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?


Fear paralyses, hope enables

01/10/2019

Last week it was eco-anxiety, this week it’s climate dread:

. . .One of the Auckland strike’s organisers, Marcail Parkinson, 17, said at the event on Friday that “climate dread is one of the biggest mental issues affecting youth”.

“When Greta [Thunberg] did her last UN speech, I had to take the day off school, because I was just so upset that I was finding it hard to eat, I didn’t want to move. I was so stressed out about that,” she said. . . 

Another teen at the strike, Phoenix Glover, said climate change was affecting students’ decisions when it came time to plan their future careers.

“If our climate starts falling apart, and we have the mass extinction that we’re on the verge of, then there’s no point in having a Bachelor’s or Master’s or PhD.” . . 

These two aren’t alone in feeling this way and the growing sense of doom has prompted National’s Agriculture spokesman Todd Muller to write:

Some thoughts on Friday’s School Strike for Climate.

I admire the passion of the students who marched.
I agree with their demands that those in political and economic influence around the world must initiate faster global action on climate change.
I accept that civil demonstrations can mould the political and business will for investment in technologies that will support transition to a low emission future.

But when I see messages, repeated on signs held by our vulnerable, determined, anxious, youth saying “You’ll die of old age, I’ll die of climate change!”, I feel deeply uneasy.

I do not agree that our young New Zealanders lives are at risk if global efforts to reduce emissions don’t happen at the pace that keeps global warming below 1.5 to 2 degrees.

Our young New Zealanders are right to be concerned about climate change. However, I do not believe their futures are hopeless, and we should not be allowing this message to take hold.

Doomsday predictions framed to challenge the perceived inherent inertia of the status quo, to make a political point, are reckless. For our young people, already feeling a sense of anxiety and lack of certainty around their futures, it can add to their sense of hopelessness.

I appreciate that calling out such alarmist and catastrophising language will see many on the extremes of this debate pile in and say ‘hey, there’s the Nats Ag guy acting as a denier again’.

I am not. I am, however someone who believes perspective is important in this debate, especially in how we articulate the opportunities, challenges and impacts of climate change to our youth and children.

Climate change is the most complex issue facing our planet.

If we are to address climate change, it requires global adversaries, such as the United States, China and Russia, to cooperate together to transform their economies. Even if we work at breakneck pace, we still expect the world to warm 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. With this will come changes to agriculture, oceans and cities around the world, and we need to focus on how we adapt to these changes.

But it is misplaced to state our society will collapse under these changes.

We need our young people to view climate change as a challenge they have a positive role in solving. Today’s youth will be the innovators of the next decade. There are opportunities to develop solutions to the challenges climate change presents to us, particularly in agriculture if given time to be invented.

A balanced sense of both challenge and opportunity must be outlined to our youth precisely because of their talent, curiosity and determination.

Let’s not dampen that collective capacity by scaring their self-belief with talk of extinction lingering just around the corner.

Fear paralyses, Hope enables. Let’s demonstrate that.

The radical green political agenda emphasises the challenges and the opportunities are given little if any coverage.

But the news isn’t all bad and Andrew Bolt offers some cool facts on warming to calm the sobbing children:

I promised you a list — easy to print out — of scientific facts that should stop children from being terrified that global warming will kill them. It’s time to fight this hysteria, especially after Greta Thunberg’s breakdown at the United Nations. Here’s the list. Distribute widely.

NO, GLOBAL WARMING WON’T KILL YOU

Are you terrified by claims that global warming is an “existential threat”? That there will be a “great winnowing” and “mass deaths”? That we face “the collapse of our civilisations”?

Don’t believe those scares.

You are told to believe “the science”. Well, here is some science you should believe – solid scientific facts that tell you that global warming is not as scary as you’ve been told.

Be calm. You are not in danger.

· You have never been less likely to die of a climate-related disaster. Your risk of being killed has fallen 99 per cent in the past century. Source: International Disaster Database.

· You have never been more likely to live longer. Life expectancy around the world has risen by 5.5 years so far this century. Source: World Health Organisation.

· We are getting fewer cyclones, not more. Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate ChangeBureau of Meteorology.

· There is more food than ever. Grain crops have set new records. Source: Food and Agricultural Organisation.

· The world is getting greener. Leaf cover is growing 3 per cent per decade. Source: NASA.

· Low-lying Pacific islands are not drowning. In fact, 43 per cent – including Tuvalu – are growing, and another 43 per cent are stable. Source: Professor Paul Kench, University of Auckland.

· Cold weather is 20 times more likely to kill you than hot weather. Source: Lancet, 20/5/2015

· Global warming does not cause drought. Source: Prof. Andy Pitman, ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes.

· Australia’s rainfall over the past century has actually increased. Source: Bureau of Meteorology.

· There are fewer wildfires. Around the world, the area burned by fire is down 24 per cent over 18 years. Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center et al.

Polar bear numbers are increasing, not decreasing. Source: Dr Susan Crockford.

It’s such a pity that facts usually come a distance second to emotion but that’s what’s needed to counter the eco-anxiety and climate dread that stops young people from looking beyond the fear and finding the hope.


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