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Business and Media pimp for dodgy covid test. Govt caves. Questions Remain.

25 October 2021 4 comments

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Recent vociferous demands by business interests and the National Party have pressured the government into allowing Rapid Antigen Testing (RAT) to be used throughout the country. The pressure has grown as freight-trucking companies and others have demanded the ability to move between Auckland and the rest of the country. Again, vociferous calls amplified by MSM  (mainstream media) eager for click-generating headlines.

Over the last few months, the MSM  have amplified calls to introduce RAT – often uncritically.

On 27 August, RNZ’s ‘Checkpointaired a story promoting RAT. ‘Checkpoint‘ reporter, Nita Blake-Persen, wrote effusively on RAT:

‘‘Delta’s reach is like nothing New Zealand has seen before – with Covid-19 cases from the Auckland outbreak today reaching 277 and contacts passing 24,000.

That reach has put a massive strain on New Zealand’s PCR testing capacity – the only recognised testing used here – with thousands of people waiting up to eight hours to get the test, and then up to five days to get results.

But there’s hope that rapid antigen tests – which are widely used overseas – could help alleviate some of that pressure.’’

New Zealand Aged Care Association (ACA) Nursing Leadership Group chair, Dr Frances Hughes, was hugely supportive of RAT, with six thousand nursing staff working in the ACA and many waiting for all-clear results from the currently used nasal (nasopharyngeal) swabbing:

‘‘If we could do this for our frontline health workers and get those tests back and have a system that gets them back quicker and gets them back to work earlier? Absolutely, it would be a great initiative.’’

Dr Hughes’ concerns that her priority was to get employees “back quicker and gets them back to work earlier” was obvious.

‘Checkpoint‘ also interviewed president and CEO of Innova Medical group, Daniel Elliott.  Innova is a major supplier of RAT and unsurprisingly sang the virtues of his company’s product:

They use the test to help keep schools open, to keep workplaces going, to be able to keep people that are working in closed environments that are critical infrastructure – police and fire – [going].

Now they’ve gained enough confidence with it and they’re starting to use it to open up pubs and sporting events, concerts, things like that.

While somebody may have a positive PCR test, it could be 20 to 30 days that they have an infection, but they may not be contagious to others.

What this type of test actually does is, is it’s really screening for people who have a viral load that is contagious or infectious to other people.

In what could pass as a free advertisement for his product, Mr Elliott stated:

‘‘They’re inexpensive, highly accurate tests that can be widely deployed in New Zealand and other places, that will certainly help open up the economy.’’

The statements were not challenged.

More to the point, someone at RNZ, putting together the ‘Checkpoint’ story quoting Innova’s CEO failed to noiced that eleven weeks earlier – the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had warned the public not to use their RAT:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning the public to stop using the Innova Medical Group SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Qualitative Test for diagnostic use. The FDA has significant concerns that the performance of the test has not been adequately established, presenting a risk to health. In addition, labeling distributed with certain configurations of the test includes performance claims that did not accurately reflect the performance estimates observed during the clinical studies of the tests. Finally, the test has not been authorized, cleared, or approved by the FDA for commercial distribution or use in the United States, as required by law.

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On April 23, 2021, Innova Medical Group recalled their Innova Medical Group SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Qualitative Test. The FDA has identified this recall as a Class I recall, the most serious type of recall.

As at 20 August, the United Kingdom has continued using the Innova testing kit. That, despite the FDA recomending that purchasers  “destroy the tests by placing them in the trash or return the tests to Innova“.

RNZ had effectively pimped a product that the FDA had recalled, citing “a risk to health“.

On 6 October, twenty five of Aotearoa New Zealand’s largest companies added further pressure on the government to allow RATs to be imported and used:

  • Mainfreight
  • Foodstuffs North Island
  • Genesis
  • Hynds Pipe Systems
  • Mercury
  • Summerset Group
  • Wellington Airport
  • Christchurch Airport
  • Sky NZ
  • Queenstown Airport
  • Spark, Vodafone
  • The Warehouse Group
  • ANZ Bank
  • Contact Energy
  • Fulton Hogan
  • Woolworths NZ
  • Fletcher Building
  • Chorus
  • Carter Holt Harvey
  • Meridian Energy
  • DHL Express NZ
  • Air NZ
  • Auckland Airport

Mainfreight’s managing director, Don Braid, was clear in his priorities:

‘‘This is business wanting to take care of their people from a health and safety perspective and to keep their sites operational.’’

Genesis CEO, Marc England, said it clearly:

‘‘Huntly is a critical part of New Zealand’s energy network – it simply has to keep running, and the only people who can operate Huntly are those who work there.’’

Once again, the RNZ story offered no counter-balance to business demands. Their statements were presented uncritically.

Queenstown Airport CEO, Glen Sowry – though not medically or epidemiologically trained –  described RAT as  ‘‘a very efficient, less invasive and reliable way’’ of testing for covid19:

‘‘Alongside vaccination, efficient and accessible testing is key to ensuring we get our economy moving and reconnect with the world, while keeping people safe.’’

There was no critical analysis of Mr Sowry’s assertions.

It was left to TV3/Newshub to offer a note of caution to using RATs. University of Otago clinical microbiologist, James Ussher, warned:

‘‘Rapid antigen tests are less sensitive than the PCR tests that have been used in New Zealand to date. We have been pursuing an elimination strategy and that has required the most sensitive tests so we don’t miss cases… As such, rapid antigen testing hasn’t formed a part of our response.

There are hundreds of these tests out there and they have very variable performance. The best ones can be about 80 percent sensitive compared to PCR, but many of them perform a lot worse.’’

Mr Ussher was candid as he further pointed out the unsuitability of RATs:

‘‘I can understand the desire of businesses to ensure continuity of business through regular screening of employees, however we need to make sure we’ve got appropriate processes in place before using these. An important thing to remember… a positive test needs to be appropriately followed up, because it would be more likely at this present time that it would be a false positive.

There is the risk of missing true infections and that’s particularly relevant in patients admitted to hospitals who have symptoms, in which case you really do need the most sensitive test – a PCR test. But there’s also the issue of when you’re doing screening in a population with a very low chance of having it, that any positive is more likely to be a false positive.’’

This was one of the few instances where MSM aired words of caution from an actual expert. Someone who knew the limitations of Rapid Antigen Testing and had no profit-motive to frame their narrative.

So the vocal demands from business were well canvassed by a (mostly) compliant media. Even our political servants added pressure on the government to introduce RATs:

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When, nearly two weeks later,  RNZ finally got around to asessing the worthiness of RATs, it was left to ‘The Detail’ – a programme aired at 5AM. Hardly the same high-participation coverage as ‘Checkpoint’s‘ 5PM to 6.60PM “drive  time” slot. The dawn programme also pointed out:

Rapid antigen tests, on the other hand, are nimble: they still involve a throat or nasal swab, but they deliver a result in as little as 15 minutes, and can be used by just about anyone, any time, anywhere.

On the other hand, they aren’t as reliable as PCR tests: when administered by a trained medical professional, their reliability is around 75-90 percent; but when used by an untrained person, that accuracy can drop as low as 50 percent.

Microbiologist, James Ussher, however, is 100% correct in his cautioning over the use of RATs.

In July this year, ‘Science Directreported a study on RAT, concluding:

The positive rate of RAD test using saliva samples was low throughout the clinical course. Poor concordance was observed between nasopharyngeal swab specimens and saliva samples (75.9%, kappa coefficient 0.310). However, a substantially high concordance between the RAD test and viral culture was observed in both nasopharyngeal swab specimens (86.8%, kappa coefficient 0.680) and saliva samples (95.1%, kappa coefficient 0.643).

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The sensitivity of the SARS-CoV-2 RAD test was insufficient, particularly for saliva samples. However, a substantially high concordance with viral culture suggests its potential utility as an auxiliary test for estimating SARS-CoV-2 viability.

The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) was clear on RATs in that it was:

Less sensitive (more false negative results) compared to NAATs, especially among asymptomatic people

The fact that this test is not as sensitive and accurate as current processes is an ongoing concern. RAT does not detect asymptomatic carriers of Delta – the most infectious strain of covid19 yet known (to be confirmed).

Which means infected workers such as truck drivers can return a false negative at the Auckland border and then drive on to their destinations throughout the country. The consequences would be costly in terms of extending lockdowns; closed or reduced-operating businesses; and hundreds of millions spent on wage and business subsidies. Not to mention hospitalisations; ICU wards full, and a mounting death toll.

Infected truckies from Auckland have already been detected in Tauranga and Palmerston North.

If we are going to continue elimination, then RATs are utterly ineffective for this task, as Dr Joshua Freeman, a clinical microbiologist and the clinical director of infection prevention and control at Canterbury District Health Board pointed out:

‘‘When elimination is the overarching strategy and the proposal is to, in any way, relax precautions based on a negative result, the relatively high rates of false-negative results with rapid antigen testing is a major drawback.’’

It is abundantly clear that businesses demanding the use of RAT to facilitate commercial activities.

Just as the doomed Trans-Tasman bubble was vigorously hyped by business interests and the National Party, and which resulted in a Returnee from Sydney transmitting Delta to another Aucklander, the wide implementation of Rapid Antigen Testing will also have dire consequences.

The comments from Dr Frances Hughes, Daniel Elliott, Don Braid, Marc England, and Glen Sowry above all had one salient point in common: they were advocating for business interests to take priority over peoples’ safety and wellbeing.

The RAT offers a quick, albeit inaccurate, test-result – something that businesses desperately desire to operate smoothly. That these tests are inherently unreliable and unsafe is of little concern. The priority of a commercial enterprise is to it’s shareholders. Public safety is for government and its myriad official bodies.

If businesses can succesfully implement RAT, it will have paid lip-service to containing covid19 with minimal hurdles to their money-making pursuits.

To paraphrase an old tv commercial from the 1970s/80s, the RAT is a “Clayton’s” test: the covid test you’re having when you can’t be bothered with a real covid test.

The Rapid Antigen Test is a short-cut we can ill afford. But Delta will love it.

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UPDATE

On 14 October, the government acceded to demands from the business sector. Citing the “coalition of around 25 businesses across a range of sectors”,  an “exemption was granted by the Director-General of Health, to import and use approved rapid antigen tests”.

Let’s hope this turns out better than the ill-fated Trans Tasman Bubble. If it is successful, National will take credit for it’s implementation.

If it fails, and Delta spreads throughout the country, they will point blame at the government.

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References  

RNZ: ‘We need clarity’ for Covid-19 test to cross Auckland border – business owner

RNZ: Checkpoint – Call for government to consider cheaper, quicker testing for Covid-19

FDA: Stop Using Innova Medical Group SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Qualitative Test: FDA Safety Communication

Dark Daily: UK Continues to Use Innova’s SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Test Despite Recall and FDA Warning Letter

RNZ: Coalition of 25 companies want to import 370,000 rapid antigen tests – but need permission

Otago Daily Times: Call to allow rapid antigen tests

Newshub: COVID-19 – Expert warns business coalition calling for rapid antigen tests to proceed with caution due to unreliability

Twitter: Chris Bishop – rapid antigen testing – 1.18 PM,  September 16 2021

RNZ: Judith Collins reiterates call for use of rapid antigen testing

RNZ: The Detail – The lowdown on rapid antigen tests

Science Direct: Accuracy of rapid antigen detection test for nasopharyngeal swab specimens and saliva samples in comparison with RT-PCR and viral culture for SARS-CoV-2 detection

Towards Data Science: Cohen’s Kappa

US Centre for Disease Control: Interim Guidance for Antigen Testing for SARS-CoV-2

TVNZ: Small number of locations of interest expected from Covid-positive truckie

TVNZ: Auckland truck driver who travelled to Palmerston North positive for Covid-19

Stuff media: Covid19 – Nasopharyngeal swabs, PCR tests still the ‘gold standard’

Newsroom: Sydney returnee likely source of Covid outbreak

Youtube: Claytons Commercial Australia 1980s

Beehive: Government green lights rapid antigen testing

Scoop: National Party – Time to introduce rapid antigen testing

Reference Sources

MIQ: History and origins of MIQ

Covid19: History of the COVID-19 Alert System

MBIE: Managed isolation and quarantine data

RNZ: Timeline – The year of Covid-19 in New Zealand

Stuff media: Covid-19 – A timeline of the Delta outbreak

Recommended Reading

The Bad News Letter: The Fifth Columnists

Knightly Reading: Media lessons from a pandemic

Previous related blogposts  

Free Speech, done Newshub-style

The Microbiologist, the Caretaker Leader, and some Nasty Germs

One thousand dead New Zealanders per year?

The Virus, the Media, and John Key

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Acknowledgement: Guy Body

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The Virus, the Media, and John Key

3 October 2021 5 comments

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Acknowledgement: @komerata

 

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“People are crying on TV and on radio stations, every single day, because they are stateless, they cannot come back to New Zealand.”  – John Key, ex-Prime Minister, “Morning Report”, RNZ 

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The crocodile tears flew – albeit briefly – on RNZ’s “Morning Report” on 27 September, by ex-Prime Minister ex-Merril Lynch ‘banker’, and still-practicing smiling assassin, John Key.

The interview with Corin Dann showed a side of Key not often seen by the Great Unwashed Masses; condescending; quick to anger; and irritable at being questioned. His defensiveness was over the publication of his op-ed in no less than four major daily newspapers was either fortuitously achieved – or with great precision-planning and with the witting or unwitting collusion of the media involved.

This screen-cap from The Spin-Off (with associated excellent satirical piece, lampooning Key’s dangerous ‘reckons’) showed the four dailies involved in the synchronised, targetted release of the agit-prop article he purportedly wrote:

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The lampooning of Mr Key’s reckons – by Spinoff editor Toby Manhire – is pure cutting satire and the only possible way to deal with the ill-informed pronouncements of a man who was, at best, a mediocre prime minister and achieved nothing except a failed flag referendum; tax cuts for the rich; and a novel – if utterly barmy – idea of a sheep farm in the middle of the Saudi desert. (Who knew sheep preferred to eat grass, instead of sand?)

My ex-journo friend wondered:

“I see Key is also sounding off in the Sunday Herald as well. His business mates are likely channeling through him rather than coming out and saying anything directly so as to protect themselves from public backlash.”

Unfortunately,Mr Key’s (?) op-ed was not the first to be platformed in the mainstream media.

As has been pointed out by many on social media – and by my ex-journalist friend – it is almost as if the public are being “softened up”.

But softened-up for what?

The mainstream media has – and currently still is – flooding their platforms with “Open Up” (current version of Plan Bers) demands from business lobbyists, sports people, and a bunch of Kiwis who have the crazy notion that travelling overseas during a raging pandemic – or bringing in a flood of tourists and migrant workers – is a jolly good idea.

It’s like a small – but increasing vociferous number – have not been paying attention to New South Wales, Fiji, Brazil, United States, United Kingdom, and practically almost everywhere else on this planet. And every time platformed and amplified almost wholly uncritically by every media outlet in the country.

Including, bizarrely, state-owned, non-commercial, Radio NZ. (The profit motive may not apply to RNZ’s corporate structure, but personal career advancement might play a role.)

Only Stuff media has published an op-ed questioning this current, relentless push to live (ie, die) with covid:

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Yes, Dominion Post editor, Anna Fifield, has called it: Aotearoa New Zealand is not North Korea. Not even close. In fact, contrary to our geographically-confused American cuzzies’ belief, we are not Australia either.

North Korea. Australia. Aotearoa New Zealand. Three different countries.

You can tell they are different: we make a better Flat White and our rugby team is the best of all three. (Does North Korea even play rugby? Ask John Key: he seems up with communist dictatorships.)

Unfortunately, for Ms Fifield, there was a very brief comment in her 27 September editorial,  where she admits:

And we in the Wellington newsroom of Stuff have been actively reporting about the impact of our system on businesses, including the tech sector, and the long-term economic ramifications of it.

Not only is she correct, but every other mainstream media (msm) in the country has been fulsome in  “actively reporting the impact of our system on businesses“. Reporting every day. On every TV news and current affairs broadcast. On every radio station, including non-commercial RNZ. In every newspaper and probably most magazines.

Relentlessly.

Often repetitively – in case we missed it the first time:

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23 September, 5.20PM

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23 September, 7.30PM

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28 September

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Interesting how categories of the three, related stories above went from “Health/Politics” to “Business/Covid19“. When did Covid19 cease to be a Health issue for RNZ?

In fact, unless you stopped reading; scrolling, listening, and watching, the entire nationwide msm spectrum – you’d be hard-pressed not to be informed of “the impact of our system on businesses“.

To describe the msm as business-friendly propaganda would be apt, probably even under-stated.

Only communist nations have broadcast “positive” aspects of their economic system as constantly; widely; repetitively, and incessantly. (Yes, Ms Fifield, I have lived under a communist system. For about eleven months, in the late 1970s) in my parents homeland, the Hungarian People’s Republic, governed by the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party.)

The only way to avoid the incessant bombardment of negativity; whining; hysterical pleas to “open up”; never-ending stream of stressed businesspeople; onslaught of ‘heart-string’ stories of New Zealanders trapped overseas (often after voluntarily travelling overseas since March last year) –  is to avoid the msm altogether.

This blogger switched off all electronic media for three days during last year’s Level 4 lockdown.

This year, the off-switch was flicked for RNZ’s “Checkpoint“, which had seemingly perfected whinging and negativity to a fine art. This blogger ceased listening for about a week and a half, until Aotearoa New Zealand (minus Auckland) dropped to Level 2.

And what was the first story on “Checkpoint” on 8 September, the first full day of Level 2?

Guess…

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business whinging whining carping complaining

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Yup.  They just couldn’t help themselves, could they? The very first story: a business whinge.

I switched of.

If RNZ has become a subsidiary of the National Business Review, we certainly missed that memo.

Following John Key’s first salvo of op-eds, he was followed by Richard Prebble, Paul Henry, and Steven Joyce (on tediously numerous occassions). All three thankfully paywalled. The term male, pale, and stale has never felt more appropriately descriptive.

Mr Joyce’s reference to the current “Jacinda Ardern Government getting too big for its bossy boots” was a bit rich, considering his decidely authoritarian-flavoured comment to tertiary students almost exactly decade ago:

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Minister to students: ‘keep your heads down’

NZ Herald – 27 Sep, 2011 11:39 AM – By Claire Trevett

Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce has warned protesting university students to keep their heads down lest they draw attention to their relatively privileged position in hard economic times.

Asked about the student protests at Auckland University yesterday, Mr Joyce said university students had 75 per cent of the tuition subsidised on average and benefited from interest-free student loans.

“My general advice to NZUSA (NZ Union of Students’ Associations) on the cost of living for students is to keep your heads down because actually most people probably think you’re doing OK.”

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The steady stream of debilitating, depressing media negativity has not gone unnoticed by many fellow New Zealanders (including my own partner and other close friends and work colleagues – most of whom are sick of it all). Social media is full of people expressing their weariness of msm negativity:

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I’m in MIQ and yes it has its flaws & shortcomings, being away from family I desperately want to see but I’m prepared to do to keep Delta out. WTF are we doing listening to JFK when he just wants to be able to flit to Hawaii and back on a whim? F**k him and his self-centredness. – 1:19 PM · Aug 12, 2021

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Kia ora @1NewsNZ, @TVNZ, no matter the decision today, please, please, please can we not hear from the moaners & whingers. It’s the moaning that is getting to many of us here in L4 & it will greatly improve our outlook if we weren’t subjected to more. Kia ora mo o taringa. – 12:23 PM · Sep 20, 2021

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100% We’re doing the mahi and the constant moaning and complaining is not representative of most of us. It’s so hard to deal with. We need positivity – 2:52 PM · Sep 20, 2021

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Individual journalists may not realise the cumulative effect their negativity has. Yes govt should be held to account but that can be done w/o centring ignorance without pushback and exaggerating errors. Social license to lock down is only thing stopping us from turning into NSW. – 7:02 AM · Aug 30, 2021

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Although my business is closed until we hit L2 I realise it’s the right thing to do to be in lockdown. I wonder if the media will ever go for comment from small business owners that accept that this is the way forward because we understand what that means for the economy? –  9:07 AM · Aug 26, 2021

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Are the media being responsible during our outbreak, or are they nitpicking, delving into the sewers, which includes foreign media, to make us all fearful and anxious? Some words do matter, be careful how you use them.8:51 AM · Aug 26, 2021

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It’s interesting that at no stage has any official said we stop elimination strategy now. But all the media are softening the public up to do just that. And more and more antivax coming up with extreme right “learn to live with it” bollocks. Manipulation is occurring why? – 8:37 AM · Sep 26, 2021

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Seeing journos moaning about the slating they are getting. Either be a tabloid hack and ignore the criticism, or do a better job, don’t write such rubbish then bitch when people don’t like it. – 12:52 PM · Sep 24, 2021

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Because the media live on playing games for profit. Now stakes involve human lives – they’ve never felt a more thrilling empowerment. – 7:25 PM · Sep 26, 2021

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I don’t get it honestly. I tend to back away from news sources now, I just cant even – 5:27 PM · Sep 26, 2021

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Because national disasters sell newspapers. – 8:49 PM · Sep 26, 2021

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Fair minded KIwis are sick to death with the barrage of MIQ and stranded traveller sob stories Kiwis have had opportinities over 500 days to get back to NZ . Those that went to Australia were pre-warned by PM Ardern flyer beware and get back on red flights or risk being stranded8:43 AM · Sep 16, 2021

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Totally sick of hearing about vaccine logistics stuff. We’ve just had a massive demand spike of a perishable product with very precise transport demands. Hell, the timber industry couldn’t even get its shit together with a few years notice, & we grow the bloody wood – 1:22 PM · Sep 7, 2021

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Agreed it seems like the media want to highlight every small thing that goes wrong in MIQ..it’s poor form given more than 170k kiwis have returned and they highlight the less than 5% that have had issues..  – 9:37 AM · Sep 16, 2021

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I agree. I would love to go & see my Dad in Scotland as he’s just had major heart surgery @ 84 but I decided early 2020 I would not be leaving NZ for anything ~ not to spread it around the globe, not to bring it back but most of all to survive. – 10:13 AM · Sep 16, 2021

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This genius departed for the USA to work in a summer camp on 13 June, and now can’t get a spot in MIQ, seriously? https://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/travel-troubles/300408053/american-dream-turns-into-nightmare-for-new-zealander-desperate-to-return-home9:57 AM · Sep 16, 2021

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News junkie son in Melbourne tells me he has switched off all news. Professional comms daughter in Sydney has switched off all her private social media. I have turned off RNZ. Personal wellbeing decisions in stressful times. – 9:35 AM · Aug 31, 2021

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Moaning Report  – 9:57 AM · Aug 31, 2021

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NZ media has had more of an effect on my mental health than lockdown itself. I’m just finding myself being bombarded with right wing hatred towards our current government. I am always a supporter of valid criticism but this has gone past the line of criticism. – 10:09 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Very sad that NZ media is incapable of taking the pulse of the nation. – 8:13 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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It’s kind of a very New Zealand thing that the media are telling us we are “totally feed up”, and completely “over it” yet we are just stoically getting on with doing what we need to as a whole. – 6:29 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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I just can’t stand feeling ok, getting on with it, making the best of it, only to feel dragged down by the weight of the negativity on the 6pm news. We all know people are struggling. But just framing some things in a positive light would be nice – 6:38 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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There’s no money in stories about Kiwis just getting on with it…  Which is kind of sad… – 6:37 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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I deleted the Stuff app from my phone over this. (deleted NZ Herald a year ago) – 10:55 AM · Aug 30, 2021

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Yep, for the first time in my life I’ve stopped checking in on media sites – their clickbaity, dramatised headlines are all too often misleading and unnecessarily distressing. I figure if anything important happens, I’ll hear about it pretty quickly here, and with some nuance. – 8:37 AM · Aug 30, 2021

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Yep, feeling pretty much the same way. The constant negativity and political twattery all for the sake of scoring points is exhausting. I know that they don’t talk for the majority but their voices are so much louder than everyone else’s… – 1:33 PM · Aug 30, 2021

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My feelings exactly. I’m exhausted by the media negativity. – 7:42 AM · Aug 30, 2021

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So agree. The only thing that gets me angry is the platforming of RW, business viewpoints that just see workers as grist for their mills. – 10:59 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Delete any app that bring news. Mute those outlets’ accounts. I did, and it helps. – 11:29 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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The equivalent of “some people say” and/or using their opinion writers as speaking for the nation while the nation is saying “who writes this shit”? – 9:37 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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to be fair to the media I think there’s a fair amount of them (outside of Granny, obvi) who do support the strategy, they just want more accountability and more preplanning, which is hard to argue against. The vaccine catastrophizing is utterly ridiculous though, lol. – 6:40 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Totally agree, it is really depressing being bombarded every day by sniping & negativity. Do they know that this is the effect they are having? – 8:51 AM · Aug 30, 2021

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Remember by their own fruition the majority of NZ’s mainstream media are HQed in Auckland.
They gutted regional newsrooms & shut down external studios to base everything there.
Now the chickens have come home to roost & Auckland gets a month-longer lockdown than everyone else! –
7:34 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Couldn’t agree more! I’m not fed up at all…except with the crappy media!  Kiwis have got this! Around 85% thought we were right to lock down and since there is light at the end of the tunnel, why stop now!? – 11:27 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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It’s such a crack up when they have a story with a mayor or a business leader going on about how unhappy everyone is and then they cut to interviews in the street and the people they speak to are overwhelmingly for what we are doing. – 6:41 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Actually I am over it, I’m over the media telling me what I feel despite it not being anywhere near what I infact feel – 8:36 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Well, we are totally fed up….. with the media that is. I’m definitely over people with no health qualifications pontificating about how we ‘just need to live with it’ – 7:51 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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The media need to take along hard look at themselves. I am totally fed up with opinion posing as journalism, reckons as facts, completely over it.  – 10:13 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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The thing is “NZ media” as it relates to Covid is the press gallery, whose world revolves around listening to stand ups and having to interview the opposition for their daily shit takes. It’s no wonder their summation is “Kiwis are over it.” I would be too in their shoes. – 10:21 AM · Aug 30, 2021

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I’m so sick of the NZ journalists, fucking depressing bunch and all they want to do is bitch and moan. Meanwhile, the rest of us just get on with it – 7:02 PM · Aug 29, 2021

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Apologies for the long list of comments. Believe me, there were way, way more. The above is only a small, random sampling of comments gleaned from Twitter.

More important from the comments on this issue came from Chloe Ann-King, a spokesperson for hospitality workers and founder of Raise the Bar Hospo Union (RBHU), this salient criticism of the media:

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So not only have media relentlessly amplified business voices – almost always complaining, criticising, and demanding – but inevitably no workers are ever (?) interviewed for their takes.

On 29 August this year, Stuff’s political reporter, Andrea Vance, published an overtly defensive “opinion” piece, dismissing criticism of media coverage of the covid crisis.

In it she opined that scrutiny of the government was an essential role of the media:

“Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has given a spirited defence of her Government’s decisions. She’s more than up to handling the criticism.

Of course, she must exude confidence in the strategy and maintain consistent and clear messaging. But it’s troubling when she says she doesn’t want a debate.

And that makes it even more crucial to have robust scrutiny from outside her inner circle.

Because if they are the right decisions, then they remain the right decisions. Questions and alternative viewpoints won’t change that, and we can be more confident we’re on the right course.

We shouldn’t run from transparent and open debate – scrutiny can only improve the decision-making.”

Few would disagree with that statement.

In fact, it was media scrutiny that revealed severe short-coming in MIQ facilities with security; lack of appropriate PPE gear, and behaviours of some staff which was less than ideal.

This blogger, and most people have no problem with media ensuring that MIQ, vaccinations, and lockdowns are appropriately handled.

We are mature people (generally, with minor exceptions) . We can take information that may be difficult to digest. We want bad news given to us unvarnished, with options for answers.

That is why, as Ms Vance writes – though in a vaguely dismissive way – that we value our scientists and medical personnel with such high regard:

It’s fantastic that the tight circle of academic experts advising the Government make themselves readily available to explain the modelling and the science.

In the pandemic, medical experts (the virologists, epidemiologists, statisticians and modellers) have become our modern-day talisman. It’s a refreshing change from the tendency to devalue expertise seen in recent years.

Physicist and covid-modeller, Shaun Hendy’s participation in the Government’s daily 1PM ‘presser’ on 23 September and Epidemioloist, Rod Jackson appearing on TV3’s Newshub Nation, on 2 October, did not ‘sugar coat’ what we were facing. They were blunt and honest with the facts and possible consequences.

Few people objected and those that did, in one instance, appears to have had a bad case of bruised-egoitis.

But what she and her colleagues fail to utterly comprehend is that it’s not scrutiny of the government that has provoked a torrent of criticism against the media itself.

Criticism – as comments above clearly show – revolve around non-stop, negative stories from business interests; New Zealanders stuck overseas (a number of whom are the authors of their own predicament); naked political opportunism; and giving voice to practically anyone with dissatisfaction. It is repetitive; lacking any real purpose (except click-generating headlines); and – I  submit – psychologically detrimental.

Individual journalists and media outlets seem to think that they don’t produce much in the way of negative stories. Perhaps one or two a day? But add all the media outlets together, many with different aspects of an individual organisation (eg; RNZ’s ‘Morning Report‘, ‘Mid Day Report‘, ‘Checkpoint‘, ‘Lately‘); each churning out their own ‘doom n gloom’ stories – and it mounts up very quickly.

Ms Vance and her colleagues are wholly responsible for the material they put out. The public has little in-put into decision-making. The things they write; the stories they publish or broadcast, have content that inevitably has an effect. (Why else preface some stories with warnings of “Content may be disturbing – viewer/reader discretion advised”?)

A constant diet of bad news stories cannot be mentally healthy. Especially to a nation already stressed with hyper-vigilance as covid bangs on our rampart walls. When five million people have experienced massive disruption to their lives with outbreaks; closures of schools and businesses; lockdowns; and advised to stay home – these are all pressures we have to face.

Most do not complain. We do what we must to save lives. We have seen the misery covid19 has caused overseas, bringing even the most powerful nations to the brink of disaster. So we have seen the lessons from overseas and the consequences of failure is not lost on us.

It is already tough-going for many and stressful. Adding the burden of negativity is not only unhelpful, it adds further despondency. It is a slow chipping away of our resolve.

So when we do speak up, it would do the media industry well to listen. After all, are media folk not part of our community?

The whole point of journalism and the media machine is to engage and inform the public (as well as sell toothpaste, pet-food, etc). The moment the public stop listening, reading, because of an onslaught of highly-emotive stories is the point they stop engaging.

When people switch off and refuse to engage any further, journalism has failed us.

The media are not above scrutiny or criticism. Just as politicians are open to scrutiny and criticism. Consider the criticisms – maybe, just maybe, critics have a point?

Think, before you publish yet another carping from Michael Barnett, or a traveller who is stuck in Sydney after the Trans Tasman bubble was closed. Is it really “news”?  What will it achieve? Will it inform us? Or is the headline simply geared to attract eyeballs and clicks and bugger the effects it might have on already-stressed people?

If it’s not ‘new’ then maybe it’s not news.

Postscript

Lest this blogger be another cog in the Great Negativity Machine, I point to today’s (3 October) episode of TV One’s Q+A episode.

The show presented critical problems affecting the nation’s vaccination programme.  There was vox populi and community workers interviewed. Solutions were suggested and discussed. 

No emotion-bombing; no ‘heart string’ stories. No whining from entitled sector lobbyists or ill-informed ‘reckons’.

The viewer was encouraged to engage, listen, and think on what was presented.

The same with the follow-up interview with Air New Zealand CEO, Greg Foran. No whining, no demands, no sense of entitlement; just a basic Kiwi attitude of dealing with the cards that have been dealt, and getting on with it*.

At one point, Q+A host Jack Tame asked Mr Foran’s opinion on government’s elimination strategy;

“Do you think the elimination strategy is sustainable?”

The CEO’s reply?

“Look, Jack, that’s something that probably the scientists and the government need to answer…”

It felt as if we were in a room listening to mature adults.

More of this style of responsible media, please.

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(* Note: Admittedly, Air New Zealand has a billion dollar ‘life line’ with the government. But their potential liabilities can also be measured in the billion-dollar range. That ‘life-line’ can become shortened very quickly; airlines can gobble up hundreds of millions of dollars almost as fast as their jets can fly.)

 

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References      

RNZ: Covid-19 – Young people need some rights taken away to encourage vaccination – Sir John Key (alt.link)

The Spinoff: Ranked – All of today’s op-ed columns by Sir John Key

Stuff media: Anna Fifield – No, Sir John Key, New Zealand is not like North Korea

Newshub: Auckland business leader Michael Barnett wants Government to listen closely to smaller businesses about improving COVID-19 support schemes

NZ Herald: Covid-19 Delta outbreak – Retirees stuck in Australia fear being stripped of pensions

RNZ: ‘We need clarity’ for Covid-19 test to cross Auckland border – business owner

RNZ: Orion Health CEO urges revamp of MIQ to allow business travel

RNZ: Business pushing for self-managed isolation for overseas work travel

RNZ: Businesses on home isolation trial – ‘This has been a long time coming’

NZ Herald: Covid Delta outbreak – Richard Prebble – Muldoonism looms large – and that’s a problem

NZ Herald: Paul Henry – I love this country – but I’m not sure I have the heartbeats for it any more

NZ Herald: Steven Joyce – Jacinda Ardern Government getting too big for its bossy boots

NZ Herald: Minister to students – ‘keep your heads down’

Twitter: @MightyBlender –1:19 PM · Aug 12, 2021

Twitter: @_seashelleyes_ – 12:23 PM · Sep 20, 2021

Twitter: @CamDouglasMS – 2:52 PM · Sep 20, 2021

Twitter: @fabtknz – 7:02 AM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @liberal_owners – 9:07 AM · Aug 26, 2021

Twitter: @MariaSherwood2 – 8:51 AM · Aug 26, 2021

Twitter: @vincristine –  8:37 AM · Sep 26, 2021

Twitter: @DesiCommsMan12:52 PM · Sep 24, 2021

Twitter: @BozzyWozzer – 7:25 PM · Sep 26, 2021

Twitter: @mlpgirl775:27 PM · Sep 26, 2021

Twitter: @cleotibbitts – 8:49 PM · Sep 26, 2021

Twitter: @LetsGetPfizered8:43 AM · Sep 16, 2021

Twitter: @RobSuisted1:22 PM · Sep 7, 2021

Twitter: @Shawn675869439:37 AM · Sep 16, 2021

Twitter: @sandzz7710:13 AM · Sep 16, 2021

Twitter: @Tukeke70 – 9:57 AM · Sep 16, 2021

Twitter: @Tikorangi – 9:35 AM · Aug 31, 2021

Twitter: @MarkcyCleary – 9:57 AM · Aug 31, 2021

Twitter: @IdioticTwinkles – 10:09 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @WormwoodNGall8:13 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @FoxyLustyGrover – 6:29 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @infinite_ink 6:38 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @SJPONeill – 6:37 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @pet_brain – 10:55 AM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @Kate_DowlingNZ – 8:37 AM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @fkleitch – 1:33 PM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @BoxyBristol – 7:42 AM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @kaffiene_nz – 10:59 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @Writer_Caroline – 11:29 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @Feebeekiwi – 9:37 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @MJWhitehead – 6:40 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @HantonSusie – 8:51 AM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @NapierinFrame – 7:34 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @Lady__Seraphina – 11:27 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @douggie27 – 6:41 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @js_eighty – 8:36 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @MarieMenzies5 – 7:51 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @gracillus – – 10:13 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Twitter: @platinumpixienz – 10:21 AM · Aug 30, 2021

Twitter: @Hurricane15 – 7:02 PM · Aug 29, 2021

Raise the Bar Hospo Union: About

Twitter: @GGrucilla – 12:09 PM · Oct 2, 2021

Stuff media: If the Government is making the right decisions on Covid-19, it will withstand scrutiny

Coast: Brian Tamaki’s controversial new ‘hot’ advertisement

Ministry of Health: COVID-19 update 23 September 2021

Newshub: Coronavirus – Expert’s blunt message to the Govt as it ponders level 2 for Auckland – ‘How brutal do you want to go?’

Stuff media: Covid-19 NZ – Rodney Jones says Shaun Hendy’s 7000-death vaccine model doesn’t pass plausibility test

TVNZ: Q+A – 3 October 2021

Twitter: Shaun Hendy – 8:04 AM · Sep 26, 2021

Additional

The Spinoff: New Zealand cannot abandon its Covid elimination strategy while Māori and Pasifika vaccination rates are too low

The Spinoff:  Siouxsie Wiles – Why we need to stay the course on elimination

Reference sources

MIQ: History and origins of MIQ

Covid19: History of the COVID-19 Alert System

MBIE: Managed isolation and quarantine data

RNZ: Timeline – The year of Covid-19 in New Zealand

Other Blogs

Bryan Gould: The Herald’s Dilemma

The Daily Blog: John Minto – When will Michael Barnett stop whinging, whining and bleating?

The Standard: Smug hermit king

The Standard: Key’s baaaack

Previous related blogposts

One thousand dead New Zealanders per year?

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Acknowledgement: Guy Body

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Liked what you read? Feel free to share.

Have your own thoughts? Leave a comment. (Trolls need not bother.)

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= fs =

Syria: the mendacities of the mainstream media (part rua)

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Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.” – Eric Hoffer, 1902 – 1983

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Recent Timeline*

4 April: Trump announces he wants all remaining US forces out of Syria “very quickly”. Trump says; “Saudi Arabia is very interested in our decision. And I said, Well, you know, you want us to stay? Maybe you’re going to have to pay”.

8 April: First reports emerge of chemical gas attack in Douma, the last rebel-held town in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta province. Reports are unverified.

8 April: Russian government calls reports of alleged gas attack in Douma “fake news” and describes the story as a “false flag” operation. Russia’s Foreign Ministry states; “The goal of this… baseless speculation is to shield the terrorists and… the radical opposition that refuse to engage in a political settlement [process], as well as to justify potential military strikes from the outside”.

9 April: Trump promises major decision in next twentyfour hours  on alleged gas attack.

10 April: Syria  and  Russia invite Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to investigate allegations of chemical attack in Douma.

10 April:  Chairman of the State Duma’s Defense Committee,  Colonel General Vladimir Shamanov warned the West; “ The double standard policy has overstepped all possible boundaries. At this point, the [pro-Putin parliamentary majority] United Russia party must responsibly state that we are going to take all political and diplomatic measures, and also military measures if such need arises. Not a single unlawful action will be left without response.”

11 April: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says it will support any military strike on Syria in retaliation for the alleged gas attack in Douma; “If our alliance with our partners requires it, we will be present”.

11 April: Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, repeats Colonel General Shamanov’s warning to the US: “If there is a US missile attack, we – in line with both Putin and Russia’s chief of staff’s remarks – will shoot down US rockets and even the sources that launched the missiles.

12 April: French President Emmanuel Macron declared that France has evidence that Syria carried out the gas attack in Douma; “We have proof that last week, now 10 days ago, that chemical weapons were used, at least with chlorine, and that they were used by the regime of (President) Bashar al-Assad. Our teams have been working on this all week and we will need to take decisions in due course, when we judge it most useful and effective.”

Two days later, hours after the US-led attack on Syria, France releases statement on evidence of alleged gas attack: “After examining the videos and images of victims published online, (French intelligence services) were able to conclude with a high degree of confidence that the vast majority are recent and not fabricated.

12 April: OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) fact-finding team lands in Syria to investigate alleged gas attack in Douma. Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, said; “We will facilitate the arrival of the team to anywhere they want, in Douma, to check whether or not there was use of chemical substances”.

14 April: Trump announces US-led attack on Syria, launching 105 missiles at targets in that country. Trump  states: “So today, the nations of Britain, France, and the United States of America have marshaled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality”.

14 April: President Putin of Russia states categorically: “Just as one year ago, when the Shayrat Airbase in Syria came under attack, the US used as a pretext a staged chemical attack against civilians, this time in Douma, a Damascus suburb. Having visited the site of the would-be chemical attack, Russian military experts did not find any traces of chlorine or any other toxic agent. Not a single local resident was able to confirm that a chemical attack had actually taken place.”

15 April: Trump declares: “Mission accomplished!”

15 April: Russia loses vote in UN Security Country to condemn US-led military strike. Russian UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia said: “Today is a very sad day for the world, the UN, its charter, which was blatantly, blatantly violated.”

15 April: US Ambassador to UN, Nikki Haley, tells Fox News Sunday that US troops will remain in Syria: “Yes, it is all of our goal to see American troops come home. But we’re not going to leave until we know we’ve accomplished those things. ”

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* International time-zones not taken into account: above dates are approximate.

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Local media reporting…

The response of our local media to report Saturday’s missile strike has been largely superficial and followed the Western narrative;

(a) the gas attack happened

(b) Syrian government forces were responsible

…From NZ Herald

Most, if not all stories published on the Herald’s website originate from Associated Press.

One of the first reports, dated 8 April, was headed “Syrian regime accused of killing civilians in chemical attack“. The first two paragraphs gave equal space to claim/counter-claim;

A Syrian rebel group has accused government forces of dropping a barrel bomb containing poisonous chemicals on civilians in Eastern Ghouta, and a medical relief organisation said 35 people had been killed in chemical attacks on the area.

Syrian state media denied government forces had launched any chemical attack as soon as the reports began circulating and said rebels in the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma were in a state of collapse and spreading false news.

The third paragraph referred to “an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma“.

While an un-named “medical relief organisation said 35 people had been killed in chemical attacks on the area” – curiously the UK-based anti-Assad organisation, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, appeared more non-committal;

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 11 people had died in Douma as a result of suffocation caused by the smoke from conventional weapons being dropped by the government. It said a total of 70 people suffered breathing difficulties.

Interestingly, this early statement ties in with an investigation and interviewing of eye-witnesses,  by Middle East correspondent, Robert fisk, who reported nine days later;

War stories, however, have a habit of growing darker. For the same 58-year old senior Syrian doctor then adds something profoundly uncomfortable: the patients, he says, were overcome not by gas but by oxygen starvation in the rubbish-filled tunnels and basements in which they lived, on a night of wind and heavy shelling that stirred up a dust storm.

Could it be that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights inadvertently told the truth before a new version was framed, blaming the incident on so-called “poison gas”, instead of a lack of air and heavy dust?

The Herald/AP story admits as such;

Rami Abdulrahman, the Observatory director, said he could not confirm if chemical weapons had been used.

In the same article, the so-called Medical relief organisation, Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), put  the blame on an alleged “chlorine bomb”. They stated it  “hit Douma hospital, killing six people, and a second attack with “mixed agents” including nerve agents had hit a nearby building“.

The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS)  is a US-based organisation and according to the Russian government-aligned website, RT News, is funded through a United States government department. RT News is scathing of SAMS;

SAMS is not merely a group of Syrian doctors tending to the wounded in war torn areas, nor can it be considered a objective source on chemical attacks and other atrocities. The organization is a USAID-funded lobbying powerhouse that functions with a single-minded determination to stimulate a US-led war of regime change that will place Syrian Islamists in power in Damascus.

It is unclear at this stage how SAMS knew within a day that Douma had been hit by an alleged “chlorine bomb”.

The 8 April Herald/AP  story continued with reporting of the battle for rebel-held Douma, and that Syrian government forces were advancing on the town. There was no further mentioned of a so-called chemical weapon being used.

The following day, the Herald ran another AP story. This time, there was no reference to the term ‘alleged’. Instead, ‘suspected’ entered the framing of the narrative, being used three times.

One statement referred to “a suspected poison gas attack” – whilst stating definitively that “at least 40 people were killed“;

The missile attack followed a suspected poison gas attack Saturday on the last remaining foothold for the Syrian opposition in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. At least 40 people were killed, including families found in their homes and shelters, opposition activists and local rescuers said.

The story  related allegations of a “chlorine attack” from both well-known anti-Assad organisations, SAMS and the White Helmets;

They did not identify the substance used, but the civil defense organization, also known as the White Helmets, and the Syrian American Medical Society, a medical relief organization, said survivors treated at clinics smelled strongly of chlorine.

To it’s credit, a disclaimer immediatly followed;

Those reports could not be independently verified because of a government blockade around the town.

The three authors of this AP  story appeared very keen to impress upon readers that allegations of a “gas  attack” had not been independently verified. This despite that Trump was already ‘tweeting’  of a “mindless chemical attack” before any evidence had been gathered or facts verified. (Who needs facts or evidence when you’re the President of the United States?)

Unfortunately, despite the not-independently-verified disclaimer, parts of the Herald/AP story neglected to insert the all-important term, ‘alleged’;

First responders entering apartments in Douma late Saturday said they found bodies collapsed on floors, some foaming at the mouth.

By omitting the term ‘alleged’, the above phrase takes on a factual status that is not deserved. There was simply no independent corroboration of any bodies “ collapsed on floors“, nor that “some [were]  foaming at the mouth“. What is the point of a not-independently-verified disclaimer if  unsubstantiated claims are presented as facts?

Again it is worthwhile noting that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights refused to apportion blame on alleged chemical weapons;

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issued a higher death toll, saying at least 80 people were killed in Douma, including around 40 who died from suffocation. But it said the suffocations were the result of shelters collapsing on people inside them.

With the heavy bombardment on Douma, the above statement makes far more sense as to a cause of fatalities. It also ties in with Robert Fisk’s findings.

By contrast, a Herald/AP story on 11 April yielded fourteen uses of ‘suspected’; five of ‘apparent’; four of ‘alleged’, and three of ‘allegations’;

The U.N. Security Council has rejected a Russian resolution that would have welcomed an investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons into a suspected poison gas attack in the suburbs of Syria’s capital.

[…]

The international chemical weapons watchdog says it will send a fact finding mission to the Syrian town where an alleged chemical weapons attack occurred over the weekend.

The OPCW mission to Syria was referred to early-on in the story;

British Ambassador Karen Pierce said the U.K. opposed the resolution because an OPCW investigative team is already headed to Syria and the Russian text did not include a new body to determine accountability for chemical weapons attacks.

Occassionally, though, an assertion was presented as factual, omitting the use of ‘alleged’ to maintain the unverified aspects to these events;

Syrian opposition activists say 40 people [allegedly*] died in Saturday night’s poison gas attack in the town of Douma, the last remaining rebel bastion near Damascus.

[…]

Syrian opposition activists say 40 people [allegedly*] died in Saturday night’s [unverified*] poison gas attack in the town of Douma, the last remaining rebel bastion near Damascus.

[…]

Syrian opposition activists say 40 people [allegedly*] died in Saturday night’s chemical attack in the town of Douma, the last remaining rebel bastion near Damascus. The opposition blamed President Bashar Assad’s forces for the [alleged*] attack, accusations the government strongly denies.

[* – inserted by Author]

Another story on 11 April occasionally referred to an ‘alleged’ attack;

The Syrian air base was struck by missiles a little more than 24 hours after the alleged chemical attack. Israel does not typically comment on its operations in Syria, and it is unclear whether the missile attack was linked to the alleged use of chemical weapons

As was ‘suspected’ attack;

The international chemical weapons watchdog said Tuesday it was sending a fact-finding mission to the Syrian town where a suspected chemical gas attack took place over the weekend, following a request from the Syrian government and its Russian backers that appeared to be aimed at averting punitive Western military action.

Russia’s doubts that an alleged chemical attack even took place at all was canvassed, as was the OPCW mission to Syria.

However, statements by rebel groups were still reported as facts;

Syrian opposition activists and paramedics said more than 40 people were killed in last weekend’s suspected chemical attack and blamed the government.

Nowhere was it stated explicitly that reports of any deaths were unverified.

Such an omission might lead a reader to unconscious bias, accepting the alleged chemical attack as a proven event because of the claim – still unverified – that people had died.

A 13 April Herald/AP story reported that Syrian government forces had retaken Douma from rebels. The so-called “gas attack” was described as ‘alleged’ seven times.

With the defeat of the rebels in Douma,  no one had been reported as asking two basic questions;

1. What did the Syrian government hope to gain by allegedly using chemical weapons to retake Douma – when it was already close to victory anyway?

2. Why was the alleged  gas attack carried out against civilians, rather than rebel fighters? If the alleged gas attack was indeed orchestrated by the Syrian regime, it would have made more strategic sense to target armed enemy combatants rather than unarmed civilians.

A subsequent NZ Herald/AP story on 13 April carried the claim that the French government had “proof that the Syrian government launched chlorine gas attacks”. The story did not mention what that “proof” was, or how it had been obtained. The OPCW mission to Syria had not yet reached Douma to carry out their investigation.

The article did not use ‘alleged’, and ‘allegations’ was used only in conjunction with the Syrian government denying culpability for any so-called “attack”. In fact, the story abandoned any consideration that the alleged attack was still to be verified;

He [President Emmanuel Macron] previously said any French action would target Syria’s chemical weapons abilities.

Note: not, “Syria’s *alleged* chemical weapons abilities“.

The US-led strike on Syria was only a day away.  Media stories now seemed to lean further toward the alleged gas attack as factually proven, rather than still-to-be-verified.

Macron’s so-called “evidence” was revealed the following day, in a story run by Reuters;

The French services analyzed the testimonies, photos and videos that spontaneously appeared on specialized websites, in the press and on social media in the hours and days following the attack.

Testimonies obtained by the French services were also analyzed. After examining the videos and images of victims published online, they were able to conclude with a high degree of confidence that the vast majority are recent and not fabricated. The spontaneous circulation of these images across all social networks confirms that they were not video montages or recycled images. Lastly, some of the entities that published this information are generally considered reliable.

In other words, Macron – and later Prime Minister Ardern – based their “evidence” on unverified video footage and photographs supplied by rebel groups in Douma.

Macron’s “evidence” brings back memories of  strident insistence by the US in 2003 that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Those claims were eventually proven false.

All, of which was pointed out in a subsequent Herald/AP story on 15 April;

The West’s assessments of what happened April 7 in Douma rely mainly on open source information. That includes witness testimony, as well as video and photos shot by aid workers, victims of the attacks and unspecified additional intelligence about barrel bombs and chlorine canisters found in the aftermath.

The same story pointed out to Herald readers;

The three countries launched their missiles even as the fact-finding team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was in the Syrian capital and had been expected to head on Saturday to Douma.

Though these valid points were utterly lost amidst unsubstantiated allegations by the US and it’s clients in Syria;

The White House said doctors and aid organizations on the ground in Douma reported “the strong smell of chlorine and described symptoms consistent with exposure to sarin.” A senior administration official told reporters Saturday that while there was more publicly available evidence pointing to the use of chlorine, the U.S. has “significant information that also points to sarin use.”

It would be a very astute, politically aware, member of the public to “read between the lines” and arrive at any other conclusion that – on the balance of probabilities”, and not “beyond reasonable doubt” – that the West had reliable evidence to point to Assad’s forces being the culprits in the alleged gas attack on Douma.

Indeed, this very fact was highlighted when an acquaintance of this blogger referred to “Assad being responsible for the [so-called] gassing of his own people”. Upon closer questioning, my acquaintance was unaware that;

A. There was no evidence who carried out the alleged attack,

B. That it may not even have occurred at all,

C. And that an OPCW team was presently in Syria awaiting an opportunity to enter Douma to conduct their investigation.

It is against a back-drop of media stories that fail to reinforce that the so-called “gas attack” has not been verified, nor has the OPCW not carried out their investigation – yet statements by Western governments and Syrian rebels are reported as “facts – that a subtle narrative has taken hold in the public’s collective consciousness.

The fact that Robert Fisk’s own investigation has cast serious doubt on supposed events in Douma on 7 April has barely been reported. Only two  references to Fisk’s reporting (according to a Google search) can be found in New Zealand’s mainstream media;

Mediaworks “Newshub” reported on 19 April;

Syrians living at the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack say it never happened, according to a new report.

British journalist Robert Fisk, writing in The Independent, says when he visited the site in Douma his questions about the attack were met with “genuine perplexity”.

The attack was used as a pretext for last weekend’s air strikes against the Russia-backed Assad regime.

“Oddly, after chatting to more than 20 people, I couldn’t find one who showed the slightest interest in Douma’s role in bringing about the Western air attacks,” Mr Fisk wrote.

“Two actually told me they didn’t know about the connection.”

The video of civilians suffering from the effects of chemical weapons – believed to be chlorine and sarin – is undoubtedly real, but a local doctor told Mr Fisk they were suffering from hypoxia – oxygen loss – and dust inhalation.

“On this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived,” said Assim Rahaibani. “People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss.”

The confusion began when someone shouted “gas!” and panic broke out.

“People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.”

And on 22 April, Mark Dawson, editor of the Whanganui Chronicle, wrote a suprisingly radical (for the msm) critique of US military involvement in other nations’ affairs;

[Prime Minister Ardern]… has taken some criticism for her less-than-enthuiastic take on bagging Russia, rallying behind the United States and cheering on Donald Trump’s missile strikes on Syria.

It has been pointed out, with underscores, that she “accepts” rather than “supports” the US bombing of Syria, and that puts her out of step with other leaders gathered in London this week. Oh dear, a national leader who doesn’t relish killing people … how terribly squeamish.

But hang on …

On Thursday, Robert Fisk of the Independent reported from Douma, the city where the Syrian chemical attacks that prompted the US retaliation are said to have occurred.

Fisk travelled the pummelled city freely — most of the fighters and government minders from Bashar al-Assad’s regime have got out. His report casts serious doubt on whether there actually was a chemical attack.

Fisk has lived in and reported from the Middle East for 40 years; he is fluent in the languages and has never been tainted by suggestions of political partiality or propaganda. In short, he is the genuine article — a journalist.

The United States has said al-Assad used chemical weapons in Douma, and maybe that is correct.

But it should be remembered that for more than 50 years US foreign affairs have featured two constants — putting its troops in other people’s countries and lying.

Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada, Afghanistan, Iraq … all have been marked by a consistent policy of lying to the American people and the world.

So perhaps Ms Ardern has good reason to be cautious.

…From TV1 News

The first reference from TVNZ’s “One News” was on 8 April, with war reporting centered around the Syrian government’s ongoing battle to retake Douma, in Eastern Ghouta, from the rebel group known as “Jaysh al-Islam – The Army of Islam Syria“. Jaysh al-Islam is funded by the Saudi Arabian government and fought against ISIS.

A brief one-sentence referred passingly to the so-called gas-attack in Douma;

CNN and other outlets are reporting a possible chemical attack against civilians has taken place.

The word ‘alleged’ is not used anywhere in the story.

On 9 April, a news story on the TVNZ website is unambiguous in determining that the so-called ‘attack’ took place. The headline left no room for doubt;

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The source of the story is Associated Press, but no other indication where it originated from.

The text of the story, though, is somewhat more circumspect than the guilty-judgement of the headlines;

The report comes after a suspected poison gas attack killed at least 40 in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, the last foothold for the Syrian opposition in the area.

President Donald Trump has promised a “big price to pay” for the suspected chemical attack.

And for some strange reason, TVNZ placed an image of a launching rocket at the bottom of the ‘story’.

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Though what that image has to do with Douma is unclear, as rebels have claim that the alleged gas attack was dropped by Syrian Government helicopters – not by missile(s).

The terms ‘alleged’ and ‘unverified’ are not used in the above ‘story’.

Two days later, TVNZ  ran another story – and again the headline was unequivocal:

 

Trump promises ‘forceful’ action after chemical attack on civilians in Syria

 

There was no mention of ‘alleged’, ‘suspected’, or ‘unverified’: the headline stated the so-called gassing as fact.

But again, the text of the story made belated attempts to appear impartial;

“…apparent chemical weapons attack…”

The term ‘alleged’ finally made an appearance;

“…the weapon of choice in a US attack one year ago on an airfield in Syria following an alleged sarin gas attack on civilians….”

Curiously, the author of the story touched on one peculiarity in this so-called “attack” that – until Robert Fisk’s investigation – had not been noticed;

The White House sharply rejected any suggestion that Trump’s own words about pulling US troops out of Syria had opened the door for the attack, which killed more than 40 people, including children.

There was no follow-up on this point. The un-named author does not elaborate on the suggestion that “Trump’s own words about pulling US troops out of Syria had opened the door for the attack“.

In what way had “Trump’s own words about pulling US troops out of Syria had opened the door for the attack“?

There is no explanation. No follow-up. In one passing sentence, the writer may have missed a critical possible motive for the alleged gas attack. As the time-line above shows, eleven days after Trump announced that the US will withdraw its forces from Syria – the American ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, stated unequivocally, “… We’re not going to leave until we know we’ve accomplished those things.”

On 14 April, the term ‘alleged’ is used for the first time (?) in a TVNZ headline;

 

Russia says alleged chemical attack in Syria staged by UK

 

The story used terms;

“…victims of the purported attack were staged…”

“…the suspected chemical attack…”

“…threatened military action in response to the alleged attack…”

“…She said of the alleged chemical attack…”

“…the suspected gas attack in Douma…”

“…the suspected April 7 attack…”

“…previous alleged use of chemicals by the rebels…”

The nature of the impartiality of the terminology may have been prompted by the re-taking of Douma by Syrian government forces, and serious doubts being raised regarding the veracity of the so-called “gas attack”. Or, the author of this particular write-up may have been more conscious of the fact that the so-called “gas attacks” were, as yet, unverified.

However, sadly the non-judgemental terminology was undone with a claim that was yet to be supported by independent investigators;

“… and killed more than 40 people in Douma…”

The phrase should have read “… and *allegedly* killed more than 40 people in Douma…”, to keep it consistent with the unverified nature of this story.

The story reported that OPCW was sending a team to investigate the situation in Douma. It also featured strong counter-claims from Syria’s Russian ally.

The following day, another headline presented the so-called attack as a fact, omitting any reference to ‘suspected’ or ‘alleged’;

 

Russian Defence Ministry claims chemical attack in Syria was a ‘planned provocation’ by UK

 

– though the opening statement indicated otherwise;

The Russian Ministry of Defence on Friday (local time) said it has enough evidence showing that a planned provocation was carried out in the case of alleged chemical attack in Syrian town of Douma on April 7.

The headline and the body of the text are contradictory.

Another story on 15 April raised concerns about the actual claims of chemical weapon usage by the Syrian army. The story quoted a Syrian official who asked an obvious question after a so-called “chemical weapons manufacturing facility” was destroyed by American missiles;

 “If there were chemical weapons in the building, we would not be here. My colleagues and I came here at 05:00 this morning. If there were chemical weapons, we would need to wear masks and take other protective measures to be staying here.”

It would be interesting if there were a follow-up to this story to determine if – after the buildings were destroyed by missiles –  the surrounding area had been contaminated by toxic chemical fall-out.

The story headed;

 

Syrian research facility hit by US strikes didn’t have chemical weapons, says official

 

– did not pre-judge the veracity of the rebel’s gas attack claims.

A further story on 15 April again reverted to predetermined judgement, with the opening paragraph suggesting that the unverified was now verified;

President Donald Trump on Saturday declared “Mission Accomplished” for a US-led allied missile attack on Syria’s chemical weapons programme, but the Pentagon said the pummeling of three chemical-related facilities left enough others intact to enable the Assad government to use banned weapons against civilians if it chooses.

A paragraph near the end of the story also accepted “as fact” that chemical weapons facilities were targeted;

The strikes “successfully hit every target,” White told reporters at the Pentagon. The military said there were three targets: the Barzah chemical weapons research and development site in the Damascus area, a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs and a chemical weapons “bunker” a few miles from the second target.

With few exceptions, most other headlines also presented the so-called gas attack as factually proven, without the all-important caveats of ‘alleged’, ‘suspected’, etc;

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Despite being a state-owned broadcaster, TVNZ – like its privately-owned cousins – has used language that pre-determined (a) the veracity of the alleged “gas attack and (b) those culpable. Attempts to use neutral, non-judgemental terms have been sporadic and mostly within the text of the stories.

The headlines cannot be viewed in any other way than casting blame on the Syrian government as being the ‘authors’ of the so-called gassing of Douma.

None of which has yet to be verified by the OPCW acting on behalf of the U.N.

…From TV3 News

On 8 April , TV3 News reported the so-called “gas attack” with headlines that left zero room for doubt;

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The  alleged “gas attack” was reported without question;

Dozens have been killed in a chemical attack in Syria after a barrel bomb dropped poisonous chemicals on civilians in eastern Ghouta

A medical relief organisation has estimated 35 people have died as a result of the attack, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has confirmed 11 deaths.

A Syrian rebel group is accusing government forces of launching the attack. State media has denied this claim.

More than 70 people suffered breathing difficulties due to the attack, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

According to the Syrian American Medical Society, a chlorine bomb targeted Douma hospital and a second bomb with “mixed agents”, including nerve agents, was dropped on a nearby building.

The most basic journalistic tenet was ignored: question everything. The story could have been written by hired propagandists writing for any government. It was not news – it was a copy-and-pasted press release.

The following day, a subsequent headline read;

 

Syrian gas attack death toll tops 70

 

Though the term “a suspected chemical attack” was used and Russian statements denouncing the claim as bogus were published, the headline carries the weight of pre-judged pseudo-authenticity. The headline conveyed the firm message: the “gas attack” happened; people died; an atrocity was committed. The subtext is that the culprit was the Syrian government (or its allies).

After all, why would the rebels gas their own? That would be like questioning whether the “gas attack” occurred at all.

A further headline on 9 April also repeated the certainty of Assad’s guilt;

 

Retaliation on Syrian military base after chemical attack

 

As the West launched its missile strike on Syrian targets, a 14 April Newshub headline read;

 

US, UK and France launch strikes on Syria following suspected chemical weapons attack

 

The opening statement referred to a “suspected chemical attack” – not ‘alleged’;

The United States, France and the UK have launched military strikes in Syria to punish dictator Bashar al-Assad for his suspected chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again, President Donald Trump has announced.

– and then declared that the Western attack was launched to “punish dictator Bashar al-Assad for his suspected chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again“.

Doing it again“? Is the world completely convinced Assad did it the first time on 7 April?

The same Mediaworks/Newshub story then made an even more astounding (and unsupported) claim;

The one-off missile strike in April 2017 targeted the airfield from which the Syrian aircraft had launched their gas attack. But the damage was limited, and a defiant Mr Assad returned to episodic use of chlorine and perhaps other chemicals.

There was no corroborating evidence to back up the assertion that “a defiant Mr Assad returned to episodic use of chlorine and perhaps other chemicals“. It was an assertion based purely on Western government’s press releases.

On 15 April, another story perpetuated the slanted, partisan nature of the “gas attack” claims;

 

First images emerge of latest bombing in Syria

 

The US military says the joint air strikes by the US, UK and France have set back Syria’s chemical weapons capability “for years”.

The story reported;

The target, a chemical research centre outside Damascus, was on the receiving end of 76 of 105 cruise missiles fired at Syria on Saturday.

– without a shred of evidence that the destroyed buildings housed “a chemical research centre“. For all we know those buildings may have been producing pharmaceuticals, as one Syrian official stated. Or buzzy-bees, for Syrian children. There is zero evidence either way.

Another story on the same day reported a statement made by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, parroting the non-fact that the destroyed buildings housed chemical weapons facilities;

Jacinda Ardern said on Saturday New Zealand “accepts why” the strikes, which targeted Syrian chemical weapons facilities, took place.

“The action was intended to prevent further such atrocities being committed against Syrian civilians.

“We stand firm in our condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta. This is clearly in breach of international law.”

Not even the lesser term ‘suspected’ was used.

Unfortunately, the Green’s condemnation of the US-led bombing failed to mention anywhere that the alleged “gas attacks” had yet to be verified by the OPCW. Their statement in Spinoff on 14 April accepted the so-called “gas attack” in Douma as factual.

It was not until 17 April – ten days after the alleged “gas attack” – that Newshub revealed in depth that the OPCW had not even visited Douma to investigate the alleged attack;

 

International inspectors push to see Syria gas site

 

At no point does Mediaworks/Newshub recognise the contradiction of apportioning blame to Assad before the OPCW had had a chance to investigate.

Which does not prevent the same article from asserting;

The United States, France and Britain launched 105 missiles targeting what the Pentagon said were three chemical weapons facilities in Syria in retaliation for the suspected poison gas attack in Douma.

Note the phraseology: “Three chemical weapons facilities in Syria” – not “three *alleged* chemical weapons facilities in Syria“.

On 16 April, Mediaworks/Newshub’s Anna Bracewell-Worrell published a story that explicitly stated;

On April 7, civilians in Syria were attacked with chemical weapons.

The images that came out of the attack were horrifying – civilians convulsing and struggling for breath, children ash-faced and terrified. At least 42 people were killed.

[…]

It is the second time Mr Trump has ordered retaliation after the Syrian government used chemical weapons.

Claims by Russia and the Syrian government that the so-called “gas attack” was fake was casually dismissed;

Russian officials have even suggested the attack was staged.

Yet, further down in the same story, the author referred to;

Mr Trump said that attack was also a direct punishment for Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons.

It was a rare moment for Mediaworks/Newshub to employ the term ‘alleged’. At some point, the author may have realised that allegations of a “gas bombing” had yet to be proven. Thus far the story appeared to be firmly in the realm of war propaganda.

Unfortunately, a subsequent comment by the author returned to the Official Western Narrative;

Following the missile attack on chemical weapons…

Then came the explosive (no pun intended) on-the-scene report by veteran Middle East Correspondent, Robert Fisk, that locals in Douma had no knowledge of a “gas attack” in their city;

“Oddly, after chatting to more than 20 people, I couldn’t find one who showed the slightest interest in Douma’s role in bringing about the Western air attacks.”

One would find it inconceivable that the smell of chlorine would go unnoticed by citizens in a sizeable city such as Douma.

Mediaworks/Newshub – to its credit – ran a story on Fisk’s investigation on 19 April;

 

Syria gas attack didn’t happen – local doctor

 

As far as this blogger can determine, Mediaworks/Newshub was only one of two media outlets that reported on Fisk’s findings in any meaningful way. The other was Mark Dawson, writing an editorial for the  Whanganui Chronicle.

All of which makes Tova O’Brien, Newshub’s Political Editor, “opinion” piece on 17 April another example of Western media “pundits” banging the war-drum of hysteria;

 

Tova O’Brien: PM’s position firmly on the fence isn’t good enough

 

No stranger to flawed “news” reporting, Ms O’Brien abandoned any pretext of journalistic impartiality and the search for truth when she tried and convicted the Syrian government as the culprit behind the alleged “gas attack” on Douma;

These are just a few of New Zealand’s close friends who got in behind the United States, United Kingdom and France when they launched airstrikes against the murderous Syrian regime and its chemical weapons sites…

Ms O’Brien didn’t doubt for a moment that the alleged “gas attack” occurred, and that there were (allegedly) victims;

The attacks came after yet another gas attack that killed 75 people, including children.

[…]

US airstrikes in Syria last year in response to a chemical weapons attack clearly didn’t deter further similar attacks by the Syrian regime.

[…]

But meanwhile the Syrian war wages on. Children keep dying, being gassed, poisoned by nerve agents – eyes weeping, noses and mouths streaming and frothing. They’re vomiting, and if the exposure is great enough they’re lucky if they die fast.

Ms O’brien blamed “an impotent UNSC that has diplomatically done sweet FA when it comes to the Syrian War” and demanded, “should innocent Syrians and their children suffer because the UN is inherently flawed?

Nowhere does she mention that not only is the alleged “gas attack” unverified – but that the OPCW has despatched an investigatory team to search for evidence.

Evidence.

The stuff we usually require before confirming a crime took place and assigning guilt to the culprit.

Even as Ms O’Brien towed the Pentagon-line that the dastardly Bashar al-Assad was guilty of a chemical weapon atrocity,  her employer went from this;

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… to this;

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Luckily for us there are real journalists operating who ask the hard questions and risk their well-being to bring us the truth. It is far harder than Ms O’Brien and her desk-bound colleagues who operate well away from “theatres of conflict” and instead rely on propaganda from governmental media “advisories” (ie; propaganda).

Unfortunately, when the truth is eventually teased out and presented to the world (as when the mythical “weapons of mass destruction” were shown to be a Western governmental fabrication), it is rarely presented with the same mass-coverage as the original “fake news”.

In this case, Robert Fisk went to Douma and discovered that the so-called “gas attack” lacked credibility with the locals. In other words, he revealed that it was fake news.

The question we – especially so-called professionals in the mainstream media – should be asking is: did the public notice?

…Conclusion

What makes governmental war pronouncements sound so credible is not from whence they emanate – but that they are given a veneer of factualness by constant, non-critical repetition by the mainstream media.

Our media is tasked with running a critical gaze over government-supplied information. Alleged “events” are supposed to be tested  and “facts”  fact-checked.

Instead, when it comes to war, in many instances they have become a compliant mouthpiece for State propaganda far more effective than anything Josef Goebbels could have envisioned in his widest dreams.

No wonder George Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” was never built. Instead it was outsourced to private enterprise. They apparently do it so much better.

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References

NZ Herald:  Syrian regime accused of killing civilians in chemical attack

The Independent:  The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack

RT News:  Al-Qaeda’s MASH unit – How SAMS is selling regime change & driving US to war

NZ Herald: Syrian news reports missile attack – US denies it fired them

Twitter: Trump – 9 April 2018

NZ Herald:  The Latest – UN nixes Russian text on Syria gas attack probe

NZ Herald:  Chemical weapons experts to inspect attack site in Syria

NZ Herald:  The Latest – UN Security Council schedules meeting on Syria

NZ Herald:  France mulls military action against Syria for gas attacks

Reuters:  French declassified intelligence report on Syria gas attacks

TVNZ News:  Prime Minister reaffirms that she ‘accepts the decision’ to bomb Syria – but would have preferred going through the UN

NZ Herald:  Certain of gas attack, allies struck Syria before UN report

Mediaworks:  Syria gas attack didn’t happen – local doctor

Whanganui Chronicle:  Please be careful what you ‘accept’, Jacinda

TV1 News:  Suspected Syrian gas attack reportedly kills 70 Douma

Wikipedia:  Jaysh al-Islam

Daily Mail:  The Army of Islam: Militant group battling ISIS and the Syrian regime show their might in ‘graduation ceremony’ featuring 1,700 soldiers and a fleet of armoured tanks

TV1 News: Strikes hit Syrian airfield one day after chemical attacks on civilians, – reports, US denies responsibility

The Independent:  Syrian government accused of using nerve agents as death toll from Douma ‘chemical weapons attack’ rises

TV1 News:  Trump promises ‘forceful’ action after chemical attack on civilians in Syria

TV1 News:  Russia says alleged chemical attack in Syria staged by UK

TV1 News:  Russian Defence Ministry claims chemical attack in Syria was a ‘planned provocation’ by UK

TV1 News:  Syrian research facility hit by US strikes didn’t have chemical weapons, says official

TV1 News:  ‘A perfectly executed strike’ – Trump declares ‘Mission accomplished!’ after US-led missile attack on Syria

TV1 News:  France says decision to launch strike on Syrian chemical weapons based on trusted information

TV1 News:  US vows to hit Russia with fresh sanctions in wake of Syrian chemical attack

TV1 News:  Syrian Minister meets with international chemical weapons watchdog over deadly chemical weapons attack

TV1 News:  Shots fired at UN security team visiting site of suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria

Mediaworks/Newshub: Dozens killed in Syria chemical attack

Mediaworks/Newshub: Syria gas attack didn’t happen – local doctor

Mediaworks/Newshub: Syrian gas attack death toll tops 70

Mediaworks/Newshub: Retaliation on Syrian military base after chemical attack

Mediaworks/Newshub: US, UK and France launch strikes on Syria following suspected chemical weapons attack

Mediaworks/Newshub:  First images emerge of latest bombing in Syria

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Greens condemn ‘Trump-led’ strike on Syria

Spinoff:  Bombing Syria will never bring peace. NZ must stand up against ad hoc violence

Mediaworks/Newshub:  International inspectors push to see Syria gas site

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Strikes on Syria – How we got to the edge of ‘World War III’

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Syria gas attack didn’t happen – local doctor

Mediaworks/Newshub:  Tova O’Brien – PM’s position firmly on the fence isn’t good enough

Additional

The Times: Critics leap on reporter Robert Fisk’s failure to find signs of gas attack

Previous related blogposts

The GCSB law – Oh FFS!!!

The Sweet’n’Sour Deliciousness of Irony: Russia accused of meddling in US Election

Trump escalates, Putin congratulates

Trumpwatch: The Drum(pf)s of War

Trumpwatch: One minute closer to midnight on the Doomsday Clock

One minute to midnight?

It is ten seconds to midnight

Syria: the mendacities of the mainstream media (part tahi)

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 29 May 2018.

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= fs =

 

 

Syria: the mendacities of the mainstream media (part tahi)

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“The first casualty when war comes is truth…” Hiram Johnson, 1866 – 1945

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Recent Timeline*

4 April: Trump announces he wants all remaining US forces out of Syria “very quickly”. Trump says; “Saudi Arabia is very interested in our decision. And I said, Well, you know, you want us to stay? Maybe you’re going to have to pay”.

8 April: First reports emerge of chemical gas attack in Douma, the last rebel-held town in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta province. Reports are unverified.

8 April: Russian government calls reports of alleged gas attack in Douma “fake news” and describes the story as a “false flag” operation. Russia’s Foreign Ministry states; “The goal of this… baseless speculation is to shield the terrorists and… the radical opposition that refuse to engage in a political settlement [process], as well as to justify potential military strikes from the outside”.

9 April: Trump promises major decision in next twentyfour hours  on alleged gas attack.

10 April: Syria  and  Russia invite Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to investigate allegations of chemical attack in Douma.

10 April:  Chairman of the State Duma’s Defense Committee,  Colonel General Vladimir Shamanov warned the West; “ The double standard policy has overstepped all possible boundaries. At this point, the [pro-Putin parliamentary majority] United Russia party must responsibly state that we are going to take all political and diplomatic measures, and also military measures if such need arises. Not a single unlawful action will be left without response.”

11 April: Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says it will support any military strike on Syria in retaliation for the alleged gas attack in Douma; “If our alliance with our partners requires it, we will be present”.

11 April: Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, repeats Colonel General Shamanov’s warning to the US: “If there is a US missile attack, we – in line with both Putin and Russia’s chief of staff’s remarks – will shoot down US rockets and even the sources that launched the missiles.

12 April: French President Emmanuel Macron declared that France has evidence that Syria carried out the gas attack in Douma; “We have proof that last week, now 10 days ago, that chemical weapons were used, at least with chlorine, and that they were used by the regime of (President) Bashar al-Assad. Our teams have been working on this all week and we will need to take decisions in due course, when we judge it most useful and effective.”

Two days later, hours after the US-led attack on Syria, France releases statement on evidence of alleged gas attack: “After examining the videos and images of victims published online, (French intelligence services) were able to conclude with a high degree of confidence that the vast majority are recent and not fabricated.

12 April: OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) fact-finding team lands in Syria to investigate alleged gas attack in Douma. Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, said; “We will facilitate the arrival of the team to anywhere they want, in Douma, to check whether or not there was use of chemical substances”.

14 April: Trump announces US-led attack on Syria, launching 105 missiles at targets in that country. Trump  states: “So today, the nations of Britain, France, and the United States of America have marshaled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality”.

14 April: President Putin of Russia states categorically: “Just as one year ago, when the Shayrat Airbase in Syria came under attack, the US used as a pretext a staged chemical attack against civilians, this time in Douma, a Damascus suburb. Having visited the site of the would-be chemical attack, Russian military experts did not find any traces of chlorine or any other toxic agent. Not a single local resident was able to confirm that a chemical attack had actually taken place.”

15 April: Trump declares: “Mission accomplished!”

15 April: Russia loses vote in UN Security Country to condemn US-led military strike. Russian UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia said: “Today is a very sad day for the world, the UN, its charter, which was blatantly, blatantly violated.”

15 April: US Ambassador to UN, Nikki Haley, tells Fox News Sunday that US troops will remain in Syria: “Yes, it is all of our goal to see American troops come home. But we’re not going to leave until we know we’ve accomplished those things. ”

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* International time-zones not taken into account: above dates are approximate.

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Saturday: a proven crime of aggression

On 14 April, the  United States launched 105 ‘Tomahawk‘ cruise missiles against Syria. The United Kingdom sent four RAF  ‘Tornado‘ jetfighters to attack and destroy targets at a former missile base near Homs. France also participated.

Despite assurances from Western governments that Bashar al-Assad’s forces were responsible for the alleged gas attack, no actual evidence has been presented regarding;

(a) who carried out the alleged attack

(b) if the so-called ‘attack’ happened at all.

Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, was not even certain what gas weapons were used. At a Press Briefing after the attack, he disclosed;

We are very much aware of one of the agents. There may have been more than one agent used. We are not clear on that yet. We know at least one chemical agent was used.

An OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) fact-finding team had barely reached Syria to determine what took place at Douma (if anything), when the US-led attack took place shortly afterwards. The OPCW team could not have found evidence or reached conclusions in the brief period of time (see timeline above) available to carry out their UN-mandated duties.

Local media reporting…

The response of our local media to report Saturday’s missile strike has been largely superficial and followed the Western narrative;

(a) the gas attack happened

(b) Syrian government forces were responsible

…From Radio NZ

Radio NZ has attempted to maintain a measure of cautious agnosticism, referring to “a suspected chemical attack“; “alleged chemical weapons sites“; and, “suspected poison gas attack“.

In most instances, the terms “suspected” and “alleged” are used. In one of it’s first stories, Radio NZ explicitly stated;

There has been no independent verification of the reports.

That caveat was not repeated on most (if any)  updates from Radio NZ.

On occasion, though, Radio NZ has reported US and other sources without questioning veracity or indicating that statements presented as facts may or may not be accurate;

At a Pentagon briefing shortly after Mr Trump’s announcement, Gen Joseph Dunford listed three targets that had been struck:

  • A scientific research facility in Damascus, allegedly connected to the production of chemical and biological weapons
  • A chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs
  • A chemical weapons equipment storage and an important command post, also near Homs

And;

UK strikes carried out by four Tornado jets hit one of the targets mentioned by the Pentagon – a military site near the city of Homs which is believed to have housed precursor materials for chemical weapons, according to the UK ministry of defence.

The term “allegedly” is noticeably missing in these paragraphs from a 13 April story;

The attack on the city on Saturday is said by activists and medics to have killed dozens of people when government aircraft dropped bombs filled with toxic chemicals.

The international Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is due to send monitors to Douma, but it is [unclear] how much evidence of any chemical attack might remain.

And from this 12 April story;

May, also speaking earlier on Wednesday, said all the indications were that the Syrian authorities were responsible for the chemical attack in the town of Douma and that such shocking assaults could not go unchallenged.

Radio NZ had reported that a OPCW fact-finding team had landed in Damascus on Saturday, the day of the U.S.-led attack, and in subsequent stories;

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) says a fact-finding mission has been “gathering information from all available sources and analysing it”.

Inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are currently in Damascus and are expected to visit Douma this weekend.

No reference to the fact that Syria and Russia had both invited the OPCW to send a fact-finding team.

…From Newstalk ZB

Commercial radio station , NewstalkZB,  was the complete polar opposite to Radio NZ.  They made no pretense to journalistic impartiality, and the term “alleged” was notably missing from their stories;

14 April:

President Donald Trump says the United States has “launched precision strikes” on targets associated with Syrian chemical weapons program.

This coordinated strike marked the second time in a year that Trump has used force against Assad, who U.S. officials believe has continued to test the West’s willingness to accept gruesome chemical attacks.

…since the reported chemical attack that killed civilians in the rebel-held town outside Damascus last weekend.

…an attack could pull the United States into Syria’s civil war and trigger a dangerous conflict with Assad ally Russia – without necessarily halting chemical attacks.

In the wake of last weekend’s gruesome attack, some U.S. officials advocated a larger, and therefore riskier, strike than the limited action Trump had ordered in April 2017, also in response to suspected chemical weapons use.

But the airfield targeted by the Pentagon resumed operations shortly after the attack and, according to Western intelligence assessments, chemical attacks resumed.

And  just in case anyone doubted who NewstalkZB held responsible for the alleged gas attack in Douma;

Planning for these strikes focused on ways to curb Assad’s ability to use such weapons again.

Since last year’s strike, multiple chemical attacks have been reported in opposition areas, most of them involving chlorine rather than the nerve agent sarin, as was used in 2017, suggesting the government may have adjusted its tactics.

An attribution at the bottom revealed; “Additional reporting by AP and The Washington Post“. Not surprising then that NewstalkZB’s story looked more like a rehash of a Pentagon press release than any notion of impartial reporting;

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A subsequent story on 16 April stated;

It’s unknown whether missile strikes in Syria will prevent or evoke the use of chemical weapons in future.

The only thing missing from NewstalkZB stories on Syria is a disclosure, “Approved by The White House Politburo”.

…From Fairfax

Fairfax media fared not much better than NewstalkZB, making only cursory attempts to qualify reports. As far as can be determined by this blogger, the phrase ‘unverified’ was used only once on the day the reports were first published in various Fairfax publications.

On 9 April, in a story headlined “Dozens killed in apparent chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria, rescue workers say“, the term ‘apparent’ was as close as Fairfax dared in lieu of ‘alleged’;

Dozens of men, women and children have been killed in an apparent chemical attack on a besieged Syrian enclave near Damascus, doctors and rescue workers say.

Even when the term ‘alleged’ should have been used, it was omitted – giving reportage an air of conclusive factuality when it was not deserved;

Gregory D Koblentz, the director of George Mason University’s Biodefense Program, said the [alleged*] attack appeared to reflect how much the clout of US policy has faded in Syria.

[…]

US President Donald Trump responded to the [alleged*]   attack Sunday morning on Twitter.

[…]

The [alleged*]   attack came as Syrian government forces stepped up an eight-week long offensive against Douma, outside Damascus, the last stronghold controlled by hardline rebels from the Jaish al-Islam group.

[…]

Multiple reports, including from rescue workers and the US State Department, said an initial [alleged*]   attack had targeted a hospital. It was unclear, however, what type of [alleged*] chemicals may have been used.

[…]

Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert described the [alleged*] reports from Eastern Douma as “disturbing and “horrifying,” saying they required an “immediate response by the international community.”

[…]

Syrian doctors and rescue workers on Sunday shared with journalists [alleged*] graphic images of men, women and children they said had been [allegedly*] killed or wounded in the [alleged*] attack.

[* Author’s insert: ‘alleged’]

A statement  from UN Secretary General, António Guterres, was the only instance where the reader was reminded that reports of a so-called “gas attack” were unconfirmed and nothing more than unproven allegations;

A representative for the United Nations said that Secretary General António Guterres was “particularly alarmed by allegations that chemical weapons have been used against civilian populations in Douma” but that the United Nations was “not in a position to verify these reports.”

At no point does the 9 April Fairfax story mention that an OPCW fact-finding team had landed in Damascus after the alleged gas attack and had not yet had an opportunity to verify events. Once again, the U.S. had circumvented an ongoing investigation to judge and apportion guilt without any corroborating, independent evidence.

Another  Fairfax story on 9 April attempted to put a caveat on the alleged gas attack with the term “suspected” – but that does not convey the same meaning as ‘alleged’;

The reported strike comes after a suspected poison gas attack killed at least 40 in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, the last foothold for the Syrian opposition in the area.

US President Donald Trump has promised a “big price to pay” for the suspected chemical attack.

Curiously, the end of the story makes a brief reference to another state ‘actor’ in the Syrian civil war, citing;

Israel has also struck inside Syria in recent years.

Again, no mention  that the alleged incident was unproven and that the OPCW  had yet to determine the facts.

Also on 9 April, an emotive piece penned by Josie Ensor presented a seemingly chilling “eye witness account” of victims of the alleged attack. The story presented the so-called “attack” as factual, with supposed “eye witness” statements and descriptions of “victims”.

The sympathies of the author is evident when she writes;

Both Syria and its Russian backer denounced the allegations as “fabrications”, while Iran, another of Bashar al-Assad’s patrons, called it a “conspiracy”.

There is no questioning of the incident’s veracity – until near the end of the article;

Saturday’s alleged attack pushed the holdout rebels back to the negotiating table. Hours later, they agreed to a Russian evacuation deal, signalling the end of the rebellion in one of the opposition’s most important territories.

Despite belatedly describing the so-called ‘attack’  as “alleged”, the author then reverted to indicating that it was a factual, proven event;

Reports sparked international outrage. But as Syrians have learned over the years, those responsible are unlikely to ever be held to account.

How can anyone be “responsible” if the so-called “attack” was “alleged” and not yet proven? If the “attack” is shown to be false, then no one could be held “responsible” for an incident that never happened. QED?!

The following day, another Fairfax article abandoned any pretext of an ‘alleged’ gas attack;

The prime minister has expressed “the strongest condemnation” of the chemical attack in eastern Ghouta, Syria, while the foreign minister has labelled it a war crime.

Dozens of men, women and children have been killed in the chemical attack on a besieged Syrian enclave near Damascus.

The deadly attack came as Syrian Government forces escalated their offensive to recapture the last rebel strongholds near the capital.

At least 40 people were killed on Saturday evening (local time) in the attack in Douma, eastern Ghouta, about 20 kilometres from Damascus, according to the Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS), a Washington-based nonprofit group that supports health facilities in the area.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Winston Peters condemned the attack, and said those behind it needed to be held to account.

[…]

News of the attack comes after the Labour-led Government promised to double New Zealand’s refugee quota from 750 to 1500 each year.

Only Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, to his credit, held out by keeping an open mind;

“When we know who to point the finger at, we’ll point the finger then… It’s abhorrent, and it’s against international laws and standards.”

Only on 14 April – six days after reports emerged of the alleged attack –  Fairfax deigned to refer to the supposed incident as ‘alleged’;

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The story even referred to an impending investigation by the OPCW and carried substantial statements from the Russians.

Was this a realisation by Fairfax management that the alleged incident in Douma had yet to be verified? That coverage by New Zealand’s mainstream media had been less than “fair and balanced”?

Unfortunately, no. The above story emanated from PBS News Hour and was carried via Associated Press, which Fairfax picked up. It did not originate from the hands of any New Zealand journalist. (Much to our shame.)

A day later, after the U.S. had launched 105 cruise missiles at various locations in Syria, Trump announced with glee; “Mission Accomplished”.  Fairfax reported the post-strike event, abandoning all notions of keeping an open mind on the alleged gas attack;

Allied missiles struck at the heart of Syrian chemical weapons arsenal in a show of force and resolve aimed at punishing the Assad government for a suspected poison gas attack against civilians and deterring the possible future use of such banned weapons.

Notice that the opening paragraph referred to “Syrian chemical weapons arsenal” – not “Syria’s [alleged] chemical weapons arsenal“. There is zero evidence that Syria possessed any chemical weapons after they were removed under international supervision in 2014;

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If such banned weapons still remained in Syria, Western powers were mysteriously silent on the issue.

The “Mission accomplished” story goes on to point out – albeit briefly,  almost as an afterthought – that the OPCW had sent a team to Syria;

A global chemical warfare watchdog group said its fact-finding mission would go as planned in Douma, where the apparent use of poison gas against civilians on April 7 that killed more than 40 people compelled the Western allies to launch their attack. Syria has denied the accusation.

None of the  story’s three writers could bring themselves to use the word ‘alleged’, substituting instead  the more bland “apparent use of poison gas”.

The next paragraph again abandons any notion of journalistic skepticism;

But France’s foreign minister said there was “no doubt” the Assad government was responsible, and he threatened further retaliatory strikes if chemical weapons were used again, as did Pentagon chief Jim Mattis, who said the assault was a “one-time shot,” as long as chemical weapons weren’t used again.

As far as Fairfax’s journalists were concerned, there was no doubt that the attack had occurred; gas was used against civilians; and Assad’s forces were the guilty party. No doubt at all; no question that Western governments were 100% truthful.

The OPCW had yet to find any evidence, but that seemed not to matter for most Western journalists.

What other areas of state-government activities draws such unquestioning fealty from our much-vaunted “free press”?

For example, when the story reported that;

Dunford said missiles first struck a scientific research centre in the Damascus area that he said was a centre of Syrian research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology. The second target was a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs. He said this was believed to be the main site of Syrian sarin and precursor chemical production equipment.

The third target was a chemical weapons equipment storage facility and an important command post, also west of Homs, Dunford said.

– did no one in the Fourth Estate bother to ask the most basic question: why were those “facilities” destroyed when they potentially held vital evidence that the OPCW team could have uncovered?

By 16 April, the murky smog of  chemical weapon hysteria began to part just a little so that questioning voices could be heard. Perhaps someone at Fairfax realised that Western allegations of a so-called “gas attack” were just that: unproven allegations.

A story entitled “Syrian government deploys forces in Douma after alleged chemical attack” used the term ‘alleged’ three times, once in the title;

Syrian state TV says another 5,000 security forces are deploying in a town near the capital that was brought under full government control a week after an alleged chemical attack.

[…]

In Assad’s view, the airstrikes that were launched in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by Syrian forces on the town of Douma will unify the country.

Following paragraphs returned to the less neutral term ‘suspected’;

The town was also the scene of a suspected poison gas attack on April 7 that prompted the US, Britain and France to launch missiles on Syrian military targets early Saturday.

[…]

The pope spoke after airstrikes by the United States, France and Britain aimed at taking out Syria’s chemical weapons capacity, following a suspected poison gas attack on a Damascus suburb that killed dozens, including children.

The OPCW fact-finding mission to Syria was again only briefly alluded to;

An international fact-finding mission from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is in Syria and expected to visit Douma.

Better than previous reporting, without doubt. But not by much.

[To be concluded in Syria: the mendacities of the mainstream media (part rua).]

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to ‘Francesca‘ for the OPCW link,  Progress in the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons programme.

References

Wikiquotes: Hiram Johnson

Politico:  Trump – ‘I want to get out’ of Syria

BBC:  Syria war – At least 70 killed in suspected chemical attack in Douma

RT News:  Moscow calls ‘chemical attack’ in Douma ‘fake news,’ warns against Syrian intervention

BBC:  Trump promises ‘major decision’ on Syria chemical attack

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons:  OPCW Will Deploy Fact-Finding Mission to Douma, Syria

RT News:  Duma defense chief says Russia may respond with military force to US strike on Syria

Reuters:  Saudi could take part in military response in Syria – Crown Prince

Al Jazeera:  Russia threatens to shoot down any US missiles fired at Syria

Reuters:  France has proof Syrian government conducted chemical weapons attack – Macron

USA Today: French report lays out the evidence – Assad forces conducted chemical attack on civilians

RT News:  ‘They can go anywhere they want in Douma’: OPCW team arrives in Syria to investigate alleged attack

Military Times:  President Trump’s statement on the U.S. military action in Syria

Kremlin.ru:  Statement by President of Russia Vladimir Putin

Bloomberg:  Trump Says ‘Mission Accomplished’ With Syria Strike Unanswered

The Guardian:  Russia loses vote condemning strikes

Fox News:  Amb. Nikki Haley on Trump administration’s Syria strategy

The Guardian: ‘No alternative’ – Theresa May sends British jets to join airstrikes on Syria

US Department of Defense:  Briefing by Secretary Mattis on U.S. Strikes in Syria

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons:   Progress in the elimination of the Syrian chemiucal weapons programme

Radio NZ:  Syria – Toxic gas attack kills at least 70 in Douma

Radio NZ:  US and allies launch strikes on Syria chemical weapons sites

Radio NZ:  US ‘has no moral right to blame other countries’ – Russia

Radio NZ:  Macron has ‘proof’, to decide on Syria air strikes

Radio NZ:  UK’s May summons ministers for Syria meeting

Radio NZ:  The path to the attack on Syria

Radio NZ:  Syria warned US still ‘locked and loaded’

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons:  OPCW Will Deploy Fact-Finding Mission to Douma, Syria

NewstalkZB: Russia vows to retaliate after missiles target Syria

NewstalkZB:  Effects of Syria strikes unknown

Fairfax: Dozens killed in apparent chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria, rescue workers say

Fairfax: Syrian news agency reports missile attack

Fairfax:  Nowhere to hide from Syria ‘gas attack’

Fairfax:  NZ expresses ‘strongest condemnation’ of chemical attack on Syrians

Fairfax:  Russia claims alleged chemical attack in Syria staged by UK

PBS News Hour:  Russia says suspected chemical attack in Syria was staged by UK

Fairfax:  ‘Mission Accomplished’ in Syria, Trump declares on Twitter

BBC:  Last of Syria’s chemical weapons shipped out

NPR:  Syria Gives Up Chemical Weapons … But A War Rages On

Reuters:  Syria hands over remaining chemical weapons for destruction

Fairfax: Syrian government deploys forces in Douma after alleged chemical attack

Additional

The Independent:  The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack

Reuters:  French declassified intelligence report on Syria gas attacks

Previous related blogposts

The Sweet’n’Sour Deliciousness of Irony: Russia accused of meddling in US Election

Trump escalates, Putin congratulates

Trumpwatch: The Drum(pf)s of War

Trumpwatch: One minute closer to midnight on the Doomsday Clock

One minute to midnight?

It is ten seconds to midnight

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 23 April 2018.

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The Neverending Story in Mainstream Media Fairytale Land

27 October 2017 1 comment

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“Public backlash grows against pointless media speculation on coalition talks”

— is, unfortunately, not a headline we’ll be seeing  any time soon.

The media role is reporting post-election politics has not been an edifying spectacle to watch. Put simply, the most exacerbating aspect of three weeks of coalition negotiation has not been the length of time – remarkably short by international standards – but the interminable, inane,  media commentary we’ve had to endure.

As  reported on 7 October, in lieu of any actual news-worthy stories, the msm (mainstream media) has taken to either parroting National Party propaganda on a non-existent “Teal Coalition” – or engaged in an onanistic beat up on the length of time needed for coalition negotiations.

National Party de-facto spokesperson, Maserati-owner, and legend-in-his-own-mind, Mike Hosking, waxed lyrical about a so-called “Teal” arrangement;

The concept of a grand coalition? Naive in theory yes, in reality not the slightest chance.

The best suggestion for the deal that never was – but could so easily have been – was the teal coalition, the Nats and Greens.

The Greens held themselves to ransom by tying themselves to Labour.

[…]

A teal coalition could well have worked and the Greens would almost certainly have got more out of it than they will get if the nod goes their way tomorrow (or whenever Winston decides).

Although why Hosking considers a “Grand Coalition between National and Labour as “naive” without “the slightest chance” and a National-Green coalition as something that “could so easily have been” – is never explained by him. But that’s the thing with public displays of  political-porn – it requires no internal logic or consistency.

On 14  October, I watched TV3’s The Nation – expecting a one-hour long exercise in pointless navel-gazing as to who Winston Peters will “go with”.

To my pleasant surprise, adults had taken over the programme and the viewer was treated to more pressing issues;

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In segment one, Lisa Owen discussed workers’ rights and workplace safety with Richard Wagstaff, Hazel Armstrong, and Jackie Blue. It was a critical look at the grim stats surrounding workplace accidents; deaths; injuries, and maimings.

Former National Party MP – and now Human Rights Commissioner – Jackie Blue, made the startling  admission that low unionisation in the workforce was part of the problem of workplace accidents;

I also think a fact in the forestry deaths is that they have very low rates of unionisation. They don’t have anyone speaking for them. There’s no voice for forestry workers. And I listened to an interview Helen did a year before she died, and she said she got to know the forestry workers, and once they understood the concept of a union, they wanted to be part of one.

The second segment featured an interview with BNZ CEO, Anthony Healey, supporting the Left’s call for a capital gains tax. Some of Healey’s comments would have come straight out of The Daily Blog;

“It’s really about equity in the tax system.

[…]

Well, I think you can take a very broad based approach to it, but one of the things that I think is really important in this discussion is we’re not talking about, and my opinion is we need to tax in aggregate more; it’s about redistributing tax. So if you were to apply a broad based capital gains tax, that gives you the ability to address other things in the tax system, like company tax, like income tax, especially for those that are more needy.

[…]

Well, I think where we really need to address tax is at the lower end of the taxation system. If you were to apply a capital gains tax where you see a lot of wealth accumulation as opposed to income, then you have room to move, and you can look at the lower income tax rate, particularly for those who are struggling to make ends meet.”

When bank CEOs are advocating Labour and Green Party tax policies, you just know that the neo-liberal paradigm has lost it’s 1980s/90s gloss.

The last segment featured a good look at how Artificial Intelligence (AI) would be impacting on jobs in the coming years and decades. People closely connected with the AI industry – Greg Cross, Grant Straker, and Ben Goertzel shared their insights as to where we were heading with increasingly advanced technologies.

Then came the panel – Tracy Watkins from Fairfax media; former National Party parliamentary researcher, Chris Simpson, and political pundit,  Vernon Tava.

What came next in the following ten to fifteen minutes was not a word uttered to discuss any of the three issues raised in The Nation. Even Lisa Owen’s opening remarks on the one year anniversary of trade unionist Helen Kelley’s death and the role she played in highlighting workplace  accidental deaths was not discussed.

Instead, Owen led the panelists down the garden path to discussing… the coalition talks and “the mysterious NZ First Board”.

It was ten to fifteen minutes of pointless pontificating and using up valuable oxygen as Fairfax political reporter Tracy Watkins lamented that Winston Peters  “ just doesn’t look like he’s enjoying it very much“.

The obligatory cliche of “the tail wagging the dog” was trotted out by Watkins and Owen. Watkins description of the coalition talks as a “circus” suggests she has been too long in politics and jaded cynicism has coloured her view of things.

Only Vernon Tava’s comments struck home when he pointed out;

“…Media, who are becoming increasingly desperate standing around in cold lobbies in Wellington shouting questions at people as they walk briskly from one hallway to another…”

The only “circus” has been a media one.

Meanwhile,  broadcast and print media have been going nuts with their ongoing speculations. For example, the 16 October edition of The Dominion Post had no less that seven distinct pieces in that edition, including an editorial headedTime for Waiting to end“;

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(Curiously, the very same editorial was republished in Christchurch’s The Press, and headed, “New Zealand needs to know who will govern it“.)

The opening statement was so ludicrously dripping with sanctimony that it beggared belief anyone could write it with a straight face;

“The New Zealand public is to be congratulated for it’s extraordinary patience over the last three weeks since the general election.”

The New Zealand public is not only patient – but a darned sight more mature than the children who currently work in our mainstream media, and who constantly pester their Uncle Winston from the back seat of  the family stationwagon;

“Are we there yet?”

“No.”

“Are we there yet?”

“No!”

“Are we there yet?”

“NO!!!”

The public are patient. They fully understand  the complexities of forming a government and that it must be done carefully. As Labour leader Jacinda Ardern explained on Radio NZ’s Morning Report on 17 October with pained patience for the benefit of the media, ;

“…The ability of a government to be both  stable and durable ultimately comes down to whether or not you have enough commonality to form a government that’s going to  last the distance.”

In the same edition of the Dompost, Tracy Watkins had a front-page piece beneath the paper’s banner, entitled, “Is the coalition deal a crown or a poisoned chalice?” She stated matter-of-factly;

“After weeks of secrecy and the bizarre silence of the two major party leaders…”

“Secrecy”? “Bizarre silence”?!

Another way of  phrasing Watkins’ prose could be;

“After weeks of  nothing to write about by the two major newspaper chains…”

As a political blogger, I write often and passionately about transparency in government; government departments; NGOs, etc.

On coalition negotiations, however, confidentiality is a prerequisite for meaningful dialogue between the parties, unfettered by pressure from pious media pundits.

Case in point, TV3’s  Patrick Gower passing judgement in 2014 on an electoral arrangement between Mana Movement and the Internet Party;

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Second case-in-point; numerous media commentators (Mike Hosking, et al) calling for the Green Party enter into coalition dialogue with National. As if such a scenario were remotely possible (or desirable).

On 11 October, Radio NZ’s Tim Watkin (former Producer of TV3’s The Nationexpressed his own personal frustration in a way that was verging on the farcical;

“Well, I hate to say ‘I told you so’. But as frustration builds over the way our new government is being built – amid casual abuse, secrecy and over-reach – we really only have ourselves to blame, for the way this administration is being born in darkness, at least. Its mother is our own complacency.

[…]

Yet many New Zealanders fell in behind the parties’ spin, complaining that journalists were wasting time asking coalition questions and pushing for answers the poor party leaders couldn’t possibly give. ‘Focus on the issues,’ they cried.

How many of them are now among those bemoaning the lack of transparency in these negotiations and the deals being done behind closed doors?

We are left with little idea of which policies are being traded for which and have next to no notion about the priorities of whichever government might emerge, because we failed as a public to demand answers before the election.

I have no problem with these negotiations being conducted in confidence. I don’t mind New Zealand First shuttling back and forth between parties and being able to handle this process in secret. This is a time for a veil, of sorts.

But we should know, from reportage and interviews pre-election, what’s being traded.”

Tim demanded that “we should know, from reportage and interviews pre-election, what’s being traded” – seemingly forgetting that any post-election agreement would eventually reveal precisely “ what’s being traded“.

The rest of his intemperate commentary is symptomatic of political journos and commentators venting their impatience. In the meantime, the public went about their daily lives, content with leaving coalition-building to those who had been elected to carry out that task.

This is not how the Fourth Estate should be behaving. This is not reporting unfolding political events. It is not even analysis of unfolding political events. This was a naked move to artificially generate political events.

No news?  No problem.

Make some up.

The impatience of the msm was highlighted when, on several occasions, TV3’s news led with the length of time being taken for coalition talks – complete with this melodramatic graphic;

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It takes a remarkable talent to create a story out of simply… waiting. This desperation of the msm for any political activity to report  was remarked on by Auckland University political scientist, Jennifer Curtin on 15 October;

Associate Professor Curtin said the amount of time being taken was reasonable and in Nordic countries such as Sweden taking two to three weeks to form a government was the norm.

“So asking for something to happen since October the 12th in four or five days is probably a little bit unrealistic and a little bit first past the post really, in the way we’re thinking about government formation.”

Four days later, as if further illustration was required, on 19 October Mediaworks presented us an updated report that… well… there was nothing to report;

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When Tracy Watkins referred to a “circus” on The Nation, she was almost right. There has been a circus in this country since 23 September. But this time  it hasn’t come from our  political representatives.

Lisa Owen from The Nation on 21 October was honest when she admitted on behalf of the Fourth Estate;

“We’re impatient. We are impatient.”

The ‘Devil finds work for idle hands’, it is said. More so for idle children and  journalists with nothing to do, and too much time to do it in.

Let’s hope that all these well-paid, well-resourced journalists will be devoting equal air-time or column-inches to scrutinising the attacks-to-come from the Neo-liberal Establishment. Those attacks have already started.

That is where the real reporting, analysis, and commentary should be focused on.

What are the chances?

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References

NZ Herald:  Mike Hosking – Reading the coalition tea leaves

Mediaworks: The Nation (14 October 2017)

Scoop media: The Nation – Workers’ Rights Panel

Scoop media:  The Nation – Lisa Owen interviews Anthony Healy

Mediaworks:  Panel – Tracy Watkins, Chris Simpson and Vernon Tava

Radio NZ:  Labour, Greens ‘ready to go’ – Ardern

Fairfax media:  It’s difficult to know if Winston Peters is offering a crown or a poisoned chalice

Twitter: Patrick Gower

Radio NZ:  Negotiation secrecy a snub to democracy

Mediaworks: Newshub Live at 6pm (18th October 2017)

Radio NZ: NZ First board set to consider possible coalition deal

Mediaworks: Newshub webpage 19 October

Scoop media:  The Nation – Lisa Owen interviews Jacinda Ardern

Other Blogs

Cut Your Hair:  Don’t blame MMP for bad king/queenmakers

Sciblogs:  For a teal coalition

The Standard: “Reporters”

Previous related blogposts

How biased is the media? A Patrick Gower case study

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign… (tekau)

An Open Letter To Winston Peters

Once Upon a Time in Mainstream Media Fairytale Land

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 22 October 2017.

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Once Upon a Time in Mainstream Media Fairytale Land…

12 October 2017 4 comments

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You can feel mainstream media’s frustration with the news-vacuum created by the two week period necessary to count the approximately 384,072 (15% of total votes) Special Votes that were cast this election.

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Winston Peters has announced on several occasions that he will wait until the Specials are counted and announced by the Electoral Commission on 7 October,  before making any announcements on coalition;

“This will be the last press conference I am going to hold until after the 7th of October… I can’t tell you what we are going to do until we have seen all the facts.

I can’t talk to you until I know what the 384,000 people who have cast their vote said…”

And you know what? He’s 100% right.

All the media pundit speculation; all the ambushing at airport terminals; all the annoyingly repetitive questions are utterly pointless. Peters simply cannot say anything meaningful until 7 October because the 2017 Election has not yet fully played out.

This is not a game of rugby where, after eighty minutes, a score determines a winner and loser (or draw).  In this game of “electoral rugby”, the score will not be delivered for two weeks.

The media – still feeling the adrenaline from Election Night “drama” – appears not to have realised this. The 24-Hour News Cycle is not geared toward a process lasting days or weeks.

One journalist writing for the NZ Herald, Audrey Young, even suggested that initiating coalition talks before the Specials were counted and announced was somehow a “good thing”;

It is surprising that NZ First has not begun talking to National yet, at a point when it has maximum leverage.

Not doing so before the special votes runs the risk having less leverage after the specials are counted should there be no change in the seats, or in the unlikely event of National gaining.

That bizarre suggestion could be taken further; why not announce a government before any votes are counted?

Pushed to maximum absurdity, why not announce a government before an election even takes place?  Banana republics fully recommend  this technique.

It says a lot about the impatience and immaturity of journalists that they are demanding decisions on coalition-building before all votes are counted. It is  doubtful if any journalist in Europe – which has had proportional representation far longer than we have – would even imagine  making such a nonsensical  suggestion.

Little wonder that Peters lost his cool on 27 September where he held a press conference and lambasted the mainstream media for their “drivel”;

“Now frankly if that’s the value you place on journalistic integrity you go right ahead, but the reality is you could point to the Electoral Commission and others and ask yourself why is it that 384,000 people will not have their vote counted until the 7th of October. 

Maybe then you could say to yourselves that may be the reason why New Zealand First has to withhold its view because we don’t know yet what the exact precise voice of the New Zealand people is.

All I’m asking for is a bit of understanding rather than the tripe that some people are putting out, malicious, malignant, and vicious in the extreme.”

The mainstream media did not take kindly to the critical analysis which they themselves usually mete out to public figures. They reported Peters’ press conference in unflattering terms and a vehemence usually reserved for social/political outcasts who have somehow dared challenge the established order of things;

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The Fourth Estate does not ‘do’ criticism well.

Even cartoonists have piled in on Peters, caricaturising him for daring to impede the [rapid] course of democracy;

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Or satirising Peters for being in a position to coalesce either with Labour or National. Despite this being a feature of all proportionally-elected Parliaments around the world, this has somehow taken the mainstream media by surprise;

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Perhaps Winston Peters was correct when he accused  New Zealand’s mainstream media of continuing to view the political landscape  through a First Past the Post prism;

“You ran a first past the post campaign in an MMP environment. And things suffer from that.”

Without a hint of self-awareness of irony, the usually insightful Bernard Hickey  offered this strangely familiar ‘advice’ to Peters;

It could have been so different. He could have simply said he couldn’t disclose his negotiating position until after the counting of the special votes and that he could not say who he would choose. Everyone would have accepted that as a fair stance.

Really? “Everyone would have accepted that as a fair stance”?!

How many timers did Peters tell journalists  that he “couldn’t disclose his negotiating position until after the counting of the special votes and that he could not say who he would choose” and how many times did those same journalists (or their colleagues) persist?

I have considerable respect for Mr Hickey’s researching and reporting skills. He is one of New Zealand’s most talented journalists/commentators.

On this point, however, he has over-looked the stubborn persistence of his colleagues in their unrelenting demands on Peters.

That media drivel has extended to journalists reporting on a non-existent, fabricated “story” – a potential National-Green (or “Teal”) Coalition.

Nowhere was this suggestion made seriously – except by National-leaning right-wing commentators, National party supporters, and National politicians. It should be blatantly clear to the most apolitical person that,

(a) such a coalition has been dismissed by the Green Party on numerous occassions

(b) such a coalition would be impractical due to wide policy differences between National and the Greens

(c) such a coalition scenario was being made only as a negotiation tactic by National to leverage against NZ First, and

(d) such a coalition would offer very little benefit to the Greens.

Green party leader, James Shaw, had to repeat – on numerous occassions – that any notion of a National-Green deal was out of a question;

“Our job is to form a government with the Labour Party, that’s what I said on election night, that’s what I campaigned on for the last 18 months and that’s what we are busy working on.

I said on election night that I think the numbers are there for a new government and that’s what we are working on, so everything else frankly is noise and no signal.”

This did not stop the mainstream media from breathlessly (breathe, Patrick, breathe!) reporting repeating the “story” without analysing where it was emanating from: the Right. Or who it would benefit: National.

Writing a series of stories on an imaginary National-Green coalition scenario, Fairfax ‘s political reporter Tracy Watkins could almost be on the National Party’s communications-team payroll;

Metiria Turei’s departure from the Greens co-leadership seems to be what lies behind National’s belief that a deal may be possible – she was always cast as an implacable opponent to any deal with National. James Shaw is seen as being more of a pragmatist.

But National would only be prepared to make environmental concessions – the Greens’ social and economic policy platform would be seen as a step too far. Big concessions on climate change policy would also be a stumbling block.

On both those counts the Greens would likely rule themselves out of a deal – co-leader James Shaw has made it clear economic and social policy have the same priority as environmental policy.

There is a view within National, however, that a deal with the Greens would be more forward and future looking than any deal with NZ First.

One concern is what is seen as an erratic list of NZ First bottom lines, but there is also an acknowledgement that National was exposed on environmental issues like dirty water in the campaign.

That’s why National insiders say an approach to the Greens should not be ruled out.

But Watkins was not completely oblivious to the Kiwi-version of ‘Game of Thrones‘.  She briefly alluded to comprehending that National is pitting the Greens against NZ First;

Senior National MPs have made repeated overtures through the media that its door is open to the Greens, who would have more leverage in negotiations with the centre-right than the centre-left.

Watkins and her colleagues at Fairfax made no attempt to shed light on National’s “repeated overtures”. She and other journalists appeared content to be the ‘conduit’ of National’s machiavellian machinations as prelude to coalition talks.

Such was the vacuum caused by the interregnum between Election Day and Special  Votes day.  That vacuum – caused by the news blackout until coalition talks begin in earnest after 7 October – had obviously enabled sensationalism to guide editorial policy.

Writing for another Fairfax newspaper, the Sunday Star Times, so-called “journalist” Stacey Kirk cast aside any remaining mask of impartiality and came out guns blazing, demanding a National Green Coalition;

They should, and the reasons they won’t work with National are getting flimsier by the day. But they won’t – it’s a matter that strikes too close to the heart of too many of their base – and for that reason, they simply can’t.

[…]

For all their dancing around each other, National is serious when it says it would be happy to talk to the Greens. But it’s also serious when it says it knows it has to make big environmental moves regardless.

If the Greens are serious about putting the environment above politics – and the long-term rebuild of the party – they really should listen.

Kirk’s piece could easily have emanated from the Ninth Floor of the Beehive – not the Dominion Post Building in downtown Wellington.

The media pimping for a fourth National-led coalition, involving the Greens, would be comical if it weren’t potentially so damaging to our democracy. Media are meant to question political activity such as coalition-building  – not aggressively promote them in an openly partisan manner. Especially not for the benefit of one dominant party. And especially not to install that political party to government.

One person went so far as launching an on-line petition calling for just such a coalition;

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The organisor is one, Clive Antony, a Christchurch “organic fashion entrepreneur”. (That’s a ‘thing’? Who knew?)  Mr Anthony explained why he wanted a “Teal” coalition;

“I genuinely think there is common ground between the National Party and the Green Party, which could result in practical policy wins for New Zealand. Environmental issues such as carbon neutrality and social issues like child poverty come to mind.”

Mr Anthony happens to be a National Party supporter.

Mr Anthony failed to explain what National has been doing the last nine years to protect the environment; why rivers have continued to be degraded; why the agricultural sector has been left out of the emissions trading scheme; why National has squandered billions on new roading projects instead of public transport; etc, etc. Also, Mr Anthony has failed to ask why National has not willingly adopted Green Party policies in the last nine years.

What has stopped them?  Party policies are not copyright.  After all, you don’t have to be in coalition with a party to take on their policies.

Although it helps if National were honest enough to release official reports in a timely manner, instead of the public relying on them to be leaked;

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This is how National demonstrates transparency and integrity.  This is the party that attempts to suppress critical information on climate change.

This is the party that some media pundits are clamouring to enter into a meaningful working relationship with the Greens.

As former Green MP, Mojo Mathers pointed out on Twitter;

“Oh my, National love the Greens now do they? Pity they couldn’t show some love for the environment over the last 9 years. #NoGreenWash

Dirty coal. Polluted rivers. Industrial dairying. Rising emissions. Billion dollar motorways. Seabed mining in blue whale habitat and more.”

Another, former Green MP, Catherine Delahunty, voiced what probably 99.9% of Green Party members are thinking right now;

“I would rather drink hemlock than go with the National Party. The last thing I want to see is the Green Party or any other party propping them up to put them back into power. They’ve done enough damage.”

Green Party (co-)leader, James Shaw, was more diplomatic;

“A slim majority of voters did vote for change, and so that’s what I’m working on… We campaigned on a change of Government, and I said at the time it was only fair to let voters know what they were voting for – are you voting for the status quo, or are you voting for change?”

Other individuals pimping for a Nat-Green coalition are sundry National party MPs such as  Paula Bennett or former politicians such as Jim Bolger.

All of which was supported by far-right blogger, Cameron Slater’s “intern staff”, on the “Whaleoil” blog;

Currently we are sitting in wait for old mate Winston Peters to choose who is going to run the country. After watching all the pundits in media talk about what the next government would look like, it started to annoy me that everyone has been ruling out a National/Green coalition and rightly so as both parties have basically written it off.

[…]

A quick Blue-Green arrangement with the appropriate Government Ministries assigned to Green Ministers would kill the NZ First posturing dead and would probably be the death knell for NZ First forever once Mr Peters resigns.”

National’s pollster and party apparatchik, David Farrar, was also actively pimping for a National-Green Coalition;

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When even the far-right are salivating at the prospect of a Blue-Green coalition, you know something is seriously askew.

However,  judging by comments posted by Kiwiblog’s readers, the prospect of a Blue-Green coalition does not sit well with his audience.

As an interesting side-note, both Whaleoil and Kiwiblog both published their first stories on a Blue-Green coalition around 27 and 28 September. The Tory communications-strategy memo talking up a Blue-Green scenario appears to have been sent to Slater and Farrar at the same time.

It beggars belief that very few media commentators have picked up on what is really the bleedin’ obvious: National’s strategy is obviously a ploy to leverage against NZ First.

Of all the pundits, only one person seems to have sussed what was really happening and why. Otago University law professor and political commentator,  Andrew Geddis,  put things very succinctly when he wrote for Radio NZ on 30 September;

Media coverage of the post-election period echoes this existential angst. With Winston Peters declaring that he – sorry, New Zealand First – won’t make any decisions on governing deals until after the final vote count is announced on October 7, we face something of a news vacuum.

Commentators valiantly have attempted to fill this void with fevered speculation about who Peters likes and hates, or fantastical notions that a National-Greens deal could be struck instead…

That is as close to sensible commentary as we’ve gotten the last two weeks.

The 2017 General Election may be remembered in future – not for Winston Peters holding the balance of power – but for the unedifying rubbish churned out by so-called professional, experienced journalists. In their thirst for something – anything!! – to report, the media commentariate have engaged in  onanistic political fantasies.

They have also wittingly allowed themselves to be National’s marionettes – with strings reaching up to the Ninth Floor.

The National-Green Coalition fairytale promulgated by some in the media was a glimpse into the weird world of journalistic daydreaming. In other words, New Zealanders just got a taste of some real fake news.

Like children in the back seat of a car on a two-week long drive, this is what it looks like when bored journalists and media commentators become anxious and frustrated. Their impatience gets the better of them.

And a politician called them on it;

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When the antiquated, binary system of First Past the Post  was replaced with a more sophisticated; more representative; more inclusive MMP in the 1990s, our political system matured. Our Parliament became more ethnically and gender diverse. We even elected the world’s first transgender MP.

MMP is complex and requires careful consideration and time.

It is fit-for-purpose for the complexities of 21st Century New Zealand.

The Fourth Estate is yet to catch up.

 

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References

Electoral Commission: Preliminary results for the 2017 General Election

Otago Daily Times:  Peters will wait for special vote count

NZ Herald:  Winston Peters – 7 per cent of the vote, 100 per cent of the power

Newsroom:  Winston’s awful start

Fairfax media:  Winston Peters launches tirade on media, stays mum on coalition talks

TVNZ:  ‘Next question!’ – belligerent Winston Peters has press pack in stitches after shutting down Aussie reporter

NZ Herald:   Attack on media, some insults and stonewalling – Winston Peters comes out firing in press conference

Newstalk ZB:  Winston Peters hits out at media in fiery press conference

Radio NZ:  Green Party dismisses National-Green speculation

Fairfax media:  The Green Party also hold the balance of power, but they don’t seem to want it

Fairfax media:  National says don’t rule out an approach to Greens on election night

Fairfax media:  Stacey Kirk – Honour above the environment? Greens hold a deck of aces they’re refusing to play

NZ Herald:  Grassroots petition calls for National-Green coalition

Fairfax media: Govt sits on climate warnings

Twitter: Mojo Mathers

Radio NZ:  ‘Snowball’s chance in hell’ of a Green-National deal

Mediaworks:  ‘I will hear the Prime Minister out’ – James Shaw

Mediaworks:  Winston Peters’ super leak ‘great gossip’ I couldn’t use against him – Paula Bennett

Fairfax media:  Greens have a responsibility to talk to National – Jim Bolger

Radio NZ:  Special votes – why the wait?

NZCity:  Have patience, says Winston Peters

E-Tangata: Georgina Beyer – How far can you fall?

Other Blogs

Kiwiblog:  What could the Greens get if they went with National not Winston?

Kiwiblog:  How a National-Green coalition could work

The Daily Blog: Martyn Bradbury – Let’s seriously consider David Farrar’s offer to the Greens and laugh and laugh and laugh

Liberation:  Cartoons and images about negotiating the new government

Previous related blogposts

Election 2014; A Post-mortem; a Wake; and one helluva hang-over

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (tahi)

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (rua)

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (toru)

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (wha)

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (rima)

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (ono)

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign thus far… (whitu)

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign… (waru)

Observations on the 2017 Election campaign… (Iwa)

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 7 October 2017.

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Trumpwatch: Fake News, Soft News, and Non-News

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One of Donald Trump’s most bitter and constant complaints is mainstream media reporting of his election campaign last year, and his first couple of months in the White House.

Any reporting of Trump which shows him in a negative light is referred by him as “fake news“. This, despite  the actual definition of fake news being closer to Wikipedia’s opening statement on the issue;

Fake news is a type of hoax or deliberate spread of misinformation, be it via the traditional news media or via social media, with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically.

Trump’s mis-use of the term “fake news” – to attack and dismiss as untrue, actual news stories – is a corruption of the term for his own purposes.

Trump’s actions, statements, tweets, and behaviour has all received media attention – and quite rightly so. Trump is no longer a private individual and his actions and words are no longer unimportant. As the elected leader of the United States, much of what  he says and does will be reported.

Often, that reporting will be highly critical.

Sometimes, it will be damaging to his reputation.

It goes with the ‘territory’.

Attacking various msm such as CNN and labelling it as “fake news” because he is thin-skinned and upset by their stories  does not make the news outlet “fake”;

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It simply makes him look petulant, unprofessional, and unable to cope with the rigours of his Office.

This, is fake news;

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So is this;

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Mostly likely this;

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And maybe even this;

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(Loving that blue dress, by the way…)

And yet, on at least two occassions, Trump has had valid justification to attack and criticise the msm over stories published.

The first, in late February. There was faux-outrage when the media reported that – SHOCK! HORROR! – Donald Trump’s senior  advisor, Kellyanne “Alternative Facts” Conway, was caught in a series of photos kneeling on a couch in the Oval Office of the White House;

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For some inexplicable reason (actually, not so inexplicable at all), this was considered “newsworthy”, and the planet’s media went nuts;

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I had no desire (or spare time) to check the remaining 309,000 results.

This was not so much “Fake” News as Non-News. There was nothing remotely informative, insightful, or politically meaningful about that (non-)event.

As many pointed out, it was not so different to former President Obama putting his feet up on the Oval Office desk, after a hard day running the American Empire;

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(Tough day at the office.)

The next instance of Non-News reporting by the msm was this incident;

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The News Corp story above (re-published in the NZ Herald) went on to describe Donald Trump’s speech at Congress;

While her father President Donald Trump spoke about saving American jobs, Ivanka stood at his State Of the Union address in the expensive frock, which costs about NZ$4238 (US$2995).

There was no mention of what Ms Trump’s father wore on the day.

Yet again, the mainstream media appeared to run out of real stories, as the ‘net filled with millions of words written about ‘that dress’;

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As referenced briefly above, it is not totally ‘inexplicable’ that the msm have gone barking mad on the two Non-News ‘stories’ above.

There is an on-going war-of-words between Trump – aided and abetted by his faithful White House minions – versus the mainstream media. The animosity has never been so bitter since the days of the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s secret list of enemies.

The Conway Shoes-on-Sofa and Ivanka Dress “scandals” were a petty attack on Trump. It was a mis-use of media power for no reason except journalists, editors, newsroom producers, et al, have a dislike of Trump.

The media need to get over themselves. Non-News stories like these only add to Trump’s hysterical fear and rage against media institutions. They also add to his narrative that the media are “out to get him”. In these two cases, that ‘paranoia’ might well be justified.

If the media are to regain the trust and credibility that has been badly dented in last year’s presidential campaign, pathetic Non-News “stories” like the ones above cannot continue.

The media are supposed to hold truth to power. Shoes on sofas and fashion critiques simply don’t cut the mustard.

We, the people deserve better.

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References

Wikipedia: Fake News

Politico: Trump calls CNN ‘fake news,’ as channel defends its reporting on intelligence briefing

Linked In: Pope Francis endorses Donald Trump

The Independent: What is Pizzagate? The Hillary Clinton conspiracy theory that led to a man opening fire in a restaurant

Global Research: U.S. Coalition Intelligence “Operations Room” Inside Syria, Destroyed by Russian Missile Attack: Thirty Israeli, American, British, Turkish, Saudi, Qatari Intelligence Officials Killed, Report

Google: Search – Kellyanne conway shoes on couch

NZ Herald: Ivanka Trump wore a $4000 off-the-shoulder dress to Congress

Google: Search – Ivanka Trump dress at father’s speech

PBS: Nixon’s Enemies List

Additional

The Guardian: What is fake news? How to spot it and what you can do to stop it

Previous related blogposts

Trumpwatch: The Drum(pf)s of War

Trumpwatch: “… then they came for the LGBT”

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 14 March 2017.

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2014 Election – Post-mortem Up-date

10 October 2014 5 comments

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20-september

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Counting of Special Votes are completed and the Electoral Commission’s final election results have been announced;

National: 47.04 (60 seats – down 1)

Labour: 25.13 (32 seats – no change)

Green Party: 10.70 (14 seats – plus 1)

NZ First: 8.66 (11 seats – no change)

Maori Party: 1.32 (2 seats – 1 electorate, 1 List – no change)

ACT: 0.69 (1 electorate seat – no change)

United Future: 0.22 (1 electorate seat – no change)

Conservative: 3.97 (nil seats – no change)

Internet Mana: 1.42 (nil seats – no change)

 

It is interesting to compare the 2014 results with the 2011 Election figures;

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party votes - 2014 -2011 - general elections - new zealand

* Predominantly electorate based-parties

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Other results

 

1. Final enrolment rate:

2011: 93.7%

2014: 92.6%

2. Total Votes counted by Electoral Commission:

2011: 2,278,989

2014: 2,416,481

Increase: 137,492

3. Voter turnout (as a percentage of enrolled electors):

2011: 74.2%

2014: 77.9%

4. Advance votes cast:

2011: 334,558 (14.7% of voters)

2014: 717,579 (29.33% of voters)

Increase: 383,021

 

Observations

National

National lost it’s overall majority in the House, though with ACT’s single MP (and to a lesser degree, Peter Dunne), they will most likely still maintain a de facto majority regardless.

My belief is that National’s party strategists were acutely aware that once Special Votes were counted, they would lose their 61st MP, Maureen Pugh. This was a re-play of the 2008 and 2011 elections, where election night results were only temporary, and National’s numbers were pared back (usually by one seat) after the counting of special votes.

Little wonder that Key and National Party strategists have been very, very, very eager to form coalition deals with ACT, Peter Dunne, and the Maori Party. Despite Key’s noble-sounding public pronouncements,


“It’s more about, you know, the kind of inclusive government we want to have other parties working with us…

[…]

But equally, we sort of know each other quite well now, after six years we got a bit of a sense of the areas of importance and significance to each other and in a perfect world we don’t want to pass legislation 61 [to] 60 votes the whole way through, we do want to work with other people.”

Yeah, right, whatever. Key wasn’t being “inclusive” or “magnanimous” – he was playing his cards right, knowing full well what the Electoral Commission was going to deal out to his Party two weeks after  Election night results.

National’s coalition deals with three minor parties was their “insurance policy”.

For the next three years, Key will be praying nightly to the political gods for all his MPs to remain  alive, loyal,  and healthy (in that order). At 60 Members of Parliament out of 121, National cannot afford too many by-elections or defections.

ACT

Not just on political life-support by the good graces of the National Party, but more importantly, ACT’s 7,200 drop in their Party vote signifies New Zealanders’ lack of appetite for any further right-wing, neo-liberal “reforms”.

This is something Key and National Party strategist should take careful note of. National’s increase in support may reflect a current preference by voters for a “steady-as-you-go” regime – not further radical moves to the Right.

It is also something that Left-Wing parties should take note: New Zealanders have expressed a subtle distaste for neo-liberalism. We need to capitalise on that.

On a side-issue, if ACT’s Party Vote is destined to reside with a tiny hard-core element of incorrigible, fanatical, right-wing voters, then what is the value of gifting Epsom to ACT if no other candidate will coat-tail into Parliament on the success of someone like John Banks or David Seymour?

There can only be one possible benefit to National: ACT is the “trojan horse” whereby unpopular right-wing policies (eg; Charter Schools) can be introduced as part of sham “coalition negotiations”. As Cameron Slater’s malicious right-wing blog was used to conduct “second track” vicious attack politics on National’s enemies, ACT’s usefulness lies in enacting right wing policies Key  may not wish to be closely associated with.

United Future/Peter Dunne

UF’s drop in it’s Party Vote – by well over a half – signifies that voters see Dunne fully as a one-man band. He may continue to win Ohariu on Electorate Votes, but his low Party Vote results preclude any other UF candidates “coat tailing” into Parliament on Dunne’s localised success.

A Party Vote for UF has therefore become a “wasted” vote, and eventually National will ask itself a question, “Why are we supporting Dunne when we might as well go hard out to win the seat ourself, with one of our own candidates?” When the Nats cannot even pin unpopular policies on Dunne – what is his purpose to the centre-right bloc?

As well; the day that Green Party voters wake up to the reality that supporting the Labour Candidate, instead of their Green candidate, with the Electorate Vote,  is the day Dunne loses his seat. His presence in Parliament is based purely on some Ohariu Green voters voting shambolically rather than  tactically.

Mana-Internet

Interestingly, the Mana-Internet alliance was the only electorate-based Party to actually increase their overall Party Vote:  from 24,168 in 2011 to 34,095 on 20 September. ACT and United Future between them lost much of their support. And whilst the Maori Party lost only 132 Party Votes – they lost two electorates; Tamaki Makarau and Te Tai Hauauru to Labour.

As history shows, Hone Harawira only lost his seat – Te Tai Tokerau – after Labour’s candidate was endorsed by John Key and Winston Peters, along with some very shady back-room dealings by the Maori Party.

Subsequently, the  mainstream media,  indignant commentators, etc, all piled on to the battered and bruised body of Mana, the Internet Party, Kim Dotcom, and Hone Harawira. However, New Zealanders should never forget;

  • Through Kim Dotcom’s refusal to buckle to State power, we discovered that the GCSB had been illegally spying on 88 New Zealand citizens.
  • After Kim Dotcom’s efforts, we now know that mass surveillance is being undertaken in this country. This is the new reality which the media seems to have over-looked (as per usual) in their constant demands for sensationalistic news stories (as if living in a mass-surveilled society wasn’t sensational in it’s own right).
  • Yes, Kim Dotcom did fund the Internet Party to the tune of around $3 million.
  • Compare that to  National spending $2,321,216 from wealthy benefactors for the 2011 general election.
  • And contrast with the  $60,082  Mana spent    at the same time. When did the media ever question the David-VS-Goliath battle between National and Mana in 2011? The answer is blindingly obvious.

New Zealand has a fine tradition of giving people a fair go.

We like to think we help one another.

There is also a darker side to our nature. Some call it “The Tall Poppy Syndrome”.

I call it bullying.

Less words. Same meaning.

Something  Patrick Gower might reflect on.

Conservative Party

Whilst I am no fan of Colin Craig and his ill-considered mish-mash of populist and right wing policies – I do recognise that National’s on-going refusal to carry out  reforms to MMP – as recommended by the Electoral Commission in 2012 – is persistently creating bizarre and undemocratic results.

The Conservative Party polled 95,598 Party Votes – three times as high as the Maori Party, which was able to bring in a second MP on Te Ururoa’ Flavell’s “coat-tails”. Yet the Conservatives have no MPs, despite out-polling the Maori Party.

(Yes, I understand that the Conservatives achieved only 3.97% of the Party Vote. But who is say they would not have gained extra votes had the Party threshold been dropped to 4%, as the Commission recommended?)

Green Party

Of the left-wing parties, the Greens fared better than Labour or Mana-Internet. Clearly, their extra 9,986 Party Votes came from Labour’s drop of 10,402 votes. Their campaign was well-targetted; they stayed consistently on-message; and their Party was not under-mined by loose-cannon-candidates engaging in open sabotage. (ref)(ref)(ref)

At  257,356 Party Votes, the Greens increased their support from their 2011 result ( 247,370 Party Votes). Their overall percentage dropped only because the overall number of Party Votes cast increased this election by 137,492.

NZ First

NZ First benefitted from the increase  in voting this year. The scandals exposed in  “Dirty Secrets“, and the political fallout that affected Labour, escaped Winston Peters who has continually portrayed himself as “above petty politics”.

Peters, however, was not quite sufficiently  “above petty politics” to  under-mine Mana Leader, Hone Harawira, in his bid to retain Te Tai Tokerau. By endorsing Labour’s Kelvin Davis, Peters plotted with John Key and the Maori Party in an unholy, manipulative, venal  triumvirate to destroy the Mana Movement.

Peters can get down and dirty with the worst of them, it seems.

Like Peters’ broken promises post-1996, the public will soon forget Peters’ quiet  treachery. Unfortunately.

Labour

Ye gods, where does one start…?!

  • The billboards which promoted electorate candidates – and mentioned the all-important Party Vote in barely-discernible small letters?!
  • The constant attacks on a potential coalition support-partner by Labour candidates?!
  • Allowing certain media political commentators to frame the narrative on coalition partners – thereby forcing Cunliffe to  look too eager to “do the right thing” according to certain pundits?! (ref)(ref)(ref)
  • Engaging in internecine warfare, whether pre or post-election – simply the most futile act that Labour could possibly engage in. Did they think no one would notice?
  • Changing the leader, post-election. Does that mean Labour never had confidence in Cunliffe in the first place, and this his appointment was a mistake? Does that mean Cunliffe’s replacement may also be a mistake? Does it mean Labour has 100% confidence in their new Leader – until they don’t? So… why should the public have confidence in Labour’s new choice of a new Leader, when s/he may be temporary?

Perhaps Labour’s worst mistake of all the above was constantly deriding the Mana-Internet alliance. The constant attacks on Hone Harawira and his Party signalled to the public that Labour was weak; full of self-doubt and lacking in self-confidence. Labour’s  desperation for votes was so dire that they were willing to attack and destroy a potential coalition ally, to cannibalise their electoral support.

That showed weakness.

And the public took note.

Contrast Labour’s treatment of Hone Harawira and Mana-Internet, with how John Key related to ACT, United Future, and the Maori Party: with confidence; courtesy; and collegiality.

When Key refused to make a deal with Colin Craig’s Conservative Party, he did so with professional courtesy. There was never any rancor  involved, and despite refusing any Epsom-like deal, Key still left National’s options wide open to work with the Conservatives.

Key even flip-flopped on his previous hand-on-heart promise never to entertain any coalition deal-making with Winston Peters;

I don’t see a place for a Winston Peters-led New Zealand First in a government that I lead,” – John Key,  2 February 2011

When the public looked at Key, they saw a politician who said categorically he would be prepared to work with anyone.

The public liked that. The public want politicians to work together for the good of the country. Key not only said as much – he demonstrated it by working with parties as disparate as ACT, the Maori Party, United Future, and the Greens (though the latter not in any formal coalition agreement).

When the public looked at Labour, they saw a left wing party willing to consume another left wing party, to further their own selfish agenda.

Key showed collegiality and co-operation.

Labour exuded desperation.

Whoever leads the Labour Party after 18 November – take note.

Media

The  closet, political “party” in this election – the mainstream media. Acting much like a ‘spoiler’ for the Left, it did it’s damndest to engage in “gaffe” journalism; focus on trivia (scarves, holidays, etc); and failed to chase up real stories when they hit the public.

The nadir of junk  ‘journalism’ came when Mike Hosking interviewed both Nicky Hager and National Minister, Steven Joyce, on 14 August,  over revelations contained in the expose, “Dirty Secrets“.

As I wrote previously, when I reviewed this segment of “Seven Sharp”;

I encourage people to watch the opening segment, where Mike “interviews” Minister Steven Joyce, and then interogates and derides author, Nicky Hager.

Any pretence that Mike Hosking is an “unbiased journalist” has been firmly dispatched. The man is a mouthpiece for the National government and his behaviour and line of questioning proved it.

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Seven Sharp - 14 august 2014 - nicky hager - steven joyce - dirty politics

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Nicky Hager’s investigations have uncovered practices that can only be described as an abuse of power by this government.

Did Hosking ask challenging questions to the Minister? Answer: no.

Did Hosking put specific examples requiring explanations to the Minister? Answer: no.

Was Hosking’s line of questioning relevant to the book and offer insights to the viewer? Answer: no.

Hosking then asked hard questions from Nicky Hager, who to his credit realised that he was being set up as the “fall guy” for the story.

This was not journalism. Not even close. It was superficial, Fox-style partisan politics masquerading as “informed debate”. Again, not even close.

The only television I have seen in my life that came close to Hosking’s slanted, pro-government performance was during my visits to Eastern European countries in my late teens/early twenties. In those times, Eastern Europe was ruled by well-policed, undemocratic, One Party “communist” regimes. Television “news” was little more than a mouthpiece for the government – no questions asked. There was never even an attempt at balance.

Hosking would have fitted in perfectly.

As far as I am concerned, Hosking’s “talent” lies elsewhere, but not in journalism. Perhaps a PR/spin-man for a cereal company or arms manufacturer or bordello run by the Chow Brothers (he’s already sold his soul, so the other bodily bits should be equally saleable).

On The Daily Blog, on 3 October, Keith Rankin made this pertinent observation

 Note that the apparent conservatism of the mainstream media is due it being almost completely bound to the prevailing consensus; far more bound to it than even the politicians themselves.
Which, when you think about it, makes perfect sense.
A media “bound to the prevailing consensus” will reflect the nature of that “consensus”. If the prevailing public consensus  is sufficiently conservative enough to return a National-led right-wing bloc with an increased majority – then the media is unlikely to run counter to the popular current.
Little wonder that the likes of Gower, Garner, Hoskings, O’Brien et al, can get away with overt anti-left sentiments. They are speaking to an audience in a vast “echo chamber” encompassing at least fifty percent of the population.
Little wonder also that a “respected” newspaper like the NZ Herald could get away scott-free with what amounted to an obvious, shabby, politically-motivated  smear campaign with the Donghua Liu Affair in June, this year.  Evidence uncovered by this blogger and a person closely connected to the media  (by-lined as  “Hercules”) points to collusion between the Herald and Immigration Minister Woodhouse’s office to use attack politics and mis-use of information released under the OIA to undermine the leader of the Labour Party.
But even when  there is no real news to report, just  take a leaf from the Patrick Gower Manual of Loud, Excitable, Sensationalist Journalism: make up any ole BS.
Or even when the story is about John Key on the cover of Rugby News magazine, TV3’s Tova O’Brien still managed to make a childish quip at the end – denigrating David Cunliffe. Even though the story had nothing to do with the Labour Leader, O’Brien couldn’t resist a parting shot at Cunliffe,
“So once again the blue team gets one over the red team.Yes, it’s cringey, but it’s left Cunliffe looking whingey.”
Childishly stupid? Indeed. But that’s the style of “news” reporting dished up to the public in 21st Century New Zealand.
Labour, the Greens, and Mana were fighting a political battle on not one – but two fronts. National was only one – and perhaps the lesser of the two opponants they faced. This was not an election – it was the re-annointing of our Dear Leader.
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  portrait of a prime minister
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References

Electoral Commission:  2014 General Election – Official Result

Wikipedia: New Zealand general election, 2011

Electoral Commission: Party Votes and Turnout by Electorate

NZ Herald: Final election results in – National loses majority

Dominion Post: National loses majority, Greens pick up one

NZ Herald: Special votes see Greens gain seat, Nats lose

NZ Parliament: The 2011 General Election

TVNZ ‘Breakfast’: Coalition deals signed – ACT and United Future

Radio NZ: Big change in Maori seats

Dominion Post: Lots left to be desired

Twitter: Patrick Gower

NZ Herald: Govt rejects recommendations to change MMP system

NZ Herald: MMP review recommends lower party threshold

Scoop Media: Māori Party’s first list MP Confirmed

TV3 News: Labour candidate makes more ‘Shylock’ comments

Fairfax media: Mallard’s mad Moa blurt

Fairfax media: Winston Peters backs Labour’s Kelvin Davis

NZ Herald: Election 2014 –  Hone’s call to arms after Winston backs Kelvin

Fairfax media: Kelvin Davis blasts Mana Party   (alt. link)

TV3 News: David Cunliffe owns up to getting it wrong

TVNZ: David Cunliffe stands by decision to take family holiday

Election Ads: James Dann – Labour Party – 2014 General Election

Frankly Speaking: The secret of National’s success – revealed

Scoop Media: Patrick Gower interviews Labour leader David Cunliffe

Radio NZ: Cunliffe says no to Internet-Mana

TV3 News: Cunliffe – Labour, NZF, Greens ‘will work’

NZ Herald: Cunliffe on Dotcom – ‘We have nothing to do with him’

TVNZ News: No deal – Key leaves Colin Craig out in the cold

Fairfax media: Possible coalition line-ups after election

TVNZ News: Winston Peters not grabbing John Key’s olive branch

NZ Herald: PM rules out any NZ First deal

TV3 News:  Cunliffe apologises ‘for being a man’

The Daily Blog: When the media say they covered Dirty Politics – did they?

TVNZ: Seven Sharp 14 August

The Daily Blog: National Party Spice Boys

TV3 News Bulletin: Tuesday 30 September 2014

TV3 News:  Key nestles in with the All Blacks

Previous related blogposts

Winston Peters recycles pledge to “buy back state assets” – where have we heard that before?

The secret of National’s success – revealed

Election 2014; A Post-mortem; a Wake; and one helluva hang-over

Patrick Gower – losing his rag and the plot

“Dirty Politics” and The Teflon Man

The Donghua Liu Affair – The Players Revealed


 

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david cunliffe stood up on the issue of domestic violence

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 6 October 2014

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Letter to the Editor: Lies, damn lies, and media sensationalising

12 August 2014 3 comments

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from:          Frank Macskasy
to:               Dominion Post <letters@dompost.co.nz>
date:          Tue, Aug 12, 2014 at 11:06 AM
subject:     Letter to the editor

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The editor
Dominion Post

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Tracy Watkins  recently wrote; “Recent displays of crowds chanting “f… John Key” and his effigy being burnt could either be put down to youthful hijinks or something more sinister”.  (12 Aug)

Watkins has missed the point.

Discontent and anger against the current government has been rising steadily for years with,

* Cuts to education whilst giving massive tax-breaks and subsidies to corporations.

* we became aware that the wealth of the top 1% has doubled since 2004, whilst wages have stagnated.

* young people can no longer afford to buy their own homes, whilst speculators/investors make huge tax-free gains.

* tax-cuts for the rich, whilst GST and prescription charges were increased for the rest of us.

* Christchurch’s housing shortage crisis worsened – and Gerry Brownlee’s response is that the “free market will sort it out”.

* rising child poverty and inequality, whilst National passes punitive policies to attack the poor; the unemployed; solo-mothers; low-paid workers, etc.

This is why people are burning effigies and telling our dearly beloved PM to get f—-d.

Their anger has finally boiled over.

The media –  comfortably esconced in their middle-class bubble – have been caught utterly by surprise.

Which shows just how far out of touch the media have been.
-Frank Macskasy

[address & phone number supplied]

 

 

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References

Dominion Post:  New lows hit from the outset

Other blogs

The Daily Blog:  Oh now John Armstrong and Vernon Small want to talk about policy?

The Daily Blog:  Bullet holes in Hone’s electorate office vs bonfires and drunk chants

The Daily Blog:  What’s worse than Key lying about Internet MANA effigy burning on Breakfast TV?


 

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Kirk

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

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Military ‘spin-doctoring’ – the media catch-up

11 September 2011 4 comments

On 2 August, the issue of the NZDF spending large sums of tax-payers money was raised by Andrea Vance in the “Dominion Post”. I wrote on this issue the following day; “It’s a Man’s World, I guess“.

It seems somewhat odd then, that Neil Reid, has written on this very same issue, in the Sunday Star Times, stating, “Documents obtained by the Sunday Star-Times show the department – covering Army, Air Force and Navy – spent more than $2.7 million in the past financial year on public relations and communications.

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Full Story

This story has at least three componants to it;

1. PR spend.

Last time I looked, the job of the military was to carry out such actions as determined by the Government-of-the-Day. The military is tasked with certain missions, to achieve certain objectives, as laid down by the Minister of Defence, and the Government. In effect, the politicians tell the soldier boys (and girls) to go to “Spot X” and do what soldiers do best; point guns at other people.

As such, it boggles the mind as to what on Earth the NZDF would need to spend $20 million tax-dollars of Public Relations on?!?!

Spending $20 million on tanks, guns, ammunition, radios, tents, medical equipment, planes, trucks – I think we get that. Military gear doesn’t come cheap – not since we moved away  from clubs and pointy-sticks.

But spending that kind of money on PR? That just makes no sense whatsoever.

Unless…

Unless the NZDF were doing something overseas that the Government(s)-of-the-Day were not being totally candid with us, the New Zealand public?

PR is basically ‘spin’ – putting the best possible image of an unpleasant situation. Another word that might be appropriate is propaganda. Authoritarian regimes (such as Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Maoist China, et al) are exceedingly good at propaganda. But Western Democracies have also developed ways and means to use PR/spin/Propaganda to make the public believe something that may not be strictly-speaking, true. (Telling lies, in other words.)

Which leads us to the Big Question: what requires a big enough lie to be told that warrants $16 million dollars of tax-payers’ money to be spent on Public Relations from Saatchi & Saatchi, plus another $4.2 million in media advertising?

Personnel recruitment?

That is difficult to believe when, currently, this government is laying off around 400 military personnel and removing  another 600 out of uniform, to re-employ them more cheaply as civilians.

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Full Story

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There seems to be an obvious and serious “disconnect” from what the NZDF is telling the public, and where the money is being spent, and what for.

$20 million of tax-payers money is not “small change”. Where is it going, and why?

And why aren’t the media delving more deeply into this issue, instead of two, very brief, superficial newspaper stories?

Perhaps the following provides us with a possible answer…

2. “Media product vetting”

The Sunday Star Times article, by Neil Reid, states that,

“…Locke also provided the Star-Times with a contract TVNZ signed before sending a journalist to join the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan, which states the role of defence officials included “media product vetting”.

It follows claims by Hager that the Defence Force had been selective in what it had allowed to be reported in New Zealand on the role of the joint-services team in Afghanistan…”

Commander Phil Bradshaw’s response that the NZDF is vetting images of  “LAVs [light armoured vehicles] [and]  the Humvees” beggars belief.

Is Cmdr Bradshaw seriously telling us that “media product vetting” (ie; censorship) relates to pictures of light armoured vehicles and humvees?!?! In which case, someone needs to advise Cmdr Bradshaw that there as been a serious security breach: a “Google” search using the parameters “NZ Defence Force lav” yielded 79,400 results for images alone.

Let’s hope Al Qaida has no access to “Google”, or we’re stuffed.

No, folks, there is more to the NZDF’s “media product vetting” (censorship) than  pics of a few dusty Army vehicles.

Nicky Hager has pointed the way on this issue, and the media – to it’s eternal shame – has not followed up on this story.

3. Media Complicity?

Not only is there a question mark hanging over how $20 million was spent – but it seems that the mainstream media (MSM) have been decidely blase about asking any serious questions. To date, we’ve seen two newspaper articles by Neil Reid and Andrea Vance – but precious little else in the MSM.

As well as Nicky Hager’s investigative book,  “Other People’s Wars“, Jon Stephenson wrote an article for “Metro” magazine on Afghan prisoners’ treatment after being captured by New Zealand’s SAS. This excellent piece of investigative journalism  resulted in…

“…Prime Minister John Key’s extraordinary ad hominem attack on independent  journalist Jon Stephenson, of ‘Metro’ magazine.

Recently, Stephenson wrote an article in Metro alleging that New Zealand was not meeting its Geneva Convention obligations in its handling of prisoners captured in the course of SAS operations in Afghanistan. You might think that as the only NZ journalist who has regularly been reporting from Afghanistan, Stephenson speaks with some authority.” Source

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“Stephenson speaks with some authority”, writes Gordon Campbell.

But not according to the Prime Minister, who dismissed Stephenson’s article with  almost sneering derision.

In contrast, two senior journalists, Vernon Small and Guyon Espiner, both stated that they were aware of a CIA “presence” at the Kiwi base in Bamiyan.

“In fact, I, and other reporters before me, were introduced to US intelligence and communications staff at Bamiyan and at other Kiwi forward bases and ate and chatted with them. The stars and stripes flies alongside the New Zealand flag at Bamiyan to advertise the US contingent…”  – Vernon Small,  Source

Neither felt it necessary to report this fact to the New Zealand public? In fact, both Small and Espiner remained silent until Nicky Hager’s book blew the whistle on the real situation.

For journalists to withhold information that reveals a truth about our government and/or military,  shows how far the media has sunk in the last twentyfive years. It raises questions not just about competancy and professionalism, but how far the MSM has become a “cog” in the Establishment.

Perhaps the most obscene thing about this matter is that our beloved Prime Minister, the ever-smiling; happily waving  John Key; saw fit to dismiss both Nickey Hager and Jon Stephenson’s investigations into the war in Afghanistan  with  single, derisory, comments,

“Nothing surprises me when it comes to Nicky Hager. So whether they’re true or not is a completely different issue, but he makes a lot of spurious claims and never generally backs it up.” Source

“I’ve got no reason for NZDF to be lying, and I’ve found [Stephenson] myself personally not to be credible.” Source

Two pieces of investigative journalism; well-researched; impeccably documented; and both able to withstand critical scrutiny – dismissed by the Prime Minister without any serious  explanation whatsoever.

Compare the response of the MSM and public to that of a certain stranded penguin and to the proposed “Wellywood” sign in the capital city, and one begins to suspect that, collectively, our priorities are definitely arse-about-face. Perhaps if the SAS had handed “Happy Feet” over to the American CIA, for “extraordinary rendition” to some misbegotten Third World state, for “interrogation”, we might have had an uproar from the good folk of New Zealand?

Well, thankfully “Happy Feet” is safe and sound somewhere in the Southern Ocean.

It’s a shame that  the same cannot be said of  our media in this country.

Read also:

Public Address: Other People’s Wars

Little kept from media eyes at base

NZ Politics Daily – 2 September

PM attacks journalist over SAS torture claims

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Sloppy Journalism 101

30 August 2011 4 comments

How to be a sloppy journalist…

NZ Herald journalist Derek Cheng writes about National’s planned “welfare reforms” on 14 August. Mr Cheng writes,

“The Government will limit how 16 and 17-year-old beneficiaries and 18-year-old teen parents can spend the state’s money to ensure they are not buying items such as alcohol or cigarettes…”

Mr Cheng continues in the same vein, a little later on,

“* money for basic living costs like food and groceries will be loaded onto a payment card that can only be used to buy certain goods and cannot be used to buy things like alcohol and cigarettes…”

That’s all very well and good… but it’s already illegal for 16 and 17 year olds to purchase alcohol and tobacco products.

Why has Mr Cheng not pointed this out in his article?

National’s policy release has been barely challenged by the mainstream media (MSS) and sounds as if 16 and 17 year olds are freely  purchasing tobacco and liquor in this country. They may well be.  But it is not dependent on whether or not under 18s are beneficiaries.

In fact, it could be argued that 16 and 17 year olds on a Living Alone Allowance are less likely to be able to afford expensive cigarettes and booze.

The Independent Youth Benefit rate (as at 1 April 2011) is $167.83 per week – NETT.

That’s right folks, that’s what this is all about: $167.83 a week. Out of that, a young person living independently has to pay board, food, clothing, transport, power, phone, and other outgoings.

That doesn’t leave much for boozing and fagging much, does it?

Yet, Mr Cheng ignores all this and simply parrots National Party policy, without any critical analysis whatsoever.

This is simply unacceptable. It brings to mind government-owned newspapers such as “Pravda” and “Izveztia” from the now-defunct Soviet Union. These newspapers were nothing more than mouthpieces for the Soviet Communist Party. they had as much to do with critical, investigative reporting – as Vegans have to raising cattle and lamb for supermarkets.

Perhaps the Herald should re-brand as “The New Zealand Government Herald“? Or simply, “The State Mouthpiece“?

Because that is what it seems to be evolving into.

As usual, the three Golden Rules to apply to the MSS are,

  1. Don’t believe everything you read, see, and hear.
  2. What am I not being told?
  3. Will it sell advertising?