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. 


Ricardo said...

Songs you never hear on National radio

- Unborn Child, Seals and Crofts
- Girl, you'll be a woman soon,soon you'll need a man" Neil Diamond
- Young Girl, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap
- Some Girls, The Stones
- Because I got high, Afroman

Karl du Fresne said...

Er, quite so, Ricardo. I'm just not sure how this relates to my blog post ...

Ken Millward said...

Couldn't agree more Karl, however even worse is Stuffed news to which I cancelled my subscription two years ago. My wife however often buys the Sunday Star times, (for the recipes) last time I looked at it every single columnist (even the business ones)were simply rabid left wing sycophants of Jacinda. It seems the general populace are quite content
to be fed half truths, feel good sound bites and down right lies as our once fine country
lurches down the path to becoming a banana republic.

Ken Millward

Odysseus said...

The "team of five million" motif recalls the idea of Volksgemeinschaft, "the people's community", which includes the suppression of individualism and of any questioning of the government's record or direction. Clearly the media have submitted themselves to the service of the State in this regard - are they still being paid for this or is their ideological subservience now purely voluntary? Other interesting recent developments include contempt for electoral democracy, as seen in Minister Mahuta's decision to abolish retrospectively and without public consultation referenda on Maori wards, and the increasing hostility of the "Woke" towards political liberalism of the old-fashioned kind. The new history syllabus for schools makes especially depressing reading - it is ideologically driven dogma designed to indoctrinate rather than educate. The coming "hate speech" laws will also help quell any dissent. We also have the glorification of youth in the persona of the leader herself and her partner, as well as youth oriented propaganda shows like the wretched "The Project". There is indeed a strong media and popular bias towards rule by the youthful and physically attractive elite, as opposed to the dowdy and less attractive members of other political parties.

What do each of these things have in common, perhaps you ask? Well, they are all hallmarks of fascism, in this case the fascism of the Left. Is that where we are arriving to?

Karl du Fresne said...

P.S. You could also have mentioned Go Away Little Girl (Steve Lawrence) and Younger Girl (The Lovin' Spoonful). Oh, and You're Having My Baby (Paul Anka) always winds them up.

Johno said...

Music is rather full of pedophilia themes if you look. Billy Idol's "Rock the Cradle of Love". Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll be a Woman Soon". Dragon's "Are you old enough?". The Knack's "My Sharona". The Rolling Stones "Stray Cat Blues". The Police's "Don't stand by me" even mentions Nabokov!

A bit creepy so I try not to think too much about it.

Ricardo said...


A somewhat late evening attempt to insinuate media/ideological bias even through music. Easier to do with regard to National Pravda, harder with commercial stations, understandably so. It was fun at least checking the lyrics.

hughvane said...

Firstly Karl, I urge you to seek a more public outlet for your sage observations. We are your readers and supporters, but we appear to be small in number. More people need to read what you have to say.

So it’s 2030 for the Golden Green Era, the bubble dream of the Nutters of Ideological Looney Land. The proponents must be on/from a faraway place where stardust is what they breathe and eat. And to think we’re virtually powerless to stop them until 2023.

I wonder how Labour will try to pull the wool over the population’s eyes meantime. Stand by for lots of handouts; plus a number of farmers getting out of it between now and then.

Who’s the Min of Ag? The Silent One, can’t recall his name, so seldom is it seen or mentioned, he whom we might rightly expect to come out fighting for the farming sector.

Andy Espersen said...

The core ethics in (western, democratic) news media have been accepted and acknowledged for a long time. First principles here are Accuracy, Fairness and Balance. Your blog article here shows throughout, like a red thread, that those principles no longer hold sway among some of our media agencies - although an independent press plays a vital role in a democracy. Most journalists honestly believe that their chief mission in life is to educate us “plebs” (you used that word, Karl – bravo!) to their woke attitude to life – fairness, balance and correctness be damned.

And, sadly, so far it appears as if they are getting away with it, in so many spheres of action - because of the amazing (and frightening) effectiveness of modern mass communication. H. L. Mencken observed, “No one in this world, so far as I know … has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.”

However, I rather believe : You can fool all people some of the time – you can fool some people all of the time – you cannot fool all people all of the time.

Mama_zee said...

A very good read,most enjoyable,
Lots of good comments too!

Doug Longmire said...

Well said Karl. And I agree with Hugh's thoughts.
The media in New Zealand are slavishly fawning over the Princess of Niceness, and any differing opinion is either ignored, mis-reported or attacked.

New Zealand produces approx 0.17% of global emissions (= 1/600th). Totally insignificant.

The other night, I heard the P.M. say on TV that this was the most significant thing she had done. (referring to her climate change action)

Well - of course !! Climate change is a much higher priority than child poverty, housing shortages, child abuse statistics, rampant methamphetamine, gangs, Covid 19 etc

CXH said...

Doug, it is the most significant thing she has done because she has done nothing else to compare it to. The first majority government since MMP was instituted and she has done nothing with this extraordinary power. Muttering on about covid and how the growing abysmal statistics are disappointing.

I feel if she goes down this path until the next election labour will be changing places with National. Not that they are much better.

Andy Espersen said...

CXH - I disagree. By doing nothing at all, Jacinda stands a much better chance of a 3rd term.

CXH said...

Andy, that certainly is a possibility. However there are some things that need fixing fast. They are all problems that have been growing for decades under all political parties. Before the onset of covid she had done nothing to be transformational and was looking like being the first single term leader in a long time. Her covid actions have been set up as she is a Saint by the media. But things are rapidly imploding in our society and she needs to get moving.

A big problem I can see is when the world finally opens up again, what happens to the younger population. Stay in NZ where you can never afford to buy a place to live, or take your skills elsewhere, to places you can get ahead in.

People are wanting to see and hear more than a coy flick of the hair and an request to be kind.

Andy Espersen said...

CXH - I suggest you join the ACT party - or at the very least send them a donation. Here is the only realistic, political voice at present. And do some lobbying here - convey your ideas to them. (I recall that Karl du Fresne voted ACT this time).

It would not surprise me if National and ACT come together formally within this parliamentary term - perhaps with Seymour as leader and Collins as deputy! Most of their votes came from National - in other words National split. Such political coalition would easily beat the Labour-Greens.

Hilary Taylor said...

CXH...but are they? I am...some of my circle are beginning to, but many are thrilled to be able to coast under her spell. Even those young ones unable to buy homes. Style over substance with knobs on, though I can't even stomach the lame 'style'. Karl is on the button again. Tova O is repellant and combined with the insufferable Project means TV3 never gets switched to for current affairs. TV1 no better, incestuous relationship there is Mutch-McKay.

CXH said...

Andy, I did give my party vote to ACT. I was having similar thoughts about ACT and National forming some sort of alliance,but I think it is time for Judith, Gerry etc to step away.

CXH said...

Hillary, there is still over two years to go. Jacinda has now changed from being transformational to foundational, whatever that means.

As for TV. 'news' I have long ignored it. It has become an entertainment show pushing agendas rather than news. Opinions to precedence over facts.

hughvane said...

CXH - I think you're right (Feb 7), the 'old guard' has to give way. From my perspective, the Nats are still struggling to comprehend the extent of loathing generated (not from me I might add) by their final three years in power. JC/GB were part of that. Hopefully the New/Young Turks will reflect deeply on the Nats' past performances and attitudes, and learn valuable lessons for the sake of this country's welfare.