“Media attack on New Zealand’s democracy”

A post by Dr. Hans B. Grueber at ZealandiaBlog suggests that there is a Media attack on New Zealand’s democracy

It’s true that the only ones seemingly concerned about parliament being left in limbo since the election and politicians not fronting up or answering any questions of note are journalists.

Twenty five years ago New Zealand voted in a first referendum for the (more) democratic proportional voting system called MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) as recommended  by the Royal Commission after the most thorough investigation into all electoral systems around the world.

The media are extremely slow learners. Over all these years they still  seem to be living in the old imperial First Past the Post world. For example they still talk about electorate and list MPs as if there was a difference. In the other MMP country Germany nobody makes that distinctions and never has. In our current debate we still hear the myth that electorate MPs are supposed to be first class while list MPs second class. The former being accountable and being able to be voted out by the people while the later (only) being accountable to their parties, which put them on the list. This myth could not be further from the truth.

As one scientist quipped in the US context that MPs in safe seats are less accountable to the public than the members of the Stalinist polit-bureau. The later having changed much more often under public pressure that safe seats under First-Past-the-Post. As I already said in a 1992 debate in safe National seats like Te Kuiti or Southland Clutha the party can put a blue ribbon around a sheep dog and it will be elected.

This year the blue ribbon around Toddy in Clutha Southland got fairly tatty, leading to him leaving Parliament with his tail between his legs. This was largelky due to the efforts of some of the media.

Not even a conspiracy

Still every election where the results are not to the liking of the neo-liberal media inevitably the electoral system is blamed.

Even the media are labelled ‘neo-liberal’ now. Was that the cause of or a result of the ‘neo-liberal’ revolution in the 1980s?

The New Zealand media in general do not even try to conceal their disdain for our electoral system and democracy. After this year’s election, which as usual under proportional representation didn’t produce a clear winner with over 50% of the vote they almost demanded that the party with the most votes – as it two weeks later turned out to be 44% – be given the right to form the next government.

The fact that 56% had voted against the old government wasn’t ever worth a mention.

I’ve seen something like that mentioned quite a bit. For someone promoting the merits of MMP to be treating it as a binary for/against vote is curious.

It isn’t a fact that “56% had voted against the old government”. There is no way of knowing the reasons why each of 2,591,896 people voted, especially the 186,706 who voted NZ First.

ACT voters, some Maori Party voters and others may not have specifically voted against the old government. Even some of those who voted for the Greens may not have cared who runs the next Government, they may simply have wanted to ensure that the Greens retained a voice in Parliament (I have voted exactly that way in the past)

It was actually 55.6% who didn’t vote for National. And 63.1% who didn’t vote for Labour, 92.8% who didn’t vote NZ First, 93.7% who didn’t vote Green.

We didn’t have a new government on election night, Oh My God !

The media wouldn’t even allow for the final results to come out before crying out about New Zealand being taken hostage by a party with only just over 7% of the vote. They are just taking their time to negotiate and make up their minds. These media, editors, commentators, and pundits assumed that the New Zealand people of voting age are still like little children who cannot wait and want to open the presents under the tree before Christmas day. The only ones who can’t wait are the media themselves. This is the age of instant gratification after all.

It does seem that it is mainly some of the media who are impatient for a new government.

Another media beat-up in the crazy assumption that it will scare the people is the fact that for an interim period after every election the old government continues as caretaker government in charge of running the day to day business of government. However they are not allowed to introduce any policy changes of make major decisions.

This is portrayed as a terrible thing as if the country would not happily function for a few weeks or even months without a proper government.

I haven’t seen the caretaker government portrayed as a terrible thing, although I have heard some concerns expressed about New Zealand not actively reacting on the international stage. However New Zealand’s lack of input will hardly be missed by most of the world.

The other MMP country Germany held elections on the same weekend. The far right neo-liberal party (FDP) represents the interests of the the business community, which according to the media here cannot live without the certainty of a new government. One of their representatives just appeared on the most influential political TV talkshow. When asked about a coalition before Christmas he replied that such serious negotiations could not be rushed. The host’s only reply was that they just would have to wait.

Belgium a few years back was without a new government for about 18 months after their election. The people loved it as no harm and damage was done to them unlike to us by successive neo-liberal governments over the last 33 years.

A caretaker government won’t change what has been done by successive “neo-liberal governments” over the last 33 years. Gruber keeps confusing two things, our current political limbo under MMP, and his apparent obsession with and opposition to neo-liberalism. It’s worth pointing out that seven of the “neo-liberalist” governments we have had have been elected under MMP.

And it’s worth remembering that if the incoming government 33 years ago had done nothing for some time, and hadn’t taken drastic action, some fairly severe damage to the country is likely to have occurred.

The media still stuck in the First-Past-the-Post world ignore the fact that all this is totally normal under any proportional system in the world. They are seriously suggesting the we, the people, didn’t know what we were doing when we voted over the last 25 years not only once but three times for MMP – a far more democratic system than we had before.

More democratic, which has resulted in more representative Parliaments, but I wouldn’t say far more, and still misused and abused by parties and politicians when it suits their ambitions for power.

Concerted Attack

Following the mainstream media including the state owned broadcasters you cannot but conclude that we are witnessing a concerted attack on our electoral system. Not only do we read and hear comments by editors, political reporters and media personnel of the above nature. The media also give overwhelming space to totally outrageous and false comments in the letter pages and give a platform to anti MMP campaigners of ‘Dirty Politics‘ fame to spread their old disinformation and lies.

It seems we have been watching the Media attack on New Zealand’s democracy.

I think Grueber is right that some of the media has been overly critical of what our eight MMP election has delivered – a headline and scandal vacuum – but it nothing like a concerted attack.

Some journalists have actually suggested tweaks to our MMP, like lowering the threshold, and having a clearer system for forming a new government. I think both would be good improvements to the already better than most system of democracy that we have.

And a healthy democracy needs a critical media, even if they don’t always get things right, aren’t as balanced as they should be and get too excited about things that don’t matter much, like not having a new government for a few weeks.

Our system of democracy is pretty good, our governments over the last 33 years have in the main been pretty good (they will always annoy some of the people some of the time), and our media does a fairly good job most of the time.

We can be critical of the media, as they can be critical of our politicians and aspects of political system, but attacking media for an “attack on New Zealand’s democracy” is in a way an attack on our democracy as the media are an important part of it.

Journalists complaining about nothing much happening is not something most voters will care about.

Better that we look at how we can improve our way of doing democracy.

7 Comments

  1. Ray

     /  October 16, 2017

    Who is Dr Hans Grueber? Google doesn’t show much.
    Though his basic point that the Media are slow learners is fair, look at the last Plunket Twitter stupidity, he was a major player in the Media for decades.
    Whether they are neo liberal is doubtful, possible their bosses are but I very much doubt if journalists could wear that label.

    • Blazer

       /  October 16, 2017

      looking at the message/not the messenger ,it is hard to disagree with him.Journalism is an endangered species these days and finding favour with the …powers that be seems to be common ..these days.

    • Trevors_elbow

       /  October 16, 2017

      Of Nakatomi Towers fame….. its a psuedonym I believe….. Hans meets a sticky end….

  2. Zedd

     /  October 16, 2017

    In any democracy, we do need a ‘free media’ (4th estate ?) BUT in NZ there does appear to be a real bias (esp. on a certain Radio station). It is not always so obvious from watching TV interviews which way many journos lean, but one thing I have noticed.. the ongoing push to turn this into an FPP like outcome, with Left (Lab/Grn) V Right (Natz-act) OR Coke V Pepsi, as NZF & others have labeled them.
    I actually wonder if all the ongoing speculation/demand for an outcome, is the reason why we are still waiting on the final decision ? 😦

    • Gezza

       /  October 16, 2017

      No idea. Winnie would game it anyway. He loves that sort of thing. Tickles his funny bone. It’s why he can’t suppress giggles whenever he’s got his serious face on with the media. I’m not worrying about it or spending any time trying to weigh up options & odds. Can’t change anything. Media are just blithering & wittering on to fill in time. All guesswork with that dude. We’ll find out soon enuf. Whatever the decision – it won’t screw the country.