Graham Adams: The debate over the $55 million media fund erupts again

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RNZ’s Mediawatch and a video clip viewed 42,000 times keep the topic of the Public Interest Journalism Fund fizzing. Graham Adams reports…

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A week ago, the NZ Taxpayers’ Union posted a short video clip of the exchange in Parliament between Jacinda Ardern and Judith Collins in which the National Party leader quizzed the Prime Minister about the $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund influencing political coverage.

Ardern seemed to find the exchange amusing until David Seymour stepped in to ask:

“What then would happen to a media outlet that received money under the fund and wanted to report a story deemed inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, which is one of the requirements to adhere to?”

Having recommended that Collins ask the media if they agreed they were under government influence, Ardern summarily dismissed Seymour’s suggestion that the fund’s mandatory guidelines for how to address the Treaty might present a problem.

The kicker to the whole exchange is that none of the mainstream media deemed it worthy of being reported. As the Taxpayers’ Union put it in its introduction to the video:

“If you’re worried about the independence of our media, this is a must-watch exchange in Parliament. Why do you think the media declined to cover it?”

Louis Houlbrooke, the union’s campaigns manager, says that with 42,000 views so far, “it is by far our most-watched video post of all time.”

Clearly, discussion of the topic is not only in the public interest but also of interest to the public.

Nevertheless, it is extremely difficult to persuade senior members of the media and those administering the fund to accept there might be a problem — even if it is only the public’s perception of bias. The latter, of course, can be as damaging in practice as actual bias, given the media’s primary asset is the trust its audiences place in it for independent, truthful and unbiased coverage. Continue reading “Graham Adams: The debate over the $55 million media fund erupts again”

Graham Adams: Going where the media won’t

Behind the coverage of David Seymour’s rise in the polls and Maori Language Week lurk inconvenient truths. Graham Adams argues journalists need to be more even-handed to maintain their credibility.

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IN THE HULLABALOO that followed Curia’s poll results last week, the media focused mainly on the startling fact that National’s support had collapsed to 21.3 per cent — with all its dire implications for Judith Collins continuing as the party’s leader.

Predictably, the dismal figures spawned a flurry of articles predicting a palace coup — with the rider that the mutiny could not be immediate because Level 4 lockdown prevented the party’s Auckland MPs flying to Wellington en masse to disembowel their leader in person. A coup conducted over Zoom would have been unseemly and presumably unsatisfying to those consumed with blood lust.

The fact that Act reached its highest number in any poll — at 14.9 per cent — was also widely covered, partly because it was seen as a fresh humiliation for Collins, with the party described as “hot on National’s heels”.

While the media was keen to dissect the causes for Collins’ poor showing, however, it didn’t seem nearly as interested in analysing possible reasons for David Seymour’s ascension — including the role played by his tweet revealing the confidential code prioritising access to vaccinations for Māori.

Seymour posted the tweet at 9.49am on September 6. The poll of 1000 respondents was conducted between September 5 and September 9, with the median responses on September 7.

In short, nearly all the polling occurred in the days immediately after Seymour’s message appeared, which also saw his defence of his actions published prominently in the NZ Herald on September 8.

It is clear that despite the widespread condemnation he received in the media — ranging from the Māori Party describing the tweet as a “lowlife move” to the extraordinary response of Newshub’s political editor, Tova O’Brien, calling him a “cockwomble” — his popularity hit new highs. Continue reading “Graham Adams: Going where the media won’t”

Outdated Views? Andrea Vance On Sean Plunket

Chris Trotter, political columnist, blogger and commentator, writes here about “shock jocks”, “outdated” views, “privilege” and the “Woke” establishment …  

IT’S ONE OF THOSE throwaway lines which, precisely because so little conscious thought was given to it, tells us so much. The author, Andrea Vance, is an experienced political journalist working for Stuff. The subject of Vance’s throwaway line, Sean Plunket, is an equally experienced journalist. It was in her recent story about Plunket’s soon-to-be-launched online media product “The Platform”, that Vance wrote: “Plunket’s dalliances with controversy make it easy to paint him as a two-dimensional character: a right-wing, shock-jock with outdated views on privilege and race.”

It’s hard to get past those first four words. The picture Vance is painting is of a dilettante: someone who flits from one inconsequential pursuit to another, taking nothing seriously. And, of course, the use of the word “dalliances” only compounds this impression. To “dally” with somebody it to treat them casually, offhandedly – almost as a plaything. Accordingly, a “dalliance” should be seen as the very opposite of a genuine commitment. It smacks of self-indulgence. A cure, perhaps, for boredom?

To dally with controversy, therefore, is to betray a thoroughly feckless character. Controversies are all about passion and commitment. Controversies are taken seriously. Indeed, a controversy is usefully defined as a dispute taken seriously by all sides. And yet, according to Vance, Plunket has only been playing with controversy: trifling with it, as a seducer trifles with the affections of an innocent maid.

In Vance’s eyes, this indifference to matters of genuine and serious concern distinguishes Plunket as a “two-dimensional character”. It reduces him to a cardboard cut-out, a promotional poster, a thing of printer’s ink and pixels – insubstantial. Or, which clearly amounts to the same thing as far as Vance is concerned: “a right-wing, shock-jock with outdated views on privilege and race.” Dear me! The scorn dripping from those words could fill a large spittoon!

As if the holding of right-wing views somehow renders a person less than three-dimensional. As if conservative thinkers from Aristotle to Thomas Hobbes, Edmund Burke to Carl Schmidt haven’t contributed enormously to Western political thought. As if Keith Holyoake, Jim Bolger and Bill English aren’t respected by New Zealanders of all political persuasions for their rough-hewn dignity and love of country. To hold right-wing views isn’t a sickness, It doesn’t make you a bad person. It merely denotes a preference for the familiar; a wariness of the new; and a deep-seated fear of sudden and unmandated change.

As for “shock-jocks”: well, that is the sort of broadcasting talent commercial radio producers are constantly searching for. People of energy and enthusiasm, with a way of communicating both qualities to the radio station’s listeners. And if they also have a talent for decoding the zeitgeist on air: for tapping into the audience’s anger and frustration; and giving voice to their hopes and their fears? Why, then they are worth their weight in gold – and usually get it. The more people a “shock-jock” glues to the station’s frequency, the more the advertisers will be prepared to pay. That’s the business.

Perhaps Vance should have a word with the people who pay her salary: perhaps they could explain where all that money comes from.

The most important words, however, Vance saves for last. What really confirms Plunket’s lack of three dimensions are his “outdated views on privilege and race”. It is with these six words that Vance betrays both herself and her newspaper.

Who says Plunket’s views on privilege and race are “outdated”? According to whose measure? After all, his views on privilege and race correspond closely with those of Dr Martin Luther King. Is Vance asserting that Dr King’s view that people should not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character, is outdated? Is she suggesting that a poor white man has more in the way of privilege than Oprah Winfrey? Or that the privileges which flow from superior economic power and social status count for less than those attached to race, gender and sexuality?

The answer is Yes. Those who declare such views to be “outdated” are, indeed, making all of the claims listed above. This locates them among a relatively narrow section of the population: highly educated; paid well above the average; more than adequately housed; and enjoying all the “privileges” accruing to those who manage the bodies and shape the minds of their fellow citizens.

Andrea Vance is a member of this truly privileged group, and so, at one time, was Sean Plunket. So, why the sneering condescension? Why the scorn? The answer is to be found in the new priorities of the truly privileged; the people who actually run this society. They have determined that their interests are better served by fostering the division and bitterness that is born of identity politics. Rather than see people promote a view of human-beings that unites them in a common quest for justice and equality, they would rather Blacks assailed Whites, women assailed men, gays assailed straights, and trans assailed TERFS. In short, the “One Percent” have decided that their interests are better protected by corporations, universities and the mainstream news media all promoting the ideology of identity politics.

By setting his face against this new “Woke” establishment, Sean Plunket the conservative poses as large a threat to the status quo as Martyn Bradbury the radical. On the one hand stand those who question the necessity and morality of changes now deemed essential by persons no one elected. On the other, those who insist that such divisive policies will produce results diametrically opposed to their promoters’ intentions. Right and Left, joined in an “outdated” search for the common ground that makes rational politics possible. The place where both sides are willing to acknowledge and agree that, in the words of John F. Kennedy:

“[I]n the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

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This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 21 September 2021.

Curia political poll is grim news for the Nats – but its measure of enthusiasm for “Aotearoa” will be vexing for Maori Party, too

The New Zealand Herald was not alone in reporting on the discomforting results for National in the latest Curia opinion poll and the petition mounted by Maori Party leaders to have the name of this country officially changed to Aotearoa.

The first matter was headlined The National Party’s polling company has the party crashing to within six points of Act

The writer of the report beneath this headline seemed to delight in noting who had conducted this poll.  

The National Party’s historic pollster has the party’s support crashing to historic lows, while Act is on the verge of overtaking it.

A Curia poll, conducted for the Taxpayer’s Union, has National on just 21.2 per cent, with Act close behind on 14.9 per cent.

The result is only a whisker above National’s worst-ever election result, 20.93 per cent in 2002. It is the closest National and Act have ever been in the poll.

Labour is at 45.9 per cent with the Greens on 9.6. Te Paati Māori is on 1.2 per cent. Continue reading “Curia political poll is grim news for the Nats – but its measure of enthusiasm for “Aotearoa” will be vexing for Maori Party, too”

Brace yourself for the peddling of propaganda and try to relish the experience (because you have paid for it with your taxes)

We weren’t surprised, at Point of Order, to see the scant media attention paid to a statement issued yesterday by ACT leader David Seymour.  

Headed  Government’s questionable media funding, the statement notes how the Government

“… is extending its tentacles into nearly every area of media with an offer too good to refuse for each outlet, and it has rapidly reached absurdity with taxpayer money spent on journalism to check on Government expenditure of taxpayer money”.

The statement was triggered by the announcement of the first tranche of the government’s $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund.

As RNZ’s Mediawatch reported,  Māori journalism projects and a new training initiative are the major beneficiaries of the first $10m, but some of the money goes to things already funded from the public purse.

Mediawatch further noted

“… this is the biggest single public investment in journalism for decades and takes the total annual spend on media to over $300m. (There’s another $20m up his sleeve if Cabinet thinks the media need that too.)  

“Media companies big and small, local and national, public and private alike can all apply to the fund – including those which have never had public money before.”

Oh – but let’s not forget the need for recipients of this lolly to push a highly political ideological barrow:

Guidelines issued in April also said the fund ‘must actively promote the principles of Partnership, Participation and Active Protection under Te Tiriti o Waitangi’.”  Continue reading “Brace yourself for the peddling of propaganda and try to relish the experience (because you have paid for it with your taxes)”

A question about the $55m media fund made Ardern laugh… but not for long

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This article was written for The Democracy Project by Graham Adams, a journalist, columnist and reviewer who has written for many of the country’s media outlets including Metro, North & South, Noted, The Spinoff and Newsroom.

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Surprisingly for a Minister of Finance, Grant Robertson is an ebullient, jolly sort of fellow and it is not unusual for him to barrack from his seat next to the Prime Minister in Parliament to support her.

This week, Judith Collins had barely finished putting a question to Jacinda Ardern about media funding when he guffawed derisively.

Collins asked:

What does she say to people who are concerned that her $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund — which includes numerous criteria for media to adhere to — is influencing the editorial decisions of media outlets in New Zealand?”

The Prime Minister — perhaps encouraged by her deputy’s derision — rose from her seat to reply.

“Mr Speaker,” she declaimed emphatically, “I would abso-loot-ely reject that!”

With Robertson continuing to chortle at the ridiculousness of Collins’ question, Ardern was emboldened.

“But, better yet, Mr Speaker,” she said, grinning broadly and stifling a laugh: “I would put the question to the media and ask whether they agree with that sentiment.”

Despite the Prime Minister’s obvious glee and that of her colleagues, this was an exceedingly stupid retort. Presumably she is not acquainted with Mandy Rice-Davies’ contribution to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations as a result of the Profumo scandal in 1960s Britain. When legal counsel pointed out that a peer had denied having had an affair with her or even having met her, Rice-Davies uttered the immortal line:

“Well he would [say that], wouldn’t he?” Continue reading “A question about the $55m media fund made Ardern laugh… but not for long”

The dangers of putting media on the government’s payroll

Accusations by Stuff journalist Andrea Vance that the Prime Minister leads an unusually secretive government don’t tell the whole story about its desire to control information, says Graham Adams.

He has taken a closer look at the guidelines for the new $55 million journalism fund in an article for the Democracy Project

He writes:

Despite widespread cynicism about the Government’s ability to fulfil its promises — whether it is KiwiBuild, light rail along Dominion Rd, or planting a billion trees —  journalist Andrea Vance still found enough fresh outrage last week to launch a blistering attack over a pledge Jacinda Ardern made in 2017 to lead “a more open and democratic society” that would “strengthen transparency around official information”.

In fact, Ardern’s lack of transparency was on show very early in her prime ministership. Shortly after the 2017 election, she refused to release notes from the coalition negotiations between Labour and NZ First — leading one journalist to opine:

“A month seems early for a new government to dash hopes of a fresh start yet Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s team seems determined to break the speed record when it comes to disregard for public transparency.”

From Vance’s standpoint as a journalist, little seems to have improved since then.

The damning conclusion she arrived at after citing delays in responses to Official Information Act requests and ministers’ refusals to be interviewed was:

“At every level, the government manipulates the flow of information.”

It’s not difficult to find other instances of the Government denying access to important information in addition to those Vance mentioned — not least its record of obfuscation over significant details of its Covid-19 management and vaccination programme.

Examples of the kind Vance offered of the government hiding or distorting important information are the most obvious form of political censorship. There is, however, another form of political censorship which can be even more insidious — that is, attempting to impose narratives which suit the government’s purposes and thereby crowd out competing views. Continue reading “The dangers of putting media on the government’s payroll”

Privacy Commissioner posts his peeve about the power of private companies (on Twitter) after social media giants gag Trump

The Point of Order team was alerted by the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union to the Privacy Commissioner’s  “crusade” for government regulation, apparently to curb the rights of corporate  giants in the social media game to decide who may post what sorts of material on their websites.

Twitter and Facebook have blocked US President Donald Trump, a serial tweeter, after a mob – apparently incited by his language – stormed Capitol Hill and after years of his persistently posting lies and inflammatory statements.

The Privacy Commissioner, John Edwards, seems to be welcoming the gagging of Trump while pressing for greater state control of their operations.   

Just a few months ago, the commissioner was delighting in the long-overdue passage of brand-new privacy legislation. Continue reading “Privacy Commissioner posts his peeve about the power of private companies (on Twitter) after social media giants gag Trump”

Stuff and more nonsense – the perturbing case of political adverts being rejected

Having declared its intention to be guided by a set of treaty principles, Stuff has set about suppressing the views of a political group which questions the establishment of special seats for Maori on local  local authorities.

Or rather, two publications in the Stuff stable have got into the suppression business.

We learn this from Breaking Views, which has published an item headed Democracy Northland: The Ad Stuff Refused to Publish.

We look forward to a denial from Stuff and a statement which rebuts the Breaking Views claim that the Whangarei Leader and the Bay Chronicle have refused to publish an advertisement which promotes a petition from Democracy Northland.

The advert says: Continue reading “Stuff and more nonsense – the perturbing case of political adverts being rejected”

Oh look – 28 potential good-news stories about young people overcoming challenges (but Stuff has mostly missed them)

The Dom-Post gave front-page treatment today to the government’s declaration of a climate emergency.   This emergency – says Climate Change Minister James Shaw – will be backed with ambitious plans to reduce emissions.

Another of yesterday’s press releases from the Beehive, about an awards ceremony, did not pass muster with the Dom-Post editorial gate-keepers.  This was a statement about 28 young people who have overcome formidable disadvantages – Children’s Minister Kelvin Davis described them as young achievers who have been in the care of Oranga Tamariki or involved with the youth justice system.

Each of them received Oranga Tamariki Prime Minister Awards in recognition of their success and potential.

At the awards ceremony in Parliament, Kelvin Davis congratulated these young people for showing the strength and perseverance to succeed despite facing significant challenges. Continue reading “Oh look – 28 potential good-news stories about young people overcoming challenges (but Stuff has mostly missed them)”