Review: TV3’s The Nation – “Let them eat ice cream!”

By   /   May 25, 2014  /   26 Comments

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The one word that came to mind as I watched the episode was: revulsion. Not revulsion at the fact that our once proud egalitarian nation is now one of the most unequal on the face of this planet – but revulsion at the injection of humour in interviews; panel discussion, and levity between the hosts, Lisa Owen and Patrick Gower.

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TV3 - The-Nation - poverty - inequality

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In the last three years I have been truly outraged and sickened only twice when watching a current affairs/documentary programme. The first was Bryan Bruce’s “Inside Child Poverty“, broadcast back on 22 November 2011.

Bryan presented the viewer with a country of increasing child poverty, disease, low-quality housing; and growing inequality that few of us (except hardcore ACT and National supporters) would have believed possible in a wealthy country like New Zealand. Especially a country which once prided itself on egalitarianism, fairness, and looking after those less fortunate than the privileged Middle Classes.

The second time was just recent – watching TV3’s current affairs programme,  The Nation, on 24 May. The one word that came to mind as I watched the episode was: revulsion. Not revulsion at the fact that our once proud egalitarian nation is now one of the most unequal on the face of this planet – but revulsion at the injection of humour in interviews; panel discussion, and levity between the hosts, Lisa Owen and Patrick Gower.

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Hosts for TV3's "The Nation", Lisa Owen and Patrick Gower

Hosts for TV3’s “The Nation”, Lisa Owen and Patrick Gower

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I am not even referring to Patrick Gower “interviewing” Ben Uffindell, editor of the satirical blogsite, The Citizen. Though one certainly has to question why this segment was deemed worthy of insertion? What was the point of suggesting that children living in poverty – many of whom go to school without food (or  are given “food” that is of dubious nutritional value); no shoes; no rain coats; or lacking other items which Middle Class families take for granted – would find it funny to be given ice cream or a South American animal?

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TV3 - The Nation - Ben Uffindell

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I recall a legend of someone else trying to “make light” of the plight of the poor. That person suggested cake, in lieu of ice cream.

The highly talented Mr Uffindell has never been  invited to comment on other pressing issues and problems confronting our country. So why start with inequality and associated problems with child poverty? A question I posed to The Nation, via Twitter;

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TV3 - The Nation - inequality -  Twitter feed 24 May 2014

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So why is levity suddenly the order-of-the-day when poverty and inequality is under the media microscope?

Because we are “just laughing at ourselves” some might say?

No. We are not “laughing at ourselves”. We are laughing at the thought  of children, living in  poverty, being given free ice cream and llamas.

We are not “laughing at ourselves”.  We are laughing at children and families living in poverty – at their expense.

That is the difference.

Funnily enough, there was certainly no humour on  The Nation (10 may) when ACT’s Jamie Whyte proposed a  flat tax policy. Where was the mirth? The satirical hilarity? Where was the wink-wink-nudge-nudge repartee between The Nation’s hosts?

Any humour must have been lost amongst the rustling sound of $100 bills been eagerly counted…

TV3 - The Nation - Torben Akel

Bill English stated in the above video,

“Income inequality has not got worse. In fact we’re one of two developed countries where the OECD has recently as yesterday have said it’s stable since 1994. And in fact in the last few years there’s some indications it’s fallen slightly.”

Torben Akel asked for evidence to back up English’s claims;

“What we got was a page lifted from a new OECD report with a graph showing income inequality here in 2010 was less than it was in the mid nineties.”

So the “new” OECD report was based on  data, taken in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis and resulting Recession?! Data that was four years old?!

Akel continued with this – and here is the relevant bit;

“As for what had happened in the last few years, we were directed to the Ministry of Social Development’s household incomes report, released last July. And specifically, this graph, which shows why the Beehive [is] so sure our income gap isn’t growing.”

A cover of the Report flashed on our television screens;

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TV3 - The Nation - inequality -  household incomes in New Zealand - Bryan Perry

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The document above is Bryan Perry’s Household incomes in New Zealand: Trends in indicators of inequality and hardship 1982 to 2011. It used data from Treasury to assess child poverty in this country;

“To calculate disposable income Statistics New Zealand uses the Treasury’s tax-benefit microsimulation model (Taxwell1) to estimate tax liabilities for individuals and benefit units. The resulting personal disposable incomes are summed to give disposable household income. Disposable household income is sometimes referred to as net income or after-tax cash income.”

– p25

“The Treasury has also developed a set of weights for use with its HES-based tax-benefit microsimulation model, Taxwell. The Taxwell weights include the number of beneficiaries as one of the key benchmarks, in accordance with Treasury’s primary use for the HES in the Taxwell model. Treasury’s Taxwell weights therefore provide a better estimate, for example, of the number of children in beneficiary families, although to achieve this there has been a trade-off with achieving other benchmarks…”

-p33

“We know that the estimates using Statistics New Zealand’s weights consistently under-estimate the number of beneficiaries compared with the administrative data. Generally, the estimates using the Treasury’s Taxwell weights are closer to the administrative data, but the sampling error from the HES can still lead to either or both weighting regimes under- or over-estimating the population numbers. “

-p128

The relevance of all this?

As reported back in February, Treasury had under-estimated the level of children living in poverty, as Bernard Hickey wrote on the 28th,

“Treasury and Statistics said in a joint statement they had double counted accommodation supplements in estimates of household disposable income between 2009 and 2012, which meant incomes were over-estimated by NZ$1.2 billion and the number of children in families earning less than 50% of the median income was under-estimated by 25,000.”

For those who want to read the actual Media Statement from Treasury,  can be found here: Media Statement: Data error prompts process improvements. Refer to the table headed “Miscalculation – Scale – Key statistics affected”.

Bryan Perry’s revised report can be found here: Household incomes in New Zealand: Trends in indicators of inequality and hardship 1982 to 2012 Revised Tables and Figures
27 February 2014. In it, he states,

“The revised trend-line figure is 32.9 compared with 32.7 [Gini Co-efficient] before the corrections. The trend line is still flat.”

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TV3 - The Nation - inequality -GINI inequality 1992 - 2012 - Bryan Perry

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(The Gini Co-efficient measures inequality, with the higher the value, the lower the equality in income.)

The”trend line” may still be “flat”, but I submit to the reader that for a family on low income; paying exorbitant rent; in a cold, damp house, with very little food in the pantry and fridge – it matters very little.

What does matter is that since 1984, before the Neo-Liberal “revolution”, the Gini Coefficient was only 28.

It is now 37.7.

We are going in the wrong direction.

So not only are National’s claims not backed up by evidence; not only has data been found to be incorrect; but also Torben Akel and The Nation’s research team missed the obvious; inequality has worsened since 1984.

Falling home ownership rates are another indicator which confirm increasing inequality in this country (and throughout the rest of the world).

The Nation’s comedic episode continued with this exchange between hosts Lisa Owen and Patrick Gower, and panellists, author Max Rashbrooke, and right-wing commentator and National Party cadre, Matthew Hooton;

Lisa Owen: “Let’s change to a lighter note. The Civilian Party. Let’s be clear. That was a bit of fun. It was tongue in cheek, if anyone’s confused about that out there. Do we need this in an election year. Do we need some humour?”

Max Rashbrooke: “Oh I think, absolutely. I mean it’s great to see Ben do his thing with the Civilian [Party].

If there’s a problem though, it’s that some of his policies which he puts out as satire, are actually quite close to reality. I mean he talks about we should tax the poor, more. Well actually, if you add up income tax and gst, people on low incomes are paying pretty much the same proportion of their income in tax as people at the top half. If you added capital gains into that story, the poor are probably paying a bigger chunk of their income than the rich are.”

Patrick Gower: “And, and, I, I agree with you there. Because llamas, in my opinion have been dodging tax for years and years, and until someone moves on that loophole, um…”

[general hilarity ensues]

Then Matthew Hooton had to go spoil it all by getting All Serious again, and witter on about Paradise in Scandinavia with more of his skewed ‘spin’ on those country’s taxation system.

Yup. Poverty and rising inequality. A laugh a minute.

What next on The Nation – point and laugh at people with disabilities?

“Jolly good fun”!

Postscript

TVNZ’s Q+A on  25 May also had Ben Uffindell as a guest. As usual, his wit was on form. The big, big difference between Q+A and The Nation? On the former, he satirised and poked fun at politicians. On the latter, the targets for laughter were children in poverty.

Draw your own conclusions.

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References

TV3: Inside Child Poverty

TV3: Child poverty doco ‘apolitical’ – filmmaker

TV3: Party calls for free ice-cream and llamas

Twitter: Frank Macskasy/The Nation

TV3: ACT leader steals thunder in minor party debate

TV3: New Zealand’s record on inequality

Ministry of Social Development: Household incomes in New Zealand: Trends in indicators of inequality and hardship 1982 to 2011

Hive News: Inequality data error revealed

NZ Treasury: Media Statement: Data error prompts process improvements

Ministry of Social Development: Household incomes in New Zealand: Trends in indicators of inequality and hardship 1982 to 2012 Revised Tables and Figures
27 February 2014

Wikipedia: Gini Coefficient

Statistics NZ: 2013 Census – Trend of lower home ownership continues

TV3: Panel – Patrick Gower, Max Rashbrooke and Matthew Hooton

Other blogs

The Standard: Snapshot of a nation: inequality

 

 


 

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Skipping voting is not rebellion its surrender

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

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= fs =

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26 Comments

  1. bill mason says:

    The biggest outrage is Ben Uffindell’s cringing delivery and awkward humour. It may be a great read, but it makes for awful television.

    • Hmmmm, that’s a fair point, Bill…

      Ben’s “performance” seems better in the printed word than in person.

      But then again, I think the same might apply to me as well. I get more than a bit tongue-tied with a microphone or camera shoved in my face…

    • phillip ure says:

      i called that gower/uffindell piece as setting a new benchmark in ‘unfunny’..

      ..either in or out of that poverty-piece context..

      ..and gower seems to think he is some sorta wisecracker/’wit’..

      ..he ain’t…

  2. Marc says:

    In my view “Mr Uffindell” is such a dreary kind of character, I am always struggling to see anything “funny” in his difficult tries to make jokes. I am not saying he is stupid or so, he just comes across like some form of nerd like “know it all” and “wannabe something”, he does NOT appeal to me.

    His Civilian may have had the odd good piece published in it, but it generally underwhelmed me.

    Yes, I agree, it seemed totally out of place in that program, and all these forced “smiles” by Gower and others appeared rather “awkward” to me. If this is supposed to be Kiwi humour, I dread to see what “seriousness” is meant to look and sound like. Being just silly and plain ridiculous does not equate to good quality humour.

    No, there are others here that can do better, in a better framing.

    • Cheers, Marc. Personally, I find a lot of Ben’s stuff (to me) is pretty good humour and he usually hits his target with unerringly, laser-like focus.

      I guess humourists/comedians/satirists occassionally say/write/do things that fall flat – and this bit about child poverty falls into that category. I don’t think Ben did it deliberately – he just didn’t quite think it through.

      But “The Nation’s” producer(s) though are another pottle-of-paua entirely and they should have known better.

      As a side-note, I asked someone who is not as much politically-inclined as I am to view the show (on TV3+1) and she cringed as well.

      I’d be interested to hear from others who viewed it to get their reactions…

      • In Vino says:

        I see it as rather black humour, but not necessarily directed cruelly at the poor children. Rather the silly futility of some of the measures proposed. A free school breakfast may help some kids in class for a while, but maybe it does not do a great deal to lift them out of poverty. It is, of course, more useful than a free llama, but how much more? In the big scale of things, many small measures proposed by well-meaning people can seem silly in comparison to what is really called for. This kind of humour can throw such incongruity into relief. I saw only the Uffindel excerpts, so cannot comment on the rest.
        Ah… I now see that I agree with Aaron’s post below.

      • Maama says:

        I too found the interview with Uffindel as unbelievable trash. How anyone can jest about fellow NZ’ers struggling to survive and especially children living in poverty, show’s just how disconnected with reality these clowns appear. Last week many NZ’ers took part in the 40 hour famine, many to see what it is like to live in an others shoes. I guarantee none would want to live like that permanently. To think it is humorous to offer ice creams or llamas shows absolute disdain. Tongue in Check – I think not. Ignorance more the point.

  3. Stuart Munro says:

    I found Gower’s seizing of the topic and asserting that Labour are obliged to ignore poverty or redistribution to chase the ‘centre’ votes improper. Surely this determination is not up to journalists.

    Further, given that the median income is under $30k, the ‘centre’ might well find themselves in favour of more distributive justice. Gower’s prescription is really that Labour should target right-of-centre, higher earning voters. Although they have support among middle class academics and professionals, these groups are rather educated and informed, and thus not necessarily as wedded to neo-liberal orthodoxy as certain journalists.

  4. Aaron says:

    I didn’t watch the show but I when read the Civilian Party policies I saw them as mocking the pitiful efforts of the governments attempts to ‘help’ poor children.

    To labour the point (and generally explain the joke) you could say the National parties efforts to help poor children have been so useless they might as well have given each of them a Llama instead.

    And no, it’s not very funny but that’s usually the case when jokes have to be explained

  5. JC says:

    The left need to lighten up, though that might be difficult in the light of tonight’s polls. If we don’t have a bit of levity in election year it will be very hard going. Just take the man for what he is, a satirist. Having said that, anyone who wants to get rid of Hamilton gets my vote.

  6. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10827418
    Paula Bennett saying the poverty line is not a priority and won’t be investigated any further. 2012 poverty was at 20% apparently.

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11211099
    Feb 2014 – 50% of elderly and 27% of children live in poverty. What’s the excuse now for Nat supporters, they can’t blame the parents of elderly of wasting all their money on alcohol, drugs and gambling.

  7. Torben says:

    Frank
    Yes the OECD data given to us by English’s office was four years old. That’s why I said “As for what had happened in the last few years…”
    I’m well aware of the errors in the original MSD report released last July, and that is why I used the revised figures for both my graphs.
    Your own reference to the Gini Coefficient cites the After Housing Costs (AHC) measure of 37.7 – I cited the Before Housing Costs (BHC-1) figure. Both show little to no growth in the Gini co-efficient from 1998-2012.
    My Gini graph made it clear there had been a steep increase since what I called
    “the egalitarian early 80s”
    Torben

    • Priss says:

      Torben (Akel?) why did you make your starting point at 1998 when Frank’s graphs clearly show an increase in inequality since 1982?

      In which case, that clearly shows English to be lying, wouldn’t it?

      And why show BEFORE HOUSING COSTS, when housing takes a big portion out of low and fixed income earners paypackets, leaving little for other essentials like power and food?

      • Torben says:

        My graphs’ starting points were all 1982.
        The focus of the story was whether inequality had risen in the last 2 terms.
        Had there been a significant difference between the Gini figures for BHC and AHC in the last 2 decades I would have used AHC, but there wasn’t.
        Torben Akel

        • Kia ora Torben, and thank you for taking the time to address some of the points I raised in my blogpost above. (I understand from my own contacts in the msm how busy you folks are in your work.)

          In your video-report (http://www.3news.co.nz/New-Zealands-record-on-inequality/tabid/1348/articleID/345603/Default.aspx), at 1.10, English stated in response to a question from Labour’s David Parker;

          “Income inequality has not got worse. In fact we’re one of two developed countries, where the OECD as recently as yesterday have said it’s stable since 1994. And in fact in the last few years there’s some indication it’s fallen slightly.”

          The revised version of Bryan Perry’s report Household incomes in New Zealand: Trends in indicators of inequality and hardship 1982 to 2011 states that, according to AHC (After Housing Costs), inequality has risen from 36.8 (2007) to 37.7 (2012).

          You are correct in that BHC (Before Housing Costs) show a 0.1 percentage point drop (or no change). As others have pointed out, this anomaly may be as a result of GFC factors rather than any domestic government policy.

          The question is; why would you want to use Before Housing Costs? Surely, it is pretty much common sense that housing plays the greatest part in terms of inequality and hardship?

          The distinction seems arbitrary, at best.

          Secondly, taking the AHC increase, it is apparent that income inequality has indeed increased since 2007 – the “last two terms”, as you put it.

          It most certainly has not “fallen slightly”, as English claimed.

          English would have known that fact, as Perry’s revised figures were made public on (or around) 27 January this year.

          Your suggestion;

          “Had there been a significant difference between the Gini figures for BHC and AHC in the last 2 decades I would have used AHC, but there wasn’t.”

          – seems to fly in the face of Perry’s (revised) stats – the very one you say you are using. Unless we are looking at competely different figures, all three of Perry’s figures – BHC1, BHC2, and AHC – show an increase from 1992;

          ______1992___2012

          BHC1__31.1___32.4

          BHC2__30.1___31.7

          AHC___34.9___37.7

          The After Housing Costs figures show the greatest rise – a 2.8 point rise in two decades.

          So, taking this to it’s logical conclusion, the up-shot is;

          1. Inequality has increased since 2007.

          2. It is not “stable” as English claimed.

          3. It has not “fallen slightly” as English insisted.

          Therefore, any fact-checking should have addressed that one simple statement from English and compared it to the revised AHC figures; inequality has risen from 36.8 (2007) to 37.7 (2012).

          Otherwise, what was the point?

          Factor in falling home ownership rates, and no one could possibly deny that inequality is increasing in this country.

          • As I mentioned to Torben,

            “As others have pointed out, this anomaly may be as a result of GFC factors rather than any domestic government policy. “

            This is backed up by similar research in the UK, where a study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies: Inequality and Poverty Spreadsheet shows a similar “drop” in Before Household Costs inequality – http://www.closerprogramme.co.uk/wordpress/?page_id=1619

            The “drop in inequality” – as with the Perry Report, covers the same post-GFC period.

            As an interesting by-note, the greatest rise in inequality is post 1980 – when Margaret Thatcher’s right wing policies were implemented. The rise in inequality levels out (more or less) post-1990, when Thatcher was thrown out of office.

            Quite strikingly, the same rate of growth in inequality is shown here in NZ from the mid-/late 1980s, through the 1990s, when our own rightwing Rogernomics/Ruthenasia “reforms” were implemented.

            Coincidence?

            Yeah.

            Nah.

            Just something else for Torben and “The Nation” team to consider…

          • Torben says:

            Appreciate your comments, Frank, but my script was sound. Keep up the good work though!

      • You beat me to it, Priss.

  8. J says:

    I was so personally outraged by what should have been such a serious look at inequality that I probably went too far…

    ‘Subject: the game show of the week

    Don’t tell me Lisa and Paddy,umm, umm, let me guess, The Nation is a umm, umm game show now.

    But, tell me, Lisa and Paddy, where are the bells and whistles, the flashing lights, where are the poor people you can push on to the stage so that we can all laugh at them and blame them for everything, force them to take their clothes off and rush past your panellists with dogs barking at their heals.

    Oh sorry, that was the NaZi game show, I watched decades back.

    How low you have fallen.’

    (Like I said, my outrage got the better of me, but that’s exactly how the Nazis treated their scapegoats in concentration camps and how the German people ‘saw’ the Jewish people.

    The New Zealand people are far too nice to be that bad aren’t they?)

  9. J says:

    I knew that Patrick Gower was a bovver boy for John Key, but I believed Lisa Owen was there to add the serious, objective journalist POV.

    I am so wrong about her. She was very good when on a while ago, as a political programme presenter.

    ‘If one does not get involved in politics one is likely to be governed by one’s inferiors.’ Too late for NZ, I guess, Plato.

  10. Robert says:

    The llamas and icecream bloke was not sublime satire but neither was his routine anything more than standard dark kiwi sense of humour . To get terribly upset about it marks one out as coming from a different culture to kiwi culture or as being a bit on the humourless side.

  11. J says:

    Robert, just in case you were referring to my two posts; I was discussing the appalling behaviour of Lisa Owen and Patrick Gower, not Ben Uffindell. Satire always has a place. Ben is a very clever man. I ‘got’ the over the top offer of a Llama. (Ben for Prime Minister – can’t be worse than the present one. Probably just what we deserve, really.)

    But, shame the balance of the show then became an ugly satire on our continuing belief that NZ is in any way an egalitarian country for all of the people. That wasn’t satire; that wasn’t a joke. That was just plain unfeeling bad manners.

    By the way, ‘can’t you take a joke, mate’ or ‘haven’t you got a sense of humour?’ was always a cover-up for being abusive.

    Ask any woman who is the butt of sexist jokes. Ask any man who is accused of being a girlie because he’s not keen on rugby and glugging beer.

  12. J says:

    The Jokers rule: Says so much about New Zealand politics. But like I said, they can’t be any worse than the current government and at least the poor get to eat and get free transport under the civilian party. (See, I can do dark Kiwi sense of humour, too.)

    Joke party gets $33,600 for broadcasting
    15:00 Sat Jun 7 2014

    The Civilian Party is getting $33,600 to promote its policies of llamas for the poor and independence from Hamilton, angering the Taxpayers’ Union.
    Ben Uffindell (TVNZ)

    A joke party whose policies include free ice cream, llamas for poor children and independence from Hamilton is getting thousands of dollars of funding from taxpayers.