Winston’s Royal Commission: Threat or opportunity?

We do not need Winston Peters’ Royal Commission into Media Bias and Manipulation, but it is high time we took a coordinated approach to the shape of our media landscape.

The New Zealand First manifesto coyly refers to a Royal Commission of Enquiry into Media Independence, but that is no more than a watered down title for the initiative the party announced with a petition back in June. And its Kaipara ki Mahurangi candidate, Jenny Marcroft, made the focus clear during the Better Public Media election debate last week when she referred to it as “a Royal Commission on Media Bias”.

This looks like vindictiveness. Such an enquiry would be no more than a witch-hunt, an opportunity for New Zealand First to address perceived slights and settle scores against journalists and their employers.

To be fair, though, at least NZ First (along with the Greens) has a detailed section on media policy in its manifesto. Some of its proposals, such as joint funding of media internships, have real merit. Sadly, its lead policy on media bias has none.

Let’s assume for a moment that NZ First does become the kingmaker in a new government. Giving in to Winston Peters’ wishes on the royal commission would be an easy concession, particularly if it traded away some of NZ First’s more wayward proposals.

Such an enquiry would be a disaster. Its true purpose, implicit in the petition title and Marcroft’s description, would be to level charge after charge against mainstream media organisations. In the process, the already depleted levels of trust in them would be further eroded, and their democratic purpose and role in social cohesion called into question. As the saying goes: No good will come of this.

Had it proposed a wider enquiry into the future of media, it may have been onto a winner. And, if Mr Peters does get his formal enquiry, it will be vital to move heaven and earth to broaden its remit to dilute (and hopefully eliminate) its misguided origins. Continue reading “Winston’s Royal Commission: Threat or opportunity?”

‘Corrupt, arrogant and ignorant’: Classic Peters playbook but Jack Tame kept asking questions

It was vintage Winston Peters – a class act that took my mind back through countless encounters with journalists asking questions he did not want to answer.

The 78-year-old with seemingly several centuries of political experience did to Jack Tame on 1News’ Q&A last weekend what he did to the same interviewer on the same programme three years ago: He answered questions with umbrage. At least this time he didn’t repeatedly call him James.

Tame was trying to get Peters to admit his New Zealand First  Party had not costed its policies. He tried to pin down Peters on the cost of a dedicated gang prison and seemed to believe it would be a new prison rather than the re-allocation of existing spaces between institutions. After a verbal pas-de-deux he was told: “Look, I’m not going to have a fiscal argument with you when you don’t know what you’re talking about”.

The interviewer moved to a policy on funding the elderly in residential care and after repeated questioning on cost was told: “Can I just tell TV1: You’re a taxpayer-owned operation. The taxpayer is entitled to a proper interview here, not you thinking you’ll do what you did last time…I’ll answer your question if you’ll just shut up for five seconds.” Neither did, but Peters went on to say the party’s imminent manifesto would explain the policy “but, of course, you couldn’t wait for that.” The manifesto was due to be published later that day. It wasn’t, and the following day Peters announced he had delayed publication until after Wednesday’s official cash rate announcement.

Then to co-governance and a complex exchange about Peters’ past knowledge of government policy and a report which he claimed had been withheld from him. A sample of his personal slights aimed at Tame: “Don’t show your inexperience”, “Jack, I know you’re desperate but you’re not going to stop this surge in our campaign with lies and deceit”, “you’re a waste of taxpayers’ money”. On party funding: “This is amazing. Jack, take your dirt and go somewhere else.”

He accused Tame of being “corrupt”, suggesting his “masters” were “trying to get rid of New Zealand First”.

And so it went on, culminating in a final salvo at the host: “People are going to say ‘Winston, why did you bother coming today’. Democracy is about hearing both sides of the story, not hearing arrogant, jumped-up, overpaid [journalists] who think they know more about this country…you just made a case here for us to get the broadcasting portfolio after the election.”

He was asked if that was a threat: “No, it’s not a threat. It’s a promise that you’re going to have an operation that is much more improved on what it is now.”

And, with a winning smile, he was gone. Continue reading “‘Corrupt, arrogant and ignorant’: Classic Peters playbook but Jack Tame kept asking questions”

Bring back the Great Wall that once protected the news

It is time to bring back the Great Wall. No, not the one that protected China’s emperor from nomadic hordes on the Eurasian Steppe, nor the one that kept civilising Romans safe from the dreadful Picts: I’m talking about the one that separates news from advertising.

I can sympathise with media organisations scratching for revenue while their traditional business model is showing durability akin to the wall that once cut Berlin in half. However, that search for earnings carries considerable risk when it threatens the traditional barrier between journalism and commercial interests. It’s all about trust and I will return to that.

I have never liked advertisements that look like news stories but have bowed to the inevitable so long as they carried a clear label that they are just that – advertisements. And that label must be obvious to anyone who sees or hears it. I prefer ADVERTISEMENT top and centre, but I accept PAID CONTENT in the same place.

What you won’t hear me calling it is ‘native advertising’. There is nothing native about it. ‘Native’ means indigenous and ‘native advertising’ is a bad example of colonisation. It is the phase used by advertising executives in polite conversation to justify the format, but it never appears on what they produce. Their current preferred label appears to be (in lower case or sotto voce) ‘partnering with….’ although ‘sponsored content’ may be a publisher’s preference. Too often, however, the label is the last thing you see, if you notice it at all. ‘Job done”, says the advertising executive, because the content and the brand are imprinted before the provenance.

I find this sort of advertising at best irritating and at worst misleading. However, I suppose I have reluctantly learnt to live with it.

What I have not accepted – and will not accept – is the use of bona fide journalists to purvey this sort of content. I do not care whether their bosses have some form of conscience-salving agreement over ‘editorial control’: It crosses a line that I do not believe should be crossed. Continue reading “Bring back the Great Wall that once protected the news”

The danger in thinking it is safer to keep your mouth shut

At my age, I am entitled – and eminently qualified – to read a magazine called The Oldie. No-one disputes my right, as it is an easy way to dismiss me as no longer relevant.

These days there is an awful lot of dismissing. It ranges from ignoring news that does not fit a particular world view to ruining the careers of gifted academics who believed it was their role to speak out.

I’ve written before about being dismissed on a variety of charges, most of them beyond my control (Old white man guilty on three of four counts).

Dismissing, in its varying stages of severity and consequence, is another way of saying we have forgotten how to tolerate our fellow human beings.

In the September issue of The Oldie British historian A.N. Wilson (pictured above celebrating his admission to the ranks of septuagenarians, and otherwise known as the Oldie Man of Letters) devotes his column to “The strange death of toleration” and numerous examples of how “over the last generation, free speech has taken a battering”.

His column was prompted by a mind-numbingly stupid act by the 331-year-old Coutts Private Bank, which cancelled Brexit politician Nigel Farage’s account because of his polarising political views. I don’t particularly like Mr Farage or the way he goes about his politics, but I certainly wouldn’t see that as grounds to tear up his savings bank book.

However, the author of The Victorians and numerous biographies including those of Adolph Hitler and John Betjeman was much more concerned about the treatment of the Reverent Richard Fothergill (a real person) who, on a building society’s feedback page, objected to the promotion of trans and gay ideology which conflicted with his religious beliefs. Boof…his account was closed because the building society practiced “zero tolerance”. Continue reading “The danger in thinking it is safer to keep your mouth shut”