1. A bit of personal history…
Since I became more and more politically active, part of the growth of my political consciousness was an awareness that the media – whether print or electronic – was not always a clear reflection of what really was happening.
The first time I became starkly aware of the disconnect between a media story and reality was in 1989, when an associate and I made a submission to a Parliamentary Select Committee on the Classifications Bill. The Bill was aimed at replacing the old, antiquated Censorship Act.
There were some aspects of the Bill which we took exception to (from a liberal viewpoint) and we put together a submission, and requested an opportunity for a supporting oral submission.
We were due to ‘appear’ near the end of the day, and thus had an interesting opportunity to listen to all the submissions made by various groups, organisations, and individuals. Submitters ranged from the Nurses Organisation; Film Directors Association, NZ Law Society, etc.
I took note of the tenor of each submitter, and it was roughly 50/50 toward strengthening the proposed Classifications Act or liberalising it.
The following morning, the Dominion featured two stories on two submitters – both from the “pro-censorship” camp.
A critical submission from the NZ Law Society, regarding an aspect of the Bill which they deemed to be fatally flawed, was not reported. Neither did the Dominion report an astounding comment by then-MP, Trevor Rogers, who threatened to “change officials of the Courts” who could not, would not, implement the new law, whether flawed or not.
Had I not attended the Select Committee hearing personally, I would have assumed that all submissions were of a similar nature; would not have been aware of opposing views; would have been unaware of the Law Society’s views; and been oblivious to a Member of Parliament threatening to interfere with the judicial system of this country.
After 25 years, the incident remains vividly clear in my memory.
That was my very first lesson – not just in Select Committees – but media (mis-)reporting.
Since I began this blogging lark in July 2011, I have found no reason to lessen my wariness of media reporting, accuracy, and fairness. In fact, sadly, quite the opposite.
2. Once upon a time, in a fairy-tale land called Fairfax Media…
So begins this analysis of a recent Fairfax-Ipsos Poll which, upon closer scrutiny, is a fantasy lifted straight from the pages of Brothers Grimm.
A very recent Ipsos poll was taken over a five day period, starting from Saturday, 30 August – the day of Judith Collins’ resignation from her ministerial portfolios (though not from Parliament itself).
The infographic shows National at 54% and the Labour-Green bloc at 38%.
The above poll infographic was taken from a Research International poll, commissioned also by Fairfax Media – and released on 23 November, 2011 – three days before the General Election, three years ago.
The actual current, September 2014 poll results from Fairfax and it’s “newly” commissioned polling agent, Ipsos;
Compare the two polls above.
Two “different” polls. Two different polling companies. Three years apart. Almost exactly same figures.
Now let’s chuck in the actual election results for the 2011 Election;
In the 2011 poll, Fairfax’s polling agent over-estimated National’s support by a staggering 6.69 percentage points – well outside the stated margin of error by Research International (3.1%).
Considering that other mainstream polling companies have National ranging from 45% (Roy Morgan) to 46.4% (NZ Herald-Digipoll and TV3 News) to 50% (TVNZ News), it could be safely argued that the Fairfax-Ipsos results are in Wacky-Doodle Land.
The figures are not only dubious – but Fairfax buries an important fact;
The undecided vote remained steady at 13 per cent, which is higher than in some other polls. [my emphasis]
That statement is buried near the bottom of Vernon Small’s article, “National soars without Collins – poll“.
Incredibly, Small then adds – almost seemingly as an after-thought;
Benson said if Ipsos included those who said they were undecided, but when pressed were leaning towards a particular party, that number dropped to about 7 per cent and saw National’s vote come in about 2 percentage points lower.
Anything else we need to know, Vernon?!
The problem here is not just Fairfax presenting dodgy polling figures over two consecutive election periods – but the fact that Vernon Small, who wrote a story covering the poll, was thoroughly accepting of the results – and made no effort to question the veracity of the figures. Some comments from Small;
Two weeks out from the election National’s popularity has soared after the dumping of justice minister Judith Collins, putting John Key on course for a thumping victory on the evidence of a new Stuff.co.nz/Ipsos poll.
Assuming all the small parties hold their current seats, but independent Brendan Horan is not returned, National would have a dominant 70 seat bloc in a 125 seat Parliament.
Small also quoted Ipsos pollster Matt Benson without any real critical analysis;
Ipsos pollster Matt Benson said the poll followed the first televised leaders’ debate and straddled the resignation of Collins. ‘‘Despite a difficult week for National the poll shows support rise for the National Party, and John Key as preferred PM has also increased to 51.7 percent.’’
He said the rise may have been caused by wavering voters, uncomfortable with Collins, swinging in behind Key for finally taking action against her.
In no way could this poll and associated story be considered critical political analysis or news in the traditional sense.
Little wonder that, after only ten comments, Fairfax closed down posting on it’s comments section, at the end of Small’s article;
* Comments are now closed on this story.
The criticism of Fairfax must have been excoriating!
The problem here, as I see it;
Firstly, Ipsos is paid by Fairfax to conduct it’s polling.
Therefore, Fairfax has an inherent, undeclared financial interest in the source of “story”. Fairfax is not reporting on a story from the point of view of an impartial, disinterested party. They have a vested, commercial stake in promoting Ipsos’ findings.
As such Fairfax would be as critical of Ipsos as the Editor of the Dominion Post would commission an investigative piece on sub-editors being made redundant from his own newspaper (the redundancies happened – the story reporting the event never materialised).
In fairness, it should be pointed out that Fairfax is by no means unique in this obvious conflict of interest. The NZ Herald, TVNZ, and TV3 all have their own contracted pollsters. None of them will question the accuracy of their respective polling agents.
Secondly, because Fairfax (and other media) have a vested interest with their respective pollsters, they are locked in to using that sole company as a source for polling “news”. Hence, each media outlet’s authoritative reputation rests on pushing up the credibility of their respective polls. They must not question their own polling for fear of damaging their reputation for “authoritative political analysis”.
Regardless if their own polling is hopelessly implausible, it must be presented as factual and inarguably credible.
Even if it is clearly not.
3. Radio NZ – an oasis of information in a desert of pseudo “news”
The non-commercial Radio New Zealand not only reports polling results from various pollsters, but is currently running a Poll of Polls;
“The POLL of POLLS is an arithmetical average of the four most recent major polls since mid-June from among: TV1 Colmar Brunton, TV3 Reid Research, Fairfax Media-Ipsos, NZ Herald DigiPoll, Roy Morgan New Zealand and UMR Research, which is not published.”
- and is well worth keeping an eye on.
Off the main pollsters, the most accurate one to keep an eye on is Roy Morgan, as it alone calls respondents on cellphones. All others rely solely on landlines to contact respondents.
4. Tracy Watkins
Associated with Vernon Small’s front page article on the Dominion Post on 5 September, was a side-bar “opinion piece” by the paper’s political editor, Tracy Watkins. This is the on-line version;
“Two weeks down, two weeks to go and on today’s stuff.co.nz/Ipsos poll it’s all over bar the shouting.”
I was stunned when I read that comment. In effect, Watkins has elevated Fairfax’s 3 September public opinion poll to supplant the up-coming general election and accept a National Party victory based on Ipsos’ findings.
I put this issue to Neil Watts, blogger (Fearfactsexposed) and long-time commentator/critic of Fairfax Media and it’s policies. I asked him about the credibility of Fairfax’s polling and he replied,
“Having watched Fairfax Media make an art form of National Party propaganda for many years now, nothing they publish surprises me anymore. Their polls are notoriously, willfully unreliable, and they blatantly use them to manipulate rather than inform the electorate.”
This would certainly seem to be the case, as it should be noted that two different polling companies contracted by Fairfax consistantly over-rated National in their results. Neil had definite thoughts on why that might be. He said;
“Their political coverage is partisan, anti-opposition, anti-democratic, and their spin consistently comes from the exact same angle that the National Party are taking via Crosby Textor.
In fact, this is so reliable, that I only bother to read stuff.co.nz these days to find out what the Government’s spin will be on any given issue.”
When I pointed out Watkins’ piece, “All over bar the shouting”, Neil was scathing about her lack of impartiality;
“Political editor Tracy Watkins is clearly enamored with the Prime Minister and unprofessionally close to him. After several international trips with John Key and a substantial back catalogue of journalese ‘love letters’ to him, she really has zero credibility as an objective reporter.
To the informed reader, her copy is generally one-eyed, propagandist tripe. The weight of evidence is in their reporting, but I have heard from sources within Fairfax Media that their blatant goal is to get Key’s Government re-elected.”
If true, and the Fourth Estate has become a mouth-piece for The Political Establishment, it may explain why people are turning away from the mainstream media as well as politics. The previous general election had the lowest voter turn-out since 1887 – no feat to be proud of, and seemingly indicative of a growing malaise of alienation, apathy, and disconnection from our heretofore strong civic pride.
It simply beggars belief that a journalist such as Ms Watkins with many years experience could publish such an off-hand comment that effectively undermines current efforts by the Electoral Commission, trade unions, political parties, et al, to encourage people to enroll and to vote.
The Commission is spending tax payers’ money to encourage voter turn-out – and Watkins’ casual, flippant, remark that “it’s all over bar the shouting” undermined that campaign with half a dozen words. The fact that the Dominion Post reinforced that off-the-cuff remark by placing the Fairfax-Ipsos poll-story on the front page of the edition reinforced her comment with a subtle message; “don’t bother voting – National has won - it’s all over bar the shouting”;
Note the heading in big, black, bold lettering,
Poll sees Nats in command
“In command“? Was the election held on 5 September?! Did I miss it?
Note also the hidden subtext of an image of the PM, John Key, twice the size of his opponant, David Cunliffe. Note the victorious look on Key’s face – and the open-mouth “petulance” of ‘disappointment’ on Cunliffe’s.
The impression is clear; Key has “won” the election.
Cunliffe’s annoyance validates Key’s trimphant expression.
This is not reporting the news – it is manufacturing it.
Meanwhile, with more than a hint of irony, the real news of election-related events are buried within the newspaper;
Little wonder that Neil Watts summed up Fairfax’s agenda thusly,
“For a media corporation to be effectively aiming for oligarchical rule in New Zealand is a gross abuse of power and position. At the very least, they should be honest and open about their political loyalties, so that ordinary Kiwi voters can make an informed choice about where they source their news.”
I see nothing to disabuse me of the notion I began to develop in 1989, that a healthy dose of skepticism is required when presented with information from a media source.
Their agenda is no longer to present news.
Their agenda is to manufacture it; embellish it; use it to sell advertising; and to further political goals.
How else does one explain naked propaganda-masquerading-as-“news”?
Because looking at the full-blown story on the front page, I can see no other interpretation than the conclusion I have arrived at.
According to the Dominion Post, the election is done and dusted and the Nats are “in command”. So don’t bother voting. It’s all over.
Bar the shouting.
Fairfax media: National still cosy in polls after tea break (2011)
Fairfax media: National soars without Collins – poll (2014)
Wikipedia: New Zealand 2011 General Election
TV3 News: Key could need Maori Party post-election
TVNZ News: National unscathed by Dirty Politics – poll
Radio NZ: Election 2014 – Poll of Polls
Dominion Post: All over bar the shouting
Massey University: Massey commentators preview key election issues
Dominion Post: Tracy Watkins on politics
Fairfax media: Ipsos Polling Station
Previous related blogposts
Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 7 September 2014
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Check out this excellent debate between National’s Bill English and Labour’s David Parker. Well worth listening to;
Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes
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Photo Acknowledgement: Sunday Star Times
Tomorrow (1 April) see the last day for one of New Zealand’s best media presenters; Radio New Zealand’s Geoff Robinson. It will be a sad day, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I am hoping that this is some kind of quirky “April Fool’s” joke from the good people of Radio NZ.
In all seriousness, I will miss Geoff’s steady voice and hand. As I wrote 23 November, last year,
Geoff Robinson had been a part of my mornings since I “discovered” Radio NZ in the early 199os. He had been part of my mornings since then, outlasting several partners/lovers, and being there as I had my brekky and first of umpteen coffees.
His style was professional and reassuring. He asked the questions and voiced pertinent points from his guests that screamed from my own thoughts. He always sounded chatty and “laid back” – but his subtle questioning could be deceptively edgy and insightful.
It’s a cliche, I know, but he will be a tough act to follow.
All things must end. But with the certainty of change also come human feelings of loss and sadness.
As I also wrote last year; I will miss him terribly. Like a family member who hangs around, never really imposing himself, but always with something interesting to say.
All the best, Geoff!
Previous related blogpost
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9:05am Tuesday 25 February
Labour leader David Cunliffe is in the hot seat in the second of Nine to Noon’s election year, scene-setter interviews. Kathryn Ryan asks Mr Cunliffe what Labour needs to do to gain traction in the polls to prevent National from gaining a third term in office and his policy priorities.
On Nine To Noon, Radio NZ.
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Acknowledgement: Fairfax Media – Nats look to 2014 governing options
What was that about “moral mandate”, Dear Leader?
Key said the largest party had the “moral mandate” to govern.
“If National was to go out there and poll 46 per cent or 47 per cent – very similar to the result in 2011 – and not form the Government I think there would be outrage in NZ.”
So Key now believes in large numbers and percentages?
Because he certainly paid no heed to the Will of the Electorate when the majority (up to 75% in some polls) opposed partial privatisation of State assets.
Nor did Key pay any attention to the finer points of the results of the 2011 election. The majority of Party Votes went to parties opposing asset sales,
|National , ACT, United Future Party Votes||Labour, Greens, NZ First, Maori Party, Mana, and Conservative Party votes|
National – 1,058,636
Labour – 614,937
ACT – 23,889
Greens – 247,372
United Future – 13,443
NZ First – 147,544
Maori Party – 31,982
Mana – 24,168
Conservative Party* – 59,237
TOTAL – 1,095,968
Total – 1,125,240
So even though the Conservative gained no seats in Parliament (*because of the 5% threshold), they gained over double the electoral-support for ACT. The Conservative Party, it should be noted, opposed asset sales.
It certainly did not matter to Dear Leader on the issue of public opposition to asset sales. He was more than willing to ignore the majority of New Zealanders who opposed his privatisation agenda.
Key’s claim that “morally” he should lead the next government post-2014 because National may be the largest Party in Parliament – he should remember one thing; size doesn’t always count.
Key’s assertion on having a so-called “moral mandate” to govern post-2014, is obviously a message directed at Winston Peters.
His message to Peters is simple – ‘if we’re the biggest party, then we are the rightful government. And we will push this meme in the public consciousness which will make life difficult for you if you don’t co-operate’.
This is the kind of deviousness which National’s party strategist (taxpayer funded, no doubt) has come up with, to ensure a third term for John Key.
It now falls upon Peters to see if he’ll cave to pressure from the Nats.
The Standard: Moral mandates
The Pundit: On coming first, yet losing
A curious event took place on Monday 1 July on Radio NZ’s Jim Mora’s panel…
His guests that afternon were left-wing, Labour supporter, Dr Brian Edwards and right wing, National supporter, Michelle Boag.
One of the topics of discussion was fluoridation of urban water supplies. As is usual on issues like this, the debate became passionate.
But curiously, it was the position taken by each guest, Brian Edwards and Michelle Boag, that I found curious.
Usually, a left-winger will argue from a position of Collective action and responsibility. Like the issue of Food in Schools, the Lefts supports the stance that raising children, and ensuring their well-being, is a community responsibility.
The Right usually argues from a position of Individual choice and responsibility. On the issue of Food in Schools, the Right reject any notion of collective responsibility and instead hold to total parental responsibility as a default position.
I expected the same in the fluoridation debate between Brian and Michelle – only to find their positions reversed.
Brian was advocating from a Libertarian position of individual choice. He opposed flouridation.
Michelle was supporting the Collectivist position for a socialised benefit. She supported flouridation.
Their debate can be heard here:
Such complex creatures we humans are…
Mayors vs Ministers
Eqypt is not the only country wracked with coup d’états.
On 30th March 2010, National seized control of Environment Canterbury, postponing elections, and three weeks later appointing seven, un-elected Commissioners to run the body. The new Commissioners were vested with new powers to implement regional plans for Canterbury that could not appealed to the Environment Court (except to the High Court on points of law).
Roger Young, a trustee of the Water Rights Trust, suggested one of the prime movers for central government seizing control of ECAN was the vexed problem of water rights in the Canterbury region,
“After the commissioners’ own recommendations for a mixed member governance model at ECan post-2013 were ignored by the government, we see ECan now as simply a puppet to the bidding of a government which appears determined to increase irrigation and intensive farming in Canterbury despite the first order priorities in the Canterbury Water Management Strategy.
The slow pace of change behind the farm gate means that we will still have rising stocks of dirty water at a level that will haunt Cantabrians for decades.”
Acknowledgement: NBR – ECan ‘just a puppet to government bidding
The Canterbury Central Plains Water project is a half-billion dollar project, and National Ministers wanted to ensure that the money was spent according to their agenda. As we all know, farmers tend to vote National.
Three years later, and National has extended it’s power in the Canterbury region “to oversee the Council’s consents department”. We are told that this was by invitation by the CCC. I am reminded of puppet regimes that, once installed by a Super Power (former-USSR, US, China, etc) , duly “invited” their sponsor to send troops to help prop up the proxy government.
Was the Christchurch City Council “persuaded” by Gerry Brownlee to “invite the Minister for Local Government, Chris Tremain, to put in place a Crown Manager to oversee the Council’s consents department“? Were there back-room dealings where Mayor Bob Parker was issued an ultimatum by Brownlee;
‘Invite us to take over; save face; and save your arse at the up-coming local body elections – or we’ll take over anyway; you have egg on your face; and Lianne Dalziel takes over as Mayor in October – Your call.’
Is that the discrete conversation that took place between Bob Parker and Gerry Brownlee?
I suspect so.
Central Government: 2
Local Government: nil
Another recent announcement had John Key confirming central government’s support for Auckland Council’s rail loop and other transport plans.
Len Brown was, understandably, ecstatic. Christmas has come early for the Auckland Mayor,
“I am delighted the government has agreed to support this project…
… I want to acknowledge Aucklanders for being very clear in their support for this project.”
However, the Nats are not ones to offer something without expecting something else in return,
Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – City’s shares eyed for rail
So central government will pay up a few billion bucks to upgrade Auckland’s transport system – but the Nats expect Auckland City to privatise their community owned assets?
Draw: 1 all
When it comes to Nanny State, National out-performs the previous Labour government in spades. Labour hardly ever engaged to this degree of interference in local government affairs. Executive power under National is growing, and impacting more on our lives.
With National intending to increase the powers of the GCSB and force telecommunications companies to store and hand over data to police and the spy agencies, the state’s influence in our lives grows day by day.
By comparison, Labour was practically a hands-off, “libertarian” style government.
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 5 July 2013.
Sharechat.co.nz: Environment Canterbury elections cancelled as commissioners appointed (30 Match 2010)
Fairfax Media: Environment Canterbury commissioners named (22 April 2010)
Ministry for Primary Industries: Government funding for Central Plains Water Irrigation (18 Feb 2013)
NBR: ECan ‘just a puppet to government bidding’ (14 March 2013)
Interest.co.nz: Auckland Mayor celebrates Government’s agreement to support rail loop (26 June 2013)
NZ Herald: City’s shares eyed for rail (1 July 2013)
Interest.co.nz: PM Key says IANZ decision to strip Christchurch Council of consenting power is ‘unprecedented’ (1 July 2013)
Christchurch City Council: Council to invite Crown Manager to oversee consenting (3 July 2013)
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… and it is Paul Thompson, replacing outgoing CEO, Peter Cavanagh.
The appointment of Paul Thompson was (is still?) a bit of a worry. His background, as Radio NZ disclosed in a Scoop.co.nz press relelease is firmly rooted in the world of commercial media,
Paul Thompson is currently the Group Executive Editor of Fairfax Media in New Zealand and a former award winning editor of the Christchurch Press and the Nelson Mail.
Acknowledgement: Scoop – Appointment of Radio NZ Chief Executive and Editor-in-Chief
Why is this of concern?
This report, in the NZ Herald, five months ago, for starters;
Acknowledgement: NZ Herald – Radio NZ on the hunt for next chief executive
Note the references made by Herald reporter, John Drinnan,
However, a source said the board was expected to appoint a new chief executive more amenable to change, particularly over sponsorship income…
… Critics say that has been at the expense of innovation and by resisting Government calls for new funding sources.
Radio NZ is one of the few state entities that earns very little income (if any); makes no profit; and requires constant funding by the government of the day.
It is anathema to a right-wing party such as National – which instead prefers to lavish tax-payer funded largese on private corporation such as Warner Bros.
As such, Radio NZ’s annual budget of $31,816,000 has not changed since 2009, after National’s election to power the previous year.
Despite a successful Save Radio New Zealand Facebook campaign in February 2010, there is still considerable apprehension that National has a dark, neo-liberal agenda for Radio NZ. The Nats want Radio NZ commercialised. Commercialisation would ‘gut’ the broadcaster and turn it into a radio-version of TVNZ.
And we all know what TVNZ serves up to it’s audience…
Pressure is also coming from right-wing bloggers and “columnists”, such as this piece of propaganda BS from conservative Karl Du Fresne, RNZ’s bias needs to be tackled. (Du Fresne’s allegations of “left wing bias” is strange, considering that he and several other right wing commentators are often guests on various Radio NZ programmes, such as Jim Mora’s 4-5 Panel. See previous related blogpost: Karl Du Fresne has a public baby waa-waa cry-session)
The commercialisation of Radio NZ can only be achieved if, at first, the broadcaster’s leadership is changed, and someone more ‘amenable’ to National’s destructive monetarist ideology, is appointed.
Paul Thompson would seem to fit that bill perfectly.
However, there is a glimmer of hope that the last bastion of non-commercialised public broadcasting will not be corrupted by a National Party stooge. If Paul Thompson is being straight up with us, and his comments can be taken at face value, then he is no stooge of this shabby, incompetant government,
“I think any form of commercialisation of any of the stations or the content would be a bad thing.
The funding is what the funding is, and lets hope in future at some stage that changes. In the mean time I’m sure that we can continue to do a very good job.”
Acknowledgement: Radio NZ – Incoming RNZ head rules out sponsorship
For more on Paul Thompson’s comments on this issue, Listen to Paul Thompson on Morning Report
Let’s hope Mr Thompson is a man of his word. I think it is no exageration to say that the fate of one of New Zealand’s best known iconic institutions lies in his hands.
Don’t stuff it up please, Mr Thompson.
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… has ended her two week stint as co-presenter on Radio NZ’s Morning Report.
I think more than a few folk will miss her considerable presence on the Morning Report segment of Radio NZ’s programming. Her no-nonsense, commanding style of interview delves past the BS, and demands answers to questions which we, the public, are entitled to know, but unable to put to those in positions of authority. (And when we do put questions to those in Authority, our efforts are “rewarded” with fob-offs; bullshit, or ignored entirely.)
Kim is one of the best interviewers we are currently blessed with, with more talent in one finger than a regiment of reporters.
Note: Kim Hill will still have her own segment on Saturday Mornings.
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