How appropriate that when Kim Hill took a day off, Radio New Zealand should rope in Finlay Macdonald to fill the gap on her Saturday morning show. It obviously wouldn’t do to startle Kim’s listeners, who I would guess are generally of a soft-left political persuasion, by bringing in a host who might challenge their world view.
And how appropriate too that one of Macdonald’s interviews should be with Australian climate change alarmist Tim Flannery, who promotes the apocalyptic view that the world is going to hell in a handcart and unless we urgently change our profligate ways – and by this he means within the next couple of years – we’ll all be toast.
“The science is dire,” Flannery pronounced. “We need to act now.” Just as we did, presumably, with acid rain, world starvation, nuclear war, over-population and all the other threats that were supposed to wipe us out during my lifetime.
When someone like Macdonald stands in for Hill, you just know you’re not going to hear an interview with a climate change sceptic (a word I use in preference to “deniers”, the loaded term the alarmists use to denigrate their opponents). This would go against the grain. And in the highly unlikely event that a sceptic was invited onto the show, you can be sure the questions would be a lot tougher than the ones put to Flannery.
Here was a reminder of what Radio New Zealand used to be like across the board: left-leaning hosts asking left-leaning guests soft questions, in the comfortable assurance that like-minded listeners would all be nodding their heads in agreement. How cosy and self-reinforcing it all was.
Thankfully RNZ seems to have tried hard in recent years to shed its image as a platform for left-wing views. Both Morning Report and Kathryn Ryan’s Nine to Noon strive to be neutral and balanced (I can’t speak for Checkpoint because I never hear it, Mary Wilson’s graceless interviewing style having driven me away years ago). On Jim Mora’s afternoon panel discussions you hear a range of views that would have been inconceivable when RNZ was a citadel of the left.
Left-wing views that used to irritate the hell out of me on RNZ no longer bother me because although we still hear plenty of them, they are mostly balanced by other opinions that reflect the political diversity of the New Zealanders who own and fund Radio New Zealand. I don’t mind listening to left-wing ideologues as long they don’t have the state broadcasting apparatus to themselves; in fact I welcome it, since there are few things more boring – or dangerous – than hearing only views that echo your own.
But pockets of the traditional bias remain in RNZ. No one will ever die wondering what Sunday morning host Chris Laidlaw’s politics are, and there’s rarely anything on Hill’s programme that challenges leftist orthodoxy.
That Macdonald agreed with Flannery was implicit in his line of questioning. It was taken as a given that climate change is a real and immediate threat. When sceptics were mentioned, it was in a dismissive and incredulous tone. Since it seemed to be assumed that the audience shared this stance, there was clearly no need to waste their time or disturb their certainty by questioning the dubious science and dodgy statistics underlying much of the climate change hysteria.
In fact Flannery assured listeners that “all scientists are sceptics”, as if to say he and his fellow believers wouldn’t be pushing climate change theories unless they were certain that the science was rock-solid. So I had to smile when, only moments later, he earnestly expounded what many scientists would dismiss as a downright loony theory – a variation of James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis – in which he predicted that earth in the near future (sometime this century, in fact) would function as one whole organism, with a brain, self-consciousness and a nervous system.
Speaking as if Gaia already existed, Flannery theorised that this super-being was approaching puberty and in time might even reproduce. He added that it also needed to form a brain, but the internet and mobile phones might enable that to happen (exactly how wasn't explained). Only squabbling nationalistic governments, he suggested, were preventing the flowering of “global consciousness and unity”.
Whoa – what was that again? This didn’t exactly sound consistent with the hard-boiled scientific scepticism Flannery had been talking about a couple of minutes earlier. Even Macdonald seemed slightly taken aback and suggested Flannery was getting into the realm of science fiction. But if it occurred to Macdonald that this excursion into the outer reaches of New Age fantasy raised doubts about his guest’s credibility, he didn’t show it. And why would he, since the whole interview would have been negated if Flannery had been exposed as a complete flake. Better to move on and pretend it hadn’t happened.
Interestingly, Flannery revealed that he had been brought up Catholic. Though no longer practising, he gave the impression this background had left a lasting imprint. This led me to think about the number of Catholics who have renounced the faith but then embraced quasi-religious ideologies with an almost evangelistic fervour. Some of the staunchest socialists I know are ex-Catholics, which leads me to suspect that people brought up in a strong belief system, which they have later rejected, feel the need to find something to take its place. Nature abhors a vacuum, after all.