond the anti-sex-ed angle of the piece, it is very poorly written, and seems to indicate at one point in the article that the girl in question was raped. "I didn't wind up pregnant because I didn't attend a class. I know all about contraceptives and safe sex. It was purely the fact that I was drunk, it was New Year's, and some older male thought it would be fabulous to take advantage of me." But after emailing the editor expressing concern that the journalist didn't seem to care about the rape, an acquaintance of mine through my University feminist group received a reply that the girl was not raped, but rather that she was drunk and was deceived by the older male that 'pulling out' was an effective contraceptive method. Either way, it doesn't paint a very good picture of the man in question, and it would in my opinion have been much better to focus on that aspect of her story. I have heard it said that the general attitude towards rape in New Zealand is rather blasé, which I find extremely appalling. I believe our rape laws are in dire need of revision, but that is a discussion for another day.

Binning also quotes from this ignorant child as if she was an authority on the matter. No references to studies to back up what the girl is saying? No checking her story to see whether the health teacher at the school was actually getting kids to taste flavoured condoms? I don't know about you, but I'm simply not going to take the word of a 17 year old who got pregnant because she was lead to believed that 'pulling out' was an effective contraceptive method, when "She said teaching young teenagers about contraception won't help reduce New Zealand's high rate of teenage pregnancy rates." I'm sorry, but all the data goes the other way.

Here are some quotes from the article

"A pregnant teenager says sex education in schools does not prevent young people from having sex - if anything, it encourages it."

Really? Data please?

"Amber-Leigh has spoken out in the hope it may help other young teenagers to learn about the importance of having protected sex - or preferably waiting until they are older."

So how about educating them about contraception? I distinctly remember being told when I was 14 years old that "just pulling out doesn't work". Either she wasn't paying attention or her teacher was crap.

This article was not a one-off event either, recently Elizabeth Binning has written 4 "articles" with the same propaganda against sexual health education. Some of the others display even poorer journalistic integrity than the most recent one. Quoting from anonymous sources with no apparent fact-checking is indicative of at the very least an incompetent journalist, at worst someone pushing a dangerous agenda.
The titles of her other 3 articles are:
  • Too much 'grubby stuff', so dad steps in - No sources mentioned, story is about a father whose 12 year old son was supposedly recommended to engage oral sex by his sex-ed teacher. I call absolute bull shit.
  •  Sex ed shock for angry parents - "Children as young as 12 are being taught about oral sex and told it's acceptable to play with a girl's private parts as long as "she's okay with it"." I call Bull Shit!
  • Readers up in arms over sex education - "children as young as 12 are being taught about anal and oral sex and ...Children as young as 11 are being taught how to put condoms on cucumbers, and in some schools 14-year-old girls are practising on black plastic penises.
  • In one, a female teacher went as far as to give her class of 15-year-olds a rendition of the noises she makes during orgasm." I call BULL SHIT!
No sources are attributed to any of those claims.


  1. Maybe she's angling for a spot on FOX news?

  2. No sources are attributed to any of those claims.

    Well, of course not. This stuff is much more like the old blood libels about Jews eating Christian babies (or whatever they were supposed to do with them) than it is like actual news reporting. "Those people are coming to do weird stuff with your kids! Blind yourself with rage, go forth and destroy them!" Demonization doesn't need to be grounded in reality. It just needs to sound convincing to people who know very little about anyone different from themselves.