Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes For Commentariat Under Covid

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Something I recall from last year’s Lockdown experience was the press conferences. Not, you understand, because they were pretty decent exemplars in political communication (although they were also that).

But rather because they were the first time most of the general public had ever seen a live and uncut press conference first hand. Specifically, the manner and the mechanism via which some journalists would seek to try and ‘Gotcha!’ our elected leaders and/or their ministerial appointees. To call it a “melee” is an insult to swordsmanship. It’s really more of a meatgrinder – and springs instantly to mind Otto von Bismarck’s famous remark about how those who enjoy laws (politics) and sausages ought never behold either being made.

This lead, predictably – to everybody but some of those journalists – to a fair few ordinary New Zealanders expressing their disquiet, their distaste, and their disgust at what they were witnessing. Not so much in the direction of the political figures under the proverbial microscope (or, should that be ‘sniper-scope’) – but rather, at some of the journalists pushing spurious, curious, and outright obnoxious lines of questioning in pursuit of that evening’s fifteen-second soundbite scoop.

It all seemed a distraction and a waste of effort – especially when people who’d tuned in for the 13:00 briefing could see for themselves just how different the presentation of the same event looked, cut down and spliced for (de-)context on the 18:00 televised news or in the next day’s papers.

This lead to demands from some of those journos asking the aforementioned questions … that the broadcasts of the press conference portion of proceedings be, in effect, censored. That only the address from the Minister and Ministry of Health mouthpiece (usually the Prime Minister and Director-General of Health) be presented where we could see it – and everything else come filtered through the six o’clock news, newspapers, or whatever else. Or, in other words, only the bits we were supposed to see. Those ‘Gotcha’ moments, and little via way of context or the meandering, maladroit, would-be manipulative maneuverings that preceded them.

The reasoning for this was simple. Journalists asking ‘hard’ questions of demonstrably hard-working public servants could look pretty ugly. Especially when those “hard” questions weren’t really questions at all, and were instead just obvious fishing for make-you-look-bad soundbites. We couldn’t be trusted to tell the difference between useful scrutiny and spurious snarkyness. And the people dispensing the latter felt pretty unfairly victimized when the public they purported to serve started siding with those with power instead of the notional scrutineers.

Now that’s not to say that journalists didn’t do some pretty significantly good work during last year – or, for that matter, this year. We’ve had numerous issues with various organs of government being questionably across everything in their relevant areas of operations pertaining to the pandemic response – and both them and us benefitting capaciously from having exterior scrutiny to help to call them to account.

However, if history’s supposed to repeat and/or rhyme – it’s therefore no surprise that we appear to be seeing a re-rub of these last year’s developments all over again.

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In her Sunday Star Times column the week before last, Andrea Vance wrote a few rather poorly received lines. Now, to give her her due credit, her column also contained some useful and important points of critique for the Government and some of its ongoing decisions pertaining to the pandemic – things like the low availability of rapid saliva testing, for instance.

But she phrased and she framed all of this in inopportune fashion – opening with what amounted to a “poor me” paean about how she couldn’t fly “home” to Ireland, because our Government hadn’t gone as hard (or as prematurely) on a “roadmap” to re-open the country and facilitate two-way border traversing as she’d have liked.

It wasn’t as bad as Mike Hosking’s frankly bizarre column some weeks prior again, wherein he’d seemingly sought to blame Jacinda for New South Wales’ disastrous overrunning with the virus meaning he couldn’t travel there for an extended holiday. But it seemed to sound a bit similar in some parts. (Although, again to be fair to Vance – I don’t for a moment think it really came from the same place; with Hosking, the air of self-centeredness and ‘Government Can’t Do Anything Right’ is a ‘feature’ not a ‘bug’, and quite deliberate and played up about as far as one can possibly manage without morphing into Judith Collins. With Vance, she just opened her column badly and it coloured everything which then ensued)

She further didn’t help herself by doubling-down on the “Roadmap” commentary by favourably invoking Scott Morrison in comparison to our own Government.

Now, I raise that last point, because she did. Not in her column of the week before last – but rather, in her last week’s column (earlier today at time of writing).

There, she phrased it thus:

“Why shouldn’t we hear from Scott Morrison? He’s dealing with the same pandemic, his experiences, and more importantly his mistakes, make him more than qualified to comment.”

Why is Vance putting a rhetorical question-and-answer like that in her column the week after the column which took aim at the NZ Government in unfavourable terms relative to Morrison?

Well, I suspect it’s because she’s probably had a small avalanche of New Zealanders writing in to angrily riposte at her attempted-invocation. To suggest that her criticism was unnecessary, unwarranted, unpatriotic, whatever. And presumably, that the only reason we’d want to hear what ScoMo was up to pertaining to pandemic response, was so we could then do something approaching the diametric opposite thereto.

The theme of Vance’s last week’s column is quite simple – that she feels there is, and I quote, an “‘us vs them’ group think mentality.”

“Us being the ‘team of five million’ and ‘them’ anyone who dares criticise the Government’s approach.”

Getting the picture?

She appears to harbour some concern for “freedom of expression” being abrogated – specifically, her own. As she puts it in the next line:

“Government supporters aggressively insist critics should shut up and trust the experts. That anyone questioning the prevailing approach is recklessly anti-science, undermining the response or indifferent to a higher death toll.”

Now for what it’s worth, I don’t entirely disagree. There’s definite scope for a multiplicity of voices involved in all of this. It’s certainly possible to point out the flaws and the shortcomings in the Government’s ongoing response – and do it in the spirit of what was once termed Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition (which can be sensibly distinguished from the National Party, as viewed last year, going around demonstrating flaws in security etc. by being the security-flaws and disseminating confidential patient-lists, making up homeless men, etc. etc. etc.).

It’s just that I really really don’t think that Scott Morrison is a good example of somebody we ought be listening to. If you don’t believe me on this, take a look at this recent Sydney Morning Herald piece (in fact, even if you DO believe me uncritically – always a risky thing to do – take a read of it anyway, it’s excellent to illuminate the true character of the man leading our closest ally) looking at some of Morrison’s recent curious Covid-19 conduct.

Now again, to be fair to Vance, she’s not being anywhere near as … unprintable, as the Westland mayor who recently demanded that we listen to business leaders instead of health experts. And also ‘learn to live with it’, I kid you not, like “Polio”.

However I nevertheless can’t quite shake the feeling that the sort of sentiment Vance speaks to – even if she may not, herself, mean for it to come across in this manner – is a bit hypocritical.

She’s not incorrect when she suggests that, as the headline to her piece puts it: “If the Government is making the right decisions on Covid-19, it will withstand scrutiny.”

The issue we have is that the scrutiny which is being applied in various corners of the commentariat (both foreign and domestic) to our Covid-19 response … is of questionable overall quality. There’s a lot of very strange, very spurious stuff out there mixed in with it, from people with their own agendas or barrows to push (and/or fill – and I mean ‘barrow’, there, not necessarily in the ‘wheeled’ sense, if you get my drift).

Hence, the scrutiny of the Government’s Covid-19 response is also something which can, should, and must merit ‘scrutiny’ of its own. ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’ as the ancient Latin maxim goes.

This is something which doesn’t just apply to political (or, for that matter, any other kind of) journalists, though. It also applies to our own local Opposition. Who, quite frankly, are not nearly so “weakened” by “The 1pm briefings [which] skew the discourse in favour of the Government, at the expense of Opposition voices” as Vance claims – as they are by their own ridiculous internal situation and peculiar over-enthusiasm for pursuing ‘Culture War’ issues that most New Zealanders have repeatedly indicated that they really do not care very much for at all.

Indeed, what’s “Weakening” Chris Bishop this week, I wonder (this being National’s Covid-19 response spokesman). Is it that he’s not physically sitting in Parliament (yet – his replacement as shadow Leader of the House has fought to get National bums on seats in the House again for the, and again I am quoting .. apparently vitally necessary “tactile” sensation of democracy) … or is it that he just had his career cut off at the knees by his own leader for daring to exercise some of that candid “freedom of expression” Vance is understandably keen on prevailing in other areas of our nation’s politics.

In any case, it’s not that I disagree – in principle – with what Vance is propounding here. It’s of course eminently logical that people seeking to help the government – and, ultimately, all of us – via providing reasoned, measured commentary on what could conceivably done better … should be given a fair hearing and not shouted down nor crowded out. We’re quite fortunate that various luminaries of our local academic sphere are already very much ‘part of the furniture’ when it comes to both commentary and the official consultative process for that very reason.

But a significant issue we seem to have is that many of the ‘alternative voices’ which come springing up around the place are … not so great. The “Plan B” guys spring instantly to mind – and then there’s Mike Hosking.

Some people in the media, for reasons best known to themselves (although easily adequately guessed at), have occasionally chosen to pursue the platforming of these sorts of perspectives precisely because it helps to drive controversy-oriented clicks; or maybe, in some cases, simply because they want to try and make our current response seem unnecessary, in favour of pursuing questionable if not outright illusory ‘overseas models’. You know how it goes.

That absolutely should not be immune from critique, simply because the people who’ve elected to propel these viewpoints into our collective mindscape and mediasphere are part of the Designated Official Commentariat of the day.

Nor should, to phrase it admittedly somewhat indelicately, media elements who get observed to be playing silly-buggers , especially during a time of national emergency, be exempt from castigation merely due to their holding swipecards which give them Parliamentary Press Gallery access.

Ultimately, as applies that ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes’ maxim – the answer isn’t really ‘The Media’.

It’s us.

And that applies not only to the Government (whom the media would quite like to mediate your watchful relationship with … no doubt entirely benevolently) , but also to the media.

And not merely because we’re “watching” it in the sense of being passive consumers of same.

It’s YOUR headspace they’re putting all of this into. Take back control!

26 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t mind at all when Jacinda refers to “the team of five million”.
    It reinforces that EVERYONE is affected by COVID-19 in some way.
    It also reinforces that EVERYONE has a role to play in eliminating it.
    If we were not trying to eliminate it but rather trying to “get used it”, as the political right prefer, then it wouldn’t be a team of five million but countless teams of varying size all around the country.
    Different rules in different areas.
    It would be a culture of fear and distrust, as you would never know if the next person you approached was from an infected area, and if they were infected.
    A schismatic approach.
    And what would be the goal?
    What would be the “acceptable” number of deaths per week, or new cases per day, etc?
    Is that a good healthy environment in which to live, and to bring new children into the world?
    And despite what the political right say, vaccination isn’t the complete answer either.
    It makes a big difference, but you will never be able to vaccinate everyone and as we have seen with the Delta outbreak it only takes one to start the chain.
    No, people like Mike Hosking and Tova O’Brien hate the term “team of five million” because it demonstrates that actually they are not special at all, they are just small flutes in a very big orchestra and as well as having rights they have social responsibilities. And they don’t like having social responsibilities because to them it smacks of socialism.

  2. ‘learn to live with it’, I kid you not, like “Polio”.

    We did NOT learn to live with polio. We fucking eliminated it through vaccinations.
    I should know I was there.

    I suppose this is what you can expect from a community that has Gloriavale.

  3. Never has a prime minister had a more friendly press. To the extent that they’ve been patsies for the government. If they’re now starting to ask awkward questions then all I can say is that it’s four years late!

    • Oh so true Andrew, the Govt does have a far more friendly press than previous ones. Mind you you’d bloody hope so considering it’s cost us taxpayers 50 million notes to get most of them into the Govts pocket.

      The team of 5 million is pure 100% marketing male cow excrement.

      • actually costing taxpayers $105M “Covid support” in total – so far. Also, the money is specifically contingent on media actively supporting – unquestioningly – Labours ToW “principles” agenda.

        We have the best MSMedia money can buy.

      • Oh Jo but that doesn’t count apparently, although the media were so deep in Key’s pocket they were stitched in, Audrey Young absolutely adored him and Barry Soper loved his Friday night drinks alongside the Heralds John Armstrong. We all know Hosking love affair with the man. Tova Obrien, John Roughan and old man Bishop, just to name a few.The Government most certainly does NOT have a far more friendly press than the previous one. The bullshit some espouse is nauseating.

        • The media supports whomever supports the housing ponzi because their revenue derives from real estate agency advertising.

  4. Expert SLAMS NZ Covid response screams tv3 this morning. The expert? Des Gorman. Then quickly changed to ‘doom and gloom not helpful says expert’. The expert? Des Gorman. Was the original click bait headline changed because it wasn’t factual or because Des Gorman complained? Will Professor Curtin ever appear on Newshub nation again after witnessing Tova and Simon piss-taking the Indo Pacific conference? Probably not. Will newshub wheel out a former National MP and Jo Moir for a discussion of the Govt policies of the day and call it Balanced? Of course they will. Can Bridget Morton say anything she likes on RNZ or TV without being asked to back it up with facts? Of course she can. Will RNZ run a show with something called ‘the panel’ even though the panel is made up of people with no experience or expertise in the subject of the day? Of course. Will TV 3 run every utterance of David Seymour? Of course… help yourself David. A Mother of a 9 year old tweeted out that her son had asked is TV1 Cnn and TV3 Fox? Out of the mouths of babes. My cousin relocated back from the UK a while back and the first thing I said to him was not to expect any quality journalism. His reply was ‘when did NZ ever have any quality journalism…the 70s??’ An acquaintance of mine told me they were a fan of Mike Hosking’s show. I asked if they thought he was an intellectual. Fuck no was the reply.

  5. How dare Journalists ask questions that the Labourites consider ‘unfair’. Maybe we could offer Tova as a sacrifice to the holy cow of Labour?
    Quickly bring out that pink lady again. And the dude with the glasses. And also don’t mention that demand surpasses supply of vaccinations and that the PM thinks in the times of a pandemic, managing demand is more important that actually ordering and buying doses.

    • So you want to offer Nationals Tova Obrien as a sacrifice to the holy cow of Labour?
      Throw in Barry Soper, Heather DuPlusess, Mike Hosking, Kate Hawksbury , The N.Z. Herald, Stuff etc etc etc, then we may have balance.

      Thankfully the lady with the pink hair and man with glasses have expertise, when will we here yours?

    • Absolutely comedy gold. Right wing ‘survival of the fittest’ news stories abound with a plethora of self appointed experts from here and overseas. Amusing that Sabine jests about sacrificing Tova when National/ACT are calling for a ‘live/die with it’ policy at a 70% vaccination rate. Which member of your family are you willing to sacrifice to the money gods?

      • Which member of your family are you willing to sacrifice to the money gods?

        What an apt description.
        Sacrificing humans to the money gods.
        That is exactly what is being promoted, being sold to us.

        Having previously sacrificed our land itself, vast amounts of it, to the money gods.
        Having sacrificed our water, our aquifers, to the money gods.
        Other things too have been sacrificed to try and appease the money gods.

        But greed has no limits. And the money gods are greed.
        And now it is our own human family who are about to be sacrificed.

  6. Unless there is something very specific I want to find out about, I no longer watch or read any news apart from the odd blog spot like Bernard Hickey and TDB. I even looked overseas to both the US and UK before concluding that everything we get served up by the media is biased and corrupt on some or even most, level(s). Truth can and will be presented in different ways depending on the ‘truth teller’ and that effectively all of the truth tellers were corrupt. From Hoskings and Vance to the BBC, CNN, CDC, Lancet etc they are all rife with an agenda which is always about power and control at some level.

    Doing the right thing for the good of the people and presenting the facts with a broad interpretation has gone the way of the dinosaur.

    • And here I was informed that our P.M. and Government have the easiest ride by media in history?
      Seems that a hell of a lot of trolling on this site.

      • Bert
        Good thing this site and its patrons are not in back pocket of corporations or under orders of the Govt. If we were, we couldn’t troll and say that Govt seriously fucked up ordering enough vaccines…amateur business error committed by people who have no idea of business. Rule 1: Order enough stock to meet demand. 5 million x 2 = 10 million. Did we order 10 million? No. Do we need 5 million doses? Yes…Jacinda said we are all in the team of 5 million. Boy…just watchd her on TV…Jacinda is very bloody defensive and. super edgy over any question about shortage. Her words “It ‘s not that we don’t have enough vaccines, but we have too much demand.” Bert, it’s your and my and everyone’s fault because we are all keen to get vaccinated. Not Jacinda’s, not govt, but it’s our fault. Unbelievable!

        • The vaccine was offered to me and I took it, how is that the Government’s fault, actually it is their fault I got the vaccine, who’d have thought?
          You will always find a negative because that’s what you’re searching for. Why 10 million vaccines when you know there are people who won’t get vaccinated. Why waste something so vital.
          Hardly surprising Jacinda is defensive with attacking interviews, believable!
          And yes plenty of trolls who rely on ancedotal evidence.

  7. no wonder we have a toilet paper shortage with the amount of shit coming out of peoples mouths. Never in the field of human endeavour, has so much shit been spoken by so few. Media runs story with proviso of ‘might’ and ‘possibly’ and ‘expert says’ or even better ‘question mark’ on any subject at all and the right take it up as ‘the truth’ while complaining that the media is in the pocket of the govt. Lol.

  8. zb now removed story from HDPA and husband Barry Soper claiming vaccines delayed on purpose. Was it because it was a load of crap, conjecture or have they found something else to complain about that is more important? Or were they told they would face legal action? Or were they just embarrassed? Crowne plaza now confirmed as not where patient zero passed the virus on despite newsrooms insistence that it was. Prof Baker says it was always ‘highly unlikely’. Apology forthcoming from self appointed expert Jo Moir at newsroom? Don’t make me laugh. Can’t wait for the next installment of ‘I know better’ from NZ’s elite journalists.

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