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?


What’s fair?

14/02/2019

The government and many of the groups supporting it put a lot of emphasis on fairness, but what’s fair?

National policy is to adjust tax brackets to take account of inflation which Professor Norman Gemmell, chair in public finance at Victoria University, says is only fair:

 Tax economists have long advocated that keeping income tax thresholds constant in real terms (by adjusting them upwards as prices rise) should be the norm. But this indexation is much less important for tax on wages than it is for tax on capital gains – a crucial point in the current climate. . . 

Capital income, such as capital gains from house sales or interest payments on bank accounts, are much more vulnerable to this “indexation problem”.

Consider a simple capital gain example. If house prices rise by 5 per cent but “general” inflation is 2 per cent, the real capital gain for homeowners is 3 per cent, not 5 per cent. Now suppose that a 33 per cent tax rate payer buys a bach for $100,000 and sells it one year later for $105,000. The CGT liability on the sale is $660, due to the general inflation of 2 per cent, plus $990 for the additional house price increase (the “real” gain).

So the extra tax levied on the inflation component is a whopping two-thirds as big as the “real” tax liability (or 40 per cent of the total). In other words, with a CGT, failing to allow for general inflation means a huge additional tax bill.

What does this all mean for the TWG advice and a Government concerned with “fairness”? First, adopting National’s indexing of income tax thresholds would be a good idea, and not just for transparency reasons. It is the fair thing to do for taxpayers right across the income scale, who otherwise pay more tax simply because prices have risen.

Also, if the Government decides to go ahead with a CGT, designing out the “inflation problem” is much more important, due to the size of the tax distortion it creates. It is also important for fairness.

Otherwise, what superficially looks like the same tax rate being applied to all income actually means that the effective tax rate on capital gains (and interest income) is much higher than the same rate on income earned as wages. 

Surely that’s not fair?

Even if a CGT is inflation indexed, would it be fair?

Only if you’re a socialist who think that people who work hard, pay the costs and take the risks,  forgo personal spending, to save and invest, and pay taxes on earnings from that work, savings and investment should then be taxed again.

A CTG is a classic envy tax, aiming to bring middle and upper income people down down rather than helping the poor up.

Is it fair that the government is looking at raising more tax rather than letting people keep more of their own money?

Leighton Smith shows a better way:

 . . . the Swiss government must get approval from its voters by virtue of referendum to give themselves a pay rise or change tax rates. In 1975, the voters declined a government request for a tax increase. A prominent Swiss citizen, responding to a question of what happens next, replied “the government will have to live on what it has, like the rest of us.” But it doesn’t stop there. The Swiss have a separation of powers between taxing and spending, in the belief that temptation to overspend is omnipresent. Unfortunately, we in New Zealand could be returning to the ideology of the politics of envy. The introduction of any tax policy that enriches the accounting industry is bad policy. . . 

A government that keeps telling us its a good economic manager should not need more tax, in fact the reverse is true.

Healthy surpluses are a clear sign it’s already taking too much for us. There is no need for new taxes, and certainly not one that would benefit tax accountants and lawyers most.

Better taxes are simpler taxes. A CTG would be complicated and in spite of the aim of fairness which is behind the motivation for its introduction, would not be fair.

 

 


Craig’s press secretary leaves in tears

18/09/2014

Conservative leader Colin Craig has just lost his press secretary of two years:

Rachel MacGregor has told Newstalk ZB she’s left the party as of this morning.

Our political editor Barry Soper says she is very upset and has taken public relations advice.

“Colin Craig does campaign on being this wholesome, out there sort of a bloke, that’s all encompassing, that really is the sort of person we should be looking up to.

“Now if he can’t get his own house in order in terms of staff in the Conservative Party then you’ve got to ask questions.”

Barry Soper says this will damage the Conservative Party brand.

Soper just told Leighton Smith he’d talked to her and she was in tears.

Whatever the truth of this is, it will do the party no good.

It is on 4% in Colin James’ poll of polls.

If  it doesn’t make the 5% threshold those votes will be distributed to parties which do.

A friend was talking to a woman about this yesterday. When she realised her vote for the Conservatives might end up helping Labour and the Green Party get an extra MP she was horrified.


Media need thicker skin

17/05/2012

Quote of the day:

The media’s role is often to be “hostile, aggressive and antagonistic” to governments and politicians when they merit it. That comes with the job of being the “Fourth Estate”. I was once so hostile, aggressive and antagonistic” that Prime Minister Jim Bolger banned me from his press conferences.

It is the media’s job to apply scrutiny, to critique, and to commentate on events and individuals. It is just a shame that it cannot stand it when others do the same to them.

Message to Media: Stop being so pathetically thin-skinned and get on with the job. Bill Ralston

He was commenting to the reaction to Prime Minister John Key’s observation that the media is tougher on a second term government.

He made the comments during an interview with Leighton Smith:

He is quite clear he is making observations, not complaining, that he wasn’t ” bent out of shape by that” and he expected it.


Question of the day

31/10/2011

A caller to Newstalk ZB this morning said he didn’t own shares and never would because they were too risky.

Leighton Smith responded by asking why, if shares in a company are so risky anyone would want the government to own the whole lot?


No need to bother with policy

17/10/2008

“Show us your policy,” they’ve been saying for months.

But does policy really matter?

Leighton Smith played this tape on his show yesterday which demonstrates people not only don’t know what McCain’s and Obama’s policies are but they’d vote for their preferred candidate even if he had the other’s policies and deputy.

Yet more evidence that some people would be performing a public service if they didn’t vote.

Hat TIp: SOLO


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