The Listener is back and in her editor’s letter, Pamela Stirling writes:
. . . At a time when debate is increasingly polarized and governments around the world, including our own, are acting by decree with sweeping powers that represent the greatest infringements on our civil liberties in living memory, the need for strong, respected and independent media is greater than ever.
What’s certain is that never again in a democracy like New Zealand should an award-winning and profitable current affairs publication like the Listener be so casually deemed “non-essential” by the central government. While we supported, in general, New Zealand’s stance in fighting COvid-19 we cannot, even now understand why magazines were the only products banned from the supermarkets.
This was just one of many examples where the arbitrary and contradictory essential shut down businesses which could have operated safely had safe been what governed decisions.
As the March lockdown began, the Listener was being produced remotely from home, with the same controlled and safe printing and distribution systems as newspapers. If the weekend papers with their insert magazines were permitted to publish weekly, why couldn’t we?
A conspiracy theorist might say this was politically motivated to shut down analysis, debate, and potential criticism.
I wouldn’t go that far. I think is was cock-up rather than conspiracy, the result of a government Which, contrary to the propaganda, did not go hard and early, but was late, lax and then harsh.
However, the outcome was the same – by decreeing only businesses it deemed essential could operate, it did shut down analysis, debate and potential criticism at a time when it was so very important.
The Listener’s 30,000 subscribers could simply have had their magazines delivered in their sanitiser plastic wrapping directly to their homes via post or courier as always. Retail copies could have been sold in supermarkets. Instead at a time when even cigarettes and alcohol were deemed essential items, the reckless dismissal of this 80 year-old New Zealand icon felt like cultural vandalism. . .
Cultural vandalism, and albeit by accident rather than design, political opportunism.
Some in the daily media have done, and continue to do, a very good job of holding the powerful to account. But we’ll never know what the more in-depth analysis that is possible with a weekly publication like the Listener and a monthly like the soon-to-be relaunched North and South, might have uncovered.
We’ll never know what we might have learned, what might have been different, what might have changed for the better, had their journalists been able to investigate and report.
But we can be grateful that they’re back and, as the editor’s letter shows, coming back strongly.