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.


Human cost of changing ag landscape

08/03/2020

The stereotypical image of farmers are of laconic, stoic men, and possibly women, who are better at doing than thinking or feeling.

The reality is of course very different and some of the thinking and feeling on farms and in wider rural communities is depressing.

On The Nation Lisette Reymer reported on the human cost of the changing agricultural landscape, showing how the once ‘golden’ farming industry is being redefined as a mental health minefield. 

It’s a sobering watch.

If you or someone you know needs help, the Rural Support Trust is a very good place to start.


Tweeting for The Nation

12/03/2016

I’m on The Nation’s Twitter panel at 9.30 this morning.

#nationtv3

… In the week that Landcorp pulled back on dairy, the milk price dropped and the Reserve Bank cut the OCR to a record low, we bring together the leaders of Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens to debate the state of the economy. How worried should we be? Or is it just a blip? Labour’s Andrew Little, New Zealand First’s Winston Peters and the Green Party’s James Shaw are live with Lisa Owen.

Then, an exclusive TV interview with Nobel Peace Prize winner Jose Ramos Horta. New Zealand spent millions and lost five soldiers helping bring peace to Timor Leste, then East Timor. What difference did we make? How real are concerns that it could become a failed state inside a decade? And does Helen Clark have much chance at getting the top UN job?

And, we look at the battle over Auckland housing. Is it being driven by NIMBYism or are we trying to cram too much into our biggest city? Phil Vine reports on the inter-generational battle for the soul… and density… of Auckland.

We’ll discuss all this and more with our panel: economist Shamubeel Eaqub, NZME Business Editorial Director Fran O’Sullivan, and Sunday Star-Times Editor Jonathan Milne.


Plan A is working

18/08/2015

One message from CEOs last week was the government needs to form Plan B in case the dairy slump worsens.

Lisa Owen put this to Finance Minister Bill English on The Nation and he responded:

. . . We run economic policy that underpins a flexible, resilient economy, so if prices are down in one area, we would expect people to— we’ve got a set of rules that enable them to react fairly quickly to that, and we don’t try and hide the message the world is sending us, for instance, about dairy prices. And lots of other countries, they’re increasing subsidies to farmers in order to brush over and hide that price signal. So this economy will diversify if there are other markets which are willing to pay more for our products. That’s where the investment will flow. And the good news on the horizon is that the US economy is recovering. It’s the world’s largest economy. It’s showing signs of sustainable growth. And that New Zealand businesses are responding to that positively, and I don’t agree with politicians—

But, Minister, that’s your plan A. That’s your plan A. Where’s your plan B?

Plan A is a flexible, resilient economy. If plan B is about politicians sitting on the sideline deciding where hundreds of millions of investment should go next, then we’re not interested in that sort of plan B. It will fail, as it’s failed in the past.

But business people who are on the front lines – 75% of the top business minds in the Mood of the Boardroom – they want you to have a plan B. Are they wrong?

Well, I’ve asked them about what their plan B is, and none of them have a plan B. They’re certainly inviting—

Maybe they’re relying on you for plan B, Minister.

They’re certainly not inviting politicians to say, ‘Right, we’re going to shift a couple of hundred billion— a couple of hundred million of investment from industry A to industry B.’ They are backing the Government approach, which is to ensure that we keep our costs down, the Government invests in infrastructure, because no one else can do that, we work on the pipeline of skills into the labour market so there’s people there that they can employ, and they make their risky commercial investment decisions, and that’s what they’re doing right now. Right around the country, businesses will be thinking about where to direct their investment, given that dairy’s not looking so good for the next year or two; tourism, wine, ICT is all looking better for the next two or three years. And they’ll make those decisions a bit more precisely and more sensibly than government would. .  .

Plan A is what got New Zealand through the GFC and the economy growing again.

We need more of it  – lower government spending, concentrating on addressing the causes of welfare dependency, investing in education and infrastructure, opening more trade opportunities . . .

That’s the business of government and private enterprise isn’t as Mike Hosking reminds us:

What’s a bloke buying a farm got to do with the government?
What has any person setting up a business got to do with the government?
When a shop closes is it the government’s job to mop it up?
When a factory down sizes… Is the govt supposed to do something?

Dairy, like all business products and markets is beyond a government scope.

A government is there to provide over arching policy direction… Like tax and trade deals and welfare.

It’s not there to milk the cows, man the tills and set the price for commodities. . .

If the CEO’s know what’s good for them and their businesses they won’t be asking government to get involved in them.

We don’t need Plan B and we definitely don’t need government minding the business of business.

 

 

 

 


Tweeting panel

08/08/2015

TV3 asked me to join The Nation’s tweet panel with Generation Zero co-founder Kirk Serpes this morning.

It was an interesting exercise.

Good interviewers listen to what interviewees say and base their next question on what they hear. I tried to do that with my tweets but kept missing the next point as I was tweeting on the last and trying to keep up with other tweets coming in.

Lisa Owen interviewed Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings talking about the farm gate milk price announcement today. This was followed by  reporter Torben Akel discussing governments appointing ex-MPs to government boards and an interview with American journalist Ben Taub who’s been writing about why teenagers’ journeys to jihad. 

The studio panelists were Heather du Plessis-Allan, Jacqueline Rowarth and Bernard Hickey.

Having Heather on the panel was very good marketing for Story which she’ll be co-hosting with Duncan Garner. It starts this Monday.

You can see the tweets here.


Craig’s injunction blocks debate

08/08/2014

Colin Craig has won an interim injunction against TV3 after it refused to include him in a debate between leaders of the minor parties:

. . . Leaders from ACT, United Future, the Greens, the Maori Party, NZ First and Mana are scheduled to appear in the 34-minute debate. 

“The debate this weekend is part of a series of more targeted debates running on The Nation, and involves minor parties who have seats in Parliament and have been in Government or Opposition during the past three years,” a TV3 spokesperson said this morning. 

Mr Craig’s lawyer, John McKay, said his client had been excluded from a “vital part of democracy”.  

“It’s about voters,” Mr McKay told the court.

He said it was “extraordinary that TV3 had chosen leaders to appear on the debate based on their place in Parliament from the last election, rather than current polls”. 

Part of the issue was the show’s studio could only accommodate six lecterns for leaders, not seven, meaning there wouldn’t be enough space for Mr Craig. A wide shot can also only accommodate six people, as can the studio’s lighting. 

“There must be a trade-off between comfort and the importance of the occasion,” Mr McKay argued. 

TV3 lawyer Daniel McLellan acknowledged Mr Craig had a right to be included in televised debates in the heat of the election campaign, but tomorrow’s minor debate was not that important. 

Mr McLellan said it was “not likely to have a significant impact on the 2014 general election”, and media have a right to decided what is newsworthy without having it “dictated” to them. . .

I don’t like the idea of politicians dictating what media does and how it does.

But when TV3’s lawyer admitted Craig had a right to be included he weakened his case for his exclusions considerably.

It might only be political tragics who are fully engaged in the election campaign.

But it is only six weeks to polling day.


Which election is Labour trying to win?

03/03/2014

Last Monday when interviewed by Kathryn Ryan, Labour leader David Cunliffe said:

“We all know the Government is going to change. It’s either going to change this time or next time. I think it’s more likely to change this time, and if it does, the question in front of New Zealanders is what is the composition of that new government going to be?”

For a leader to suggest he’s focussed on anything other than a win in the next election is unusual.

Could it be that he has a two-election strategy, to increase Labour’s vote at the expense of the Green Party this year in the hope that will give him a really strong foundation to win the election in 2017?

His interview on The Nation adds to that suspicion:

• Cunliffe refuses to guarantee the Greens’ place in Labour-led government – “that depends on how the voters decide.”
• Withdraws promise by previous Labour leader David Shearer that Greens will get a proportionate share of Cabinet seats – “we’re different roosters, I’m not doing it that way” – and won’t discuss coalition deals before election.

How the voters decide is the sort of game-playing Winston Peters indulges in.

Giving voters a good indication of what sort of government their votes might result in gives them the power. This shilly-shallying leaves the power with the parties.

But Cunliffe is firing a warning shot across the Green’s bow on purpose.

Voters in the centre aren’t keen on the radical left policies of the Green Party and many would prefer a strong National-led government than a weak Labour-led one beholden to the Greens.

All polls put National well ahead of Labour which would need Green support to govern, and probably some of the other minor players as well.

If Cunliffe could suck votes from the Greens on its left flank it wouldn’t increase the left-bloc but would make Labour stronger.

The swapping of votes within the left wouldn’t be enough to win this election.

But a stronger Labour Party would have a much better chance in the next one if it relegated the Green Party to a very distant third and therefore a much more minor player in government that it would be on current polling.

The trick for Cunliffe would be to lose but not so badly that he’d be deposed as leader.

That would be a delicate balancing act at the best of times and will be even more difficult if the ABC –  Anyone But Cunliffe – decide they’d prefer a big loss and the chance of a new leader.


NZ will win with TPP

14/10/2013

Trade Minister Tim Groser said there was no need for concern about the content of the Trans Pacific Partnership:

“When this deal is done, I am certain that I and the Prime Minister will be able to come in from of New Zealanders and say: ‘this is virtually all upside’.”

“In relative terms, New Zealand will gain more than any country in TPP … the structure of these massive protective barriers that will come down will benefit New Zealand more than any country in this negotiation.” . . .

. . .  Mr Groser . . . said concerns about intellectual property and patents under the TPP had been “wildly exaggerated”.

He said the United States is the “most innovative country in the world” so their intellectual property law could hardly chill innovation.

New Zealanders would not be paying more for drugs as a result of TPP, Mr Groser said.

“I’ve said categorically Pharmac is not on the table.”

ANZCO Foods chair Sir Graeme Harrison said New Zealand has a lot more to gain from the TPP now Japan’s in the negotiations.

He said:

New Zealand could bring in $5 billion per year in our exports now Japan was involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), compared to $3.5 billion without Japan.

The increase in exports to Japan could mean a 2% gain in GDP, with many of the gains in the primary industries, he said. . .

He said Japan’s inclusion has made the TPP more worthwhile for the United States, which in turn will work in New Zealand’s favour.

“All of this comes together with two countries, the world’s first and third largest economy, both believing in a rules-based trading system, that are on our side, and we can have quite an influence in that process.”

Both were speaking on The Nation yesterday. You can watch the full interviews here.

New Zealand has a very small domestic market and we have one of the most open economies in the world.

We’ve already gone through the hard part of giving up protection and puts us ahead of most of the other countries which are negotiating the TPP.

We have a lot to gain and very little to lose from the successful completion of the TPP agreement.


Which PM would they emulate?

02/09/2013

Sean Plunket, interviewing Labour’s three leadership contenders on The Nation  yesterday, asked them which leader they would emulate.

David Cunliffe opted for Michael Joseph Savage, Shane Jones and Grant Robertson both chose Norman Kirk.

Interesting that Helen Clark wasn’t chosen, and in fact was criticised by Jones:

“Now the thing about Helen, she was into social provision and anti-discrimination, Labour can no longer have that as its dominating brand,” said Mr Jones.

The other two didn’t comment on this, but their enthusiasm for a 50/50 gender split in caucus suggests they don’t agree.


Educate locals or allow more foreigners

23/07/2013

Rural Contractors New Zealand president Steve Levet says schools are partly to blame for the shortage of skilled workers in agricultural contracting.

Mr Levet says the education system has always viewed agriculture as being a second rate option for the under-achievers at school.

He says the agricultural sector needs to target the brighter students and promote agriculture and agricultural contracting as a career opportunity.

Mr Levet says students can get qualifications in agricultural contracting which is not only a highly-specialised field requiring great expertise, but opens the door to international travel as well. . . .

Is it fair to blame schools?

It’s possible that they don’t know about the opportunities and if they don’t know then it’s up to the industry, and agriculture in general, to educate them.

A farm advisor who was concerned about the lack of knowledge of career opportunities in agriculture and associated industries provided a learning opportunity for several secondary school principals.

He flew them over the area, pointing out the many businesses below them then introduced them to some of the local agribusiness entrepreneurs.

The agenda included a session from an accountant who gave such good examples of the earning potential in agribusiness that one principal quipped he was in the wrong job.

The issue of the lack of skilled workers was discussed on The Nation. Federated farmers president Bruce Wills said if there’s not enough locals, immigration rules need to allow more foreign workers.

Mr Wills said only 86.5 per cent of the farming work force are New Zealand citizens so a 13.5 per cent gap is needed to be filled by migrants. He would like the Government to make it easier to attract more foreign labourers.

“We can’t run our industry now without significant numbers of immigrant workers so the industry is too important to be hijacked by lack of labour, if we cant get kiwis in these roles we got make it easy to attract and retain good quality immigrant labour,” said Mr Wills.

If kiwis don’t want the work there are plenty of foreigners who do – providing they can get visas.


One does what it oughtn’t and t’other doesn’t what it ought’a?

16/04/2011

Quote of the week:

“Does Labour do things they shouldn’t so people vote for them and National doesn’t do things they should so people won’t not vote for them?”

Sean Plunket or Duncan Garner* on The Nation this morning in response to a comment by Fran O’Sullivan on the cost of Labour’s 2005 election bribes.

*I was listening not watching and it’s not online yet to check who said this while chairing the panel discussion.


More political tragics needed for strong democracy

15/12/2010

The good news is that The Nation and Q&A are going to be funded to broadcast next year.

The bad news is they will probably screen at inconvenient times as they did this year.

Do few people watch these programmes because they’re broadcast at unpopular times, or do they get those time slots because few people watch them?

An ABC interview of  Dr Sally Young, senior lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne,  by Mark Colvin might have the answer:

 Sally Young:  . . . Who is the political news audience?  . . . basically the people who are really political news tragics – people who watch Parliament Question Time or subscribe to Crikey, for example, or watch Sky News press conferences and so on live – that’s about 0.5 per cent of the Australian population. So they’re your real political tragics and it’s a very small percentage.

MARK COLVIN: And so politicians have a real dilemma there. I mean, they’re speaking on two levels and if they engage too much with the Twitterarti etc, then they’re in danger of ignoring the vast majority of the population.

SALLY YOUNG: Mm, that’s right and I mean, even just broadening it out. When I looked at the percentage of people who buy a broadsheet in Australia, it’s about 2 per cent of the adult population. So, you know, it broadens out to things like, if you count people who watch ABC or SBS news and current affairs that’s about 10 per cent, or 12 per cent might listen to ABC Local Radio. So it’s somewhere between 0.5 to 12 per cent. That’s the core audience you think are interested in detailed information about politics, that sort of public affairs.

MARK COLVIN: So you’re left with 80 to 90 per cent who get everything they know about politics from the first couple of minutes of one of the commercial channels’ news bulletins.

SALLY YOUNG: Exactly. That’s right. And one of the findings I was looking at in the book as well is that those people who are reliant, as you say, particularly on commercial television news programs, those news programs will devote possibly two minutes a night to the election…

If it’s only political tragics like you and me who watch, read and listen to serious political analysis, what do politicians do?

MARK COLVIN: Alright so put yourself in a politician’s shoes. Or let’s say, the communications director of one of the major parties. How do you deal with this?

SALLY YOUNG: Well you can see one of the ways they deal with it is that they try to, if they’re brave enough, that the politicians will go on some of the more popular news programs as with Kevin Rudd going on Rove, for example. You know, that they’ll try and engage that audience and reach that audience that isn’t the hardcore political news junkies. They’ll try and get to them through the media they actually use. So that’s one of the ways.

MARK COLVIN: As a professional journalist, we tend to see that as “Oh, they’re trying to avoid the hard questioning”. But you’re saying that it’s just a logical reaction to what’s going on.

SALLY YOUNG: And it would be anti-democratic if they didn’t try to engage those people who don’t access that sort of hard news media, really. I mean, I know that journalists do – especially in those elite media, if you want to call them that – don’t like it when politicians avoid them to go on popular media like FM radio or comedy shows or whatever it is.

This explains a lot about why politics has become much more about personalities and why election campaigns are much more presidential with so much resting on the leader.

But it doesn’t mean there isn’t still a place for hard news journalism and political analysis. The problem is, if not many people are interested in it, advertisers won’t be keen to pay of it which is why New Zealand On Air is helping to fund both The Nation and Q&A.

 Hat Tip: Larvatus Prodeo   who got it from Trevor Cook who concludes:

Twitter, Facebook etc are only going to be important when they break stories. Sure they are entertaining, but they are not journalism . . .

To paraphrase Colvin, I think we will be left with 80 to 90 per cent of the population getting their political news from the first two minutes of the evening bulletin unless Mark Scott, or some other saviour, can turn some of that social media into (research-driven) journalism, rather than turning journalism into social media.

The challenge isn’t just how to fund serious  media, it’s also how to turn more people into political tragics. That will not only ensure a bigger audience for political news and analysis it will engender more participation in the political process and membership of political parties.

Both are important parts of a strong democracy.


Conspiracy theory

18/10/2010

Labour’s conference was a chance for the party and its leader to give the public reasons to vote for them.

Q & A interviewed Phil Goff who looked like he was trying, and failing, to defend the indefensible.

The Nation chose to interview Russel Norman and do a feature on Winston Peters.

If I was trying to draw up a list of reasons to vote for a Labour-led government neither Norman nor Peters would be on it.


Even more need for restraint

13/09/2010

Every now and then someone from the left reckons it’s time the government relaxed its Presbyterian approach to public spending.

The government, sensibly, hasn’t agreed with that and the Canterbury earthquake makes it an even worse idea.

Duncan Garner interviewed Finance Minister BiIll English on The Nation:

DUNCAN     Does that mean you have to cut back in other areas though Mr English. I mean as you’re going into next year’s budget, election year budget, clearly money that you thought you had, you haven’t got now?

BILL    Well I think what it means is that if anyone had an idea that we could let up on tight management of the government’s finances, then this event means that we can’t.

The earthquake is a reminder of the importance of healthy public finances to ensure that unexpected events don’t jeopardise necessary services.


Timid timing

28/03/2010

If there’s a worse time than 9am on Sunday for a television programme on politics it’s probably 11am on Saturday and 8am on Sunday.

But those who think they know what and when people want and don’t want to watch, have scheduled TV1s Q&A at 9 on Sunday mornings and TV3’s The Nation and 11 on Saturday with a repeat at 8 on Sunday.

Do they schedule the programmes at these times because not enough people watch them, or do not enough people watch them because of when they’re scheduled?

If it’s the latter and the TV channels weren’t so timid about there timing they might find that scheduling these programmes when more people can watch them might mean more people would watch them.

But which one would take that chance of scheduling what might be intelligent debate at a more watchable hour when ratings rule and people have the choice of switching channels if they don’t like what’s on?


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