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?


Predictions positive for National & NZ

03/01/2014

Fairfax’s press gallery’s  predictions for 2014 include a positive one for National, and because of that New Zealand:

20. National will form a Government with at least two other parties.

Most governments get a second term, winning a third one is much harder but the signs are positive.

Polls give National more or less the same support it had at the 2011 election and Labour hasn’t been able to gain momentum in spite of a change of leader.

National’s challenge is to at least maintain the level of support it’s got and to have potential coalition partners with enough MPs to help it gain a majority.

That won’t be easy.

Scoring last year’s predictions out of 10, the Fairfax gallery awarded itself 133/200.

Labour’s challenge is to increase its support without butchering its major coalition partner, the Green Party.

That will be even harder because the policies it’s espousing so far are taking it to well to the left which is Green territory.

That might be shoring up its bedrock support but it doesn’t appear to be doing anything to attract swinging voters in the centre.

They might stomach a moderate move to the left but are very unlikely to be enamoured of the tax more, spend more lurch to the radical left.

 

 


Fairfax must protect source

10/06/2013

Peter Dunne wants Fairfax to say he wasn’t the source of the leak about the GCSB but it won’t.

If a media outlet says one person didn’t do something it could turn in to a guessing game.

It will be asked if someone else did it. If it said yes other names will be proffered and if the outlet refuses to say s/he didn’t it will imply that s/he did.

Labour leader David Shearer wants Fairfax to release the emails between its journalist Andrea Vance and Dunne but it is refusing to do that too.

Fairfax Group executive editor Paul Thompson said politicians should tread carefully before embarking on a witch hunt. That could have a chilling effect on how journalists covered politicians.

Fairfax would protect the communications between its journalists and any contacts, regardless of whether they were the source of sensitive information or not.

“The protection of our sources is paramount,” Thompson said.

“We will resist any attempt to force us to release that sort of information.

“It’s the most fundamental commitment we make to our sources. We will go as far as we need to to protect that information.”

The protection of sources is a fundamental plank of journalistic freedom.

Fairfax is right to protect its sources.

Dunne could have shown the emails in confidence to David Henry who was investigating the leak. Having chosen not to, he can’t expect Fairfax to dig him out of the hole in which he’s found himself.

He used the importance of communication with an MP being able to remain confidential. That’s precisely the same argument which justifies Fairfax’s stance.


RIP NZPA

31/08/2011

The New Zealand Press Association, our only national news agency, will close today after 131 years supplying news stories to media outlets throughout the country.

Writing in April about the proposed closure Karl du Fresne called it a seriously retrograde step:

NZPA has fulfilled an historically significant role – one that remains valid even in the digital era. When it was launched in 1880, NZPA had the effect of bringing New Zealand together. For the first time, via the telegraph, New Zealanders had ready access to news and information from beyond their own regions. Historians have credited this with creating a sense of national cohesion in place of the narrow, regional parochialism that previously prevailed. At its peak, 74 member newspapers subscribed to the NZPA service, which gave them access to news of importance supplied by other member papers from all over the country.

Competition between APN and Fairfax which own most of our newspapers will determine how much we lose or gain from NZPA’s demise.


And the Sun Doesn’t Rise in the East

23/06/2008

Helen Clark is refusing to accept the large poll gap between National and Labour.

Prime Minister Helen Clark says three separate polls at the weekend that show Labour trailing National by over 20 percent are “very extreme” and overstate the Opposition’s lead.

 

A TV One Colmar Brunton poll last night had National on 55 percent with Labour lagging on 29 per cent support.

That followed Saturday’s Fairfax Media poll by AC Nielsen showing National winning 54 percent of the party vote against Labour’s 30 per cent.

The latest Roy Morgan poll also showed a large gap with National’s support up two to 52.5 per cent while Labour dropped 0.5 to 31.5 per cent.

But Miss Clark today refused to accept the size of the gap recorded in the polls, which she said were “very extreme”.

It is usual for poll gaps between  the two major parties to narrow and for the wee parties to get more support nearer to election day so these poll results may not mirror voter support when it counts. But the trend is clear, National and John Key are well ahead of Labour and Clark.

In light of that her real fear should be that softer supporters leave Labour and vote for the wee parties as happened with National in 2002.

Other blogs’ comments on the polls:

The Hive    No Minister    Truth Seeker      Keeping Stock     Inquiring Mind


Youth Vote Up For Grabs

21/06/2008

Gordon Campbell says the decision to make third party insurance on motor vehicles is another example of Labour’s punitive stance towards young people and first time voters.

According to to Labour Party president Mike Williams, there will 190,000 eligible first time voters in this election, and they’re supposed to be a Labour priority. Yet the array of policies that the Labour government has promoted over the last year or so have targeted young people and their leisure habits, mainly to score brownie points on law and order issues.

Add them up. There has been have the attack on youth drugs of leisure ( the party pills ban) and on forms of protest and expression ( the anti-tagging Summary Offences (Tagging and Graffiti vandalism) Amendment Bill.) Labour has vowed to keep young people compulsorily inside learning institutions until they’re 18, via the Schools Plus initiative, which is already in some trouble.

The Schools Plus initiative won’t be popular with 16 to 18 year olds who want to leave school, nor with those who want to stay and find their education disrupted by those who’d rather be elsewhere. But the party pill ban and anti-tagging legislation probably only affect a small minority.

Now, we have this 3rd party insurance move against their driving habits and related risks. Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoeven has been quite upfront that the compulsory 3rd party insurance idea was ‘brought into focus’ as a mechanism to get boy racers off the streets. Unfortunately, the measure will further offload the cost onto all motorists, and onto young drivers in particular, and the insurance industry is already contesting Duynhoeven’s cost estimates.

He is right about the added expense but I don’t think it’s a big enough issue by iteslf to repel or attract votes.

This punitive stance towards the young is not an election year tactic, since it has been evident throughout this term of government. Late in 2006, Labour MP Martin Gallagher sponsored an attempt to raise the drinking age, which would have forced young people out of clubs and bars, and denied them the chance to listen to bands on licensed premises. [ Disclosure of self interest : I co-promote tours by indie bands, and raising the drinking age would have killed such tours stone dead ]

You get the pattern, and that’s only on the punitive side. In the Budget, when Finance Minister was handing out the sweets to everyone else, he conspicuously failed to address student debt and student allowances. His token best effort was to drop the age that students will be regarded as dependent on their parents from 25 to an insulting 24 – apparently, according to Cullen, because United Future wanted it that way.

With the exception of students, most young people aren’t generally organised about lobbying so are easy for Governments to ignore.

There’s a word for it : ephebiphobia. It means fear of the young and Labour needs policy treatment for it. So, of course, does National – always a haven for young fogies – who have shown themselves more than willing to pack young offenders off to boot camp, even if the armed forces supposed to be running them don’t want a bar of it. For the Maori Party and the Greens, those 190,000 voters really are theirs for the taking.

I’m not sure why the Maori Party would be attractive to non Maori and today’s Fairfax poll shows Maori are favouring National (39%) with Labour and Maroi both at 22%. (David Farrar blogs on the significance of this here and No Minister comments here).

However, the poll also shows Labour has clawed back some support from National among young people and those on low incomes – but these two groups are also most likely to change their minds before polling day.

Labour targetted the youth vote (and their parents) in 2005 with the last minute interest free student loan bribe. The public coffers aren’t so healthy now, but that won’t necessarily stop them trying to snare the young – and any other sector they feel is worth targetting – with a last-ditch spend-up.


%d bloggers like this: