Fear has been one of the weapons the government has used to persuade people to adhere to restrictions imposed in an effort to keep the country Covid-free.
It worked and the experience overseas helped fuel the fears.
Some people are still frightened and given that it was only last month we were told 8,000 people might die, that is understandable.
But this week the message changed and we were told that hospitals wouldn’t be overwhelmed.
That is good news, but can we rely on the new message?
Wise people change their minds when the facts change but it is becoming harder to distill the facts from the spin, especially when yesterday we learned that the vaccine taskforce had a big PR role:
. . . The group was to buy enough doses of emerging vaccines to inoculate the population against Covid-19. And it was also to help compose and promote a favourable narrative about those purchases. . .
Along the way, the public was fed a soothing version of events shaped by outside PR help, the funds for which the Cabinet signed off in May.
Karl Ferguson, a full-time public relations specialist and serial government contractor, through his firm, Arkus Communications, was paid some $133,600 to work with the taskforce, for what MBIE describes as four months of full-time work (contacted by the Herald, Ferguson declined to comment on the work). It bears noting that it wasn’t until August 10 that Cabinet funded Belly Gully negotiators and any actual vaccine purchasing. . .
What does it say about the government’s priorities when PR funding was approved in May, three months before funds for negotiators and purchasing were signed off?
What the Government got from Ferguson was communications that controlled and shaped the flow of information around vaccine procurement. Some of the work entailed co-ordinating the public relations teams across different government agencies, and some of it involved gauging the public’s appetite for vaccines and promoting their ultimate use.
But Ferguson’s work also created Ministers’ messaging, and helped to time and promote it in politicised ways, both through the media and through commentators in wider civil society. Its ultimate effect was to achieve a singular and flattering version of events. It is a picture that emerges from a range of government documents, primarily MBIE’s weekly report for the vaccine strategy, sent to Ministers, and released under the provisions of the Official Information Act.
The report for September 11 notes that Ferguson was even working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFAT) in order to alert Ministers and officials of developments abroad – likely the signing of advance purchase agreements for vaccines – that might prompt pointed questions about why New Zealand had none at the time. . .
What does it say about the government’s priorities that PR and politics came before purchasing enough vaccine to protect all of us who wanted it?
Revelations that the Government used PR spin to deceive New Zealanders and mask its failure in securing the Covid vaccine is a disgrace, says Leader of the Opposition Judith Collins.
“That the Government started funding expensive spin doctors three months before it bothered to fund anyone to negotiate to buy the vaccines shows exactly where its priorities lay.
“At a time when the public needed the truth about what was being done to manage the biggest public health issue facing New Zealand and the world, the Government was deceiving us all by using PR and spin to hide its failings.
“Instead of getting on and securing the vaccine as quickly as possible, as the Prime Minister assured us was happening, the Government was in fact focused on spinning the message to shape the story around its failure to get a deal for the vaccine.
“It misled experts and used them as pawns in what was nothing short of cynical, manipulative and dangerous politicking designed to fool New Zealanders and cover up for their ineptitude.
“Ministers were carefully scripted – in short, told how to lie – about how vaccine procurement was going and to create the deceit that everything was going well.
“The truth is procurement wasn’t going well. Despite being told otherwise, New Zealand was in fact a long way behind our peers in the queue to get the vaccine, and the Government knew it.
“But, with the 2020 election on the horizon, the Government couldn’t afford to have New Zealanders know the truth about its failures, so it carefully stage-managed a PR campaign funded by taxpayers to fool us.
“Had the Government put half the effort into actually procuring the vaccine as they did on creating spin and lying to the public, we wouldn’t have had the slowest vaccine rollout in the developed world and more than a million Aucklanders wouldn’t be stuck in an ongoing and draconian lockdown.
“Jacinda Ardern must take responsibility for this deceit. New Zealanders deserve an explanation and an apology.”
Had the vaccine rollout been started earlier and more widely, had the government learned from the experience in other countries and its own mistakes, the latest lockdowns may well have been avoided.
Mike Hosking explains what went wrong:
. . . We were a bit slow on the lock down, but not alarmingly slow.
So that’s a good start. The rest, sadly, has been a mess.
From PPE gear, to testing kits, to vaccine roll outs, to MIQ, to decisions that weren’t made, borders that got breached, to the current shambles we find ourselves in.
It’s been a trail of haphazard unprofessionalism and needless economic and social damage.
For a brief period, we shone globally, and the Government basked in it, and that was a crime in itself. Their own arrogance led them to become dangerously complacent. . .
Last year’s first lockdown secured us time and eventually freedom within New Zealand. But there were warning right from the start that, like a lot of this government’s other initiatives, the spin wasn’t matched by substance.
Sir Bob Jones says:
. . . The gross mismanagement of Covid will mark this government as the most incompetent in our post-war history. Sadly, authoritarian governments are now the norm world-wide as the evidence is clear that a sizeable timorous section of populations like being told what to do. That’s certainly true of New Zealand. . .
Frankly, I fear for New Zealand as the disastrous economic and social legacy of this government will take a decade to repair.
Some people are still fearful but there’s a growing number who are becoming more and more frustrated, and not only those in Auckland who are now 10 weeks into lockdown.