NZ Listener – Massaging the lies and obfuscations of the rich and powerful


I rarely see the Listener magazine these days. We ended our subscription several years ago when it started to read like a National Party newsletter.
But today I came across the latest issue delivered to some friends and was amazed at the editorial.

I’m often quite genuinely surprised at the level of ignorance amongst editorial writers about the role of the GCSB and its relationship with the US National Security Agency. In part this will be because over the years I’ve followed this debate more closely than most and have a good basic understanding of the issues.

Even so I was left speechless at the basic factual inaccuracies, the half-baked assumptions and utterly implausible interpretations of the working of our spy agency as presented to the Listener’s readers.

I’m sure English teachers sometimes feel the same way after reading a 13-year-old’s interpretation of a scene from a Shakespearean play but the student has an excuse – the Listener doesn’t.

And of course – as befits a National Party mouthpiece – the magazine includes its best effort at character assassination of investigative journalist Nicky Hager.

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So if you want to read some incredible child-like drivel about our GCSB spy agency and its role in mass surveillance then here it is.

The magazine headlines its editorial with the bizarre claim that Nicky Hager and Edward Snowden have timed the latest release of information about GCSB mass surveillance of Pacific countries to coincide with the Northland by-election. They say “Northland voters could be forgiven for feeling resentful, as the by-election should be a platform for their concerns…”.

They suggest the reason New Zealand spies on the Pacific is as part of our “role and responsibility to watch out on their behalf for terrorists or criminals trying to establish a new beachhead”. If this fanciful notion had any credibility then surely Pacific leaders would have been kept informed about this supposed “service” the GCSB provides for them. Instead we learn today that the GCSB targets are Pacific leaders and their key staff rather than terrorists and criminals.

The Listener gets more carried away in suggesting the GCSB conducts mass surveillance to protect us “not just from terrorists but from crime, epidemic, biosecurity threats, child sex rings, drugs and all manner of menace”.

Pure bullshit. Even John Key doesn’t make such ridiculous claims. The police conduct surveillance for those purposes and if the GCSB had assisted materially in any such investigations we would have heard direct from Key as a way to justify the GCSB’s existence.

In similar vein the magazine goes on to say “the news of a threat to contaminate baby formula surely underlined the need for surveillance”. This is meant to imply the GCSB keeps threats like this at bay. It doesn’t and never will. Not only are “lone wolf” operations like this notoriously immune from mass surveillance but again it’s the police whose job it is to investigate and conduct surveillance in these cases based on court-approved warrants.

Just to be clear the GCSB’s role is to conduct mass surveillance of our close neighbours in the Pacific for the US National Security Agency. It is a US operation in all but name. As Snowden revealed the GCSB sends this as raw data streams to the US National Security Agency – unchecked and unfiltered. Meanwhile the NSA does the same thing for all New Zealanders’ electronic communications by tapping the Southern Cross cable (between Auckland and Los Angeles) which carries 80% of this country’s internet traffic.

The real role of the GCSB in the US-dominated “five eyes” network is to advance a US global agenda and the predominant use of the information is for US political and military objectives.

The Listener editor surely knows the role the GCSB played at the time the US was planning the 2003 invasion of Iraq. There the five eyes countries were specifically asked to target non-permanent members of the UN Security Council to gain intelligence to be used to embarrass and pressure those countries to support a UN resolution approving the invasion.

We can thank UK whistle blower Katharine Gunn for leaking this information in an attempt to stop an illegal war while the mainstream media were content to report the lies of George Bush and Tony Blair as justification for war.

The Listener is playing the same role in 2015 on behalf of Key and the National government as they prepare to support another war in Iraq.
In a blog last week I wrote about the two important factors John Key has on his side as he continues to deny mass surveillance of New Zealanders despite proof to the contrary. One of those factors is the mainstream media which routinely plays down criticism of the GCSB, exaggerates the agency’s role in security while ignoring its critical role in supporting US political and military strategies.

In doing so the media generally has become an apologist for the Prime Minister’s various obfuscations and smelly red herrings designed to confuse and scare New Zealanders into unquestioning support for mass surveillance while keeping New Zealanders in the dark.

The Listener performs superbly in this role for John Key. It might mean plenty of brownie points for the editor on the cocktail circuit but it is a grave misuse of the freedom of the press which exists to tell the truth rather than massage the lies and obfuscations of the rich and powerful.


  1. Good post!

    “The real role of the GCSB in the US-dominated “five eyes” network is to advance a US global agenda and the predominant use of the information is for US political and military objectives. . . .”

    Absolutely agree. Add to that the additional power that the multinational global corporates will obtain by bribing and lobbying to get access to commercially sensitive information stored in the NSA databases to further their aims of world commercial dominance.

    Anyone who imagines that the corporates would be denied access to the NSA data is kidding themselves. The biggest of the multinationals have vast reserves of money to bring to bear upon the matter of their access and they WILL bribe their way in. They know that money speaks loudest in these matters and have no qualms whatsoever about the ethics of the situation. There’s a ripe low-hanging plum there just waiting there to be picked by the Multinational Corporations.

    Five eyes is by and large an extension of what the multinational corporations are seeking in the Trans-Pacific Free “its not about Trade” Agreement – unfettered access to the world’s commercial markets with the capacity to sue governments and any other organisations that threaten to get in their way.

  2. Chill , meet spine .

    I was waiting in a cue at the super market and was idly thumbing through the Listener ( as one does because God only knows , no one should spend good money on the rag ) and came upon a column by richard prebble . richard prebble , for Gods sake ? He must’ve been thinking yet again . The last time done thunk , he destroyed his own country for his own profits , created a lost generation of the poverty stricken and has now clearly hacked into the MSM to parasitise that to spread the Word .
    There should be as large an add as possible somewhere prominent within the Listener . It should read something like this : ” The Daily Blog . Waging war against the surety of the closed mind . ”
    TDB and the likes of yourself @ John Minto are deserving of a wider audiance and you’re not getting it here preaching to the converted . No disrespect .
    TDB should crowd-fund an advertsing budget and splash about on tha Tee Vee too . ” The Daily Blog ! The Alternative MSM ! Read ! Learn ! Choose ! ”
    Or perhaps ” Subscribe to The Daily Blog ! Help kick D’jonkys ass ! ”
    The target audiance isn’t those of us who already know how fucked up things are , it’s those other good people who have no idea what’s going on .

  3. Absolutely agree. We also removed our listener subscription a few years ago due to it’s right wing agenda shift, from a formally good read. It is hard to respect a magazine so compromised. As as you say, maybe the editor gets extras invites to parties, but their readers are out cancelling subscriptions.

    Going further from a right wing agenda into propaganda seems to the the norm in MSM NZ. However since so many of the MSM are politically compromised, NZ is ripe for a more neutral MSM for everyone else to get their news from.

    Many of these editors fail to realise Act only gets less than 1/2 percent of NZ vote, however the ACT views are prominent in the MSM of NZ.

    I guess it is easy to get your articles directly from National party head quarters regarding the GCSB and maybe a few extra dollars via Slater avenues for favourable articles supporting Nat in Northland.

    The Nats 6 step strategy for Northland –
    IGNORE -Ignore as expect it to be a safe seat and put a Nat stooge MP in.
    CHARM & BRIBE -Be surprised by strong support for Winston and then push out Brand Key for 3 visits with lots of talk of more money and projects in the area.
    THREATEN -Be even more surprised by Brand Key not working, and start to threaten the people of Northland with removal of infrastructure projects if they don’t vote National.
    BLAME -Blame, others for not keeping past promises, Dotcom and Nicky Hager are always good bets to blame even if stretching even the most credible supporter.
    MANIPULATE MSM & SMEAR -Start manipulating by ‘encouraging’ pro National MSM for Northland, organise other parties support like ACT, try to split votes, smear Winston Peters with MSM. (Rodney Hide editorial in Herald, Winston too old, does not live in Northland). Always smear via others not directly.
    BUY- Buy, put as much money in as possible to out spend other parties.

    • It’s completely ridiculous to put forward the idea that Peters does not live in Northland therefore has no credibility.

      He put that one to rest the other night at Kerikeri where he stated he is a Northlander and it looks as though he is going to be able to move back home earlier than he had ever anticipated (when he wins the election).

      My only regret will be that Willow-Jean Prime will miss out on this opportunity should Peters get in.

      The most important element of this election is the complete revelation of exactly what National DO NOT do for this electorate.

      They have, once again, been caught out and even the MSM are swaying from being in support of them.

      This election will start a movement around NZ as others will look at why National have been removed from there.

  4. Yeah, I stopped reading the Listener a while ago. It’s clearly a mouthpiece for the establishment. No original thought contained therein. Nice recipes though.

  5. I totally agree, many articles are just ridiculous, boring, and stupid, I don’t even bother to finish reading many of them. Good on you for showing The Listener up.
    It is a real worry are these reporters just thick or deliberately misleading?
    An article recently in The Listener was about having less ‘stuff’, the reporter then totally contradicts his whole rant by being really into fashion and other ‘stuff’ that made him and his wife happy. It reeked of a show off who didn’t understand at all the concept he was writing about. Many other articles are just mindless long, silly, useless and often contradictory rants and really disappointing on important issues, I find it insulting and a ripoff actually. It is trying to look in fashion and up to date by writing about enlightened ideas but mostly really lazily written rubbish and half the time adding nothing at all like listening to FJK speak, ha ha. The Listener has become another rag full of commercial crap and nothingness I won’t be sucked into buying it again, it’s lazily written glossy boring junk.

    • @kate: If you have a subscription to The Listener, cancel it pronto. If not, leave it unbought at the supermarket checkout. It really isn’t worth the price, and hasn’t been for at least the last decade or so. I bailed out around that time: I don’t miss it at all. Nowadays, it’s possible to get real journalism, of the sort once the hallmark of The Listener, online.

      • I am a listener subscriber and will continue to do so as I enjoy Jane Cliftons weekly political article and she has just married Trevor Mallard who might find some of the supposed national bias amusing. A number of the regular contributors I would suspect from their articles would probably lean to the left. They still have excellent film and book reviews which I use. Most readers can make their own minds up with editorials

        • one swallow does not a summer make, neither does one editorial. I too appreciate the wit and great turn of phrase from jane clifton. For me The Listener is still the best printed weekly publication we can get. And don’t forget who owns it. According to Wikipedia, “Bauer Media Group is a large European-based media company, headquartered in Hamburg, Germany that manages a portfolio of more than 600 magazines, over 400 digital products and 50 radio and TV stations around the world.” So this is not the MSM of Aotearoa at play here.

  6. Thanks John for telling it like it is and giving us some clear information rather than ‘facts” from a US motivated PM and a rotten head nodding government.

  7. I find it interesting that even though on the 5th March 2015 , John Key acknowledges the GSCB acted erroneously and in actual fact illegally in the spying of 88 New Zealanders – and that including Mr Kim Dotcom.

    That even with this apology and ,…and the recognition of illegality in practice of the GSCB , Mr Kim Dotcom still is being the victim of this PM’s obvious ongoing contempt.

    I would call this ‘ PM ‘ along with the name John XKEYscore is a modern day version of a Pontius Pilate as well. For an apology and a simple ‘ washing my hands of the affair and all prior damage Iv’e caused to this individual ‘ falls far short of the qualities one would expect from a true PM.

    There is no particular obligation to co operate in any trial or extradition of any individual on the behalf of any foreign govt if this govt chooses not to.

    And although our sovereignty has been compromised by this ‘ PM ‘ in recent years , that still does not release him of the capacity to act in a sovereign way.

    To choose not to act accordingly on his convictions and his apology – and speak yet more shallow words regarding this issue is simply to take the easy path and further compound the original and illegal mistake perpetrated by the GSCB and endorsed by Key himself ,…..

    For it would be a simple case to absolve any subjective opinions he had regards Mr Dotcom and to stand up to the plate and take responsibility for the shoddy and disgusting treatment he had a part in dishing out to a New Zealand resident.

    To not absolve would be to still remain in the publics eyes a co conspirator with the GSCB’s illegality and the long and sordid chain of events that consequently transpired after the initial invasion by paramilitary police units of the Dotcom residence.

    • As for the Listener…just another sell out to neo liberalism. And sadly Countryboy…..its the truth that most here already know these things and that TDB NEEDS to reach a larger audience.

    • Yes John & Wild Katipo.

      If John XKEYscore represents a modern day version of a Pontius Pilate as well this is due to him with such a rabid desire in reading any historical war history.

      This would have no doubt included the Roman conquering of many parts of the old world by those then in charge of Rome’s legions including Pontius Pilate one of the most ruthless of Rome’s rulers.

      Another recent 20th Century leader Hitler had also a very great respect for this Roman history, funny that so wild katipo bang on I say.

  8. I clicked through to the Listener article in question, “I spy a by-election” not realising what my intellect and faculty of reason were about to be assaulted by. The obvious anti-Hager bias is clear from the start. In trying to paint this release of information about the GCSB’s activities as some sort of move to swing the by-election is ludicrous for a number of reasons. First, it’s not true. This is not the motive for this information release. Second, if it were true, it would be a terribly poor tactic, we all saw how the National Party faithful came rallying to their man Key when he was under pressure at the 2014 general election.

    To conflate this misrepresentation of the motives of Hager, Greenwald, Fisher & Gallagher with the untruth that the GSCB have conducted this monitoring in the interests of security takes the Listener article into the realms of the ridiculous. The articles in the NZ Herald and Herald on Sunday clearly outline the purpose of the surveillance as political.

    That the author of the Listener article was paid good money for this steaming pile of rubbish was amazing to me. Until I realised that they are being paid to present National Party propaganda.

  9. At one time I was truly in love with the listener. There just wasn’t a magazine that offered the same investigative journalism and down right facinating and interesting articles about all manner of things. Then it turned into a Woman’s Wanker clone. I haven’t bought it for years; I don’t even bother to read it in the supermarket queue.

  10. We must have stopped our subscription to the Listener 10 years ago but it is astonishing how far it has fallen.

  11. Yes it was at one time an excellent weekly able to present a lot of interesting and insightful comment on ours and other societies
    I cancelled my subscription when Pamela Sterling became editor and the editorials became anonymous.
    There was a clear shift away from independent comment and objective reporting at that time, looks like this hasn’t changed if the above comments are anything to go by.

    • “I cancelled my subscription when Pamela Sterling became editor…..”

      Yep, that’s certainly when the shit hit the fan for us.

      A core part of Stirling’s pitch to the Listener’s owners (in her bid to succeed Finlay MacDonald as editor) involved the notion that the magazine was “too left-wing” for its own readership (who in fact were largely, according to Stirling, affluent socially-liberal but National-voting women. An argument that hasn’t been borne out by subsequent reader surveys, incidentally).

      We noticed the right-wing turn almost immediately, hand-in-hand with a slow but steady slide into dumbing-down territory.

      But we decided to hold out for a year or two. Then, in quick succession, Steve Braunias and Philip Matthews left and I remember saying that if Gordon Campbell – by far the most important investigative journalist of the era – goes then It’ll probably be time to cancel once and for all. 3 weeks later, Campbell left (or was pushed). He had something like 2 decades as the magazine’s main Feature Writer but disappeared unceremoniously without so much as a word of thanks in his final week/issue.

      We decided to just let the subscription lapse. And over the final few months, witnessed the on-going dumbing-down. In place of Campbell’s often ground-breaking Lead-Stories, for instance, the Listener editor settled on cover stories that can only be labelled “filler-material”. Pointless, never-ending self-improvement Lists – The 10 best private schools to send your child, 100 most effective ways to lose weight, 50 tips for taking better photos. Or, even worse, the 10 most important business leaders and why we should idolise them as wealth-creating heroes, 5 of New Zealand’s richest entrepreneurs give you tips on how to get rich quick. Not to mention a never-ending array of self-congratulatory Boomer-booster stories (which seemed to be written to a template. “Boomers have never let anyone or anything hold them back. They’re innovators” etc etc etc ad nauseam).

      I’d take issue with the Jane Clifton fans, here, too. Clifton has long been an effective apologist for this Government. Again and again, she regurgitates National’s spin-lines, weaving them into her “analysis” as God-given fact. The humour is generally aimed squarely at Key’s critics. Where there is criticism of the Tories, it almost always involves the most trivial of issues (and is often delivered as a back-handed compliment to the government). There are exceptions, but they’re few and far between.

  12. Thanks John ,

    For being straight up in exposing the truth about the NatZ Propaganda use of the Listener, as we have been long time readers but have become disturbed at their direction and you have identified the reason.

    All true now that a clear National takeover of this once hallowed voice of reason is now just another rubbish trumpet for the Nasty Key clones.

    We are not renewing our subscription for this hijacked voice of a corrupt NatZ Government.

  13. I stopped getting the Listener about 12 months ago ( slow learner and bit of an optimist ! ) . At the same time my best girlfriend gave up on the mag also . At the time I emailed the editor – whoever that might be – and told them that after 15 years of subscription I had had enough – a stable of Right Wing opinion writers and a complete disregard for the traditions of The Listener ( the best editorial I ever read was by an early left wing Listener editor – name forgotten momentarily ).
    No reply to my email of course … 15 years of buying and subscribing to their mag and ignored when I write to tell them why I’d had enough. They deserve to go under . I hope they do.

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