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Posts Tagged ‘Radio NZ’

Is Karl du Fresne happy now?

19 August 2016 1 comment

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In March 2013, former Dominion editor and right-wing columnist, Karl Du Fresne, spat an almighty dummy when he launched a diatribe of accusations of “bias” against Radio New Zealand;

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RNZ's bias needs to be tackled

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I responded shortly thereafter with my own interpretation of Du Fresne’s accusation, writing;

Du Fresne referred to RNZ as “left wing”. And then listed all those people whom he thinks are guilty of being “left”. People like,

Kim Hill

Chris Laidlaw

Jeremy Rose

Kathryn Ryan

Obviously, these people all need to be brought before Parliament’s House Committee for Un-New Zealand Activities. (Which, we don’t have – yet – but I’m sure one of Mr Du Fresne’s right wing colleagues such as Maggie Barry could easily organise one. More on Maggie Barry in a moment.) Then the H.C.U.N.Z.A.  can ensure that Hill, Laidlaw, Rose, and Ryan never work in this town again.

Du Fresne claimed;

“So what might the new RNZ chief executive do to enhance the organisation’s standing in a political climate that is less than favourable? One obvious step is to take a tougher line against the editorial bias that still permeates some RNZ programmes.

Public broadcasting organisations, by their very nature, tend to be Left-leaning.”

Left-leaning“?!

Du Fresne did not hold back in his trenchant criticism of the state broadcaster;

But publicly funded broadcasters have an obligation to make programmes that reflect the views and interests that I’m comfortable with – not just those the broadcasters happen to favour for the rest of New Zealand who are a bunch of leftie, pinko, mung-bean eating, hippies.”

I responded by listing the right-wing commentators who were regular or semi-regular guests and commentators on Radio NZ;

  • ex-National President, Michelle Boag;
  • National & ACT supporter and anti-MMP campaigner, Jordan Williams
  • rightwing blogger and National Party apparatchik,  David Farrar;
  • ex-ACT MP and Party President,  Rodney Hide;
  • ex-ACT and later, ex-National MP, Stephen Franks;
  • former speech-writer and press secretary for National and right-wing commentator, Matthew Hooten;
  • and former police officer and front-person for television’s “Police Ten 7″, Graham Bell (who holds right wing views on many issues).

Not forgetting also;

  • Richard Griffin, Radio NZ’s one-time political editor, who worked for National Party ex-Prime Minister Jim Bolger, as his  press secretary in the late 1990’s, and is on Radio NZ’s Board of Governors
  • Maggie Barry (who I referred to above), was the morning presenter on Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report’  in 1986, and hosted  ‘Nine To Noon’ show in 1990. Later, in November 2011, Ms Barry stood as a political candidate in the general election, and won the seat of  North Shore. She stood as a National Party candidate.

On Wednesday 10 August, another guest featured on Radio NZ;

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The Panel with Jeremy Elwood and Karl du Fresne - radio nz

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Karl du Fresne – his name pointed out with a big, ‘pinko’ arrow.

So, is Radio NZ still biased?

Especially when the only person to be publicly banned from that broadcaster was left-wing commentator Martyn Bradbury;

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State Media Bans Dissident - frankly speaking - frank macskasy

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Not so self-righteous with indignant cries of “Bias!” now are we, Mr Du Fresne?

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References

Manawatu Standard: RNZ’s bias needs to be tackled

Radio NZ: Board of Governors

NBR: Maggie Barry selected as National’s North Shore candidate

Radio NZ: The Panel with Jeremy Elwood and Karl du Fresne

Additional

TV3: Blogger Bomber banned from RNZ for criticism of Key

Other Blogs

Tumeke: Banned from Radio NZ for criticizing the Government

Previous related blogposts

State Media Bans Dissident!

Karl Du Fresne has a public baby waa-waa cry-session

Karl Du Fresne has a public baby waa-waa cry-session – part rua

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RNZ's bias needs to be tackled - smells like bullsit

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 14 August 2016.

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Matthew Hooton on “secret” UMR poll?

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Red Green Up

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On Monday 11 July, right-wing commentator Matthew Hooton was making his regular appearance on Radio NZ’s Nine To Noon Political Panel programme. The host was Kathryn Ryan, the commentator from the Left was Stephen Mills.

During the debate on Labour’s recently-released housing policy, Matthew Hooton made this startling revelation;

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Matthew Hooton, right-wing commentator and Director of 'Exceltium' PR company

Matthew Hooton, right-wing commentator, columnist, and Director of ‘Exceltium’ PR company

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@ 10.25

Matthew Hooton: “And Labour’s at twenty eight percent… And, and, look here’s the thing, Labour, in the latest UMR poll for June, done by Steven’s polling company, Labour was at twenty eight percent, Greens at sixteen. So we are, so they will need to increase because currently they’re polling worse than Jeremy Corbyn.”

Kathryn Ryan: “And where is National at, in that poll?”

Matthew Hooton: “Forty two.”

Using a search engine I could find no reference to any poll carried out in June having been released.

Through Twitter, I asked if Matthew could clarify his comment regarding such a UMR poll. He promptly replied, confirming his statements on Radio NZ;

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matthew hooton - umr poll - twitter - radio nz - nine to noon

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When I asked for a source, Matthew replied;

“No. It’s secret.”

I have no way of confirming the validity of Matthew’s assertion of the existence of a secret poll by UMR. He could be mischief-making, for which he occasionally has some inclination.

Yet…

The alleged UMR polling bears striking similarity to a recent Roy Morgan poll released on 20 June;

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roy morgan poll - new zealand - june 2016

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In the Roy Morgan poll above, 5.5% were Undecideds.

According to Hooton’s “secret poll”, a combined Labour-Green rating of 44%  has over-taken National on 42%.

If the so-called “secret poll” is legitimate, then that explains the recent flurry of panicked activity from National to counter Labour’s recently released housing policy.

The next few polls will be  Crunch Time for National and if they bear out Roy Morgan and the “secret UMR Poll” – then we are indeed witnessing the decaying administration of John Key’s third term government.

The rich irony of such a crisis for an incumbent government is that attempting to avert the down-ward spiral becomes a hopeless exercise. The more policies they “throw” at a problem, the greater the public’s perception that they are panicking.

“Policy-making on the hoof” reached new levels of comic-absurdity when the “Fixit Minister”, Steven Joyce, announced by Twitter that Housing NZ would forego dividend-payments to the National government for the next two years;

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steven joyce - dickhead - twitter - housing nz - dividends

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Shipley’s short-lived administration and Helen Clark’s final three years were marked by similar acts of desperate ad hocery. (But without “Tweeting” sudden  policy lurches.)

Our esteemed Dear Leader may be about to discover the same fate.

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Addendum

Roy Morgan polls are considered more accurate because they call respondents using both landlines and mobile telephones. (See: Census, Surveys, and Cellphones)

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References

Radio NZ: Nine To Noon – Political commentators Matthew Hooton and Stephen Mills

Twitter: Mathew Hooton

Roy Morgan Poll: National and Labour down in June but New Zealand First still holds the balance of power if Election was held now

Twitter: Steven Joyce

Other bloggers

Chris Trotter: Tricky Customer – Why Is Matthew Hooton Accusing John Key’s Government Of Lurching To The Left?

Chris Trotter: The Terrifying Radicalism of Matthew Hooton

Previous related blogposts

Mr Morgan phoned (2013)

Census, Surveys, and Cellphones (2013)

Census, Surveys, and Cellphones (Part rua) (2013)

Latest Roy Morgan poll – wholly predictable results and no reason to panic (2015)

The slow dismantling of a Prime Minister – downward slide continues

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 14 July 2016.

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Letter to Radio NZ – Homelessness, Poverty, and the Final Solution

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Morning Report <morningreport@radionz.co.nz>
date: Wed, May 18, 2016
subject: Homelessness and the Final Solution

Kia ora Suzie & Guyon,

I’ve been hearing some of your listeners making comments that the homeless should not have children.

In effect, what they are doing is blaming the poorest in society for their predicament. Really? When did the poor ever decide economic policy in this country?

What those correspondents are saying is only the well-off should have children.

The only question that remains to be answered is what do working families do when they are made redundant and end up in garages or cars with their children – what method do your correspondents advocate to euthenase those children?

Because that is what they’re advocating; a Final Solution for the Poor.

– Frank Macskasy

 

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Panama Papers: Matthew Hooton’s Alternate Universes on Twitter and Radio NZ

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ft-paraisos-fiscales

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On 8 May, Martyn Bradbury posted the below screenshot, with an associated story (<a href=’http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2016/05/08/matthew-hooton-and-the-panama-papers-why-does-he-sound-so-frightened/’>Matthew Hooton and the Panama Papers – why does he sound so frightened?</a> ) .

Reading Matthew Hooton’s “tweets” and his re-Tweets of other comments – many of which seemed to verge on the hysterical  – it was apparent that our favourite right-wing commentator was beside himself at what the Panama Papers had uncovered (and continues to uncover);

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Matthew Hooton - twitter - panama papers

[Image courtesy of Martyn Bradbury]

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There is a preternatural volcanic fury from the Right – many, if not most, of whom  view taxation as “theft” and tax-havens as a legitimate counter to governments  who cheekily demand tax from it’s citizens and corporates.

The same Right believe that taxation is “wasted” on “frivolous” matters such as public health, public education, welfare, environmental protection, housing the poor, etc. Only funding for Police and the Armed Forces is considered justified. (To protect their hoarded wealth from increasingly poor , frustrated, and angry workers.)

Rather surprisingly, Hooton’s comments were toned-down for Radio NZ’s Nine To Noon political panel on 9 May;

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Political commentators Mike Williams & Matthew Hooton - radio nz - nine to noon panel - 9.5.16

 

(alt. link)

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Listen to Hooton’s participation on the panel, and compare his measured commentary on Radio NZ versus his  irrational sniping on Twitter.  It’s almost as if we’re seeing and hearing two completely different Matthew Hootons from Parallel Universes; our Earth and Earth 2.

Earth 2 must be a lovely place to live, if Matthew v2 is anything to go by.

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References

Twitter: Matthew Hooton

Twitter: Mark Hubbard

Libertarianz: Taxation

Libertarianz: Justice

Libertarianz: Defence

Radio NZ: Nine to Noon – Political commentators Mike Williams & Matthew Hooton  (alt. link) (audio)

Previous related blogposts

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 11 May 2016.

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The slow starvation of Radio NZ – the final nail in the coffin of the Fourth Estate?

26 November 2015 2 comments
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save radio new zealand - facebook
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The chilling of the mainstream media

Whether by machiavellian, subtle and covert political pressuring from on-high; bad management decision-making,  or an inevitable process of  dumbing-down brought on by the never-ending need for advertising revenue and rapacious returns to share-holders, news media in this country continues to suffer at the on-going impacts of “market forces”.

The demise of Campbell Live and the loss of Mihingarangi Forbes from Maori TV’s Native Affairs and Dita De Boni from the NZ Herald should give all thinking New Zealanders cause for concern. Those three were amongst the most talented and critical voices from the mainstream media, and their dumping no doubt had a chilling effect throughout the media in this country.

With few exceptions, journos have mortgages and  bills to pay; mouths to feed; and careers they are passionate about. The constant possibility  of sudden termination of their contract is a sword of damocles that probably weighs on their minds when considering how critical of the Establishment they really want to be.

The may be risking their jobs if they stick their heads too far above the parapets.

The only people whose jobs are apparently safe are Mike Hosking and Paul Henry (who seems to bounce from company to company without any deleterious effects to his credibility).

Interestingly,  each has been ’embedded’ with  the two major television networks, TVNZ and Mediaworks’ TV3. Neither are journalists and  both Hosking and Henry  are unashamedly  linked to National.

This is “independepent media freedom” in New Zealand, circa 2015AD.

Who watches the Watchmen?

The last bastion of an independent  freedom, free from commercial imperatives and political interference (hopefully) is, Radio NZ. Despite an incident three years ago, where blogger Martyn Bradbury was banned from Radio NZ for making comments highly critical of our esteemed Dear Leader, the broadcaster maintains a strong ability to project itself as a serious, credible news and current affairs medium.

It continues to carry out strong investigative reporting; interviewing government ministers; State sector leaders;  and other public figures; and offering political analysis from both the Left and the Right.

One of Radio NZ’s most insightful (and often under-valued) programmes is  Mediawatch, which scrutinises, analysis, and holds to account, New Zealand’s mainstream media in a way that is not matched anywhere else by any other MSM outlet. As the Radio NZ promo-blurb states;

“Mediawatch looks critically at the New Zealand media – television, radio, newspapers and magazines as well as the ‘new’ electronic media. It also examines the performance of the agencies, corporations and institutions that regulate them. It looks into the impact the media has on the nation, highlighting good practice as well as bad along the way – and it also enquires into overseas trends and technological developments which New Zealanders need to know about.

It aims to enlighten everyone with an interest in the media about how it all works, how quickly things are changing – and how certain significant stories and issues are being covered. It’s also intended to be essential listening for those who work in the industry itself – as well as those who simply enjoy well-produced and lively radio.”

A recent prime example was on 9 August, when TV3 reporter, Tova O’Brien was taken to task for attributing a quote to someone who never actually said what she claimed;

@ 2:50 –

Colin Peacock: In New York, Tova O’Brien also got a second opinion on Murray McCully’s lofty dream of reforming the veto powers of the so-called Big Five at the UN. And 3 News introduced that story like this;

TV3 News: Former Prime Minister Helen Clark thinks Murray Clark is dreaming if he thinks New Zealand can rid the UN Security Council veto. Russia used the veto yesterday during… [fade-out]

Colin Peacock: Though Helen Clark had actually applauded Murray McCully for his ambition. It was Tova O’Brien who used the word ‘dreaming’ in a question to Helen Clark.

Helen Clark: It [New Zealand] should go for it. It [New Zealand] should follow it’s [New Zealand’s] dream.

Tova O’Brien: But in this case he’s dreaming.

Helen Clark: It’s not a short-term objective.

That was downright dishonest reporting.  Only Radio NZ’s Mediawatch picked up on it.

Last year, on 7 July, Mediawatch was the only  mainstream media team that questioned and criticised the NZ Herald’s dubious stories surrounding unsubstantiated claims of large donations made by migrant businessman, Donghua Liu, to the Labour Party. (Those claims were later “clarified”  with a half-hearted  retraction by the Herald.)

No other mainstream media questioned any of the astounding and unsupported claims made by Donghua Liu, and reported uncritically by the Herald.

It is a sobering thought that aside from the toothless “watch dog” of the Press Council, and only marginally more effective Broadcasting Standards Authority,  there is no real scrutiny of  mistakes, omissions, and mis-reporting made by our media.

Self-criticism does not come easily to the Fourth Estate.

Gutting by slow starvation?

Funding for Radio NZ is channelled through New Zealand on Air – a body described on Wikipedia, as “…an independent New Zealand broadcast funding agency” and  “autonomous crown entity separate from central Government and governed by a Board of six appointed by the Minister of Broadcasting. NZ on Air is responsible for the funding of public-good broadcasting content across television, radio and new media platforms“.

The funding figure of $31.816 million is an easy one to remember – it has remained unchanged since 2009-10, when National assumed the reins of government. The figure has been maintained until next year.Using the Reserve Bank inflation calculator, Radio NZ’s funding should have risen to $35.26 million. In effect, by not keeping pace with inflation, Radio NZ’s funding has been cut by around 10%.

By contrast, Budget data showing increases to the Prime Minister’s Department makes for sobering reading.

  • Michael Cullen’s last budget,  2008/09, allocated $25,470,000 to Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet.
  • In the same 2008/2009 Budget, Radio NZ was allocated $31,718,000 through NZ on Air, an increase of $2,644,000 (approx 8%) from the previous year.
  • In National’s first Budget, 2009/10, Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet was allocated $33,021,000 – an increase of $7,551,000 – or just under 25%!
  • In the same 2009/2010 Budget, Radio NZ’s allocation went up by $98,000 to $31,816,000 – not even a 1% increase.

For the first time, the Prime Minister’s Departmental budget exceeded that of Radio NZ. Furthermore;

  • Since 2009/10, Radio NZ’s allocation has stayed the same; $31,816,000.
  • By contrast, the amounts allocated to the Prime Minister’s Department has increased, and in the 2015/16 Budget was allocated  $49,298,000 – an increase of $24,476,000 since 2008 and  a near-doubling of John Key’s department and Cabinet expenditure since Michael Cullen’s last budget, seven years ago.
  • In the 2015/16 Budget, Radio NZ was allocated  $31,816,000 – a nil increase.

Framed another way, a news media organisation – dedicated to informing the public about government activities – has had no increase in resourcing since John Key’s administration came to power in late 2008.

By contrast, the Prime Minister’s Department – dedicated to promoting the power of the Government and more specifically, pursuing National’s political agenda – has had a doubling of taxpayer funding.

Where to for funding Radio NZ?

On 17 August, I wrote to NZ on Air’s Chief Executive, Jane Wrightson and asked;

“In your Annual reports, NZ on Air’s income from  Crown revenue went from $109,813,000 (for the year ended 30 June 2008 ) to  $128,726,000 (for the year ended 30 June 2015) – an increase of nearly $19 million.

Can you explain why none of that increase, according to your Annual Reports,  was directed at Radio NZ?”

On 21 August, Ms Wrightson responded;

“NZ On Air does not set Radio New Zealand’s Crown funding. This is done by Ministers. I am not aware of any government-funded entity that has an automatic inflation provision to increase funding.”

When questioned whether “Radio NZ’s funding has been frozen (effectively reduced, after inflation is factored in) because it is considered to be politically “inconvenient” or “embarrassing”  to the government”, Ms Wrightson replied;

“NZ On Air is a funding agency independent of Government in terms of our content funding strategy and decisions. Radio New Zealand’s funding has been static in the same way that all publicly funded agencies in the cultural sector have been static, during a time of fiscal constraint.”

Fiscal constraint” does not appear to be a limiting factor when the Prime Minister’s Department is funded from the tax-payer’s purse/wallet.

Questions for the Broadcasting Minister

On 6 September, I asked the Minister of Broadcasting, Amy Adams;

It is my understanding that Radio New Zealand’s funding has not increased since 2009, when it’s budget was set at $31,816,000.

With it’s funding frozen, and no means of other revenue, it has effectively had a funding cut after inflation and salary increases are taken into account.

Can you explain why Radio NZ’s budget has not, at the very least,  been inflation-indexed?

Can you explain why Radio NZ’s budget has been frozen whilst at the same time, the Prime Ministers Department has had a budget increase since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000 in 2015/16 – a near doubling in just seven years?

Are you committed to increasing Radio NZ’s budget next year? If not, why not?

How do you expect Radio NZ to deliver excellent service  when it has effectively had a cut in funding?

On 20 May this year, you were enthusiastic about Radio NZ’s growth in market-share;

“While there has been a decline in listenership across traditional platforms, over the last twelve months RNZ’s online audience has grown significantly as their multi-media strategy is implemented.”

For example:

  • In 2013/14, 3.5 million podcasts were downloaded.
  • In 2013/14, radionz.co.nz page views reached 21 million and over 2014 unique users of the website grew by over 50 per cent.
  • In 2013/14, regular user of the RNZ mobile app grew by almost 62 per cent.

Ref: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/bill-update-radio-nz-charter-passes-second-reading

Whilst this is evidence that Radio NZ is a prudent manager of it’s funding, it is unreasonable to expect that this situation is  sustainable for the foreseeable future.

If the Prime Minister’s Department required a 100% increase from 2008, then why has Radio NZ not been accorded the same benefit?

There have been suggestions that Radio NZ’s frozen funding is a covert attack on the broadcaster and an attempt to reduce it’s effectiveness. What is your response to this assertion?

On 17 September 〈¹〉,Minister Adams replied to my questions;

“I have been pleased to see the steps RNZ is taking to ensure its success in the
changing media environment and the ways it has expanded to reach new audiences,
such as The Wireless, an online service for young people. Although operating
within a static funding environment, RNZ continues to meet it’s objectives and
has become an established multi-platform broadcaster with the annual funding of
$35 million it receives.

While I share your concern about the funding constraints RNZ has faced over
recent years, this is common across all public services. In a time of fiscal
constraint, it is especially important that the Government manages the public
finances in a prudent and responsible manner and makes sustainable choices about
the prioritisation of public funds. I welcome the approach RNZ has taken to
ensure the business is run as efficiently as possible and that public funds
are utilised as effectively as they can be to maximise the public value of content.”

Adams went on to state;

“While I recognise your concern about the funding constraints RNZ has faced over
recent years, this is common across all public services. In a time of fiscal
constraint, it is especially important that the Government manages the public
finances in a prudent and responsible manner and makes sustainable choices about
the prioritisation of public funds. I welcome the approach RNZ has taken to ensure
the businrss is run as efficiently as possible and that public funds are utilised
as effectively as they can be to maximise the public value of content.”

To put it mildly, her response was utterly unsatisfactory, and in no way offered any sensible answers. Her comments also did not appear to reflect realities surrounding Radio NZ and required clarification.

Awkward Questions and Questionable Answers

On the same day, I wrote back to the Minister, seeking new answers;

As I pointed out to you in my 6 September email,

It is my understanding that Radio New Zealand’s funding has not increased since 2009, when it’s budget was set at $31,816,000.

With it’s funding frozen, and no means of other revenue, it has effectively had a funding cut after inflation and salary increases are taken into account.

Can you explain why Radio NZ’s budget has not, at the very least,  been inflation-indexed?

Can you explain why Radio NZ’s budget has been frozen whilst at the same time, the Prime Ministers Department has had a budget increase since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000 in 2015/16 – a near doubling in just seven years?

In your response to me, dated 17 September, you stated in-part;

“While I share your concern about the funding constraints RNZ has faced over
recent years, this is common across all public services. In a time of fiscal constraint, it is
especially important that the Government manages the public finances in a prudent and
responsible manner and makes sustainable choices about the prioritisation of public
funds. I welcome the approach RNZ has taken to ensure the business is run as
efficiently as possible and that public funds are utilised as effectively as they can be to
maximise the public value of content.”

This response does not address the questions and issues I raised in my email.

Namely; why has Radio NZ’s funding been frozen since 2009 – whilst funding for the Prime Minister’s Department has doubled  since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000 in 2015/16.

 The next point I raised was;

Why has Radio NZ’s funding been frozen since 2009 – whilst funding for the Prime Minister’s Department has doubled  since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000 in 2015/16.

You state that “In a time of fiscal constraint, it is especially important that the Government manages the public finances in a prudent and responsible manner and makes sustainable choices about the prioritisation of public funds” – yet this constraint does not seem to have been applied to the Prime Minister’s Department, with funding increases every year since 2008.

Can you shed light on  why Radio NZ’s funding has been frozen, but the Prime Minister’s Department has not?

And the last point I raised;

Secondly,  you write that “ it is especially important that the Government manages the public finances in a prudent and responsible manner and makes sustainable choices about the prioritisation of public funds“.

Can you explain the meaning of term, “sustainable choices” in the context of your letter? What, precisely, do you mean by “sustainable choices“?

Lastly, you refer to Radio NZ as a “business”. Considering that RNZ is non-commercial; has very little revenue; does not return a dividend; and has no profit-making capability – can you explain in what sense the broadcaster is a “business”?
This time, the Minister’s response was not so promptly forthcoming, and after sending a reminder on 1 October to her office, I was advised on 15 October;

The section of your email relating to the budget of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has been transferred to the Department, as it is better able to respond to your query.

Minister Adams will respond to your questions regarding the funding of RNZ.

It was now apparent that I was asking awkward questions that could not be fobbed off with a three-paragraph letter written in bland political jargon-speak.

Having transferred part of my OIA to the Prime Minister’s Department, I suspected it would be a long wait for a response.

On 13 November, Minister Adams responded to my request for clarification to her statement on 17 September. She first said;

“With regards to the first matter you raise, no government agency’s budget is inflation
linked. Ministers make decisions on an annual basis about potential funding increases
based on the requirements of the agencies. As you will be aware, these decisions involve
prioritisation across the entire public sector to ensure that any additional funding is
focused on the areas of most need.”

The Minister’s claim that “no government agency’s budget is inflation linked”appears to be at variance with the fact that the Prime Minister’s Department’s budget has doubled since 2008. This is an area which she obviously has no answer to, hence “transferring” my query to the PM’s Department.

However, Adams’ assertion that “ministers make decisions on an annual basis about potential funding increases” is actually at the nub of this problem. It is precisely the fact that Radio NZ’s budget has been frozen by a decision at a  ministerial level, that Minister Adams herself admits.

In effect, by deciding that Radio NZ’s budget is not to be increased, it is a form of political interference in an otherwise independent agency’s affairs.

National has long since abandoned Muldoonist-style direct interference in state sector departments and agencies. The more subtle – but just as destructive technique – is to quietly starve a recalcitrant independent body of funding.

When Minister Adams insists that “Ministers make decisions on an annual basis about potential funding increases based on the requirements of the agencies“, she is being duplicitous.

No one could sensibly suggest that a nationwide broadcaster could operate on a long-term basis without an increase to it’s funding.

Executives warn Parliamentary Select Committee of dire financial situation for RadioNZ

Radio NZ’s growing financial problems was raised during the 2012/13 financial review of Radio New Zealand,  by the Parliamentary Commerce Committee. The Committee referred to the issue at the beginning of their Report;

“Crown funding for Radio New Zealand has not increased in six years; we asked how this had affected staff and services.”

Labour’s Kris Faafoi was direct when he asked RadioNZ’s, Deputy Chief Executive, Ken Law;

“…you’ve been under a pretty difficult financial situation for 5 or 6 years now. I notice in the questions that you gave back to us that you’ve managed to make some savings of around $2 million in the last year, but how much longer can you cut your cloth until there is no more cloth to cut?”

Law, responded;

“I would suggest that that funding will have to be externally generated. But we have been very successful. We’ve made a number of
savings, particularly in production systems. We have some excellent expert staff in audio production. They’ve made some major savings in audio production systems and procedures. We’ve taken out some of the resilience or some of the duplication in transmission networks. That’s been a very calculated risk, but one that we think we’ve been able to manage and we can manage into the future. But really your question—how much longer? Not much longer.”

That was review was held around 8 May 2014. Despite putting on a brave face to the Parliamentary Committee and voicing up-beat comments, Radio NZ’s executives are clearly concerned that they are fast running out of cost-saving options.

Also noteworthy is that, in an attempt to cut costs, managerial decisions have been implemented to cut “some of the resilience or some of the duplication in transmission networks“.

Law described  cut-backs to “resilience” as “a very calculated risk”. This can be taken as to mean that Radio NZ’s technical infrastructure has been undermined and compromised for cost-saving purposes.

“Sustainability” and job losses looming

Minister Adams’ also explained what she meant by the term, “sustainable choices” and  in what sense was the broadcaster  a “business”, considering it is non-commercial, and has no revenue-income to speak of;

“With regards to the term ‘sustainable choices’ as used in my previous
correspondence, I meant choices about fiscal policy that keep government debt at
prudent levels and manage fiscal risks. As mentioned above, when Ministers make
decisions about agency funding they have to prioritise initiatives from across the
state sector to achieve this.

[…]

Although RNZ is not a commercial business, the Crown expects commercial disciplines
to be applied to the use of public funds and for RNZ to act in a professional and
business-like manner.”

Minister Adams’ candour was startling. She was admitting that her use of the phrase “sustainable choices” referred not to Radio NZ – but to National’s own attempts to balance it’s Budget and post a surplus.

Like other areas of the State sector – health, education, housing, police, etc – National has been cutting budgets to meet Budgetary demands. Those demands were exacerbated by National’s tax cuts of 2009 and 2010. Using the Minister’s phraseology, those tax cuts were ultimately “unsustainable choices“.

A year and a half  after  Ken Law’s fateful words to the Commerce Committee, Radio NZ’s chief executive, Paul Thompson, announced that the broadcaster would be shedding jobs;

RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson confirmed staff had been sent memo outlining the proposed changes at the state-owned broadcaster on Tuesday.

Newsreaders and producers at Radio New Zealand are in the gun, with the national broadcaster planning to shed jobs in their push into digital.

RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson confirmed staff had been sent memo outlining the proposed changes at the state-owned broadcaster on Tuesday.

This included cutting the overall headcount at RNZ from 283 to 270 by July next year, with 20 jobs disestablished and seven new digital roles created.

“We are having to find some savings which is no surprise.”

National’s on-going refusal to adequately  fund Radio NZ  has  predictably been  “un-sustainable“.

The Prime Minister’s Office confirms doubling of their Budget

Having heard nothing since 15 October, when the Broadcasting Minister’s office transferred part of my OIA request to the Prime Minister’s Department, follow-up enquiries were made on 23 October as to what progress they were making;

“It is my understanding that Radio New Zealand’s funding has not increased since 2009,
when it’s budget was set at $31,816,000.

With it’s funding frozen, and no means of other revenue, it has effectively had a funding
cut after inflation and salary increases are taken into account.

Can you explain why Radio NZ’s budget has not, at the very least, been inflation-indexed?

Can you explain why Radio NZ’s budget has been frozen whilst at the same time, the Prime
Ministers Department has had a budget increase since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000
in 2015/16 – a near doubling in just seven years?”

By 12 November, a month after Minister Adams’ office had transferred part of my OIA request to the Prime Minister, no reply had been forthcoming and I asked again whether I could expect a reply.

A little over twentyfour hours later, I received a two-page response from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. (The full text of the document is available for viewing here.)

In response to my questions;

“Why has Radio NZ’s funding been frozen since 2009 – whilst funding for the Prime Minister’s Department has doubled  since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000 in 2015/16?”

“This [funding] constraint does not seem to have been applied to the Prime Minister’s Department, with funding increases every year since 2008. Can you shed light on  why Radio NZ’s funding has been frozen, but the Prime Minister’s Department has not?”

– the answers were “interesting” to say the least.

Anne Shaw, Director of the Office of the Chief Executive, confirmed that the budget for the DPMC had doubled  since 2008 from $25,470,000 to $49,298,000 in 2015/16.

She described the doubling of the Prime Minister’s Department as taking on “new responsibilities“;

“The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) serves the Executive (the
Governor-General, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet) through the provision of high
quality impartial advice and support services. DPMC is comprised of five business
units: Cabinet Office, Government House, Policy Advisory Group, Security & Intelligence
Group, and Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management. The functions of DPMC
have changed significantly over the period of time covered by your request with taking
on new responsibilities. The changes in funding largely reflect this.”

Interestingly, Shaw refered to political management  and the Civil Defence  bureacracy as “business units”. Are those “business units” run with the  expectation of  commercial disciplines  to be applied to the use of public funds and to act in a professional and business-like manner” – as Minister Adams demanded of Radio NZ?

Shaw then provided alleged examples which appeared to justify the doubling of funding for the Prime Minister’s office.

However, Budget documents are not always clear as to what “additional fundings” were made from the Prime Ministers Department (DPMC), as purported by Shaw. In several instances, there was no apparent reference to any increase for a given purpose;

(1) “Additional funding” for the  “conservation of Government House in Wellington” between 2009/10 and 2010/11:

Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet 2009/10 Budget: $20.1 million

Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet 2010/11 Budget: $17.4 million

Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet 2011/12 Budget: $1.1 million

Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet 2012/13 Budget: $1 million

(2) “Payments made as a result of the September 2010 and February 2011 Canterbury Earthquakes, including support for response and recovery as a result  of the 22 February 2011 Canterbury Earthquake“. There were no payments found  for “support for response and recovery activities”  relating to the earthquakes within the 2010/11, 2011/12, or 2012/13 Budgets.

(3)  “Relocating the intelligence and security functions to a new purpose-built facility for the New Zealand intelligence community” 2010/11.  There were no payments found  for any such “relocation” within the DPMC Budget.

However, the Budget for Vote Communications Security and Intelligence increased massively during the 2010/11 period which Shaw claimed as justification for the DPMC’s budget increase:

Vote Communications Security and Intelligence 2008/09:  $49.368 million

Vote Communications Security and Intelligence 2009/10:  $59.142 million

Vote Communications Security and Intelligence 2010/11:  $73.926 million

Any increase for “relocating the intelligence and security functions to a new purpose-built facility for the New Zealand intelligence community” appears to have come from Vote Communications Security and Intelligence, not Vote Prime Minister’s Department.

(4) There is no reference to expenditure for “Cabnet”  or establishment of the National Cyber Policy Office within the 2012/13 Budget for Vote Prime Minister’s Department. If it exists, it was “buried” under one or another classication.

(5)  Shaw also referred to costs incurred for “depreciation funding for the refurbished Government House“. These entries do exist in each DPMC Budget.

“Funded depreciation” is described as “… a fixed asset management method that helps a company set aside funds to renew machinery and equipment that it uses in operating activities“.

It is highly unlikely that any government will be building a new Government House any time soon.

(6) Shaw gave another explanation to the ballooning Prime Minister’s Department’s budget; “In April 2014, the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management (MCDEM) became part of the DPMC. This meant an additional funding increase in 2013/14 with the transfer of civil defence and emergency management functions from Vote Internal Affairs and an additional 39 staff“.

Ms Shaw is correct, and the cost of transitioning – according the the 2013/14 Budget – $1.354 million.

Even with three related costings included, the sum reaches only $3.6 million. This hardly explains why the PM’s Department’s budget has doubled since 2008.

(7)  Ms Shaw’s final explanation for the budgetary increases for the DPMC was perhaps the most galling, citing “an increase in 2015/16 reflecting the expected costs of supporting the process to consider changing the New Zealand Flag“.

However, Shaw’s explanation is not convincing. The 2015/16 Budget reveals a figure of $4.4 million for the DPMC’s “Supporting Flag Consideration Process” – not the full estimated costing of $26 million.

Even so, considering that Ministers have consistantly fetishsised  the “need for fiscal restraint”, it is hard to see that funding the flag referendum is a necessity that excuses the need for on-going “fiscal restraint”.

Especially when agencies such as Radio NZ have not had funding increases for seven years.

It appears that money can be readily found when John Key needs it.

Solutions?

On 17 September, broadcasting spokespeople for Labour, the Greens, and NZ First were approached for comment on Radio NZ’s funding.

The Greens and NZ First did not provide any response.

Labour’s Clare Curran responded and said;

In October I released a private member’s bill to put to an end Radio New Zealand’s punishing
six­year funding freeze that matches funding to inflation and population growth and assists
the broadcaster’s transition to a multimedia public service network

The Radio NZ (Catch­Up Funding) Amendment Bill, which has been placed in the private
member’s bill ballot, provides for an 11 per cent increase based on total inflation and an
overall population increase of 6.7 per cent from June 2009 to June 2015.

Current NZ on Air funding for Radio New Zealand for the 2015/16 year is $31,816,000. The
one­off ‘catch up’ for the 2015/16 year would be an increase of around $6.5 million.

The Bill provides for the catch­up funding to be sustained and for inflation and population
adjustments to occur annually. It is the first step in a broad strategy by Labour to improve the
quantity and quality of New Zealand voices in broadcasting.

Public service broadcasting is gradually being eroded in New Zealand. Despite the population
of New Zealand growing ever larger and more diverse, the range of voices in broadcasting is
narrowing.

This bill is a stake in the ground on the importance of public interest media.

Ms Curran also replied to several specific questions I put to her,  if Labour was to be part of the next government, post­-2017;

Frank Macskasy: Will you make an immediate capital-injection into Radio NZ, to take into account inflation since 2008?

Clare Curran: Labour’s broadcasting policy for 2017 is yet to be announced. However I draw your attention
to the private member’s bill in my name which provides for an immediate funding increase
for RNZ based on inflation since 2008 and population increase.

FM: Will you inflation-index any subsequent funding for Radio NZ?

CC: Bearing in mind we haven’t announced formal policy I think you take that as a yes.

FM: What strategy do you have, if any, to entrench regular funding increases for Radio NZ to take such funding  decisions away from ministers and eliminate/reduce potential covert political interference by chronic under-funding?

CC:  This is an excellent question and one that Labour takes very seriously. We are undertaking
community engagement as we speak about these very matters. As Broadcasting
spokesperson, and as a former journalist, I believe editorial independence from ministerial
interference is a fundamental tenet of democracy. Recent events inside Maori TV have raised
serious questions about the ability of a Minister to influence programming decisions which he
doesn’t like. Political party That’s deeply concerning no matter which political party is
involved.

I don’t believe our publicly ­funded media is arms­-length enough from government. What’s
happening in Australia with the ABC and even in the UK with the BBC is testament to that.

In order for true democracy to flourish, commercial –free public interest media is an essential
pillar. Just as we have established and entrenched the watchdogs of government in the
Ombudsman, Auditor General, Human Rights Commission, Privacy Commissioner etc.. so
must we ensure that our public media entities are given a public mandate to operate
independently from state influence, overtly or surreptitiously. As you rightly point out,
removing funding decisions from ministers may be an important mechanism to do that.

However, I make the point that it must be a political policy decision to move in that direction.
I signal that Labour will move in that direction.

FM: Would an independent decision-making body, such as the Remuneration Authority which rules over MP’s salaries, be a practical solution to this problem?

CC: This is a matter for further discussion which I welcome and will participate in, in any forum.

Clare Curran’s response was appreciated.

It also gives hope that a future progressive government will not only restore Radio NZ’s funding – but will implement a policy that will entrench and safeguard this taonga from covert under-mining by unsympathetic governments.

The job of media is not to serve up infantilised ‘pap’ for an increasingly disconnected audience. The job of media is to hold truth to power, full-stop.

A democracy simply cannot function without a flourishing, well-resourced, critical media.

Governments without a watchful media is authority without brakes. It is political power without independent over-sight. It is dangerous.

At a time when print media is “down-sizing” (ie, sacking) skilled, experienced staff, and electronic media serves up a daily evening diet of superficial “current affairs” and even more vacuous “news”; gormless formulaic “reality shows”; and a never-ending stream of stomach-churning crime “drama” – Radio NZ is the last bastion of serious, professional media.

It is the last institution left standing. It is holding the line.

But only barely.

Note1 – Minister Adams responded to my OIA in one and a half weeks. This is an outstanding achievement for any National Minister’s office. Most National Ministers take weeks, if not months, to respond.

NZ Treasury: Budget 2015 – Vote Prime Minister and Cabinet

Additional References

NZ on Air: The Board

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2008

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2009

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2010

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2012

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2013

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2014

NZ on Air Annual Report: 2015

Additional

The Daily Blog: CBB supports Private Members Bill to increase funding to Radio NZ

Labour: Labour bill to stop stealth cuts to Radio NZ

The Standard:  David Cunliffe on the state of the media in New Zealand

Parliament: Radio New Zealand (Catch-up Funding) Amendment Bill

Previous related blogposts

TVNZ7, Radio New Zealand, and distracting trinkets.

State Media Bans Dissident!

Karl Du Fresne has a public baby waa-waa cry-session

Karl Du Fresne has a public baby waa-waa cry-session – part rua

Talkback Radio, Public Radio, and related matters

NZ media; the Good, the Bad, and the Very, Very, Ugly

Campbell Live, No More

The Donghua Liu Affair: One Year On

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charlie hebdo

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 November 2015.

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MSM under-mining of new Labour Leader already begun?

26 November 2014 Leave a comment

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confused-man

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It did not take long.

In fact, on the same day that Andrew Little won the Labour leadership*, the first media reporter was already asking if he would be stepping down  if Labour failed to lift in the all-important polls.

On Radio NZ’s Checkpoint, the usually uber-sensible, Mary Wilson asked these gormless questions of Andrew Little,

@ 4.35

Wilson: “And in terms of your accountability though, if at the end of 2016, there is no movement [in the polls] there is no change, what happens then?”

@ 4.47

Wilson: “Is there any point during the next few years where you will say, ‘Ok, this hasn’t worked; I haven’t done what I set out to achieve; I’m leaving’.”

@ 5.00

Wilson: “And if you’re not there by the end of 2016, would you step aside?”

Now bear in mind that Radio NZ is not part of the ratings-driven, advertising-revenue-chasing corporate MSM of this country – but still those questions were put to Little.

How long before the corporate MSM – sensing sensational headlines and potential advertising revenue –  begin baying for blood and drafting stories which begin to portray Little in a negative light?

It was the relentless attacks on Cunliffe from all quarters of the MSM (including non-commercial Radio NZ) which contributed to under-mining his leadership in the eyes of the voting public.

The public’s perception of a political figure is determined largely by how he is portrayed by the media. Fairness and accuracy can play little part in reporting stories targetting a political figure. As the Donghua Liu Affair, in the NZ Herald showed with disturbing clarity, even a non-story can be spun in such a way as to totally destroy a man’s credibility and reputation.

Note: As an aside, in defending the Herald’s story on the 13 year old Donghua Liu-Cunliffe letter,  Editor  Tim Murphy stated in June this year (in an email to this blogger), that “We fully expect further details to come will show the Herald’s earlier reporting to have, as we have known throughout, been accurate and soundly based“. Nothing further has been produced by the Herald to back up it’s assertions since it was forced to make retractions on 25 June.

The Donghua Liu Affair was part of  an ongoing, targetted, smear campaign against David Cunliffe. The non-story, involving a 13 year old letter; a non-existent $100,000 bottle of wine; and an alleged, yet-to-be-discovered, $15,000 book, painted Cunliffe as untrustworthy, and the Labour Party as dodgy.

The new  Labour leader will have to keep his wits about him and use every media-related connection and employ the best possible media minders to counter an MSM that can no longer be trusted to report the basic truth. With the likes of Patrick Gower and Mike Hosking competing to be the “baddest bad asses” on the Media Block, accuracy and truth play third-fiddle behind egos (#1) and ratings (#2).

TV3’s Patrick Gower has already had a ‘go’ at Little’s victory, referring to the democratic selection process as “the great union ripoff”;

It’s a backdoor takeover by the unions. Simply, Andrew Little would not be Labour leader without the unions. He is the unions’ man; Little is a union man, and the unions have got their man into Labour’s top job.

Gower’s statement mentions “unions” five times in three short sentences. Which, when you think about it, is bizarre given that the Labour Party was born from the union movement in the first place**. Who did Gower think would lead Labour – someone from the Employers’ Federation? Business NZ? The Business Roundtable?
Silly little man pretending to be a political commentator.

The TV3 on-line article is bizarre in itself with TV3’s “Online Reporter”, Dan Satherley,  reporting  TV3’s Political Reporter, Patrick Gower’s, utterances. Journalists interviewing each other?

What next – siblings marrying each other under an ACT-led government?!
Predictably, Gower then launched into his own “Who’s-the-next-Leader” guessing game;

Gower says there remains the chance Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern – known informally as ‘Gracinda’ – might have another crack at the leadership – but this time with Ms Ardern leading the way.

I think there will be a switcheroo – Jacinda as the leader, Robertson as the deputy. He’s probably seen the writing on the wall that it has to be her if they have another go.

They just can’t help themselves. In an ‘Interstellar‘-quality vacuum of any meaningful news reporting, media-hacks like Gower will  blather on about any silliness that enters their heads. Far be it for him to actually interview Andrew Little and ask him questions like;

What’s on your agenda if you become Prime Minister?

What’s your point-of-difference to National?

What do you hope to achieve, legislation-wise, in the First 100 Days of a government you lead?

You know, real questions that real journalists used to ask, in real interviews, with real people.

At the same time, the same brickbat used to beat the MSM around it’s collective head should be generously applied to the Labour Party hierarchy’s backside.

When Labour president Moira Coatsworth made this statement in the NZ Herald, congratulating Andrew Little;

Labour president Moira Coatsworth, who announced Mr Little’s victory, said he would lead a reinvigorated party into the 2017 election campaign.

Andrew has the leadership skills and the vision to win the trust of New Zealanders and take Labour to victory in 2017. I have no doubt he will go on to become a great Labour Prime Minister who builds a stronger, fairer and more sustainable New Zealand.

– it was the same gushing enthusiasm she voiced for David Cunliffe last year;

The Labour Party congratulates David Cunliffe on his win. David has been elected by a robust and democratic process and has won on the first round with a clear majority. This gives him a strong mandate as leader and he has the full support of the Labour Party.

[…]

David Cunliffe has the leadership skills and the vision to win the trust of New Zealanders and take Labour to victory in 2014. I have no doubt he will go on to become a great Labour Prime Minister who builds a stronger, fairer and more sustainable New Zealand.”

– and before that, David Shearer, in 2011;

I congratulate both David and Grant and look forward to working closely with them as we build towards a Labour victory in 2014.

David and Grant bring a fresh approach; a breadth of skills and a strong commitment to rebuild for a Labour win in 2014.”

The repetitive nature of Labour’s revolving-door leadership leaves the voting public scratching it’s collective head, wondering WTF?! As I blogged on 2 October;

If the Labour caucus don’t support their own leader – especially when times are tough – why should they expect the voting public to take their  leadership choices seriously? After all, with four leaders gone in six years, it would appear to be a temporary position at best.

And earlier, on 25 September, I wrote to the NZ Herald;

If Labour keeps changing it’s Leader after every defeat, then I put the following questions to them;

1. How will a Labour Leader gain experience, if they’re dumped every couple of years?

2. How can the public be expected to get to know a Labour Leader, and develop trust in that person, if their presence is fleeting and disappear before we get to know him/her?

3. How will a Labour Leader learn to handle victory, when s/he first won’t be allowed to understand defeat? Humility is learned in failure, not success.

I also pointed out in the same letter-to-the-editor;

The Greens have leaderships that are stable and long-term, irrespective of electoral success or failure. That is because the Party has faith and confidence in their leadership choices.

Even pro-National columnist for the NZ Herald, John Armstrong stated the obvious on 18 November;

 “The public should warm to him. But that will take some time.

Meanwhile, on the day that Andrew Little won the leadership contest, John Key made this astute observation;

What this process has shown is that there are deep divisions within the party, they’re a long way away from agreeing with each other or even liking each other.

Andrew Little has the task of unifying a group of individuals who historically have shown they have very low levels of discipline.

He has a point.  Labour’s lack of internal discipline is in stark contrast to National’s public facade of unity. Both parties have their own factions – but National is the one that has succeeded in keeping in-fighting private and behind closed doors.

There is a weird  irony to this. Labour is supposedly the party that espouses an ideology of collective action whilst National is the party of unfettered individualism.

Yet it is the Nats who work collectively and collegially for their number one goal: power. Any factional agitation and cat-spats for dominance is kept well away from the public and media gaze.

By contrast, Labour appears to be a party of rugged individualists that would make ACT look like an Ohu commune from the 1970s.

Labour could do well do learn from their rivals.

The alternative is more dissent and dis-unity within Labour; more leadership changes; and a National government stretching into the 2020s, with Max Key taking the reigns of Prime Ministership from his father, and assuming the dynastic role of “Little Leader”.

Personally, I prefer a “Little Leader” to emerge from a Labour-led government, and not a future National regime.

Andrew Little’s success will be our success as well.

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* Disclaimer: This blogger is not a Labour Party member, nor has any preference who should be Leader of that party.
** Acknowledgement to Curwen Rolinson for his perception and pointing this out on his Facebook page.

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References

Radio NZ: Little man for the job of Labour’s big rebuild

Radio NZ Checkpoint: Little says narrowness of his win not a problem (audio)

NZ Herald: Donghua Liu’s new statement on Labour donations

TV3 News: Gower – Little’s victory ‘the great union ripoff’

NZ Herald: ‘He has the vision to win the trust of New Zealanders’ – Andrew Little elected Labour leader

Interest.co.nz: David Cunliffe wins Labour leadership contest, defeating Grant Robertson and Shane Jones

Scoop Media: Labour Party President congratulates new leadership team

NZ Herald: John Armstrong – Andrew Little’s first job – drown out Winston Peters

MSN News: Labour is still divided – Key

Te Ara Encyclopedia: Communes and communities

Facebook: Curwen Rolinson

Previous related blogposts

A Study in Party Stability

No More. The Left Falls.

Letter to the editor: the culling of Cunliffe

The Donghua Liu Affair – The Players Revealed


 

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 November 2014

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Polls, propaganda, and Tracy Watkins

12 September 2014 2 comments

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Fairfax media - if you think, the bolsheviks win

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1. A bit of personal history…

Since I became more and more politically active, part of the growth of my political consciousness was an awareness that the media – whether print or electronic – was not always a clear reflection of what really was happening.

The first time I became starkly aware of the disconnect between a media story and reality was in 1989, when an associate and I made a submission to a Parliamentary Select Committee on the Classifications Bill. The Bill was aimed at replacing the old, antiquated Censorship Act.

There were some aspects of the Bill which we took exception to (from a liberal viewpoint) and we put together a submission, and requested an opportunity for a supporting oral submission.

We were due to ‘appear’ near the end of the day, and thus had an interesting opportunity to listen to all the submissions made by various groups, organisations, and individuals. Submitters ranged from the Nurses Organisation; Film Directors Association,  NZ Law Society, etc.

I took note of the tenor of each submitter, and it was roughly 50/50 toward strengthening the proposed Classifications Act or liberalising it.

The following morning, the Dominion featured two stories on two submitters – both from the “pro-censorship” camp.

A critical submission from the NZ Law Society, regarding an aspect of the Bill which they deemed to be fatally flawed, was not reported. Neither did the Dominion report an astounding comment by then-MP, Trevor Rogers, who threatened to “change officials of the Courts” who could not, would not, implement the new law, whether flawed or not.

Had I not attended the Select Committee hearing personally, I would have assumed that all submissions were of a similar nature; would not have been aware of opposing views; would have been unaware of the Law Society’s views; and been oblivious to a Member of Parliament threatening to interfere with the judicial system of this country.

After 25 years, the incident remains vividly clear in my memory.

That was my very first lesson – not just in Select Committees – but media (mis-)reporting.

Since I began this blogging lark in July 2011,  I have found no reason to lessen my wariness of  media reporting, accuracy, and fairness. In fact, sadly, quite the opposite.

2. Once upon a time, in a fairy-tale land called Fairfax Media…

So begins this analysis of a recent Fairfax-Ipsos Poll which, upon closer scrutiny, is a fantasy lifted straight from the pages of Brothers Grimm.

A very recent  Ipsos poll was taken over a five day period, starting from Saturday, 30 August – the day of Judith Collins’ resignation from her ministerial portfolios (though not from Parliament itself).

The results, as a graphic;

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Fairfax poll - november 2011

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The infographic shows National at 54% and the Labour-Green bloc at 38%.

Right?

Wrong.

The above poll infographic was taken from a Research International poll, commissioned also by Fairfax Media – and released on 23 November, 2011three days before the General Election, three years ago.

The actual current, September 2014  poll results from Fairfax and it’s “newly” commissioned polling agent, Ipsos;

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Fairfax poll - september 2014

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Compare the two polls above.

Two “different” polls. Two different polling companies. Three years apart. Almost exactly same figures.

Now let’s chuck in the actual election results for the 2011 Election;

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2011 poll - 2014 poll- fairfax - 2011 general election

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In the 2011 poll,  Fairfax’s polling agent over-estimated National’s support by a staggering 6.69 percentage points – well outside the stated margin of error  by Research International (3.1%).

Considering that other mainstream polling companies have National ranging from 45% (Roy Morgan) to 46.4% (NZ Herald-Digipoll and TV3 News) to 50% (TVNZ News), it could be safely argued that the Fairfax-Ipsos results are in Wacky-Doodle Land.

The figures are not only dubious – but Fairfax buries an important fact;

The undecided vote remained steady at 13 per cent, which is higher than in some other polls. [my emphasis]

That statement is buried near the bottom of Vernon Small’s article, “National soars without Collins – poll“.

Incredibly, Small then adds – almost seemingly as an after-thought;

Benson said if Ipsos included those who said they were undecided, but when pressed were leaning towards a particular party, that number dropped to about 7 per cent and saw National’s vote come in about 2 percentage points lower.

Anything else we need to know, Vernon?!

The problem here is not just Fairfax presenting dodgy polling figures over two consecutive election periods – but the fact that Vernon Small, who wrote a story covering the poll,  was thoroughly accepting of the results – and made no effort to question the veracity of the figures. Some  comments from Small;

Two weeks out from the election National’s popularity has soared after the dumping of justice minister Judith Collins, putting John Key on course for a thumping victory on the evidence of a new Stuff.co.nz/Ipsos poll.

[…]

Assuming all the small parties hold their current seats, but independent Brendan Horan is not returned, National would have a dominant 70 seat bloc in a 125 seat Parliament.

Small also quoted Ipsos pollster Matt Benson without any real critical analysis;

Ipsos pollster Matt Benson said the poll followed the first televised leaders’ debate and straddled the resignation of Collins.  ‘‘Despite a difficult week for National the poll shows support rise for the National Party, and John Key as preferred PM has also increased to 51.7 percent.’’ 

He said the rise may have been caused by wavering voters, uncomfortable with Collins, swinging in behind Key for finally taking action against her.

In no way could this poll and associated story be considered critical political analysis or news in the traditional sense.

Little wonder that, after only ten comments, Fairfax closed down posting on it’s comments section, at the end of Small’s article;

* Comments are now closed on this story.

– Stuff

The criticism of Fairfax must have been excoriating!

The problem here, as I see it;

Firstly, Ipsos is paid by Fairfax to conduct it’s polling.

Therefore, Fairfax has an inherent, undeclared financial interest in the source of  “story”. Fairfax is not reporting on a story from the point of view of an impartial, disinterested party. They have a vested, commercial stake in promoting Ipsos’ findings.

As such Fairfax would be as critical of Ipsos as the Editor of the Dominion Post would commission an investigative piece on sub-editors being made redundant from his own newspaper (the redundancies happened – the story reporting  the event never materialised).

In fairness, it should be pointed out that Fairfax is by no means unique in this obvious conflict of interest. The NZ Herald, TVNZ, and TV3 all have their own contracted pollsters. None of them will question the accuracy of their respective polling agents.

Secondly, because Fairfax (and other media) have a vested interest with their respective pollsters, they are locked in to using that sole company as a source for polling “news”. Hence,  each media outlet’s authoritative reputation rests on pushing up the credibility of their respective polls. They must not question their own polling for fear of damaging their reputation for “authoritative political analysis”.

Regardless if their own polling is hopelessly implausible, it must be presented as factual and inarguably credible.

Even if it is clearly not.

3. Radio NZ – an oasis of information in a desert of pseudo “news”

The non-commercial Radio New Zealand not only reports polling results from various pollsters, but is currently running a Poll of Polls;

The POLL of POLLS is an arithmetical average of the four most recent major polls since mid-June from among: TV1 Colmar Brunton, TV3 Reid Research, Fairfax Media-Ipsos, NZ Herald DigiPoll, Roy Morgan New Zealand and UMR Research, which is not published.”

– and is well worth keeping an eye on.

Off the main pollsters, the most accurate one to keep an eye on is Roy Morgan, as it alone calls respondents on cellphones. All others rely solely on landlines to contact respondents.

4. Tracy Watkins

Associated with Vernon Small’s front page article on the Dominion Post on 5 September, was a side-bar “opinion piece” by the paper’s political editor, Tracy Watkins. This is the on-line version;

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tracy watkins - dominion post - fairfax news - all over bar the shouting

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“Two weeks down, two weeks to go and on today’s stuff.co.nz/Ipsos poll it’s all over bar the shouting.”

I was stunned when I read that comment. In effect, Watkins has elevated Fairfax’s 3 September  public opinion poll to supplant the up-coming general election and accept a National Party victory based on Ipsos’ findings.

I put this issue to Neil Watts, blogger (Fearfactsexposed) and long-time commentator/critic of Fairfax Media and it’s policies. I asked him about the credibility of Fairfax’s polling and he replied,

“Having watched Fairfax Media make an art form of National Party propaganda for many years now, nothing they publish surprises me anymore. Their polls are notoriously, willfully unreliable, and they blatantly use them to manipulate  rather than inform  the electorate.”

This would certainly seem to be the case, as it should be noted that two different polling companies contracted by Fairfax consistantly over-rated National in their results. Neil had definite thoughts on why that might be. He said;

“Their political coverage is partisan, anti-opposition, anti-democratic, and their spin consistently comes from the exact same angle that the National Party are taking via Crosby Textor.

In fact, this is so reliable, that I only bother to read stuff.co.nz these days to find out what the Government’s spin will be on any given issue.”

When I pointed out Watkins’ piece, “All over bar the shouting”, Neil was scathing about her lack of impartiality;

“Political editor Tracy Watkins is clearly enamored with the Prime Minister and unprofessionally close to him. After several international trips with John Key and a substantial back catalogue of journalese ‘love letters’ to him, she really has zero credibility as an objective reporter.

To the informed reader, her copy is generally one-eyed, propagandist tripe. The weight of evidence is in their reporting, but I have heard from sources within Fairfax Media that their blatant goal is to get Key’s Government re-elected.”

If true, and the Fourth Estate has become a mouth-piece for The Political Establishment, it may explain why people are turning away from the mainstream media as well as politics. The previous general election had the lowest voter turn-out since 1887 – no feat to be proud of, and seemingly  indicative of a growing malaise of alienation, apathy, and disconnection from our heretofore strong civic pride.

It simply beggars belief that a journalist such as Ms Watkins with many years experience could publish such an off-hand comment that effectively undermines current efforts by the Electoral Commission, trade unions, political parties, et al, to encourage people to enroll and to vote.

The Commission is spending tax payers’ money to encourage voter turn-out – and Watkins’ casual, flippant, remark that “it’s all over bar the shouting” undermined that campaign with half a dozen words. The fact that the Dominion Post reinforced that off-the-cuff remark by placing the Fairfax-Ipsos poll-story on the front page of the edition reinforced her comment with a subtle message; “don’t bother voting – National has won – it’s all over bar the shouting”;

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dominion-post-5-september-2014-fairfax-ipsos-poll-2014-election-tracey-watkins

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Note the heading in big, black, bold lettering,

Poll sees Nats in command

In command“? Was the election held on 5 September?! Did I miss it?

Note also the hidden subtext of an image of the PM, John Key, twice the size of his opponant, David Cunliffe. Note the victorious look on Key’s face – and the open-mouth “petulance” of ‘disappointment’ on Cunliffe’s.

The impression is clear; Key has “won” the election.

Cunliffe’s annoyance validates Key’s trimphant expression.

This is not reporting the news – it is manufacturing it.

Meanwhile, with more than a hint of irony, the real news of election-related events are buried within the newspaper;

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dominion-post-5-september-2014-fairfax-ipsos-poll-2014-election-tracey-watkins

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Little wonder that Neil Watts summed up Fairfax’s agenda thusly,

 “For a media corporation to be effectively aiming for oligarchical rule in New Zealand is a gross abuse of power and position. At the very least, they should be honest and open about their political loyalties, so that ordinary Kiwi voters can make an informed choice about where they source their news.”

I see nothing to disabuse me of the notion I began to develop in  1989, that a healthy dose of skepticism is required when presented with information from a media source.

Their agenda is no longer to present news.

Their agenda is to manufacture it; embellish it; use it to sell advertising; and to further political goals.

How else does one explain naked propaganda-masquerading-as-“news”?

Because looking at the full-blown story on the front page, I can see no other interpretation than the conclusion I have arrived at.

According to the Dominion Post, the election is done and dusted and the Nats are “in command”. So don’t bother voting. It’s all over.

Bar the shouting.

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References

Fairfax media: National still cosy in polls after tea break (2011)

Fairfax media: National soars without Collins – poll (2014)

Wikipedia: New Zealand 2011 General Election

Roy Morgan: ‘Dirty Politics’ muddies the water for major parties in New Zealand

NZ Herald: National or Labour could form a Government – poll

TV3 News: Key could need Maori Party post-election

TVNZ News: National unscathed by Dirty Politics – poll

Radio NZ: Election 2014 – Poll of Polls

Dominion Post: All over bar the shouting

Massey University: Massey commentators preview key election issues

Dominion Post: Tracy Watkins on politics

Additional

Fairfax media: Ipsos Polling Station

Previous related blogposts

Mr Morgan phoned

Census, Surveys, and Cellphones (part tahi)

Census, Surveys, and Cellphones (Part rua)

 


 

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20 september 2014 VOTE

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 7 September 2014

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