Review: TV3′s The Nation – When current affairs gets it right
After my uncompromising critique of an episode of TV’s The Nation, broadcast on 24 May, I was gratified and relieved that the producers and hosts of the programme had returned to a degree of journalistic/media professionalism that we should expect as the norm for current affairs in this country (and which is too often lacking).
The Nation, broadcast on 14 June, was good, solid, current affairs which left the viewer better informed after watching it. Hosts Lisa Owen and Patrick Gower, and reporter Torben Akel, were on form with their respective interviews.
First up; Hekia Parata, on what is rapidly devolving into another of National’s disastrous, ill-considered attempts to insert neo-liberal “reforms” into our education sector. National’s $359 million so-called “Teaching & leadership career pathways” has been roundly condemned by the primary school staff union, NZEI, and the Principals Federation asserting that it is unacceptable and unworkable.
[FULL TRANSCRIPT: Hekia Parata]
A decidedly ‘robotic’ performance from an automaton-like Hekia Parata. (Have National Party strategists and contract scientists actually built a look-a-like android replacement replacement for Parata, to minimise potential stuff-ups from the mishap-prone education minister? And how did they make the android more realistic than the original?!)
Whether she actually convinced teachers and parents watching her performance is doubtful. When politicians avoid giving direct answers to questions, the inescapable conclusion is that they’re hiding something.
What is Parata hiding?
Perhaps the very real likelihood that the so-called “Teaching & leadership career pathways” policy is National attempt to introduce performance-pay-by-stealth?
In fact, my money is precisely on that call: performance-pay-by-stealth.
At any rate, she stayed on-message, and it was fairly obvious that Parata had been well-schooled by her tax-payer funded media-minders. She passed National’s Standard for evasiveness to questions.
Next up, a serious look at one of this country’s worst pressing social problems – child poverty. The Right can bleat on about “SkyTV aerials”; ill-informed moralists who lead ‘saintly lives’ can pass judgement on “poor parenting”, and the middle classes can turn a blind eye – but none of that will diminish a growing social crisis in our midst.
Prior to the introduction of neo-liberalism; the “free” market; de-regulation; and “more choices”, the term “child poverty” was unknown. Food banks barely existed, as this 2005 Child Poverty Action Group report pointed out;
There have always been foodbanks in Auckland, but until recently these were small- scale operations and, like the soup kitchens, were there to deal with emergencies and the requirements of the handful of indigents that have always been present in the urban areas of New Zealand. Data from the Presbyterian Support Services Foodlink Directory5 shows there were 16 foodbanks in Auckland in 1989. By 1994 this had mushroomed to over 130 (Mackay, 1995).
Nationally, the number of foodbanks exploded following the 1991 benefit cuts, and the passage of the Employment Contracts Act (ECA). For those in already low-paid and casual jobs, the ECA resulted in even lower wages (McLaughlin, 1998), a situation exacerbated by the high unemployment of the early 1990s (11% in 1991). The benefit cuts left many with debts, and little money to buy food (Downtown Community Ministry, 1999). In 1992 the introduction of market rents for state houses dealt another blow to state tenants on low incomes. By 1994 it was estimated that there were about 365 foodbanks nationally, one-fifth of which had been set up in the previous year (Downtown Community Ministry, 1999). This figure was an estimate, based on information from the 1994 foodbank conference. There were no nationally collated figures, a weakness that persists in the sector today.
Regarding what in some cases was a quadrupling of demand for food parcels after 1991, Mackay cautiously hypothesizes that “it is likely that much of it was driven by the benefit cuts of April 1991” (Mackay, 1995). Foodbank workers themselves were unequivocal that the 1991 benefit cuts were the key driver of increased foodbank use. Reflecting those most likely to be unemployed or on low wages, up to 90% of foodbank users were dependent upon some form of income support, and Maori and Pacific Island families were over- represented among those seeking assistance (Mackay, 1995).
Lisa Owen interviewed Jonathan Boston (Professor of Public Policy at Vic, co-chair of Child Poverty Expert Advisory Group), who has written New Zealand’s first book on Child Poverty in this country. That interview was followed up by Commissioner for Children, Dr Russell Wills.
[FULL TRANSCRIPT: Jonathan Boston & Russell Wills]
Both interviews made for compelling, informative viewing.
Dr Wills and Prof Boston are professionals; academics; with a deep understanding of problems and issues confronting our society. Neither men have a political agenda – theirs is simply to inform anyone who will listen that child poverty is a problem we can no longer afford to ignore.
Dr Wills made this simple statement in a level, calm tone – but which was nevertheless dramatic for it’s content;
“My weekend will be full of poor mostly Maori and Pacific preschool children with infectious diseases that our English registrars often haven’t even seen before. Now we see acute rheumatic fever. We see tuberculosis. We have admissions to intensive care with children with illnesses that should have been treated in primary care but they couldn’t afford to go. We just don’t see those kinds of issues in our elderly people and I think that’s a great shame.”
OWEN: But these are tight financial times as you would appreciate; you have said previously the questions is: are we prepared to give up something for the vulnerable. So who is the ‘we’ that has to give up something?
WILLS: It’s people like us Lisa. The fact is that we have large numbers of poor children in New Zealand who are missing out on things that our kids take for granted. So the kids that I see on the children’s ward often live in cold, damp, crowded houses. They often can’t afford to go to the GP. They commonly don’t have their own bed. They frequently all crowd around together in the living room to sleep.OWEN: I appreciate what you’re saying there but when you say it’s people like us, that’s a nebulous concept. Don’t we need to pin down where this money is going to come from? Isn’t super or capping or raising the age, isn’t that a place where we can get a certain lot of money?
It’s almost as if Lisa Owen had taken Margaret Thatcher’s dogma (“there is no such thing as society“) and applied the notion to the question. Has New Zealand society become so individualised; so fragmented – that it is now a “nebulous concept“?
[FULL TRANSCRIPT: Colin Craig]
Gower started the interview with this bizarre exchange – almost reminiscent of a school Head Master dressing down an errant pupil;
Patrick Gower: I want to start with this extraordinary political cry for help that you made this week, effectively asking the Prime Minister to pull a candidate out of a seat for you.
Colin Craig: I didn’t do that.
Gower: Yes you did.
Craig: No, I didn’t.
I was expecting an impatient, testy, Gower to stand, pick up a nearby cane, and instruct Craig,
Gower: Right boy, that’ll be enough fibbing! Bend over for six of the best!
Craig, of course, supports beating children, so this scenario would not be entirely implausible. And no one would have blamed Gower in the least.
Gower then asked Craig this salient question;
Gower: So which one of those could you beat? Which one of those three candidates could you beat? And tell the truth.
To which Craig responded;
Craig: Well look, I don’t think I could beat any of them unless we run a fantastic local campaign and people get behind us. Last time I –
Interesting because of what was not said, rather than what was. No outrage over “dirty deals” in this interview, as Mr Gower expressed recently regarding the Mana-Internet alliance;
I suspect, however, that the difference in style in Gower’s critiquing the deals between the Right – and that between Mana and Internet (no deals in recent times have been proven between Labour and other parties on the Left, despite claims) – is not so much a matter of bias, rather one of common acceptance.
In short, we are used to an ex-trader Prime Minister doing behind-the-scenes deals so it is the ‘norm‘ when the Right does it.
But not the ‘norm’ for the Left because, to date, such deal-making has been rare.
Yes, of course it is.
But nothing will ever change because (a) the public have more or less accepted such political wheeling-and-dealing as par-for-course amongst right-leaning politicians and their parties; (b) it serves the interests of the Right, and (c) the media can get stuffed (in the eyes of the Right) because in the end, what matters is political power – not chest-thumping from a few media talking-heads.
That’s the way it is.
The Left can (a) adapt and engage in their own deal-making or (b) remain “above it all”; maintain a holier-than-thou attitude; and hope the voting public notice and duly reward them with their votes. Option ‘B’ is like going to a gunfight armed with a knife and hoping the gun misfires. There is no Option ‘C’.
The last interview, by Torben Akel, with Todd Barclay – the National candidate replacing outgoing MP, Bill English in Southland – was perhaps the most curious.
At only 24, Todd Barclay is one of Parliament’s youngest MPs. In itself, this not a negative factor, as we need representation from and for young people in our House of Representatives.
What was at issue was Barclay’s relative lack of life experience.
As Torben Akel asked in a introduction voice-over,
“But age aside, does Barclay have the real world experience to be an MP. Or does he represent the rise of an insulated careerist political class?”
National’s own website highlights Barclay’s limited life-experience;
Working in Wellington and then Auckland, Todd worked for Bill English and cabinet ministers Hekia Parata and Gerry Brownlee. He left Parliament to work for one of New Zealand’s leading public relations consultancies, before taking on a role as Corporate Affairs Manager for Philip Morris.
To be fair, one has to wonder just how much life experience a person can achieve by age 24. Though Barclay’s experience, thus far seems constrained to working for various ministers in Parliament and for a tobacco company that peddles products that kill people.
Not exactly a CV to be proud of.
In fact, it could be said that politics and public relations revolve around manipulating reality rather than living in it.
All up, a good interview; low-key and yet illuminating. Torben Akel did a good job presenting the person and his record, and then let the viewer decide for him/herself what to make of this young man.
Now it’s up to Southlanders if this is who they want as their representative.
The parameters “child poverty” nz on Google returns 178,000 results;
Not exactly something to be proud of, eh, New Zealand?
It is has been said before and it is worth repeating again; the greatest disservice that TVNZ and TV3 programming managers have done to the viewing public; their own staff; and to their entire network is to ‘ghettoise’ “The Nation” and “Q+A” on early morning and late night time-slots in the weekends.
Maori TV schedules “Native Affairs” on Monday evenings at 8.30pm. This suggests that the management at Maori TV have sufficient faith in their ‘product’ that they are willing to give it a prime time viewing slot.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for TVNZ and TV3.
(And no, we will not settle for “Seven Sharp” or “The Paul Henry Show“.)
National’s media release on it’s “Teaching & leadership career pathways” was published on it’s on party website; the Beehive website; and on Scoop Media. There’s a slight ‘risk’ in publishing an official party policy communique on an independent website – you never quite know what else is going to appear alongside the text;
I’m sure Parata, Key, et al in the National Party would be “delirious with joy” at having a political advert for Kim Dotcom’s Internet Party nested within their pride and joy educational policy statement release…
Radio NZ: NZEI, principals unite against policy
TV3 The Nation: Interview – Education Minister Hekia Parata
TV3 The Nation: Interview transcript – Education Minister Hekia Parata
Salvation Army: Hard to swallow – Child Poverty Action Group
BWB Books: Child Poverty in New Zealand
TV3 The Nation: Interview – Jonathan Boston & Russell Wills
Wikiquote: Margaret Thatcher
TV3 The Nation: Interview – Conservative Party leader Colin Craig
Twitter: Patrick Gower 29 May 2014
TV3 The Nation: The new breed of career MPs
National Party: National Selects Todd Barclay For Clutha-Southland
National Party: $359m for teaching & leadership career pathways
Scoop Media: $359m for teaching & leadership career pathways
Previous related blogposts
Facebook: Inside Child Poverty
Bryan Bruce: How to vote strategically improves children’s lives
Tuesday 17 June, 5.30pm
Panel discussion with Jonathan Boston,
Damon Salesa, Susan St John and Russell Wills. Chaired by Tracey McIntosh.
Fale Pasifika, University of Auckland
26 Wynyard St, Auckland
Thursday 19 June, 8.00am – 4.00pm
Inequality: Causes and Consequences
Student Union Memorial Lecture Theatre
Victoria University of Wellington
Friday 20 June, 5.30pm
Lecture and book launch
Speakers include: Justine Cornwall, Jonathan Boston, and Cathy Wylie
Royal Society of New Zealand
11 Turnbull St, Thorndon, Wellington
Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 16 June 2014.
= fs =
For a better New Zealand…
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