RNZ introducing sign language

01/04/2022

RNZ plans to introduce sign language to its news bulletins and other programmes.

Ms Verily Woke, head of diversity and inclusion for the broadcaster said it was insulting to the hard of hearing and deaf that only two of Aotearoa New Zealand’s official languages were used on the radio.

“This is an exciting innovation which we believe is a first for radio anywhere in the world,” she said.

”I’m cognisant of the risk that some or our audience may be turned off by this practice and will then turn us off as a result. But wouldn’t the motu benefit from the occasional few minutes of silence?

“And frankly, people who aren’t open minded enough to do the mahi that will be required to keep up, aren’t the audience we want.

“For some time now we’ve been aiming for quality rather than quantity when it comes to listeners, those who share our world view.

“We know threading te reo through our news bulletins, interviews and opinion pieces has turned off the lazier listenership. But those who have stuck with us, educated and upskilled to understand everything we’re saying, and undoubtedly agree with it, will remain loyal.

“We’ll leave communication everyone can understand to commercial stations  that have to sully themselves with advertising which is quite different from us bowing to the dictates of our political masters who fund us.”

MS Woke said the initial trial of sign language began after the midnight news this morning and will run until noon.


Mallard must go

18/02/2022

The Free Speech Union has launched a petition calling on Parliament to remove Trevor Mallard as Speaker:

“Trevor Mallard’s conduct during the protest has degraded the office he occupies. His instruction to journalists not to engage with protestors shows a disdain for fundamental democratic principles,” says Free Speech Union spokesperson, Jonathan Ayling.

“The Press Gallery literally exists to report on parliamentary news and events. Dictating to them how they may report on a story is an unacceptable restriction on press freedom which has a critical role in our democracy, now more than ever. Freedom of the press is founded on free speech, and it protects our basic liberties by giving us access to credible information.”

“It was especially alarming to hear the Speaker made the Press Gallery Chair relay to Barry Soper that there would be ‘consequences’ if he continued to ignore his instruction – that is to say, if he continued to do his job as a member of the free and independent media.”

“Similar comments by a Minister at another time would rightly result in the Prime Minister demanding their resignation. The Speaker’s disdain for democracy is palpable. Only his removal can restore dignity to his office.”

You can sign the petition here.


Closed and opaque

08/02/2022

Anna Fifield asks when did our public service get so arrogant?:

But open government appears to be on the wane. This is partly because of the growth in the “communications industrial complex”, where vast battalions of people now work to deflect and avoid, or answer in the most oblique manner possible. We journalists are vastly outnumbered by spin doctors.

And it is partly because of the very tight media ship captained by Jacinda Ardern. The prime minister has won plaudits the world over for her empathetic and straightforward communication style.

But it’s an artfully crafted mirage, as my colleague Andrea Vance wrote last year. “At every level, the Government manipulates the flow of information,” she wrote.

When I was writing about New Zealand’s response to the pandemic for The Washington Post, almost every minister or ministry I contacted for an interview responded with a variation on: I’ll need to check with the prime minister’s office.

Since coming home, I’ve been surprised by the lack of access to ministers outside carefully choreographed press conferences. . .

What’s happened to that promise to be the most open and transparent government?

Perhaps the most alarming, and certainly the most prevalent, trend I’ve noticed is the almost complete refusal of government departments and agencies to allow journalists to speak to subject experts.

Like, you know, the people who are actually implementing complicated reforms and know what they are talking about.

Instead, all questions go through the communications unit, and almost always via email. That means we have no opportunity to ask for clarification or follow-ups or even to get answers in plain English. We often just get insufficient answers written in bureaucratese.

There is no opportunity to get them to put their words in a more digestible form. There’s no opportunity to ask them to explain the background to a decision.

There’s certainly no chance to ask them anything like a probing question. That, of course, is the whole point of this stonewalling.

Just as there’s rarely a chance to ask Ministers anything like a probing question.

I would have thought it was in the Government’s interest to get across its talking points and try to frame the conversation. Apparently not.

Don’t even get me started on the disrespect for the Official Information Act.

This obfuscation and obstruction is bad for our society for two key reasons.

One: It’s in everyone’s interest to have journalists understand the complicated subjects they’re writing about. We need to ask questions. We can’t explain things we don’t understand.

Two: It’s called the public service for a reason. They work for the public, aka you. It is the job of the Fourth Estate to hold the powerful to account. So we should be able to ask reasonable questions – like “When will the $1.25 billion Transmission Gully motorway open?” – and expect something that at least resembles an answer.

This column was published just two days before we found out that contrary to the Director General of Health’s assertions, the Ministry did requisition rapid antigen tests (RATs) that were already in the country:

The Ministry of Health has backtracked on a claim by director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield that tests requisitioned from private businesses were not already in New Zealand when the Ministry took them.

Last month, when news broke that the Ministry was requisitioning tests ordered by private companies for its own stocks, Bloomfield said private and public orders of the tests were being “consolidated” into one order for the Government.

Bloomfield twice assured the public that tests taken by the Ministry were “forward orders” from overseas, not tests already in New Zealand.

“Many businesses already have tests onshore and we’re not requisitioning those or doing anything like that,” Bloomfield said.

This was only partly correct. While tests from one of the manufacturers, Abbott, were not being requisitioned, tests from another manufacturer, Roche, very much were.

He added, “we have discussed with our three main suppliers which are Abbott, Roche and Siemens, that forward orders of tests that haven’t arrived in the country be consolidated into the Government’s stock so that it is there for the whole country including private businesses”.

While no stocks of Abbott tests that are already in the country have been requisitioned, a substantial stock of Roche tests have been, a fact the Ministry now admits. . . 

Did someone in the Ministry withhold information from the DG, mislead or lie to him?

National’s Covid-19 spokesman Chris Bishop said the Government had been “tricky” on the issue of RATs “right from the start”.

“They have used sophistry and deliberately confusing language to hide what happened here,” Bishop said.

“Which is that the Government nicked tests from the private sector because they were too incompetent to order their own,” he said.

When asked about the requisitioning fiasco, Bloomfield and ministers tend to answer with reference to Abbott’s tests, which had not been requisitioned.

This was despite no companies with Abbott tests on order actually alleging their orders had been taken. The two largest firms who complained their tests had been taken, InScience and Health Works Group, both ordered Roche products.

In a press conference last month, instead of answering what had happened to the missing Roche tests, Bloomfield answered questions relating to Abbott tests – tests which no one had reported as being stolen. . . 

Was he deliberately giving misleading answers or did he simply not know? This is unfortunately reminiscent of the assertions that there was enough PPE when health workers were saying there wasn’t, and it was they who were proved right.

In a neat coincidence, the column was published on the same day Sir Ian Taylor wrote that the non-transparent government was trying to muzzle him:

On Friday in a conference call to discuss a self-isolation programme that I had sent to MBIE two weeks ago, I was stunned by Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall’s opening line that only the Government or a Government-approved agency could communicate anything to do with the proposal from here on, and that “Sir Ian” was to refrain from writing “bad faith” articles for the Herald.

Given that everyone else in the meeting was either a government official or already part of a government group, it was clear these pre-meeting conditions were aimed solely at me.

I accept totally the concept of Chatham House rules when it comes to meetings such as this. The idea that I would not have honoured that most basic of principles is demeaning and something I take extremely seriously.

It was for that reason I left the meeting before it began.

I have finally realised that this is not a Government that wishes to consult transparently and openly or even make any concessions that it has made mistakes over the past two years. It is not one that seriously wants the input of people who are offering to help them from off the bench and they have made it very clear now that any advice offered will be conditional upon them controlling the messaging. . . 

Remember that promise to be the most open and transparent government ever?

It’s yet another where the words have been made lies by the actions, or lack of them.

Rather than being the most open and transparent this government is closed and opaque and the public service, which is supposed to be apolitical, has been infected by the same lack of transparency.

 

 

 

 


Black Heels and Tractor Wheels – Rowena Duncum

05/01/2022

Black Heels and Tractor Wheels Podcasts are a Rural Women NZ initiative in which they share stories from a range of women around New Zealand.

Rowena was a dairy farmer and won the Taranaki Farm Manager of the Year. She swapped her red bands for radio and has been the executive producer of The COuntry since 2016.


Sneering at success

03/12/2021

Journalism reached another low yesterday with the breathless reporting on National leader Chris Luxon’s property portfolio.

Had he acquired them through crime or by luck, owning seven houses – four of which are his family home, a crib, an apartment in Wellington and his electorate office – it would indeed be a story.

But there is no question about how he was able to buy them.  He got an education then used it, his ability and personality, to succeed in well paid jobs and invested wisely.

Media attention wasn’t just on the number of houses, it then focused on his family home and that he didn’t know its value.

How many people know their houses are worth unless they are planning to sell them?

In spite of at least one journalist trying to blame Luxon for the increased value of his home, it’s government policies and the Reserve Bank which have fueled the steep rise in house prices all over the country.

But why attack someone for their wealth anyway?

Journalists ought to be celebrating success, not sneering at it.

How much better we all would be if more people were successful and if that was shown as something to aspire to, not something to criticise.

If the media had even a passing interest in balance, they might have pointed out that Luxon took a massive pay cut when he entered parliament which shows he’s not in it for the money.

Apropos of which, wouldn’t it be interesting to know how many other MPs took a pay cut and how many got a pay rise?

Don’t hold your breath waiting to find out which other MPs earned more before they got to parliament than they do now and how many earn more in their current job than they did in previous ones.

That wouldn’t suit the media agenda and the modus operandi of journalists about which Karl du Fresne writes:

Trapping politicians, baiting them, trying to catch them out and make them look silly, hypocritical or indecisive … that’s what now passes for political journalism. And of course the journalists always come out on top, because they can set themselves up as judge and jury, are responsible to no one, pay no penalty when they get things wrong  (as they frequently do) and always have the last word.

What’s more, they’re highly selective about whose feet they hold to the fire. Luxon wields no real power at this stage of his political career, yet he’s subjected to far tougher treatment than the sainted prime minister, who clearly enjoys immunity from difficult questions. But most New Zealanders still believe in giving people (even conservative politicians) a fair go, and the media are probably doing far more damage to themselves than to Luxon.

Journalists usually rank at or near the bottom of trusted occupations and the blatantly biased way the media has focused on Luxon’s faith and finances shows why.


Some religions more equal

02/12/2021

As the likelihood of Chris Luxon leading National grew, so too did criticism of his religion.

Almost every interview since he became leader canvassed that and most did it as if they were investigating something foreign and somewhat suspect.

Am I the only one to see the irony of this from people who don’t question the imposition of prayers in Maori at many official events or the annual mixing of church and state with the political pilgrimage to Ratana?

Does anyone doubt the questioning would be much softer, the suspicion much less overt and more polite for Christians if they were also Maori or Pacifica?

Who doubts that they would be far gentler on an adherent of another faith, and that being an atheist or agnostic would have gone unremarked?

These days, some religions are more equal than others.

Simon Bridges made this point in his memoir National Identity (p261):

Note that I say Christinas are the new pariahs. . . For some reason, Kiwis today are more comfortable with religions that our culture has traditionally had little to do with than they are with the religion our has traditionally had little to do with than they are with the religion our country was founded on . . 

Overall though, officially, New Zealand has become a post-Christian secular society. Your average Governor-General would choke on her cucumber sandwiches were a prayer or Bible reading incorporated. Well, with one very significant exception. In recent years with the public renaissance of Maori culture, most public events will have a religious dimension in a Maori parry or karakia. . . There is an exquisite irony in what’s happened here. Our public servants and civic leaders, who’d spit on the ground during a Pakeha’s Christian prayer, beam like Cherhire Cats when the same is done in te reo. I love this. God works in mysterious ways and he clearly has a sense of humour. . . 

Those haranguing – and that’s not too strong a word – Chris Luxon on his religion and views on conscience issues like abortion, euthanasia and conversion theory – would be most unlikely to question people of other faiths so belligerently.

Perhaps they’ve forgotten, if they ever knew, just how much our culture and laws owe to Judeo-Christian mores.

And what does it say about them that Luxon’s Christianity is far more an issue than Jacinda Ardern’s socialism?


Pravda Project at work

01/10/2021

Is the media biased?

I can understand reluctance to give any oxygen to conspiracy theories, but it is possible to write a story on this extraordinary response without doing that.

 

Could the reluctance to report this have anything to do with the Public Interest Journalism Fund which Karl du Fresne calls the Pravda Project.

. . . Judith Collins and David Seymour were putting the heat on Jacinda Ardern over Labour’s so-called Public Interest Journalism Fund. Collins wanted to know whether the fund – applicants for which must commit to Treaty principles and support for te reo, among other things – was influencing the editorial decisions of media outlets. Seymour more pointedly asked what would happen to a media outlet that had accepted money from the fund but wanted to report something deemed inconsistent with Treaty principles.

Ardern brushed off the questions as if they weren’t worthy of an answer, but that’s by the bye. What interests me is whether the exchange in the House was reported by any media outlet that has accepted, or has its hand out for, money from the fund.

This highlights another potentially disturbing and insidious aspect of the media slush fund. Can we expect mainstream media outlets to report criticism of the fund or possible revelations and concerns about its misuse, or will that be left to independent journalists such as Adams?  

You see what’s happening here? I’m already wondering whether the media are choosing to ignore stories about the fund that might not reflect favourably on it or them. The mere fact that it’s necessary to ask this question shows how media companies compromise their credibility by accepting money from a highly politicised government agency.  

Incidentally, “Public Interest Journalism Fund” strikes me as a bit of a mouthful, and time-consuming to type, besides. So I’m giving it a shorter, punchier name: the Pravda Project, after the old Soviet Union’s esteemed official press organ, on the assumption that the PIJF will exhibit the same fearless independence and unstinting commitment to the truth. 

Michael Basset has similar concerns:

. . . The availability of money, coupled with a completely absent sense of constitutional propriety, appear to offer the divine intervention Ardern and Robertson need going forward. Their gig is to bribe the media in the run-up to the next election in the hope that they will save Labour. This is happening in two ways. First, the direct distribution of cash from the Public Interest Journalism Fund aimed at keeping the media on side until the next election. All the big daily papers have dipped into it already, and applications are now open for a further swag of taxpayer money. The second way the government is trying to keep the media on side is by over-paying them for printing the masses of Covid announcements. I’m reliably informed that the government negotiated none of the regular discounts available to those who advertise on a grand scale in newspapers and TV. The expectation is that none of the media greedies will bite the government hand that feeds them. Or not very hard.

If my information is correct, it is corruption, pure and simple. In normal circumstances there would be rebellion. But in the topsy-turvy world of this pandemic, I’m not sure that anyone any longer cares much about constitutional propriety.

Privately owned media has a lot more leeway in what it chooses to report and how it reports it.

But publicly owned media has a much greater responsibility to be balanced and fair.

Regardless of whether its privately owned or publicly, the Pravda Project makes it look like the media is softer on the government and harder on the opposition which leads it wide open to accusations of bias.


To name or not to name

14/09/2021

To name or not to name the couple who left Auckland and went to Wanaka, is a question before the court:

The Free Speech Union is calling for the couple – one reportedly a child of a Government official – who breached lockdown not to have name suppression says Free Speech Union spokesperson, and lawyer, Stephen Franks.

Both are adults, their parents and what any of them do ought not to be relevant.

“Name suppression will be the worst move for the Auckland couple charged with a cunning move to Wanaka via Hamilton. There are no good reasons for name suppression, and three bad ones.

“First, shame – the fear that your hypocrisy or lying will be uncovered should be a primary deterrent.

“Second, shame should be the main punishment for a ‘social’ crime. Police resources and court time are wasted in such cases, which would not be true if the community were able to impose a more natural and automatic punishment and if Stuff was free to publish what it ‘knew’. Insider arrogance and the love of having ‘secret knowledge’ lies behind much of our substitution of police and court resources for open reporting.

“Thirdly, in this case name suppression will be an own goal. The Streisand effect will operate eventually even if the defendants are tempted by the thought that they can hide their shame behind a court order, and even if the QC gets them a discharge based on some technicality.

“Effectiveness of community consensus against contagion depends on the restrictions being seen as fair. Name suppression will contribute to suspicion, that the elite don’t think the cost of lockdown, let alone the health risks of Covid spreading, outweighs an embarrassment cost to some of them scoffing at the law. We need to see the law being enforced, with details that will deter others.

“We, the public, should know. Freedom of speech is our right to know, not just journalists’ right to tell us. Free speech protects us from potential hypocrisy of powerful insiders. We need to see immediately that we are indeed equal before the law. And true remorse or contrition would have the people charged not trying to hide behind an application that is a byword for privilege.”

Yesterday afternoon I read that the couple’s lawyer was seeking name suppression.

A very few hours later I knew the couple’s names which left me none the wiser as I know neither. Several posts on social media show that lots of other people know too.

A suppression order would stop publication but it couldn’t make those who already know the names unknow them.

I agree with the FSU’s arguments against suppression, but the decision on granting it or not is up to the court.

You are welcome to debate the issue but any comments that attempt to share the names or identifying information will be deleted.


Rural round-up

29/07/2021

‘Groundswell’ expose rural/urban divide in media – Colin Peacock:

At the biggest national protest for years last week, farmers made it clear they are unhappy with the government and they feel unloved by the country – and the media. 

In one sense, the Groundswell protests in 55 towns and cities on 16 July last were poorly timed for farmers. 

It was not a great time to be away with heavy rain on the way that caused flooding in many places the next day. 

But in media terms, the timing was great.  . . 

Farmers’ Howl of a protest should have been front page news in all NZ newspapers – Shane Reti:

Why was one of the biggest protests of recent times relegated to the back pages of print media?

My expectation for print media on the first publishing day after the march (on Saturday, July 17) was that a protest of that breadth and size would have front-page coverage in the major metropolitan and regional newspapers.

I was surprised, then, when one of the biggest weekend papers relegated substantive reporting (assessed as page coverage) to page 5 behind a $20,000 fraud story on page 1, whiteware sales on pages 2 and 3 and free meals for schoolchildren on page 4.

Was a protest about land and fresh water and taxes really less important than whiteware sales? . .

Frustrated farmers ‘giving up’ on costly native bush restoration– Amber Allott:

On the other side of Banks Peninsula from bustling Christchurch, a sprawling, 1250-hectare forest runs almost from hill to sea.

Botanist Hugh Wilson has been restoring Hinewai Reserve from farmland to native bush since 1987 and it stands as a testament to what “letting nature get on with it” can achieve.

Hinewai sucks about 8 tonnes of carbon a hectare from the atmosphere each year and earns about $100,000 a year under the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

But the reserve registered for carbon credits before the ETS existed and now similar gorse-covered blocks slated for natural regeneration are having trouble qualifying for much-needed cash. . . 

Standing up for wintering practices – Blair Drysdale:

Recent photos of wintering practices in Southland has Blair Drysdale responding to the trial by media.

In general it’s the same group of people wanting dairy cows inside, who also campaign for pigs and hens to be outside.

Winter certainly has its challenges but it’s a very reliable season as it’s just damned cold every day and that suits me just fine. As farmers though, and especially those with breeding livestock, we like all the inclement weather with its southerly snowstorms to arrive now and not in spring.

The challenges are very real given we’re having a wetter than average winter which on the back of a dry autumn meant winter crops are below average, putting pressure on livestock and farmer.

Throw in some sneaky covert photography of stock on winter crops that get plastered over social and mainstream media by a few environmental activists and it is a pressure cooker situation for some farmers. The reality is that if they were genuinely concerned about animal welfare MPI would be their first port of call. . . 

Shedding sheep – wool you or won’t you? – Lee Matheson:

Are shedding sheep the answer to the wool industry’s woes? Lee Matheson, managing director at agricultural consulting firm Perrin Ag, investigates.

A perfect storm has been brewing.

Low wool prices, increasing shearing costs, dilapidated wool harvesting infrastructure (historically known as woolsheds), a tightening labour pool and an apparent lack of consumer recognition of wool’s inherent values and performance as a fibre, are all contributing to increasing moves towards shedding sheep.

It is a potentially divisive and emotive topic when raised with sheep farmers. . . 

Milking opportunities for dairy markets  :

Technical barriers remain a key challenge for Australian exporters seeking to expand market access across the region.

Dairy Australia have been awarded a $310,000 grant from the Australian Government to reduce technical barriers to trade across six markets in South East Asia.

Minister for Agriculture and Northern Australia David Littleproud said the grant would enable dairy exporters to build on our trade agreements.

“What this grant will do is identify and reduce the impact of technical barriers to trade,” Minister Littleproud said. . . 

 


Govt PR vs media, no contest

08/06/2021

Remember Jacinda Ardern’s promise to be the most open and transparent New Zealand had ever seen?

Andrea Vance writes that her promise to be open and transparent is an artfully crafted mirage:

. . . In her first formal speech to Parliament she pledged: “This government will foster a more open and democratic society. It will strengthen transparency around official information.”

Since then the numbers of faceless communications specialists have skyrocketed. The Government’s iron grip on the control of information has tightened.

And it is now harder than ever to get information. . .

In my 20-year plus time as a journalist, this Government is one of the most thin-skinned and secretive I have experienced. Many of my colleagues say the same.

Even squeezing basic facts out of an agency is a frustrating, torturous and often futile exercise. . . 

Such stonewalling might be common-place in dictatorships. It’s not supposed to happen in a democracy.

Vance gives examples of the difficulty she, and other journalists have, in getting information and notes why:

It’s now very difficult for journalists to get to the heart and the truth of a story. We are up against an army of well-paid spin doctors.

Since the current Government took office, the number of communications specialists have ballooned. Each minister has at least two press secretaries. (Ardern has four).

In the year Labour took office, the Ministry for the Environment had 10 PR staff. They now have 18. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade more than doubled their staff – up to 25.

MBIE blew out from 48 staff to 64. None of those five dozen specialists could give me those figures for many weeks – and again I was forced to ask the Ombudsman to intervene.

The super ministry – and its colleagues uptown at the Health Ministry – are notorious for stymieing even the simplest requests. Health’s information gatekeepers are so allergic to journalists they refuse to take phone calls, responding only (and sporadically) to emails.

But it is the New Zealand Transport Agency that take the cake: employing a staggering 72 staff to keep its message, if not its road-building, on track – up from 26 over five years.

There’s no contest in government PR versus the media.

PR staff will be paid far more than they’d get in the media and instead of providing information they’re keeping it from journalists and so from the public who pay them.

At every level, the Government manipulates the flow of information. It has not delivered on promises to fix the broken, and politically influenced OIA system.

It also keeps journalists distracted and over-burdened with a rolling maul of press conferences and announcements, which are often meaningless or repetitive and prevent sustained or detailed questioning.

In this age of live-streaming and blogging, organisations often feel obliged to cover every stage-managed utterance for fear of missing out. . . 

This isn’t openness, it’s obstruction in an attempt to hide the facts and present the fluff.

Perhaps the trials and tribulations of the nation’s journalists do not concern you. Why should you care?

Because the public’s impression of this government is the very opposite.

They see a prime minister that has captivated the world with her ‘authentic’ communication style, intimate social media postings, daily Covid briefings and proactive releases of Cabinet papers.

It is an artfully-crafted mirage, because the reality is very different. This is a Government that is only generous with the information that it chooses to share.

The government isn’t only withholding information from and manipulating it to the media, it’s obstructing the Opposition.

All of which begs the question: what are they hiding?


It’s us she’s not talking to

09/03/2021

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who communicates best of all?

I’m so good I pick and choose, to whom I grant my interviews.

Last week was hard, oh dearie me, someone wanted an apology.

I really need much more respect, so quick find a child so I can deflect.

There’s one in Ireland I believe, or let me tell you about mothering Neve.

I can nod and smile so sweetly to hide the fact hard questions beat me.

But I much prefer the softer asks, and wait for praise in which to bask.

The women’s mags give adoration and often global adulation.

That’s not what I get when I speak to Mike, that’s why I told him to take a hike.

 

We keep being told what a good communicator Jacinda Ardern is. That shouldn’t be a surprise when she has a degree in it.

But communication isn’t just about reading speeches and projecting warmth. It’s about being able to answer tough questions, to give firm and concrete replies not just waffle, and to deliver the message people need to hear and not just the one she wants to give.

She may have been lulled into a false sense of security by remarkable poll ratings and generally friendly, sometimes even sycophantic, reporting.

But it looks like she’s going to find out that if she bites the media, the media bites back.

Yesterday Mike Hosking told us she was no longer going to do a regular slot with him:

The Prime Minister has not been on the programme this morning, and there is a reason for that.

She is running for the hills.

She no longer wants to be on this programme each week. The somewhat tragic conclusion that is drawn is the questions she gets, the demand for a level of accountability, is a little bit tough.

Officially, her office will tell you they are re-arranging the media schedule this year and are maintaining the same number of interviews. This appears not to be true. . .Without being too unkind to some of the other players in this market, the reality is the Prime Minister enjoys a more cordial and compliant relationship. The questions are more softball. She favours a more benign pitch, where the delivery can be dispatched to the boundary more readily without the chance of an appeal. . . 

To be honest, I’m pleased. The management here, not quite as much. They argue accountability is important, and they’re right. But what I argue is the Prime Minister is a lightweight at answering tough questions. The number of times she’s fronted on this programme with no knowledge around the questions I’m asking is frightening. . . 

Those occasions are too many to be comfortable.

And then, your reaction. The two most often used lines post interview are “what was the point of that?” And “I don’t know why you bother.”

The reality is, too often it’s just noise. It’s waffle. It’s stalling. It’s filling. It’s obfuscation.

It’s a tricky scenario, she should be up for it. Any Prime Minister should be up for it. As a publicly elected official you are asked to be held to account. So, it stands to reason you, at least, put yourself up, even if you don’t enjoy it or at times struggle with the complexity or detail of the question line.

It speaks to a lack of backbone that she would want to bail and run. It also speaks to an increasingly apparent trait; they don’t handle pressure well. Last week was a very good display of that.

They say she’s willing to front on an issue-by-issue basis, so she isn’t gone forever.

As for the weekly bit, I lose no sleep. I’m just a bit disappointed she isn’t a more robust operator, or keener to defend her corner.

After all, it’s our country she’s running.

It is our country she’s running and while it’s the interviewers who are speaking to her, she’s not just speaking to them, she’s speaking to us.

They might ask questions she doesn’t want, or sometimes can’t, answer but they are asking the questions for us.

It’s called the fourth estate for a reason, it’s part of the democratic infrastructure and it’s got a job to  hold the powerful to account for us.

Heather du Plessis-Allan points out Ardern is turning her back on New Zealanders:

. . . Take out the characters involved. Take out Jacinda Ardern, take out Mike Hosking.   

This slot goes back 34 years.  Holmes, Lange, Palmer, Moore, Bolger, Shipley, Clarke, Key, English.  Those are a lot Prime Ministers prepared to front up and be held accountable.  It’s a long line of democratic history Jacinda Ardern has ended. 

I know that that it got combative between Hosking and Ardern but that’s how the big boys roll.  It’s tough at the top.  If you run the country, you should be able to take a few tough questions. 

I’ve been told a number of times that the prime minister finds the weekly round of interviews very stressful and she has herself admitted that she takes media criticism very hard.   

But it’s actually not Hosking that the PM is no longer speaking to weekly.  It’s voters: the biggest single catchment of voters listening to commercial radio in the morning.  It’s not the same to switch out NewstalkZB for a music radio station.  One is a news radio station – holding a democratic role – and the other is entertainment. 

But while I’m disappointed, I’m not surprised.  Ardern has shown a tendency to duck from tough interviews.  Recently, we’ve seen ample evidence that she’s happy to front the good stuff and make the big announcements, but when there are questions – like whether she started the pile on aimed at the KFC worker – she disappears and sends in her lieutenants. . . 

She has in the past cancelled media. I recall taking over ZB’s morning show in Wellignton.  John Key used to appear four times a year and take calls from voters.  Ardern cancelled that and appeared once in about 18 months, and refused to talk directly to voters.  

In 2018, she cancelled at the last minute her appearances on Newshub Nation and Q+A. But, she still made time to sit down with the New York Times for a soft interview in which the writer Maureen Dowd talked about her ‘fuzzy leopard slippers’.   . .  

People like to see the person behind the politician and a lot of will relate to her taking criticism hard, but she’s the Prime Minister and if she can’t take the hard questions and inevitable criticism she’s simply not up to the job.

Barry Soper calls her the accidental Prime Minister:

This rookie leader, plucked from obscurity in the lead-up to the 2017 election, was appointed by Winston Peters simply because she gave him much more than what Bill English was prepared to wear.

But she’s been confirmed by Covid, as the last election would attest to. Without Peters or Covid chances are she’d be leading the Opposition, although even that’s doubtful.

Having worked with the past 10 Prime Ministers, Jacinda Ardern would be the most removed from the media than any of them. This woman who has a Bachelor of Communications doesn’t communicate in the way any of her predecessors have.

She’s the master of soft, flattering interviews and television chat shows, blanching at tough questions.  She’s commanded the Covid pulpit to such an extent that the virus has become her security blanket; without it, she’d be forced to face the reality that her Government has been moribund.  

The Prime Minister’s press conferences usually begin with a sermon – it took eight minutes for her to get to the fact that she was moving the country down an alert level last Friday.  When it comes to question time her forearm stiffens and her hand flicks to those, she’ll take a question from.  Some of us are left barking from the side lines.

Ardern doesn’t relate to the messenger, the team of journalists who make up the parliamentary Press Gallery – they don’t know her.  

All of her predecessors got to know the parliamentary media by inviting them to their ninth floor Beehive office, at least a couple of times a year.  It puts a human face on the public performer.

Ardern has done it once, a few months after becoming the Prime Minister.     . . 

She’s a celebrity leader and she’s determined to keep it that way, which is why she’s turned her back on the Mike Hosking Breakfast Show. 

The questions were too direct, they got under her thin skin, but, more importantly, she didn’t know the answer to many of them. She was exposed on a weekly basis and it simply all became too much for her.    

In doing so she’s turned her back on the highest rating breakfast commercial radio show in the country by far and she has also turned her back of the many listeners who at the last Covid election (her description) switched their vote to her.

Leaders have in the past become exasperated with the media, and at times with good reason, but few, if any, have shied away from the tough questions.  The regular Newstalk ZB slot for Prime Ministers has been jealously guarded by them for the past 35 years.  This is the only regular slot she’s bowing out on. . .

Media 1 – Ardern 0.

Ardern’s fans will probably not be worried by this. Those who dislike her will be delighted that some of the shine has been taken off her glossy image.

It’s certainly not the end of her popularity but once you’ve got to the top there’s only one way to go, though not necessarily quickly.  When her time as Prime Minister has ended, historians and political analysts will look back at last week’s slip of the kindness mask and this serious media misstep as the time the downward slide began.


To see ourselves as others see us

02/12/2020

When I read reports on Peter Goodfellow’s speech to the National party conference I wondered if the journalists and I had been at the same event.

All took the same extract where he spoke about the impact of Covid-19 on the political landscape. He gave credit where it was due but also spoke of the grandstand it gave the government and especially the Prime Minister, and he mentioned media bias.

The reports gave credence to the last point. From where I was sitting the whole speech, of which the extract was a small part, was well received by the audience. But all reports were negative, and many commentators said the listeners didn’t like it, which was definitely not the impression I got. Most were surprised, even critical, that Goodfellow retained the presidency given the election result.

None appeared to understand that the president wasn’t responsible for the self-inflicted damage by some MPs  nor that while party members elect the board it is the board members who elect the president.

They might have known that he had called for a review of the rules after the last election. They were not privy to the report on that by former leader Jim McClay which was delivered in committee,  greeted with applause and well received by everyone I spoke to afterwards.

But why would they let the positive get in the way of the negative if it fitted their bias?

Bias, what bias?

The non-partisan website Media Bias paints the New Zealand media landscape decidedly red.

The almost universal lack of criticism has been noticed by Nick Cater who said media ‘diversity’ is alive but not at all well in New Zealand:

. . . The media paradise Rudd craves looks somewhat like New Zealand, where inoffensive newspapers compete for drabness and commentators are all but united in adoration of Jacinda Ardern.

You’ll struggle to read a word of dissent in the four daily newspapers. Mike Hosking and some of his fellow presenters are prepared to break from the pack at Newstalk ZB, but that’s it. Retired ZB host Leighton Smith remains in the fray as a podcaster and columnist but, when it comes to broadcast media, Hosking is Alan Jones, Chris Kenny, Andrew Bolt, Peta Credlin and Paul Murray rolled into one.

If the columnist listened to Magic Talk he might add Peter Williams and Sean Plunket to those who challenge the pro-PM narrative. But these are few against the many whose reporting and commentary are rarely anything but positive about Ardern.

The only hint of irritation at the Prime Minister’s weekly press conference is that she isn’t running fast enough with her agenda of “transformational change”, the umbrella term for the righting of social injustices, including those yet to be invented.

Ardern’s decision to hold a referendum on the legalisation of cannabis was widely praised as another step on the path to sainthood. The proposal was rejected by 51.6 per cent of voters, prompting this exchange.

Media: “In terms of governing for all New Zealanders, you do have 48.4 per cent of New Zealanders who did vote for legalised cannabis.”

PM: “And the majority who didn’t, and so we have to be mindful of that, too.”

Media: “But you’ve promised to govern for all of those New Zealanders, including the 48.4 per cent who did … there is an appetite among an enormous section of the population for something. And obviously the referendum did fail, but it doesn’t mean … ”

Can we assume that because 48.9 per cent of Americans didn’t vote for Joe Biden, Donald Trump can stay in the White House? Or does the ballot only count when the left is winning?

Those with a more sophisticated understanding of liberal democracy than “Media” (the generic name ascribed to journalists in the transcript, presumably because they are all of one mind) may be feeling a little queasy.

A Prime Minister who tells voters she chose politics because it was a profession that “would make me feel I was making a difference”, and holds an absolute majority in the parliament’s only chamber, is an accident waiting to happen. An independent media should be the first responders in such circumstances, ready to erect barriers in the path of the Prime Minister, should she swerve across the line.

Yet the press pack are not merely on the bus, they are telling her how to drive it.

New Zealand’s small population and splendid isolation are part of the explanation for the enfeeblement of its media. Ardern’s sledgehammer response to the COVID-19 pandemic hastened the decline.

In May, Nine Entertainment let go of the newspapers it inherited from Fairfax, The Dominion Post, The Press and The Sunday Star-Times, for $1 to a company that goes by the name of Stuff. It seems like a bargain given the copy of the Post at the newsstand will set you back $2.90, hardly a vote of confidence in the future of NZ media.

Yet market size is only part of the explanation. It doesn’t explain why, for example, in a country split politically down the middle, 100 per cent of daily newspapers and virtually every TV and radio station stand proudly with Ardern.

We can only conclude that commercial logic no longer applies. Media companies are no longer driven by the pursuit of unserved segments in the market. It’s not the product that is faulty but the customer. When commercially minded proprietors leave the building, the journalists take charge. They are university-educated professionals cut from the same narcissistic cloth as Ardern. They, too, want to feel like they are making a difference.

With the collapse of NZ’s Fourth Estate it is difficult to see what might stop Ardernism becoming the country’s official religion. The National Party is in no position to offer effective political opposition. The party that reinvented credible government in NZ is bruised from two defeats, uncertain who should lead or in what direction it should head.

Intellectual opposition is all but extinguished in the universities, but still flickers on in alternative media, blogs, websites and YouTube channels, which serve as a faint beacon of dissent.

Is this what Rudd seeks? The last thing a country needs is a prime minister basking in applause who switches on the news and finds herself staring at the mirror.

Would today’s journalists and commentators be familiar with Robbie Burns who wrote:

O, wad some Power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as others see us!

It wad frae monie a blunder free us,

An’ foolish notion.

If they are familiar with these words, would they attempt to see themselves as others see them and accept that not only are most biased but that it shows in their work?


Not just bias

23/10/2020

Is our media biased? A new website Media Bias has the result of a year’s analysis and found that it is:

This shows all  the mainstream media outlets are biased towards the left and the only two right sources are blogs.

How bad is the bias? Karl du Fresne, who starts by saying he’s not a National supporter, writes:

In recent weeks I’ve watched with mounting disbelief as the network formerly known as TV3 has conducted what appears to be a sustained offensive against the National Party.

Initially I gave Newshub and its political reporters the benefit of the doubt, thinking perhaps the run of events was against National and over time the playing field would be levelled. But that hasn’t happened, leaving me convinced that Newshub is functioning as Labour’s unofficial propaganda arm.

I shouldn’t be completely surprised, because it’s happened before (I wrote about it here). But nine years on, the bias is even more explicit and infinitely more mischievous.

No one who believes in the importance of fair and impartial news media can accept this is right. Fair, accurate and impartial journalism is never more important than during an election campaign. Some of us can remember when in every newspaper newsroom, someone was assigned to tot up the daily column inches given to each of the major parties to ensure no one was given an unfair advantage. But Newshub doesn’t appear to care about maintaining even a pretence of neutrality. . . 

He analyses the news and concludes:

It’s impossible to convey in words the striking disparity in this coverage. It’s relentlessly positive toward Ardern – fawning isn’t too strong a word – but strives tirelessly to nobble her main rival with stories of caucus disloyalty and belittling scenes from the campaign trail. On top of all this, O’Brien had the chutzpah last night to make sympathetic noises about the ordeal Collins is being put through. To paraphrase a quotation from Robert Muldoon when talking about his bete noire The Dominion: with friends like O’Brien, who needs enemies?

I detest this style of journalism. It attempts to place journalists at the centre of the action rather than on the periphery, where they belong. They abuse their power by seeking to influence events rather than simply reporting them in a fair and balanced way and allowing the public to make up their own minds. They are every bit as guilty of abuse of power as the most despised press baron. 

And while some journalists insist on seeing themselves as morally superior to politicians, it can be argued that the reverse is true. As devious and self-serving as some politicians may be, they can still claim the moral high ground because ultimately they are accountable to someone: namely, the voters, to whom they must answer every three years. No journalists have to submit to that judgment. . . 

It’s not just bias but attack dog journalism which, as Sarah Ditum writes, is bad for democracy:

. . . Yes, there’s a simple principle of right and wrong, truth and falsehood here — but simplicity is exactly the problem with the way a lot of issues are handled by the media.

Carve any subject down to its barest conflicts, and you won’t help people find enlightenment and resolution. Instead, you’ll make them feel attacked, embattled, inflexible. In a recent piece Amanda Ripley warned of the dangers of journalism that goes in pursuit of simplicity; and which has, unfortunately, the effect of making everyone more committed to the certainties they’ve already chosen. Instead, she says, they should look for complexity, arguing that “Complexity counters this craving, restoring the cracks and inconsistencies that had been air-brushed out of the picture. It’s less comforting, yes. But it’s also more interesting — and true.” . . .

Rather than attack people as liars or presume their bad faith, Ripley suggests journalists should look for ways to open conversations: instead of telling people what they think, ask them about why they believe the things they do. Often, the things that people seem to be at odds over are just proxies for underlying issues; and sometimes, those underlying issues are more tractable than you ever expected.

It’s even possible that the questioner could be the one to change their mind about something. A world where you might be the dumbass after all isn’t very reassuring, but it’s a lot more plausible than one where you’re only ever right.

Newshub is privately owned and therefore has more freedom to take a side but TV1 and RNZ which are also biased towards the left have a duty to be non-partisan.

We’d be better served at any time if all media focussed much more on political performance and policy than personality, if journalists sought to understand and if they didn’t try to tell us what to think. That is even more important during an election campaign.


Welcome back Listener

02/10/2020

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.


Blinded by the halos

18/08/2020

A very angry tweet demanded to know which journalist at a weekend briefing had the temerity to ask Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield if he would resign.

The journalist in question, Michael Morrah has broken several important stories over short comings in the response to Covid-19, most recently the ones telling us nearly two thirds of border staff hadn’t had Covid-19 tests; that the Health Minister admitted a tracking system for border workers wasn’t in place before ‘testing strategy’ announcement  and following revelations on The Nation he tweeted:

In response to the angry demand to know who asked the question about the DG, Morrah responded:

That resulted in more tweets:

 

Sometimes people in the media are guilty of bias. That is not the case in this instance.

Morrah has done what a good journalist should do – researched, found inadequacies and told us about them.

He is not the only one who is highlighting serious failings:

On Friday Pattrick Smellie wrote:

There is plenty of evidence in the bizarrely vague testing regime applied to New Zealanders working at the border that Pike River levels of incompetence and dysfunction lurk in the public health system and could yet be fatally exposed.

And in discussion with Jim Mora on Sunday Morning, both Jane Clifton and Richard Harman discussed the seriousness of the shortcomings: (3:34):

Clifton: . . . I think it’s pretty clear now that the Health Ministry has a pattern of, if not outright lying, then failing to supply the right information at the right time and I think it would defy belief to most people that testing wouldn’t be absolutely automatic and regular among border staff . . . I was against having a sort of witch hunt into what had gone wrong but . . . I think this is the last straw and I think we do need to have a few serious questions and consequences. . . 

Harman:  . . . If he’s (the Minister)  getting incorrect information he doesn’t need to resign surely, the person who needs to resign is the Director General of Health because he’s misleading his Minister and that is one of the most serious crimes that a senior civil servant can commit.  . . there’s been a pattern of this happening . . think about PPE, the original businesses about testing, Shane Reti again exposing the different versions of the truth that the Minister of Health presented over flu vaccines. It goes on and on and if you read again this excellent piece that Derek Cheng wrote this week about the difficulty of getting information out of the Minister of Health it seems that the Ministry of Health prioritises spin ahead of performance. . . 

This discussion sparked some very indignant responses from listeners, many of whom suggested that no-one should be questioning the DG or the government.

Perhaps these people have been blinded by the light from the halos some have put over the heads of both the DG and the Prime Minister which doesn’t allow them to see that there have been serious and repeated failings in performance.

Kate Hawkesby is one who has not been blinded:

. . . The left have mobilised into a tribe of such determined one-eyed acolytes, that their entire focus right now is to hunt down anyone daring to question the PM’s moves or decisions, and basically to eviscerate them.

Questioning the government makes you either a hater, a conspiracy theorist, a troll, or quite simply unpatriotic.

This venomous lobby group – includes many across social media but most of the mainstream media – has fallen under the spell too. The press gallery are most glaringly the people holding the government to account the least.

You’d think the media and government had almost forgotten about the existence of the silent majority. Those not on FB or Twitter, those not doing Instagram selfies with the PM, those regular everyday working mum and dads who’re looking down the barrel of an extremely grim economic future and are worried sick.

If people were allowed to dare question the PM, without the rabid left calling for them to be cancelled for doing so, here’s what needs answering;

Should Chris Hipkins be running Health, when he is also the Minister of Education, State of Services, and Leader of the House? We’ve already been through one incompetent Health Minister, have we not learned by now that it’s surely a fulltime job needing his full attention? And could I suggest may even be a contributing factor as to why the ball was so badly dropped on the border testing.

Why isn’t our contact tracing gold standard? They’ve had months to get it right.

What’s our Plan B beyond elimination?

Why aren’t we tougher at quarantine hotels?

Why have we come so late to the mask party?

Why is the chain of information from officials to government to public so slow?

How can we trust a government who got the availability of flu vaccines, testing kits and PPE gear so wrong first time round?

I’d also question the North Korea vibe coming from the 1pm pulpit. “There is only one source of truth,” Hipkins keeps reiterating in the manner of annoyed Dad. Unfortunately, not all their facts are accurate, just ask the seething Principal of Pakuranga College.

Likewise, many of the ‘we’re the first/best/only’ in the world’ statements, are not quite accurate either. It’s a tad Trump-esque. But it does play to an adoring base programmed not to question anything. . . 

Exactly who is responsible for the shortcomings will no doubt be uncovered when a journalist finds out through an Official Information Office request exactly what Ministers asked of the Ministry, what the response was and when all that happened.

Regardless of the answers, thanks to the work of Morrah and other journalists, we do know that we have been let down by lax practices at the border and if in the process they’ve tarnished the halos, that’s all to the good.

Many of us are biased, but that should not lead us to blind acceptance of whatever suits our partisan positions nor should it lead us to criticising the messengers when we don’t like their messages.

P.S.

What’s happened to Megan Woods? She’s the Minister in charge of managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) but has made no comments on the lack of testing of staff at the facilities.


Let’s not blame the messenger

24/06/2020

Jack Vowles thinks some in the media are overreacting in their coverage of the isolation omnishambles:

In the wake of a scattering of new cases from overseas, Stuff journalist Andrea Vance has slammed the Government for setting “allegedly unrealistic expectations” that Covid-19 would be eliminated in New Zealand. She believes the public feel they have been lied to.

Fellow Stuff journalist Tracy Watkins says the “border fiasco” has caused “incalculable damage” and “a massive breach of trust”. John Armstrong, in a column for the 1 News website, describes the situation as “calamitous”.

All are over-reacting. . . 

Social media also has plenty of posts mistakenly blaming the messengers and trying to dampen down the message too.

It must come as a shock to those who are used to a very soft approach, sometimes bordering on adulation, of Jacinda Ardern that the shine has come off her halo and her clay feet are showing.

But if the media and opposition MPs hadn’t been telling us about the omnishambles, she and her government wouldn’t have taken any action to deal with it.

The fourth estate and opposition are doing what they’re supposed to – showing us that the government has not been doing nearly as well as it should be in isolating incoming travellers to ensure Covid-19 doesn’t spread beyond those who have it when they get here.

In spite of protestations that everything is under control, there are obvious shortcomings in systems and processes:

No hold ups, oversights or obstruction. It actually takes this long – over a week – to find out how many of the 55 people granted compassionate leave weren’t tested when they should have been.

Since June 9, a negative test and at least a week in isolation were meant to be mandatory before compassionate leave from managed isolation could be granted. But that has only been the practice since June 16.

Both of those rules were bent for two Covid-infected sisters who drove from Auckland to Wellington , but who weren’t tested until after they arrived in Wellington.

The subsequent outrage was understandable, given what should have happened, the sacrifices everyone has already made, and the obvious risk of one case quickly turning into dozens.

That outrage then heightened as stories of broken protocols came forward. Mixing and mingling at isolation facilities. Testing being voluntary when it should have been compulsory. Leave for a funeral when that was meant to be banned . Even runaways .

The case of the two sisters begged the obvious question: How many others have been let out early without a test? Each of them could pose a risk of a second wave.

That question has been asked everyday – by journalists, the Opposition, even Ministers’ offices – since June 16, when the sisters’ positive results were revealed.

The answer isn’t just about giving us a better sense of the health risk. It’s also about the depth of failure that has occurred at the border, which feeds into the level of confidence in the ministry, health chief Ashley Bloomfield, the Government and the Prime Minister.

Those border measures are critical. With no signs of community transmission, the greatest Covid danger to New Zealand are the thousands of people returning home from overseas.

You’d think it would be essential to collect their information and put it all into a single database or an integrated system – contact details, symptoms, daily health check results, test results, if any.

That hasn’t happened.

Bloomfield was clear today that there hasn’t been a cock-up. It has taken so long because health officials have had to match names and dates of birth from their systems with information at isolation facilities.

Does this mean there was no proper record of who was in isolation, who was tested and when?

There was another simple way to find out that appears to have been overlooked.

All of the 55 people granted compassionate leave have been tracked down and referred for testing. Yet Bloomfield had no answer when questioned why they hadn’t been asked, when contacted: “Were you tested before you left managed isolation?”

This isn’t the first information failure for the ministry. They don’t know how many healthcare workers were infected in the workplace . Their regional public health units all used different IT systems . . . 

News of the omnishambles has led in a spike of people seeking tests for Covid-19 which isn’t surprising.

People who’ve lost trust in the government to contain Covid-19 at the border are taking responsibility for themselves. Although there is no evidence of community spread that appears to be due to good luck rather than good management, and anyone with possible symptoms will want to make sure a cold is only a cold.

It’s better to be tested as a precaution than to harbour the virus in the belief that it is no longer here and we have the media and opposition MPs to thank for giving us the information to make that call.

Contrary to what the critics are saying, they’re not overreacting, they’re simply holding the government and the ministry to account.


Sowell says

12/05/2020

When I was at journalism school, tutors told us very firmly that journalists’ role was to report the news as objectively as possible and let readers/listeners/watchers make up their own minds about the facts and views we reported.

The good ones here still do that.


Timing

04/04/2020

Letter to the Editor in what will be the last Listener, unless someone comes to its rescue:


Big holes in fourth estate

02/04/2020

Bauer Media has announced it’s closing:

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the closure of Bauer Media, bringing an end to decades of media.

Bauer Media publishes multiple popular Kiwi magazines including NZ Listener, Woman’s Day, New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, North and South and Next. . .

I subscribed to North and South when it first launched and was proud that it accepted some of my freelance contributions.

I’ve subscribed to the Listener for several years and bought it every week before that.

Both have always had high standards of journalism and will leave a big hole in the fourth estate.

They, like much of the mainstream media will have been struggling and the dearth of advertising in the wake of the Covid-19 lockdown will have been the last straw.

How many will follow, including perhaps daily papers?

MediaWorks has asked all staff to take pay cuts as it fights for its survival.

Most of us get most of our news and views online now, some of which is of a high standard, some of which is anything but.

The higher the standard the greater the cost of producing it, and too few are willing to pay for quality even though we need a strong fourth estate more than ever now governments all over the world have imposed draconian restrictions on us.


Safe better than essential

01/04/2020

The government is deciding what is an essential business or service, Act says it would be better to determine what is safe:

 . .. If the objective is to stop the spread of COVID-19, then the test should be whether something can be done safely, not whether it is essential. Moving to a test of safety rather than necessity would be a much better way of fighting the virus while salvaging businesses.

‘Essential’ Compromises ‘Safety’

The Government rightly says it is essential to have food available. Once food is available in an area, no other activity is permissible. But making people travel further to visit a smaller number of bigger and busier stores undermines our goal of reducing the spread of the virus. Supermarkets have remained open because they are essential but they have only undertaken safety mechanisms more recently. Under a safety approach, only food stores with safe processes would be allowed to open, but all stores with such processes would equally be able to open. . .

It would be just as safe for butchers and greengrocers to be open, following best practice of allowing one customer in, one out and keeping everyone two metres apart, as it is for supermarkets, perhaps even safer if it meant fewer people in supermarkets.

Couplands announced yesterday it will close its South Island plant because it mostly supplies its own shops in the south and these aren’t deemed essential.

The bakery supplies about a third of the South’s bread. The plant closure will cause shortages and panic buying. Again, providing the stores have practices which keep their staff and customers safe, they should be able to stay open and lower the pressure on supermarkets.

Instead of the objective test ‘can this be done in a way that is safe’ we are facing a subjective test ‘does the Government think you need this.’ This level of government power is not sustainable.

Breakdown Of The Rule of Law

Subjectivity leads to absurdities and a breakdown of the rule of law. The Government has decided that eating halal meat is a goal important enough to justify opening some butcheries. Driving to the beach for a walk or a picnic is not. Which one is safer? . . .

Halal meat can be bought from supermarkets and a halal butchery isn’t any more or less safe than any other butcheries. It’s the safety practices they follow to protect staff and customers safe that matter, not religious practices.

If the decision to close butcheries isn’t reversed millions of dollars of meat will have to be dumped. That would be an unconscionable waste.

The closure of butchers is also risking animal welfare:

The Government’s decision to exclude independent butchers from the essential business list during the COVID-19 lockdown will cause an animal welfare crisis in the New Zealand pork sector, says an industry group.

All independent butchers across the country have been classified as non-essential businesses and been forced to close as part of the Alert Level 4 lock-down for COVID-19.

However NZ Pork said the decision would likely result in the sector having no place to house up to 5,000 surplus pigs on farms every week.

“By not being able to sell fresh carcass pigs to the independent butchers and other segments, we will be faced with a significant animal welfare issue,” said chief executive of NZ Pork David Baines . . 

Back to Act:

Trust The People

Underpinning the ‘essential’ approach is a belief that people can’t be trusted to judge what is safe. (Can I do this without coming within two metres of others?, without touching things other may have touched?).

Safety Approach: Essential For The Recovery

We are going to have to recover as an economy. Free Press is approached daily by businesspeople in a state of despair. Their working capital may or may not last the first four weeks, it certainly won’t last further. Being able to operate under a safety approach is, to borrow a term, essential. Essential to what? Essential to people protecting their livelihoods in the coming months. . . 

The more businesses that continue operating, the more people who are able to keep working, the less the economic and social damage the lockdown will inflict and the faster the recovery will be.

What Would A Safety Approach Look Like?

A safety approach would involve a basic set of rules that people must follow. A two metre rule (Free Press regrets this would exclude televised dance competitions). Can you do this whilst remaining two metres from others? Yes or no? A ‘touched object’ rule. Can you do this without touching objects others outside your household have touched? Yes or no? A regular testing approach. Can we guarantee regular testing and contact tracing is possible? Yes or no? Obviously there is more to do, but we need to start developing a safety approach rather than an essential approach, pronto.

The only justification for the lockdown is to keep us all safe.

Whether or not a business can operate safely should be the only criteria for allowing it to do so through the lockdown.

That won’t compromise personal health and will help economic and social health.


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