I got a text message from a friend yesterday morning to say she was sitting in a café 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.