Saturday, February 27, 2021

The heroic journey of Ricardo Menendez-March

Readers may enjoy this satirical piece by Neil Miller of the Taxpayers' Union:

The following is a leaked diary entry written by Ricardo Menendez March, MP.  

Gracefully returning from Mexico, the third most deadly hotspot for COVID-19, suddenly I am confronted by a border guard demanding all this paperwork about quarantine, isolation, and contact tracing that apparently I, a busy Member of Parliament, should have filled in “months ago”. “Months ago?” – who can understand such bureaucratic jargon?

Responding to the frontline staff, I point out the obvious absurdity in his argument. “Next”, I quip, “you will be saying that Kiwis should not travel to Mexico at all.” He produces a piece of paper from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade saying exactly that. However, I spot that it is almost a year old. I cannot be expected to keep up with these historical edicts about the country of my birth and long intended travel destination. I am a list MP.

This will not stand. I fix the guard with my most smouldering Central American gaze and confidently ask: “Do you know who I am?”

Turns out he has absolutely no idea who I am, and no one in the growing and increasingly restless line behind me can help him. Someone quipped that I might be “Cliff Curtis’ less famous brother” which was the best of a bad bunch.

I decide to go over the guard’s head and ask my old comrade Chris Hipkins for an emergency MIQ slot. Problem solved, so I return to Koru Club for a free-range soy latte with a twist of GMO-free lemon.

Well, it seems that Minister Hipkins (as he insists I call him) either does not know who I am, does not care who I am, or does not consider backbench Green list MPs to be a service “time-critical for the purpose of delivering specialist health services required to prevent serious illness, injury or death; or the maintenance of essential health infrastructure.”

Undeterred, I lodge another application for an emergency exemption on the grounds that my “urgent travel is required for national security, national interest or law enforcement reasons.” It is also declined, but I do not think the Minister had to address the letter “To who it may concern”.

Over a leisurely dandelion and bog myrtle muffin in the lounge, I realise this situation could actually look bad from a PR perspective. Even the tamest of journalists will occasionally latch onto stories about Green MPs who preach carbon neutrality constantly topping the frequent flyer mile chart, or members of the most principled party in Parliament repeatedly trying to use their status to jump the queue on the grounds of non-existent health expertise or for reasons of national security.

I call in our communications “big gun” – though the Greens' musterer insists he/she/they are referred to as “the sizable inclusive conversationalist”.

It is Clint. He may have a surname, but everyone calls him “Hey Clint” for some reason. Probably a cultural title… Hola Ricardo has quite a ring to it. Will write to the Speaker and see what he/she/they think of my plan.

“Hey Clint” has come up with a great strategy for when the opposition and media find out what I have done. I should say that I never wanted either of the emergency exemptions I applied for. You know, both those applications that used up time and resources from officials, the head of MBIE, party leader James Shaw, and Minister Hipkins. I am sure they relished a bit of excitement during these quiet days of summer.

He – and I now have written permission to call Clint "he" – suggested I mention family illnesses and my long-term partner as often as possible, but not mention I go to Mexico at this time every year.

On reflection, this might actually be good for my career. I have never had so much coverage. I should go on holiday more often.

Friday, February 26, 2021

The right to say what you (and others) think

I got a text message from a friend yesterday morning to say she was sitting in a cafĂ© in Christchurch reading The Star, that city’s free weekly paper. She thought I might be interested to know that there were 26 letters to the editor in response to the paper’s publication (with my permission) of my recent article from The Spectator Australia about the state of New Zealand politics.

Shortly after that text arrived, Barry Clarke from The Star emailed me to say that the letter-writers were overwhelmingly in agreement with me. The letters filled two pages of the paper and Barry said there were others that he couldn’t find room for.  

My piece certainly seems to have struck some sort of chord. The previous week, I received an email from the Spectator Australia to say the article had attracted 20,000 page views on the magazine’s website.  That was within a couple of days of publication; I imagine there have been more since. I would also guess that a lot of those page views were from New Zealand, since Australians aren’t exactly noted for their fascination with affairs on this side of the Ditch.

I’m told too that Mike Hosking read excerpts of the article on his NewstalkZB breakfast show one morning last week.

You’re welcome to think that in telling you this, I’m skiting, but it’s not so. I wouldn’t claim for a moment that my article contained any startling new information, still less any blinding insights. The point is that it got a reaction because it said things that a lot of people were obviously thinking, but which they’re not accustomed to seeing printed in a mainstream paper.

I don’t regard this as reflecting favourably on me. Rather, it serves to highlight the depressing ideological uniformity of most published opinion in the New Zealand media. It shouldn’t be a novelty to read a mildly conservative opinion piece, but it is. What we used to call the broad-church press, where readers could expect a full range of views to be argued in editorials and opinion columns, is all but extinct. Many people feel so overwhelmed by the oppressive daily barrage of puritanical wokeism in the print media – much of it written by young university graduates with minimal life experience and a dangerous susceptibility to whatever argument is most emotionally appealing – that the appearance of even a single countervailing view has a strangely invigorating effect.

I’ve never purported to speak for “ordinary” New Zealanders, assuming any such creatures exist. What I would say with absolute certainty is that the mainstream media no longer speaks for them either – and more disturbingly, doesn’t even speak to them. Arthur Miller’s famous dictum that a good newspaper is a nation talking to itself no longer holds true. Not only are newspapers speaking to an increasingly narrow audience, but the conversation is being conducted in the ideological jargon of identity politics and the culture wars. It’s a language many New Zealanders don’t recognise or understand, and its purpose is not to inform but to lecture, browbeat and indoctrinate.

There are honourable exceptions, of course, and The Star appears to be one of them. From what I’ve seen, it’s a bright, newsy paper that’s prepared to row against the prevailing ideological current – a quality which its readers applaud, judging by the tone of this week’s letters. (It may be no coincidence that The Star is owned by the Otago Daily Times, the most traditional of the major New Zealand dailies, and still staunchly independent.)

One last thing. Several of the letter-writers complimented The Star, and me, on our supposed courage – me for writing the article, and The Star for publishing it. I can’t speak for The Star, but I don’t feel courageous and never have. It never occurred to me that you need courage to say what you think in what purports to be a free country. It’s our democratic birth right.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

A letter to Cam Wallace

I've just sent the following email to Cam Wallace, CEO of MediaWorks, which owns Magic FM and Magic Talk. If anyone else feels inclined to do the same, the email address is

Dear Mr Wallace,

I want to thank you for providing me with the incentive to download Spotify Premium after putting it off for many years.

Let me explain. For as long as it has existed, Magic FM has been my radio station of choice. As long as it played the type of music I wanted to hear (at least most of the time), I felt no need to turn to alternative sources.

That all changed with the announcement that Sean Plunket was leaving Magic Talk – obviously not out of choice, but because of pressure from virtue-signalling advertisers and online vigilantes.

I’m not a Magic Talk listener, but at that point I decided I could not, in conscience, support a media company that so timidly succumbed to pressure from corporate advertisers with no commitment to, or understanding of, the importance of free speech in a democracy.

Accordingly, Magic FM has been wiped from my radio pre-sets at home and in my car and I’m now happily streaming Spotify. As a bonus, I don’t have to listen to commercials (or Neil Diamond several times daily).

I don’t necessarily expect banks or telecoms companies to respect free speech principles, but I do believe a company that’s in the business of providing news and information should show a bit of spine.

Yours faithfully,

Karl du Fresne

I jumped the gun

Some readers of this blog may be puzzled by the disappearance of an item I posted yesterday relating to the Free Speech Coalition. There was nothing sinister about this. I took the post down when I realised the contents were not, at this stage, intended for wider circulation. Stay tuned, as they say. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

New Zealand is being transformed, but not in a good way

[I wrote this piece for the latest edition of The Spectator Australia.]

Prime minister Jacinda Ardern promised, on the night of her general election triumph last October, to govern for all New Zealanders. But her Labour government is pursuing policies that will entrench racial separatism, undermine democracy, turbocharge the grievance culture and promote polarisation and divisiveness.

The immediate threats come from proposals to outlaw “hate speech”, however that may be defined, and bestow special privilege on people who identify as Maori by allowing city and district councils to create exclusively Maori wards. In the longer term, the government is likely to seize on climate change as justification for policies that could deliver a savage blow to the country’s most dynamic productive sector.

Add to that the politicisation of education, in the form of a new, Marxist-influenced history curriculum that portrays Maori as a race still oppressed by colonialism, and you have a perfect ideological storm. New Zealand sometimes feels as if it’s in the grip of a Year Zero cult similar in tone, if not in scale, to that promoted in Pol Pot’s Kampuchea (Cambodia), where everything that had gone before was renounced.

To take those developments one by one:

■ Urged on by inflammatory rhetoric from an ideologically driven Human Rights Commission and a handful of vociferous immigrant activists whose views are at odds with those of their communities, Labour has vowed to introduce tight controls on what New Zealanders may legally say about matters of race and religion (and very likely gender and body shape too). The government cites the Christchurch mosque massacres as justification, although a royal commission failed to find any evidence that lax “hate speech” laws allowed or even encouraged Brenton Tarrant (who, it should be remembered, was an Australian) to embark on his killing spree.

■ Labour is encouraging the creation of designated Maori seats on city and district councils, despite the idea being resoundingly rejected by voters in local referendums wherever they have been proposed. A law change will not only give Maori (or more correctly, part-Maori) candidates a short cut to representation by enabling them to avoid the inconvenience of winning popular support, but will result in the election of councillors responsible only to people who claim Maori ancestry.

Under present law, any person of Maori descent can stand for office and win a seat, and many do. The crucial difference is that the law change will guarantee seats under a preferential, race-based system. The irony that this is being done in the name of racial equality is lost on leftist zealots.

■ The government is expected to embrace climate change recommendations that would punish the farming sector – now more than ever the country’s economic lifeline following Covid-19’s devastating effect on tourism. Farmers will be rewarded for keeping New Zealand afloat economically for more than 100 years by having their livestock numbers slashed and being ordered to replace diesel utes with electric vehicles.  Will this concern Labour MPs? Not likely, since hardly any represent rural constituencies and few show any interest in economic realities. For Labour, the economy is not so much about generating income as redistributing it.

■ Having shamefully ignored New Zealand history in the past, education bureaucrats have taken advantage of an ideological tail-wind by approving a draft curriculum that’s drenched in neo-Marxist identity politics and presents the country’s past as one characterised by the oppressive effects of colonialism on Maori. Will teachers be permitted to mention that colonialism also brought an end to centuries of savage tribal warfare, slavery and cannibalism? Don’t bank on it.

All of this would be alarming enough, but is made more so because no one is standing in the way. New Zealand First, the conservative government coalition partner that acted as a handbrake on Labour between 2017 and 2020, much to the chagrin of the Left, lost all its seats in the election – punishment for a record fatally tarnished by dodgy and opaque backroom dealings.

What, then, of the National party, nominally Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition? Reduced from 56 to 33 seats in the 120-seat parliament, National is in abject disarray – floundering, demoralised and apparently rudderless after its humiliating election rout.

Historically the dominant force in New Zealand politics, it seems to be waiting for a new messiah to guide it out of the wilderness. Current leader Judith Collins rejoices in the sobriquet “Crusher”, bestowed by the media when she was a tough-talking cabinet minister in John Key’s government, but Kitten would be a more appropriate nickname as she allows herself to be browbeaten almost daily by Labour cheerleaders in the parliamentary press gallery.

Ah yes, the press. In a properly functioning democracy, the media can be relied on, when all else fails, to hold governments to account; but not in New Zealand in 2021. Ardern and her government get a free run from admiring journalists – many of them young and female – who are enthralled that their prime minister is internationally feted as a model leader by left-leaning papers such as the New York Times and the Guardian. The media’s capture by the woke left was never better demonstrated than when the country’s biggest print company devoted acres of newsprint over several days to a hand-wringing mea culpa for decades of supposedly racist reporting that marginalised Maori.  

None of the above conveys adequately the scale or force of the ideological tsunami currently washing over New Zealand. Other manifestations include the almost complete takeover of the public conversation by proponents of divisive identity politics; the vindictive daily denunciations of people whose opinions, until quite recently, were considered not only legitimate but mainstream; and the massive power grab by people who have reclaimed (or rediscovered) their Maoriness.

The danger is that most New Zealanders, being essentially passive, easy-going and good-natured, will ignore the tumult and just try to get on with lives – until they wake up one morning and realise that the open, tolerant and fair-minded society they grew up in has irrevocably changed. 

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Police swoop on hateful bulldozer

 I was going to blog on this but Stephen Franks and the Free Speech Coalition have done it for me. Stephen’s statement draws attention to yet another of the multiple attacks being mounted on freedom of expression. (Note the Stuff story’s warning about an “offensive image”. Good grief.)

A complaint regarding an allegedly “offensive and racist” sign led to a visit from the police. The Marlborough man was ordered to cover the sign. Under what power? There is no offence of causing people to be offended – yet. We can thank our forebears for the essential principle that freedom of expression means nothing if it does not protect the speaker from those claiming to be offended. The handwritten sign was perfectly legal. 

Free Speech Coalition spokesperson Stephen Franks says “Whoever took this 'initiative' in the police should be told to pull their head in. The definition of a free country is being able to express your opinion on your own property without having cops knocking at your door.

“The way to deal with a sign you don’t like is to make your own sign, not call the police.

“The council claim this sign breached a bylaw against road signage clutter. That is patent nonsense. It was no more distracting than graffiti, and much less than the numerous Marlborough signs desperately seeking patrons for cellar doors, restaurants and accommodation. The assertion is a serious abuse of Council power, without regard to the protection for free speech in the NZ Bill of Rights Act.  

"I was in Parliament when we considered Council powers. With Nandor Tanczos, I managed to have the Local Government Act amended to prohibit by-laws which conflict with the Bill of Rights. The sign is not 'threatening, abusive or insulting,' which is the threshold for our offence of Racial Disharmony, in the Human Rights Act.”

“Is this is a trial run for police power to crush ‘non-crime hate incidents'  - a UK practice? Our useless Human Rights Commission is now chaired by an imported UK Corbyn acolyte, here to help Minister Little bring in his hate-speech law. FSC fears that our HRC will seek police powers to investigate, record and threaten people for ‘incidents of hate’ that are nevertheless legal. 
"This was ruled out by the Royal Commission on Hate Speech Laws for the very reason that such a practice is a massive, unwarranted expansion of police powers over people’s ability to speak freely. Minister Little, what do you say about the police harassment of the Marlborough Man?" 

Amen to all that.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

On Magic Talk and Maori wards

[UPDATE: Media outlets are confirming today that Sean Plunket has left Magic Talk amid the familiar, ritualistic "I would like to thank Sean for his contribution to the station" bromides. Nothing in the Mediaworks statement allays the misgivings outlined in this piece.] 

Where do I start? Okay, let’s begin with Sean Plunket.

Reports suggest the Magic Talk host has been, at the very least, put on gardening leave while his employers consider his future. This follows the sacking of John Banks for not challenging a caller who said Maori were a Stone Age people.

The self-anointed arbiters of what’s permissible on air, such as Duncan Greive of The Spinoff and Hayden Donnell of RNZ’s Mediawatch – both of whom are dancing, metaphorically speaking, on Banks’ grave – now assert the right to decide what line talkback hosts should take. Whatever this is, it’s not free speech.

Attacks on freedom of expression are coming from multiple directions: from a government that proposes to place new limits (conveniently vague at this stage, so as not to cause too much alarm) around what people may say on subjects such as race and religion; from woke vigilantes in mainstream and social media who campaign for the defenestration of non-woke broadcasters; and from cowed media bosses and corporate advertisers who show no commitment or loyalty to the values of the free, capitalist society in which they operate, and for whom defence of democratic values is less important than winning brownie points on left-leaning social media platforms.  

It was inevitable that with Banks gone, the vigilantes would be emboldened to go after Plunket – not for anything he’s said or done lately, but for historical transgressions. The existence of even one right-wing talkback host is an affront to the avenging angels of wokedom, who won’t be content until ideological homogeneity applies across the entire media.

In Magic FM and its owner, Mediaworks, they picked a company that was unlikely to put up much of a fight in defence of free speech. Mediaworks’ television arm, Three, has long been captured by the woke left – a fact apparent to anyone watching Newshub’s 6pm News or The Project – and its radio holdings consist almost entirely of music stations. Plunket must feel very isolated and vulnerable.

And I’m sorry, but I have to take issue here with something David Cumin of the Free Speech Coalition said recently about the Banks sacking. Cumin rightly rebuked Vodafone, Spark and Kiwibank not only for pulling their advertising from Magic Talk but for threatening to use their commercial power to influence the station’s future choice of hosts. But he also said, of Banks’ firing: “On the face of it, this seems to be a private company making a choice about who it employs, which it has every right to do” (the italics are mine).

I agree only partly. Companies operating in the field of news and current affairs have a responsibility not shared by purveyors of other commodities. As shapers of public opinion and providers of information of vital public interest, the news media perform a role central to the functioning of democracy.  This imposes obligations of fairness, accuracy and balance; but as long as we profess to be a free and open society, it also requires them to reflect the full spectrum of public opinion. 

So while it may be true in a general sense that companies  are entitled to employ whoever they like, in the news media this right is tempered by public interest considerations. Old-style media companies understood this and took their role very seriously; it was ingrained in the industry culture. I doubt that this remains true in 2021, when the traditional media business model has been blown to pieces and the focus is on survival.

Media companies must also be prepared to stand up to bullying advertisers, which brings me to a relevant anecdote. In the late 1980s, not long after I became editor of The Dominion, the chief executive of the newly corporatised Telecom – then the paper’s biggest advertiser – objected to the tone of the coverage his company was getting in our business pages and pulled all its ads. The boycott tore a gaping hole in our budget - this at a time when trading conditions were tough already - and caused the advertising manager to have conniptions. Pressure was applied on the board of INL, the Dom's parent company. But Mike Robson, then the managing director of INL and a seasoned newspaper man, backed the paper and stood firm. Our coverage of Telecom’s affairs continued unchanged and in due course, the company’s advertising resumed.

Would the same happen today? I’m not so sure. The general manager of Mediaworks, Cam Wallace, came from Air New Zealand – a corporate culture far removed from that of news and current affairs. Would a Magic FM manager be confident that Wallace would back him if a big advertiser tried to dictate the choice of hosts or their editorial line? Hmmm.

So John Banks' exchange with his caller about "Stone Age" Maori offended people. I found it offensive too (as well as plain stupid), but that’s one of the prices we pay for living in a free society. The people we have most to fear from are not shoot-from-the-lip provocateurs like Banks, but the authoritarian zealots who insist that they be silenced. The threat these censorious prigs pose to a democratic society is potentially far greater and more far-reaching than anything a bigoted talkback host might say to his limited band of followers. As the British columnist Bernard Levin once put it: “Any legally permissible view, however repugnant, is less dangerous promulgated than banned.” 

I constantly hear and read things that offend me, but I don’t react by insisting I should be protected from them. All I demand is that there should be room in the public conversation for a multitude of competing voices. That’s how democracy works: by exposing people to a range of views and trusting them to make up their own minds.

Trust; that’s a crucial factor here. The Left has always had a problem with trust. Leftist apparatchiks fret that people who are left to make up their own minds will make the wrong choices, so seek to lead them by limiting the range of ideas and opinions they are exposed to – which is why freedom of expression is such a crucial battleground in the so-called culture wars.

But of course there are other looming threats to liberal democracy, and none more urgent than Nanaia Mahuta’s proposal – disgracefully kept secret until the 2020 election was safely in the bag, and now being bulldozed through Parliament under urgency– to impose Maori wards on city and district councils by removing voters’ right to veto them.

This idea is obnoxious and anti-democratic on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to start. It strips away the majority’s right to determine the form of local government representation, it provides Maori (or more correctly, part-Maori) candidates with a short cut to power by bypassing the need to win popular support, and it will result in the election of candidates who feel responsible only to constituents who claim Maori ancestry. In all these respects, it subverts democracy. 

It also promises to solidify the Left's grip on local government, since Maori candidates mostly lean left. If there were such a historical figure as Gerry Mander, he’d be quietly whistling with admiration. 

The Maori wards proposition is built on a deliberate and dishonest falsehood. The argument goes that because there are not as many Maori councillors as the promoters of Maori wards think there should be, the only possible explanation is that a racist voting system is loaded against them.

But as Don Brash has pointed out: “The proportion of councillors who identify as Maori has been steadily increasing in recent years, and now almost exactly matches the proportion of Maori New Zealanders in the total population – 13.5% of all councillors were Maori in 2019, while according to the 2018 census Maori New Zealanders made up 13.7% of the total population.”

In other words, there is no deficit when it comes to Maori representation in local government. Democracy has done its job admirably by ensuring that Maori representation is almost exactly proportionate to the number of Maori in the general population. 

And even if that weren’t the case, the answer wouldn’t lie in rigging the system to favour Maori candidates. All that’s required is for more Maori to stand for office, and for other Maori to support them; or as an exasperated Kelvin Davis put it following council elections in 2016, “to get off their arses and vote”.

In fact the record has shown time and time again that where good Maori candidates put themselves forward, non-Maori voters too will support them and propel them into office. That rebuts the specious proposition that a racist system is loaded against them.

Here’s another canard: the reason voters have rejected Maori wards whenever the issue has been put to a referendum is that voters are racist. But I don’t believe for a moment that people vote against Maori wards because they don’t want Maori councillors. They do it because they intuitively understand that democracy is supposed to be colour-blind, and that candidates should get elected on the basis of merit rather skin colour. Voters get that, even if the Year Zero cultists in the government don’t.

Yet another patently false argument is that since voters are not able to veto geographically based wards, allowing them that right in respect of Maori wards can only be racially discriminatory. But the crucial difference is that geographical wards are created and arranged for reasons of administrative efficiency and equality (as far as possible) of representation. That has long been the case, not just in New Zealand but in democracies the world over. Exclusive Maori wards introduce another, entirely different, dynamic. It’s a huge leap from geographical wards to race-based ones, and I’m sure Mahuta is smart enough to know it.

Oh, and here’s another thing. If I were Maori, I would regard the creation of Maori wards as patronising in the extreme, since it assumes that Maori are incapable of getting elected without a leg-up.  As Simon Bridges said in Parliament, it’s an insult to suggest that Maori need special treatment.

The sad thing is that we can expect all these valid and cogent arguments against Maori wards to be dismissed as simply racist. Maori activists and their accomplices in the woke left have so distorted the definition of this word that they fling it at anyone who opposes their agenda, even for the most honourable and defensible reasons.

By promoting a fundamentally anti-democratic idea that supporters of genuine democracy feel compelled to oppose, the activists force their opponents into positions where they can then be conveniently dismissed as being motivated by blind prejudice. To paraphrase Edmund Blackadder, it's a tactic so cunning you could pin a tail on it and call it a weasel. 


Thursday, February 4, 2021

Thrashing a lame dog

As 2021 gradually ramps up politically, Newshub’s 6pm news bulletin has pretty much picked up where it left off in 2020 – that is to say, functioning as the government’s unofficial propaganda arm.

An example was its 6pm news bulletin on Monday, which opened with a folksy announcement of “a challenge for the team of five million” – as if this was some exciting new version of Top Town – and an invitation to viewers to help “save the planet”. What followed was essentially an exhortation to get behind the Climate Change Commission’s proposals for reducing carbon emissions. We came together to save the country from Covid-19, the message went; now we can do it again. Government spin doctors must have danced with delight.  

The supposed news item was presented in the form of a rallying call. It was couched in “let’s all do our bit” tones, rather as the BBC might have urged Londoners to keep their windows blacked out during the Blitz.  We were told that while the heavy lifting in the fight against global warming would be done by government and business, “there are lots of changes we [i.e. ordinary people - the plebs] can make”. There was no mention of the potentially massive economic disruption and upheaval that’s likely to result from the commission’s proposals. That might have frightened the punters.

The item was interspersed with a familiar Newshub speciality: namely, video clips of experts (at least we must assume they were presented as experts) explaining the significance of the climate change proposals. This would have been all very well if the talking heads had been identified, so that we could assess the merit of what they were saying, but they weren’t. For all we know they could have been paper-hangers or herd testers.

One “expert” was identified, but wrongly. Professor Bronwyn Hayward of Canterbury University – a cheerleader for the commission’s recommendations – was described as a scientist. In fact she’s a political scientist, a nonsense term that seeks to confer an aura of authority on an academic discipline that’s rife with ideological bias and totally devoid of scientific certainty.

The item ended with reporter Laura Tupou urging us to support the “overall kaupapa” (which means principle or policy, although that wasn’t explained) of a “clean green future for Aotearoa”. This wasn’t journalism; it was a PR exercise, made worse by Newshub’s expectation that viewers should know the meaning of a Maori word that only a small minority would be familiar with. Perhaps you could call it PR with a side-dish of social engineering.   

But wait, there was more. Further into the bulletin we found political editor Tova O’Brien indulging in her favourite sport: National-baiting. The tone of her item on National’s first caucus meeting of the year was sneering, her questions to Judith Collins (“How many Maori MPs are there in your caucus?”) and National MPs freighted with taunts and provocations.

I wonder whether Collins will eventually adopt a strategy for dealing with O’Brien’s mischief. “Bugger off, Tova, you’re wasting my time” might be a good start. Viewers would probably applaud, regardless of their feelings toward the National leader.

O’Brien thus carried on where she left off last year. But here’s the thing: the National Party, for now at least, is little more than a sideshow. It’s a party in abject disarray after the humiliating election result that O’Brien’s relentlessly disparaging coverage on the campaign trail helped to bring about.

What National is doing (or more accurately isn’t doing) isn’t news. With only 33 seats in a 120-seat parliament, it exercises no real power – so why is Newshub’s political editor expending so much energy on it? It's like thrashing a lame dog.

The real meat of political journalism is in what’s being decided on the ninth floor of the Beehive. That really does matter. But here we observe a strange dichotomy. The same Tova O’Brien who’s fearless when tormenting the floundering National Party purrs like a kitten when reporting on Jacinda Ardern and her ministers. The contrast in the tone of her coverage is striking.

On Wednesday night, for example, she uncritically parroted the government’s PR line on the release of the Covid-19 vaccine, extravagantly declaring that “New Zealand has struck gold” while conveniently ignoring concerns about contradictory political messages on the timing of the vaccination programme and false promises from Chris Hipkins to the effect that New Zealand “would be at the front of the queue”. Who needs highly paid press secretaries when the government has O’Brien spinning on its behalf?

We’re now told it will be the latter half of the year before most New Zealanders get their jabs, which is probably fine with most people, given that the pandemic appears – for the time being, at least – to be under control. But are we really expected to believe that a journalist who repeatedly holds Judith Collins’ feet to the fire over confected, inconsequential trifles can’t think of a few awkward questions to direct at Jacinda Ardern about the government’s handling of issues that actually matter, such as Covid-19, climate change, poverty and the housing crisis? We hear a great deal about the fashionable notion that journalists should hold the powerful to account, but there’s precious little evidence of it happening in Newshub’s political coverage.

Oh, and one more thing. On the same night that Newshub urged us to join the Great Leap Forward into a zero-emissions future, The Project (which follows the news on the same channel) featured an interview with Dave Grohl from American rock band the Foo Fighters.

Nothing startling about that, you might think, except that the interviewer was the prime minister’s partner, Clarke Gayford. No explanation was offered for Gayford’s involvement in the show, other than that he was a fan of the band (which was soon apparent from his star-struck demeanour), and there was nothing to suggest the interview couldn’t have been done just as well – and possibly a lot better – by any of the three regular panellists. So what was he doing there?

I’m old-fashioned enough to think that the relationship between media organisations and politicians should be kept at arm’s length, and that principle should extend to politicians’ intimate partners. The ideological leanings of The Project team are hardly a secret to regular viewers, but Gayford’s interviewing gig on the show suggested a connection altogether too cosy and incestuous for comfort.