The Machiavellian thinking behind Swim Fresh the Left & Unions need to appreciate


I had just finished writing about the threat of astroturf House of Slytherin paramilitary right wing death squads being assembled to take out the new Government, and this insightful piece on the looming propaganda war emerges…

Spinning the freshwater debate: When PR companies join the fray
ANALYSIS: In a strange press release earlier this month, a new social media campaign called Swim Fresh announced its song of the summer: “We’ll be fine”, by Wellington band Clicks.

The campaign had been launched a week earlier and sought to “call on Kiwis to show love for their rivers and lakes,” according to its inaugural press release.

Its Twitter account appeals to celebrities to share their favourite New Zealand swimming spot (Justin Bieber is one of many yet to respond). Its website features a large banner which reads “Rivers are good for you” and a cartoon mascot, a kōura, donning a snorkel.

A few days after crowning its song of the summer, the campaign hit the mainstream media when it released the results of a public survey declaring many New Zealanders were not swimming in rivers, primarily due to water temperature.

It light-heartedly concluded the nation had become “soft”; its press release appeared almost verbatim as news stories in several media outlets, repeating the line that Kiwis were not swimming in rivers, and that it was primarily because they were cold.

The sudden emergence of this campaign at a time of hyper-sensitivity around the politics of freshwater struck some as suspicious.

Swim Fresh, as it clearly states, was funded and conceived by Blackland PR, a crisis management and corporate consultancy that prides itself on influencing public perception of controversial issues that threaten a corporation’s reputation.

In its own words, on its website: “[W]e take arguments and evidence in your favour deep into the New Zealand public. We change hearts and minds, undermining those who threaten your business.” It says the most direct way to do that is through social media.

It has used those skills to try and build public support for oil and gas exploration, to advise food manufacturers on debates about obesity, and assist alcohol manufacturers in debates about public policy.

It has also advised the dairy industry on “influences of debates about water quality [and] environmental impact,” according to the corporate advocacy work listed on its website. One of the company’s clients is Dairy NZ.

Swim Fresh’s spokesman, Mark Blackham, is the PR company’s founder and a long-time lobbyist. The campaign is staffed by Massey University’s communication, journalism and marketing students.

The reason behind the campaign, Blackham says, was to show a different side to the water quality debate: one of positivity, in opposition to the “silly polarisation between good and evil”.

“We’ve heard about all the rivers that are not good, but we’re not necessarily hearing about the waterways that are okay,” he says.

…the Machiavellian thinking behind Swim Fresh is an important one for the Left and the Unions to appreciate if they have any hope of countering the Rights evolving attack styles.

Those polluting the water desperately need to shift the debate away from pollution because the sheer greed, outrageous abuse of the environment and simple science of it all crucifies the Dairy Intensive Farming Industry.

So rather than try and debate the issues, those polluters need to change the discussion all together by seeding bullshit apologist joke stuff about people not wanting to swim in Rivers, not because we fear being poisoned but because we have all gone a bit soft.

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Because many news rooms are now staffed by cheap hipster  Millenials with 1500 Twitter Followers, it’s easy to have this propaganda unquestioningly inserted into the news cycle.

The concept is to generate as many reasons as possible as to why people aren’t swimming in rivers that don’t include getting sick which immediately reminds everyone about Farmers polluting the water.

By pushing a ‘positive’ message, Swim Fresh avoids the pollution issue altogether while generating social media traction and naive newsroom coverage.

The issue is not that NZers are too soft to swim in cold river water, the issue is that the river might make you sick. Eliminating the reality means the debate doesn’t happen which is exactly what the water polluters want and that’s what a company like Blackland PR offers as a service.

The Left and the Unions don’t  have a counter strike capacity to this kind of manipulation and that leaves them vulnerable as enormous amounts of money from the Right starts funding these groups.


  1. When you interact in here away from local animosities therefor you are a minority and we tend to group together and the jealously and anxiety felt towards others disappears. But once we go back to our real lives and interact with humans, we are trapped by a vast majority of people who are unmatched in historical conflicts. And that’s not easy to solve,

    New Zealand society revolves around the English language, except for accent there are slight differences but we all speak and think in English, even fluent Māori speakers think in English (<<< dont @me about that, there's a minority who do think in terms of the Māori language and I probably know all of them personally). Never the less I would say the closer we get to full employment the stronger becomes the regional poor.

    I think once you get your house in order then you win what is called soft power. So the difference between hard power and soft power is your economy and military and other strengths and soft power is your attractiveness. To increase your attractiveness in soft power you must make your society admired and people want to become like you.

    That one country is not as well developed as another ruins a lot of egos. And that is a problem of a globalised world becoming ever more interconnected with the Internet, the iPhone and anything that gives you instant contact with anybody anywhere on the globe. So it is impossible to say I live in New Zealand and that I do not aspire after all these material possessions, it is impossible to say I don't aspire to higher standards of living, I don't aspire to have higher standards of medical services, I don't aspire to have higher standards of leisure and so on. It's just not possible.

    People like Professor Jane Kelsey leads causes like that against the TPPA for greater economic sovereignty. But that's it. She does not run modern New Zealand. When trade consensus was obtained Jacinda took over and now has to run modern New Zealand. In other words Professor Jane Kelsey as an academic spurs the people with passive resistance over neoliberalism was a great success. But Jane Kelsey as a transformer of global trade does not exist.

  2. I am also interested in hearing more about this, ‘Swim Fresh’s spokesman, Mark Blackham, is the PR company’s founder and a long-time lobbyist. The campaign is staffed by Massey University’s communication, journalism and marketing students.’
    The part about it being staffed by Massey Universities ‘journalism…’ students. Is it appropriate for journalism and PR-propaganda students to be taught at the same school?

    • Massey is totally hijacked by corporate interests. Their biology department issues biotech lobby propaganda as part of their study guides. They refuse to support any use of free code software, insisting every student needs to own a Windows PC. They teach programming using Microsoft’s awful C# language, .NET framework, and VisualBasic, an eye-poppingly bloated application that makes programming feel like tying your shoelaces with oven gloves on. Training journalists to think like marketers is par for the course.

    • ” Is it appropriate for journalism and PR-propaganda students to be taught at the same school?”
      Good question.
      Propaganda ought to be completely the reverse of journalism, but the differences between the two have gradually narrowed as the self-indulgent corporates have gained control over the media. The truly independent journalist has all but vanished.
      When I was a cadet journalist (many) years ago – the argument was how to distinguish between news copy and advertising copy. I was trained in news but my job increasingly involved writing blatant feel-good advertising filler masquerading as news copy. At journalism school writing advertising filler was barely even discussed as it was considered outside the scope of “real” journalism and our union frequently gave us newsletters warning us about the tactics of the advertising department trying to get us to write free copy for their clients.
      It seems the argument lives on, but the corporate propagandists apparently have the upper hand.

  3. It’s really quite simple.

    In the nineteenth century British industrialist wanted more wool. So they organized the clearing of land to make way for sheep farms.

    The advent of refrigeration in the late 1800s meant that meat and dairy products could be stored, and transported long distances. More money could be made selling butter etc. than selling wool, especially where highly productive low-lying land could be farmed as dairy farms. (leave the difficult high-country land for sheep.)

    Needless to say, removal of essential nutrients from the land via the export of meat resulted in diminished productivity, so imported phosphate was applied to the land….later causing run-off problems.

    The ultimate step in the dysfunctional system of industrialised agriculture is to use the land as a ‘sponge’ onto which fertilisers and the necessary water are applied…..hence the massive irrigation systems that dominate some areas.

    Messing up the water table and saturating the land with chemicals does result in short-term profits but is clearly a path to catastrophe, especially since the entire system is now dependent on fossil fuels which are increasingly difficult to acquire (which was not the case in the early days).

    So now we are well and truly in the dysfunctional progress trap from which there is no easy escape.

    And heedless to say, since greed is now a prime driver of the economy, dairy farmers will overstock the land and take short cuts if doing so makes more short-term money that allows them to build a bigger house, or buy a newer vehicle. or take an overseas holiday etc.

    “Greed is good.”

  4. Its this the work of Claire Robinson, Vice Chancellor and Communications guru at Massey University – it sounds like her style
    of right wing political lobbying disguised as impartial academic comment.

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