Democracy and Cancer: A critical analysis of Dirty Politics

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Twenty years ago, England’s renowned television playwright Denis Potter died of pancreatic cancer.  Readers may recall his two masterpieces ‘Pennies from Heaven’ and ‘The Singing Detective’.  During a final television interview with Melvyn Bragg, Potter declared that he had named his cancer ‘Rupert’, as in Rupert Murdoch, because:

There is no one person more responsible for the pollution of what was already a fairly polluted press.  And the pollution of the British press is an important part of the pollution of British political life, and it’s an important part of the cynicism and misperception of our realities that is destroying so much of our political discourse.

The recent News of the World hacking trial revealed a cancerous growth throughout the British establishment.  Rebekah Brookes, proxy of Rupert Murdoch, and Andy Coulson, former aide to Prime Minister, David Cameron, ruined private lives through the News of the World in order to sell newspapers, please Murdoch and advance their own careers.  Their ideological objective was to humiliate left-wing political figures, especially those who challenged News International.  Meanwhile, successive governments cravenly deferred to Murdoch’s interests, their political futures were at stake.  The Guardian’s disclosure that the News of the World  had hacked the phone of Milly Dowler, a missing Surrey schoolgirl inadvertently highlighted the extent of Murdoch’s interests.  As News International was attempting to takeover BskyB, Murdoch titles attacked the BBC and Ofcom, the UK’s media regulator.  David Cameron’s culture secretary was about to approve the takeover just as the hacking scandal erupted.  When Parliament immediately blocked the deal, the extent of the cancer first diagnosed by Denis Potter was exposed for all to see.

A similar moment has arrived in New Zealand with the release of Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics: how attack politics is poisoning New Zealand’s political environment.  After reading the book and observing the fall out, I would say this:  the United Kingdom is in worse health, but we are catching up fast.  Both the New Zealand body politic and media system are in a condition of decline.  I will now provide a diagnostic history of the disease, identify recent symptoms, and suggest appropriate remedies.

Diagnostic history

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A healthy democracy requires public spheres of communication which guarantee freedoms of association, expression and publication.  Citizens, groups and intellectuals should be allowed to confer without restriction on matters of shared interest.  In principle, public sphere activities should proceed independently of state power, religious authority, and undue commercial influence.  Public sphere activities and their lack can be evaluated within many environments, I will restrict myself here to the political process and the media domain.

Let’s begin with the 1970s, my favourite decade.  Most people will instantly think Muldoon; accumulator of executive power, arch-intimidator of political opponents, in parliament, through the media, and with the help of the SIS.  Yet, it is also worth remembering the growth of public sphere principles and practices.  The press gallery was expanding and long-form current affairs television emerged: Gallery, Close Up, Dateline Monday, News at Ten.  Television New Zealand (TVNZ) and Radio New Zealand (RNZ) became established institutions.  The latter allowed radio programmes, such as In the News, Checkpoint and Viewpoint to provide political commentary.  Contentious issues of the day played out across the print and broadcasting media; Māori land rights,  equal power for women, Vietnam, trade union militancy, forest conservation, and sporting contact with apartheid South Africa.  Journalists tackled volatile topics, such as race relations, gang culture, drug use, student protests and police corruption.  The political system was forced to absorb the national argument between the new social movements and the conservative depression/World World II generation.  One must acknowledge here that the first-past-the-post electoral system diluted the popular vote and entrenched hierarchies within caucus and cabinet.

As the decade unfolded, political debate over New Zealand’s economic direction ranged from left corporatism (Labour Party Left) to regulatory Keynesianism (Muldoon) and monetarism (National Party right).  Overall, the 1970s score reasonably well on a public sphere checklist; New Zealand democracy had ailments, but was healthy by world standards.

During the early 1980s, Muldoon ruthlessly exploited democratic weaknesses in the political system.  During the 1981 Springbok tour, the police and intelligence agencies were used against protesters.  Later that year, our first-past-the-post electoral system allowed National to regain office with less than the popular vote.  As both Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Muldoon was able to institute a wage-price freeze, threaten budget cuts to broadcasting organisations and appear regularly on television to frame news agendas.  After Labour’s snap-election victory of July 1984, it seemed that democracy itself had prevailed.  This impression was mistaken.  Behind the celebration of victory and the demonization of Muldoon, new forms of cancer set in which are still with us today.

Firstly, under Finance Minister Roger Douglas, Labour abandoned its election manifesto.  Neo-liberal economic policies were introduced in accordance with a Treasury publication, Economic Management.

Secondly, New Zealand’s political economy became less democratic.  Treasury acted as a conduit between powerful elements of the corporate economy and the most influential cabinet ministers, who in turn dominated the major policy committees.  Key Treasury officials actively supported neo-liberal zealots from the New Zealand Centre of Independent Studies.  Such organisations belonged to a new milieu of think tanks, lobbyists, consultants, and professional mediators.  Groups such as Consultus, Communicor and Strategos devised publicity strategies for financiers, corporate heads, state-owned enterprise managers, the Reserve Bank, Treasury and senior cabinet ministers.  This collusive network of power reduced the influence over government policy of traditional pressure groups (especially unions and manufacturers), parliament and parliamentary watchdogs (eg the Ombudsman and Auditor General).  Thirdly, Labour and subsequent National Governments built an entire stratum of private pollsters, spin doctors, image consultants, public relations practitioners, and other communications specialists to manage the news and undercut opposition to unpopular policies, such as privatisation.  News journalists were swamped by advertising and public relations campaigns designed to promote neo-liberal policy initiatives, such as personal income tax ‘reforms’, the privatisation of Telecom, the Employment Contracts Act, and the restructuring of public health administration.  In these and other cases, public relations firms advised on how to pre-empt potential conflict by monitoring the fears, doubts and desires of ordinary citizens.  Market research opinion polling and focus group sampling were used to translate community concerns into nationwide advertising slogans.  The general purpose was to identify resistance to the product, in order to changes its image, rather than the product itself.

Fourthly, as news management strategies restricted democratic debate, the quality of news journalism deteriorated.  Once TVNZ became a state-owned enterprise, a team of America-based news consultants transformed issues-based current affairs into infotainment packages.  The over-riding purpose was to build and maintain ratings flows between advertising segments.  Holmes, 60 Minutes, 20/20 and subsequent shows dominated prime time.  Eventually, mid-evening current affairs programmes lost their watchdog role.  The deregulation of public broadcasting (1989), the entry of TV3 and pay television (1991) and the lifting of restrictions on foreign media ownership (1991) weakened the mediated public sphere.  Since then, transnational corporate ownership of newspapers, magazines, radio and television has thinned out news journalism and thus assisted the spread of corporate public relations and government-led communications management.

The first cancerous development elicited a democratic response.  During the early 1990s, a referendum campaign in support of an MMP electoral system highlighted the non-accountable nature of policy-making under Labour and National Governments.  It was hoped that, in a new electoral environment, multi-party rather than single party government would increase political responsiveness to public concerns.  Certainly, once MMP was implemented in 1996, successive National-led governments were less able to implement extremist, non-mandated initiatives, such as the full-scale privatisation of health, education, and roads.  However, MMP alone could not broaden policy debate over New Zealand’s economic direction.  And it could not turn political parties into forums for popular participation.  Instead, professional mediators continued to shape the channels and messages of communication on behalf of party elites.  In fact, an ever-increasing number of spin doctors from four or more parties battled for news space and favourable treatment from journalists.

From November 1999 until May 2002, Helen Clark’s Labour-led government fused together media management and political management.  This was done by manufacturing Tony Blair’s ‘Third Way’ rhetoric for local consumption and by projecting Helen Clark, tirelessly, as New Zealand’s pre-eminent public figure and by constantly monitoring media perceptions of the Government’s performance.  The Government’s strategy, under the watch of Helen Clark’s all-purpose personal adviser, Heather Simpson, was successful.  Poll results were favourable and the Prime Minister remained pre-eminent.  However, case-by-case spin doctoring was incapable of dealing with complex matters, such as immigration, the ‘leaky buildings’ crisis, and the introduction of genetically modified agriculture.  In the latter context, vehement Ministerial responses to Nicky Hager’s Seeds of Distrust generated rancour amongst journalists.  Government control of the media landscape was no longer uncontested.

After the 2002 election, National attempted to regain office in 2005 by combining the expertise of fundraisers, market researchers, private pollsters and negative campaign specialists.  Through Don Brash’s leadership, a cohort of insiders set out to inflame popular prejudices against Māori, beneficiaries, unions, environmentalists and Helen Clark personally.  At the same time, a secret alliance with the Exclusive Brethren sect provided National with financial resources, billboard labour, and a seemingly independent, anti-Left pamphleting campaign.  As we know, the strategy was upended by a mass leak of internal National Party emails and the exposure of the Exclusive Brethren arrangement.  In 2006, Nicky Hager’s Hollow Men documented, comprehensively, the course of events on behalf of ‘the principled conservatives of the New Zealand National Party’.

As I have intimated, the cancerous growths within New Zealand’s democracy did not begin with Don Brash and his handlers.  What then was distinctive about the Hollow Men thesis?  On my reading of Hager’s analysis, a new malignancy had emerged.  Campaign strategists, Mark Textor and Lynton Crosby, had introduced into New Zealand the techniques of cued focus group questioning and ‘push polling’.  Their objective was to dig out personal anxieties and underlying prejudices about Left-leaning politicians and parties.  These anxieties and prejudices were the raw material for negative advertising throughout the mass media.  This general strategy was reinforced by orchestrated personal attacks on the enemy (in this case Labour and Green politicians).

After losing the 2005 election, Don Brash gave way to John Key.  Upon his 2008 election victory, cancerous threats to democracy proliferated further.

Hager’s Dirty Politics:  diagnosis and fall-out

Now we know.  National devised a two-track plan to stay in office.  John Key was branded as a sensible, low-key everyman equally comfortable with English royalty, the US Presidency, gay/lesbian gatherings, and ordinary New Zealanders.  He spoke haltingly and sincerely and appeared untainted by the controversies that surrounded him: mining in National Parks, Sky City, the Rio-Tinto smelter, Chorus, Judith Collins et al.  Unassailable poll ratings and a disorganised Labour Party ensured re-election and the prospect of a third term.  Hidden from public view, however, individuals from John Key’s office, Cameron Slater and Judith Collins and a refreshed cohort of ‘hollow men’ operators, were gleefully nobbling their opponents in Labour, the public service, Auckland local body politics and the National Party itself.

If this general picture is correct and the cited emails in Dirty Politics are authentic then its time for another health check of our political democracy and media system.

The electoral process

Electoral contests for government office require a full adult plebiscite.  Attempts to reduce voter turnout for political advantage are thus anti-democratic by nature.  From this perspective, National Party strategist and adviser, Simon Lusk, is clearly an enemy of the people.  For him, attack politics is advantageous and its anti-democratic consequences are to be encouraged (p. 132).  International evidence suggests that if voter cynicism about political conduct increases and electoral turnout declines, right wing parties generally benefit.  For Hager, this is a cardinal assumption of National’s election strategy; Left constituencies must be discouraged from voting.  So much for those Electoral Commission advertisements.

Political parties

In a democracy, political parties are comprised of members who rank and select candidates in each electorate.  Negotiations between selection committees and party head office may determine the outcome.  In Dirty Politics an entirely different process is revealed.  In Botany, Rodney and other safe National seats, Simon Lusk and Cameron Slater worked to advance their favoured far right candidates by vilifying their competitors on Facebook and Whale Oil.  Such tactics violate basic public sphere principles.  Within local party branches tainted by the Slater-Lusk machinations, character assassination overruled political argument.  One hopes that National’s ‘principled conservatives’ can fight the cancer in their midst.

The policy process

Reversals of government policy usually entail some kind of public debate.  In parliament and/or the mass media.  Hager, however, documents a less democratic scenario.  An accord between the Building Service Contractors of New Zealand (BSC) and cleaning unions over government building contracts was subverted by an orchestrated smear campaign.  Regular  Whale Oil posts ridiculing the BSC President were written by corporate public relations/lobbyist Carrick Graham under different pseudonyms.  He lobbied cabinet ministers including Judith Collins and Simon Bridges to renounce the contracts.

Meanwhile, the managing director of a cleaning company wrote anonymous comments on Whale Oil which equated unionists with vermin and demanded policy change from the Government (pp. 93-95).  Once this occurred, the perpetrators bragged of their accomplishment on the Whale Oil blog.  If this kind of subversion becomes routine, public policy formation will fall outside of the democratic process.

Political language

My initial exposure to Dirty Politics induced feelings of nausea.  Emails, Facebook conversations and blog comments involving Cameron Slater, Simon Lusk, Aaron Bhatnagar, Carrick Graham and others were vile, brutal and relentlessly vindictive.  For example, back in 2011, Phil Goff forgot to mention his briefing from the SIS concerning the Israeli spies who were in Christchurch during the February earthquake.  Slater quickly obtained the relevant files through an Official Information Act request, and featured them on his website.  As the story exploded across the mainstream media, Slater gloated that ‘Goff was dying by inches’.  Later, on Facebook, in response to a question about whether he was having a good day Slater remarked ‘yep’, ‘fucked him hard’ (pp. 39-40).  Two years earlier, Justice Minister Judith Collins had leaked Slater the name of a public servant thought to be responsible for an embarrassing release of a Bill English accommodation allowance claim.  The Whale Oil blog then described the man, falsely, as a ‘Labour Party snitch’.  Vile anonymous comments followed the posting:  ‘the prick should be sacked immediately’, ‘we must sack the fuck!’, ‘Somebody fire the c_ _ t – can we get the prat harpooned? And shamed… and tarred and feathered’ (pp. 4950).  Slater’s own comments, although relatively restrained, were designed to whip up vigilante fervour.  During the 2012 Auckland Ports of Auckland dispute, Slater publicised the leaked personal files of a unionist.  After several news organisations picked up this information, Slater described himself as ‘a one man union wrecking machine’ (p. 91).

I was also nauseated by the misogyny.  After a young man died in a Greymouth car accident a Whale Oil blog described him as a ‘feral’ who had ‘[done] the world a favour’.  After the deceased man’s mother spoke out, Slater remarked to a friend on Facebook:  ‘why would I apologise to that slut?’.  Slater also described the woman in question as a ‘feral fucking bitch’ (p. 133).  Misogynist language also pervades Slater’s email and Facebook correspondence concerning the ‘outing’ of Auckland Mayor Len Brown’s affair with Bevan Chuang.  Interested readers should turn to the chapter entitled ‘Sex Scandal’ and ponder what might happen to National’s women’s vote in this election.

Now, it staggers me that John Key has not, to date, criticised such language.  One can only conclude that the quietly spoken ‘everyman’ image is a façade.  Key’s own response to Dirty Politics has largely consisted of ad hominem tirades against the author and Orwellian claims that the Left are smearing the Government rather than debating ‘the issues that matter’.  Hager and his colleagues are said to be ‘stealing’ the election from ordinary New Zealanders.  The reversals of meaning here are profoundly anti-democratic; personal invective substitutes for argument and falsehood poses as truth.

Media and journalism

National’s two-track strategy of leader image management and attack politics required a compliant media.  After years of commercially-driven news content and journalist lay-offs, our mainstream outlets were receptive to salacious blog content.  Slater, Lusk, Eade and others used radio, television and the press as conduits for pre-arranged hits on political opponents.  Journalists who should have known better perused the Whale Oil blogsite for political gossip and hints of scandal.  Back in the 1970s, our mediated public sphere was healthier.  On television, the likes of David Exel, Ian Fraser, Bill Earl and Keith Ovenden held Muldoon to account.  Today the Prime Minister can rest easy, as mentioned earlier long-form current affairs has disappeared from the screen.  The media reception for Dirty Politics has illuminated new malignancies.  Newstalk ZB hosts, TV3’s Paul Henry, Seven Sharp’s Mike Hoskings and Radio Live’s Sean Plunket have internalised the government line, selectively criticised the author and downplayed the democratic issues at stake.  Together, such people have considerable profile yet they ignore the public sphere precepts of journalism.

More subtle denigrations of Hager’s concerns are displayed within a recent issue of the NZ Listener (August 30-September 5, 2014).  The editorial declares that ‘Hager, of course, is no less guilty than Slater of trying to exert influence on the political process’.  This is true and nothing to feel guilty about.  The real issue here is means rather than ends.  Hager is an investigative journalist who has used hacked emails for what he regards as the public interest.  Cameron Slater and colleagues vilify opponents, destroy reputations and advance corporate agendas without attribution.  And, their activities have been abetted by elements within the National Party and the Prime Minister’s office.  Hager receives no such backing, he operates independently.  These observations contradict Jane Clifton’s claim that ‘what’s beyond corny is that both sides made equivalent transgressions yet neither can see it’ (Dirty Rotten Politics, NZ Listener, 2014, August 30-September 5).  There has, of course, been some incisive coverage of the allegations within Dirty Politics.  However, the cancerous growths identified here weaken scrutiny of National’s attack politics and accentuate the anti-Hager spin.

Remedies

My health check of our political and media systems is cursory and incomplete.  After Dirty Politics one could also elaborate upon the politicisation of the SIS, the trashing of the Cabinet Manual and the actual ravings of far right media personalities.  However, the basic symptoms are clear, our democracy is in poor and worsening condition.  A bleak prognosis is certainly plausible.  Already, our intelligence agencies can legally ‘hack’ computer files, internet sites and social media communication.  A re-elected National government might take advantage of this situation.  Metaphoric threats of violence against others from those associated with right wing blogs could become frighteningly real.  And, the successors of Cameron Slater might start hacking into private phone records on behalf of powerful paymasters.  The activities of Rebekah Brookes and Andy Coulson and their shadowy crew of private investigators already provide a schema for local operations.

There are, of course, potential remedies.  The last chapter of Dirty Politics advocates a dramatic increase in long-term funding for public broadcasting networks, statutory independence for non-commercial radio and television, an upgrade of the Official Information Act and public funding for party election campaigns (pp. 134-138).  To this I would add a nationwide civics section within High School Social Studies’ programmes.  Young people require basic knowledge of our political institutions, electoral system and constitutional framework.  Finally, I concur with Dame and Professor Anne Salmond.  This country needs a Royal Commission of Inquiry to provide an official democratic health check for the entire political system (Anne Salmond: Royal Commission needed to clean up dirty politics’, NZ Herald, 2014 August 26).  Pertinent areas here would include ministerial responsibility, public service neutrality, funding of political parites, the role of ombudsman positions and reform of the Official Information Act.  If the remedies suggested here are ignored by future governments, New Zealand’s prognosis is definitely bleak.  The kind of cancer identified by Denis Potter, Nicky Hager and myself will become untreatable.  Our democracy will then exist in name only.

 

17 COMMENTS

      • “If the remedies suggested here are ignored… our democracy will then exist in name only”
        That is already the case. Even with the attempts made by the MSM to minimise the impact of Hager’s book, there has still been enough information available through them for any Kiwi to discern that the present government is totally corrupt and John Key is up to his neck in these machinations. There is also very much more available on the internet. So the Government’s support is dropping like a stone, right? No, its barely moving.
        What more evidence do they need? When will they take to the streets? Tomorrow, Saturday there is an opportunity to answer the question. I hear that nation-wide there will be nation-wide rallies in all the major cities. I will attend the one scheduled for Dunedin. I would love to think it will be well attendended. But I suspect not

  1. For those interested in more general information about how corporations control the media read Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent (there is also a documentary version).

  2. I disagree strongly with this part: “The editorial declares that ‘Hager, of course, is no less guilty than Slater of trying to exert influence on the political process’. This is true and nothing to feel guilty about. The real issue here is means rather than ends.”

    Guilty is a very loaded term, which should not be applied to Nicky Hager. Slater is not trying to exert influence so much as capture and pervert the political process. Nicky is trying to protect it. The real issue is ends. The fact that Slater works with corrupted members of the government and a Tory SIS is a result of the ends, not just a difference in means.

    Otherwise, great 🙂

  3. Not just a “good article” but a fucking excellent one!

    In the modern world, public service media is the vehicle by which the Habermas’ public sphere principle is achieved. How else?

    It’s been lost – utterly and completely. It’s become something that most of our journalists don’t actually seem to understand (probably because the conditions they work UNDER) are inherently anti-public sphere – just as Reithian principles and ideas about what psb should be have been fucked over. Of course many don’t WANT to understand either because they’re doing very nicely by the gravy train – that is of course until it all turns to shit – WHICH IT WILL (at which point I’ve no doubt they’ll be screaming like stuffed pigs drying foul, and unfair, with egos bruised and C.Vs circulating around the globe)

    “In principle, public sphere activities should proceed independently of state power, religious authority, and undue commercial influence”.

    @ Wayne – you’ll know that even the BBC is under attack – compromised by the very same dismantling techniques that operate here in the quest to bury the idea of PSB, the “Public Sphere” (and actually, directly as a consequence, democratic principles).
    Not too many seem to care that much from those people I’ve come across (with some notable exceptions such as quite a few [maybe the majority?] – but DEFINITELY not all, providing Media Studies courses at VicUni. Unfortunately they now have to operate in a commercialised world of tick-a-box measurement of academic achievement [affecting funding], and with some staff who’ve never experienced – i.e. ‘lived’ – in an environment that hasn’t been captured by neo-liberalism).

    I’m aware that NZ Labour will announce policy soon (or maybe they won’t, hoping to just make changes after an election success) – but that was something promised me during candidate door knocking; “vote for us”; “we care” campaigning recently. It was supposed to have already happened but I’ve yet to see any sort of BBC Trust type proposals (and even if and when it occurs, it doesn’t seem to be working out too well there).
    What needs to happen is that any appointees need cross-party support.

    I supported the save TVNZ campaign, and I support CBB. Despite that, I also think its a bit woosey in that it’s NOT at all ambitious enough.

    “The public” (quaint concept these days) not only has the right of access to the intellectual property it has funded, it also has the right to protest any and every attempt to privatise it and place it in the hands of a very few.
    It also has the right the means by which elected parliaments and public servants in their name are both held accountable and are representative of ALL majority AND minority interests.

    Gawd – I’ll cease now because I’m beginning to rave I can see. However let me just state a minimum of services that “public” is entitled to”
    – Something akin to National Radio but unencumbered by a managerial, politically and partisan brigade
    – A concert FM type operation that doesn’t assume appeal based on age (fuddy duddies . v. any others)
    – A “the WIRELESS” that has broadcast (not just ethernet-based, but also radio-frequency-based) capability

    – A NON-commercial television channel (ONE) that primarily exercises the principles of the “Public SPhere’, that represents and conveys majority AND minority interests, AND which attempts to hold political and commercial interest accountable
    – An MTS, that whilst it is the closest thing we have to PSBTV at present, is not in anyway threatened by ‘budget constraints’, or by various management egos.
    – A TWO, populist (maybe sponsored, maybe publicly owned commercial enterprise). After all, if commercial operators and capitalists (as opposed to crony-capitalists) like competition – surely there must be no objection

    – A Heartland type operation – which provides EVERYONE (not just Sky TV payers) access to the intellectual property they’ve funded. (Now I’ve heard from a former Commisioning Editor/former relative) that various production houses have ownership rights – indeed they DO, and they should NOT be penalised for producing material.
    Let’s not forget however that had they not had guarantees of broadcast, public money would not have been forthcoming

    – And last BUT NOT LEAST, that mini-me Childrens TV – currently only available for the well-off who pump weekly dollars into a monopolist’s SKY, or a feeble attempt by the commercial SOE (required to return a profit whilst propping up over-inflated, Henry/Crusty/former students who had their essays written for them/Talking Heads) IGLOO.
    (They never did like Freeview – they couldn’t handle the loss of control)

    …. anyway – as I said – I’m beginning to rave but we are 4.5 million people comprising a public, and with assets all own

  4. “National’s two-track strategy of leader image management and attack politics required a compliant media. After years of commercially-driven news content and journalist lay-offs, our mainstream outlets were receptive to salacious blog content. Slater, Lusk, Eade and others used radio, television and the press as conduits for pre-arranged hits on political opponents. Journalists who should have known better perused the Whale Oil blogsite for political gossip and hints of scandal.”

    Yes, our media is in a dismal state, and although I fully share Wayne’s remedies to rescue democracy in New Zealand, I see too little chance of that to happen, what Wayne recommends.

    We sadly have even Labour and the Green Party use their selected spin doctors, private sector consultants and experts, to form policy and to “sell” these.

    As for the population, I observe that the vast majority have sadly been so effectively influenced, indoctrinated and brainwashed, few dare to think outside of the square, and question the status quo in economic and social matters. We get fed stock exchange and currency exchange rates for breakfast, lunch and dinner, news that are more sensational than relevant, and nothing much of deeply analysed real news.

    Listening to radio and seeing TV programs, I feel dismayed about the shallowness, the excessive infotainment contents, the superficial reporting and commenting. And we get endless commercial advertising, where people shout at us, what to buy and consume. I actually ask myself every day, why and how do people put up with this crap?

    Some comments from young people shock me, as they have so little insight into political issues that matter, no wonder we have so few bother to vote. When you raise generations in a society where it is all about buying and selling, consuming, even “selling” yourself on the job markets, and reduce all else to such “economic” commodity thinking, you will end up with what we have.

    Nicky Hager is only one of very few journalists and writers, who actually know what matters, and what needs to be done, most in the media are there for themselves, pursuing careers, and competing with others to break a “great” story before others do, and to deliver some headline stuff, which “sells”, as it gets public attention, gets traction and pushes up ratings, getting yet more advertising.

    Indeed, the only way to change this is by heavily investing in real good public broadcasting and by facilitating community based media, and by regulating private media more. But then we may realise, that the totally brainwashed may find it too awkward and difficult to use such real focus media, they may find it “boring”, and they may not even bother using it. That is how bad things have become. It shows by the stubbornly high poll ratings of John Key and the National Party, which is shocking indeed.

    Thanks Wayne for writing this, I agree with almost all 100 percent, and could not have summarised it any better.

  5. I don’t disagree with many of your points about the state of the media and its contribution to the malaise. And I agree with the notion of adequate funding for some form of public broadcasting. I am just not sure that public funded media will change the malaise.

  6. Hmmmm…and here we have it , succinctly , ….the winning of hearts and minds , but in a very negative sense. It seems to be a standard procedure in any totalitarian regime that one of the first takeovers is that of the state media.

    Opposition is demonized , and runs the full gambit of political smear campaigns to outright assassinations. But always…the takeover of public thought , and thusly the dismantling of core values , ethics , morals and customs…and the methodology to do that is through media… basically ,- propaganda.

    And once that process is completed we have apathetic acceptance that ‘This is just the way it is …so why fight it?’ … ‘why not be on the winning side?’ .

    So now we have a malleable, dumbed down , uninformed populace who aren’t even interested in their own political history , of working examples in other country’s that haven’t succumbed…

    I recall well during the 1970’s and early 1980’s the often insightful political documentaries we had , I recall many TV presenters who were razor sharp in their analysis , and who didn’t hesitate to broadside errant politicians…I also recall satirical comedy that lambasted the sheer lunacy and folly of such politicians…

    McPhail and Gadsby spring to mind…the political buffoons and liars we have today would have withered under such as those..

    So in essence…we have most of the media captured by neo liberal, privatized, partisan interests , with spin doctors working to keep that ideology firmly in place…

    Therefore it would point to the neo liberal economic ideology that is the root cause of this malaise…(obviously to most of you ).

    Ive always been a fan of the Keynesian economic systems of social democracies such as those in Scandinavia , West Germany …and while not free from problems they can still boast of being per capita the most wealthy nations globally today….extremes such as pure neo liberalist free market ideologies gain no real traction…

    Most have heard of neo liberalism over the last 30 years having been brainwashed into accepting it as ‘the only way’…yet very few have even heard of Keynesian models …and cannot now even concieve there is another way , so as a consequence….have very little attention span to be even contemplate its ramifications…

    The neo liberal methodology was presented with stealth , guile, and deception… it would take a huge effort and reeducation program to get us back to that ‘egalitarian ideal and methodology ‘ we once had…it can be done however….

    But I think that is what this is really all about and what we are really up against.

  7. The negative political machine and those in it will be tried by the Court of Public Opinion. Unfortunately the Court is housed in this thing called the ‘media’. It is biased, underfunded and poorly staffed. Dirty Politics has embarrassed the media and temporarily they are upping their game. But we all know they have a short attention span and will soon return to their lazy biased ways.

    This is part of a bigger problem for NZ. The MMP political reforms were flawed in a similar way to leaky homes. There is nothing inherently wrong with adopting MMP from overseas as there was nothing wrong with bringing new building techniques from overseas. But MMP in other countries is part of a broader system of checks and balances, as were new building products. New Zealand is trying to do democracy on the cheap like we tried to build homes on the cheap. Like leaky homes the end result doesn’t get the job done.

    I am on record as commenting the following re this Chris Trotter article ‘Public Enemies: Why an incoming progressive government should be wary of its senior bureaucrats’. – See more at: https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2014/08/14/public-enemies-why-an-incoming-progressive-government-should-be-wary-of-its-senior-bureaucrats/#sthash.7FtJQNvH.dpuf

    Brendon Harre says: August 14, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    “Before the big left wing purge comes that is just the opposite of what the right has done. Lets consider getting some neutrality into our civil service. It could be done quite easily.

    Parliament enacts a law that requires the Speaker of the House be appointed by unanimous vote (Like the Catholic Bishops voting for the Pope, MPs could be locked in Parliament without recess until they decide).

    Give the responsibility to appoint senior civil servants, judges and recommendations for knighthood to the Speaker. Instantly this changes the culture of civil society.

    Wind vane a… licking morally dubious tactics for promotional success are replaced by hard work, merit and ‘fairness’ moral standards.

    To me this is what Hager’s book is about.

    Democracy is our biggest asset, not grass or water or whatever. If we lose it we are buggered.”

    In my opinion NZ will not get an effective state broadcaster until we get some sort of neutral ‘referee’ check and balance in the political system.

  8. The article merely confirms the creeping crapification of everything nowincludes politics and notions of citizenship.

    Robert Prisig’s two great books “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and “Lila – an inquiry into morals” argue that ‘Quality’ is something no-one can define, but most people can recognise when they see it. However as Quality disappears beneath a flood of garbage it becomes less and less looked for, let alone expected.

    According to the constitutional convention of Ministerial Responsibility both Key and Collins should be gone. In the days when politicians were at least still expected to display the qualities of honesty and integrity Ministers resigned if misdeeds were attributed to their offices. These resignations were not necessarity admissions of culpability for the misdeed itself but recognitions that responsibility stopped with them whether they knew of it or not. Not only did adherence to this convention no doubt sharpen their minds and impose a need for high supervision of their offices, it avoided the kind of unseemly ducking and diving and squabbling involving Ministers of the Crown over who did what and knew of it we are presently witnessing.

    In the UK the convention operated as recently as 2002 with the resignation of Estelle Morris but in New Zealand the rot set in as far back as 1943 with Labour’s Bob Semple who famously admitted responsibility but said he wasn’t to blame, which in effect reduces ‘responsibility’ to a meaningless concept.

    ‘Quality’ today with regard to manufactured goods, services, the arts, politics, civic duties, &tc has been reduced to the minimum you can get away with. In that politicians are merely reflecting society. However there was a time when politicians were expected to set an example, and by demonstrating ‘quality’ gave us plebs something to respect.

  9. Well done this article!

    I’d just like to pass on this quote too:

    “In my experience and knowledge the adverse and abusive culture of the Minister has filtered down to her portfolios of Justice and ACC and it remains so even today.

    A review and investigation should also be called for regarding the lack of integrity and ethics that clearly exists in operations and governance of both of her portfolios of Justice and ACC and the part she could have played in that.

    I’m afraid that they have lost their moral compass.” end quote.

    Its a total farce that FJC is the one who has been reforming the cyberbullying laws – under the eyes of FJK.

    Opinion.

  10. It may sound strange, but I am really glad I found the daily blog site, simply for the great insights above. I truly hope many more NZers find this site and learn few things about our political history, and how we NEED to change our political future. I believe social media will be a big player in this election and future elections, especially if the MSM remains the same as it is now. Fluff.

  11. I have the feeling this synopsis will be referred to for a long time to come.
    One word used summarises it all: ANTI-DEMOCRATIC. How many laws has this government passed under urgency? How many times have public conversations been waved aside with a patronizing reference to Mum and Dad New Zealanders who are only concerned with rugby and fishing quotas? Why don’t we know the content of the TPPA negotiations? The list goes on and it all indicates a lack of intention to engage in true democracy.
    By the way….anybody watched Sleeping Dogs or read Smith’s Dream recently? The storyline just seemed so far fetched at the time……

  12. Someone needs to ask john key if he can guarantee human rights and democracy will be preserved under the expansion of free trade and our nz participation in any free trade agreements.

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