Is Winston’s Sudden Enthusiasm For Foreign-Owned Media A Case Of Enlightened Self Interest?


What if the New Zealand First sudden out-of-the-blue announcement of support for journalism and ‘traditional media’ in general, as well as two significant media companies that’re looking to merge in particular …

… was because the man apparently responsible for hand-crafting the statement in question – Chief of Staff and former Victoria politics lecturer, Dr Jon Johansson (or, for that matter, another NZF strategic mind) – had a sudden attack of disquiet/insight following recent events, and realized that probably the easiest way to try and get NZ’s political press somewhat close to “on-side” going into an Election Year … was what happened Thursday.

Now to be sure, I’m not suggesting that this was the only motivation; nor that our conglomerated political-reporting press is so incredibly cheaply wooed as the above statement might otherwise seem to suggest.

But it is difficult to avoid the thought that rolling out the Deputy Prime Minister to put on a feel-good positive-vibes press-conference *about the media*, with sufficient thickness of enthusiasm (and surprise/shock-value) that said assembled media’s rendered “speechless” by the speech; in concert with his stating support for a profitable progression to the long-stymied corporate maneuverings of two of New Zealand’s largest newspaper and radio companies … is hardly likely to do NZ First any harm.

Especially as the nature of NZF’s offer of support to (some) media operating here is not exactly of the ‘fire and forget’ one-off nature – but rather points toward a longer-term commitment and engagement. And, if it turns out that the Government has to push through legislation to bypass the Commerce Commission’s previous blockage of the merger, the drawn-out expenditure of political capital “going in to bat” for the companies in question.

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It’s not hard to see why NZF would be seriously keen on doing something unexpected, even unprecedented, to attempt to build a positive ‘understanding’ with media going into 2020.

Despite the Party’s polling not being *too* hair-raising for this point in the electoral cycle [it’s been fairly consistently in the low four percent range for the past six months], NZF’s strategist(s) will  be acutely aware of just what sort of damage a year-long run of scandals, mini-scandals, Shane Jones in general, imbroglios, innuendo, and the appearance of impropriety [whether it’s actually there or not] , can do.

After all, that’s pretty much exactly what put paid to NZF’s time in Parliament toward the conclusion of their previous period in Government in 2008. Something which has been repeatedly pointed out over the past few weeks following the ignition of a still-as-yet-unresolved donations controversy which seems eerily similar in some of its manifest particulars to that Albatross-styled necktie of more than a decade before.

With any net tonnage of potential unfavourable headlines waiting to explode out about the Provincial Growth Fund, this Donations/Trust situation, and various other areas besides, having an array of the nation’s news outlets all of a sudden *not* keen to tear shreds off you when they’re not utterly ignoring you, becomes understandably strongly desirable.

Whether that’s the overt intent of NZF’s sudden enthusiasm for protecting the jobs of journalists and supporting foreign-owned corporate bottom lines, or not. [And really, a simple compare/contrast wtih Winston’s arguably vindictive stance on MediaWorks’ impending doom a mere two months before, is all that it takes to see just how seismic the shift has seemingly been here]

Also, don’t get me wrong – I can see some definite upsides to an array of what’s been put forward. And was quite intrigued by one of the elements in Winston’s statement that *didn’t* get read out loud (yet remained in the print version) around a wariness about People’s Republic of China propelled content.

Although balanced against this are a few points of prickly disquiet – including my wariness about the prizing of the two sets of  ‘traditional media’ outlets in question over “Facebook and Google”. Indeed, the overt, outright hostility directed toward these more modern vectors for information which seemed to come across in Winston’s words.

Which doesn’t mean he’s entirely wrong there, either. They’ve certainly been prime platforms for ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ in recent years … it’s just that I am of the rather avowed opinion that various ‘traditional media’ outlets are no better. In fact, in some cases, appear to be somewhat *worse* due to the respectability of their ancient mastheads.

A cynic might suggest that those internet/new media platforms are far less needing of Governmental assistance, and therefore less amenable to influence here, anyway.

In any case, while I don’t know that I’d go anywhere near as far as Winston’s comment that local/regional news outlets are apparently as vital as a hospital or a school in a given area, I do think that there’s a quite a reasonable case to be made for the state to support and assist domestic media so that they remain domestic media. Rather than mere resyndication websites for the splinters-under-fingernails scroungings of various American and UK tabloids in a futile bid for advertising revenue.

The way this has unfolded, and the precise nature of the NZME/Stuff merger proposal is not how I would have approached the problem, but then that almost goes without saying, doesn’t it.

I’m not sure I’d go so far as to outright state that what we have here – a situation of, for the interim period, anyway, not The State offering to support struggling local media … but rather, of a particular political party offering to support struggling corporate media which happens to employ some local people while owning some long-standing brand-name trade-marks (‘product identities’, I suppose you’d call them – and that presumably encompasses some of the more prominently known and highly profiled journalists, also) – is unacceptably “problematic”.

In part because the simple nature of New Zealand, New Zealand politics and New Zealand media, has *always* meant that degrees of influence, propinquity, and cheek-to-jowl that’d be frankly abominable in other countries are de rigeur here. The main difference is that this gambit of Winston’s is going on *above the table* rather than under it – and is also, not to put too fine a point upon the venerable old pinstripe-suited elephant in the room, a situation of it being NZ First standing to benefit from positive media relationships, rather than being the whipping-boy of both media companies and other political parties or politicians who more *usually* have such ‘cozy’ rapports going, as has almost invariably more usually been the case.

I also do not mean to unfairly impugn the credibility nor impartiality of an array of this country’s political (and other) journalistic fraternity. Or even, perhaps, the *editorial* cabals which sit above them like gargoyles.

But reporting upon events has never been an entirely objective pursuit; whether it’s limited by the simple realities of a human viewer’s vantage-point or competencies to understand what it is that is unfolding in front of them, we *always* wind up bringing some form of subjectivity to the recounting and the dissecting (er .. vivisecting) of newsworthy happenings, trends, and trend-setters.

If somebody’s done you a good turn, said he understands how hard your situation’s been, and pledged to *actually do something about it* and to keep you in employment and mastheads for the next foreseeable future, it’s only human nature to be rather more fair towards him than, say, another *almost exactly equivalent* figure who seems to spend an appreciable quotient of your literal *every encounter* with him coming up with ever more creative ways to call you stupid, is pretty jubilant about the mass redundancy of dozens of your co-workers elsewhere in the industry, and otherwise attempts to make your daily labours as challenging as possible. And note I said “fair” rather than “favourable”.

Anyway, I think I’ve made my point (and then some).

I’m not saying NZ First deliberately engineered this whole thing exclusively due to rampant paranoia about a re-run of 2008’s year-long barrage of negative media attention leading to their snatching defeat from the jaws of victory … I just think that however genuine Winston’s intentions were in supporting regional newspapers or opposing PRC puppeteering of some portion of our press or any of the rest of it … there’s no getting around the possibility that this *won’t hurt* NZF amidst a scandal-sodden beaten track as we slouch towards the next Election.


  1. Welll Curwen,

    Looki ng at our madia in NZ concider this;

    Now we have a useless “Toothless chatterbox RNZ” – that has had its ‘investigative Journalism’ taken away completely.

    And now RNZ has impoted BBC castoffs running it.

    Then go to TV3 and TV1 and get the same claptrap from both at the same time so we have virtually had any “Independant media gone from our Country now.

    We have reached the point of “anything is better than nothing”

    What a disaster.

  2. Curwen, you usually have a reasonable point to make, but you need to get a grip. Using random asterisks, inverted commas and quotation marks does not enhance your argument. It actually destroys your argument because the reader is left with a profound sense of irritation. If you are confident in your narrative, then please express it in coherent English.

    • To Curwen, in response to RosieLee’s comment:

      If you’d like any help with some very basic html, or with help or advice with simple editing, feel free to email me. (Just, my tag at mail dot com – I just have to remember to check for it.)

      Your message is often right on the mark. This may help to get it across more effectively?

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