As predicted the “big blunder” at Massey may help free speech

On 7 August when Massey University vice-chancellor cancelled a student political event to prevent Don Brash from speaking I suggested that Massey’s Brash ban may help free speech:

…today when the Vice Chancellor of Massey University banned Don Brash from talking there there has been as near to universal concern and condemnation – and for good reason.

It is an alarming attempt to restrict speech – but this may turn out to be a good thing. It may be the overstep that is needed to encourage a decent debate about who should determine what sort of speech should be effectively censored.

Now Bryce Edwards writes Free speech has been strengthened at Massey

The attempt by the head of Massey University to ban Don Brash from speaking on campus last month has entirely backfired. Instead of Brash being undermined by her actions, it now looks like Vice Chancellor Jan Thomas is in danger of losing her position. What’s more, her actions have ended up reinforcing academic freedoms on campus.

He quotes from a Newstalk ZB interview with history professor Peter Lineham:

“I think it is a big, big blunder… this has put the university in a very bad light” and in terms of the university staff, “I think most people are uneasy about the decision”.

Lineham explained how the Academic Council met yesterday and “grilled” their boss. He gives an idea of how Massey staff feel, saying there was “intense discussion at Academic Board, because she seemed to have started off being very determined to find some way or other to stop Don Brash’s visit, and then retreated from it, and then up came the safety issue, which I think had it been looked at in the cold and hard light of day didn’t really amount to much.”

Perhaps Lineham’s most important point in the interview is about how campus free speech has actually been strengthened as a result of the Brash-ban debacle:

“I think we have recovered free speech a bit because this controversy has strongly marked the New Zealand campuses by the fact that vice chancellors – and this is happening throughout the world – cannot play nanny to the students. That’s a ridiculous role. The students can choose who they want to listen to, and can have whatever views they want. And I think this particular incident has made every vice chancellor realise that they need to keep their hands out of deciding what students should listen to.”

I hope that is the outcome of what was initially a debacle at Massey. I’m not sure it has been put to the test yet. That may happen next month when  Brash has been invited again to speak to students at Massey.

University staff are now openly signalling their unhappiness with the Vice Chancellor (who is akin to a chief executive). Deputy pro-vice chancellor Chris Gallavin has been speaking publicly about staff feelings. Appearing on RNZ yesterday he said:

“There is significant worry, and perhaps even distrust if not anger in the minds of many Massey University staff, that they may have been told an untruth or at very least not the whole story” – see: Don Brash cancellation: Censure motions against vice chancellor.

Gallavin explains the motions that academic staff are considering against Thomas, which will be voted on next month. The RNZ article reports: “Professor Gallavin said he had never heard of a board passing a censure motion against a vice-chancellor and it would send ‘a strong message’ to the Council about the staff’s ‘disappointment’.”

It should also send a strong message to other vice-chancellors and universities.

“Whether she should resign really revolves around that question as to whether she still has the trust and confidence of the staff”.

Should Thomas be pressured to resign? It would be a tough outcome for her, she is just one of a number of people who have tried to restrict free speech on campuses.

But I think a resignation or sacking would be a positive for free speech.

There would probably be a public down side, as it would encourage some to push harder for other resignations and sackings if a university official or academic sought to restrict or adversely influence free speech.

On the plus side, it would send a strong and clear message to universities that free speech is important and matters, especially in universities.

Free speech – left, right want it for people they agree with

Free speech is being freely debated again.

Political Roundup: Chelsea Manning visit exposes hypocrisy on left and right

The latest free speech debate – ignited by the National Party opposing Chelsea Manning coming to speak in New Zealand next month – illustrates that many on the political left and right are actually in broad agreement in their desire to severely limit free speech when it suits them.

All they differ on is who should be allowed the right to speak. In the case of the left, they generally want the likes of the recent Canadian alt-right speakers suppressed. The political right wants anti-war dissidents like Chelsea Manning kept out.

There has been some criticism of this on Twitter:

@MJWhitehead :

Gosh it’s almost like people told you the entire time that this was bad-faith political partisanship from the right-wing and not a genuine concern for frozen peaches, Bryce. Come off it.

You’ll also note that the locus of the left-wing debate was “should they have a right to a platform through a venue,” and largely not “should they be turned away at the airport.” National has no such qualms.

And, I do actually believe right-wingers when they say they care about free speech, I just don’t believe they’ll prioritize it as much as we do when it comes into conflict with other values- Woodhouse has shown that even *respectability politics* trumps it for them.

“I just don’t believe they’ll prioritize it as much as we do” suggests that Matthew sees himself as a spokesperson for ‘the left’.

But he is generalising somewhat claiming “the locus of the left-wing debate” and “largely not”.

While Edwards is also guilty of over-generalising he is largely correct in saying “All they differ on is who should be allowed the right to speak”.

I’ve seen a lot of people from the left (notably Golriz Ghahraman) who speak strongly againts peeople they don’t agree with from being allowed to come to New Zealand to speak, while staunchly supporting people they agree with.

Michael Woodhouse has merely highlighted that it is often people getting confused over championing free speech versus championing their politics and preferences.

 

Q+A – free speech or hate speech?

Stephen Franks: New Zealanders don’t have to welcome, we didn’t have any desire to welcome, we just wanted people to be allowed to make up their own decision as to who heard, not have politicians make it for them. I think that countries where politicians decide who you can hear and who you can’t, who you can question and challenge…Phil Goff said repeatedly that he had the power to do it, and a whole lot of people jumped in behind him.

We’ve had holocaust deniers, we’ve had scientologists, we’ve had a lot of very very unpleasant people speaking, and we should be able to see them and decide yes that’s unpleasant.

Stacey Morrison: It’s not unpleasant speech, it’s hate speech. Do you not admit it’s hate speech?

Stephen Franks: there’s no difference. Hate speech is just a way for people to try and say ‘I don’t believe in free speech, but i can’t say that, so I’ll call something hate speech – and that’s not free. That’s all it is.

Anjum Rahman: That is absolute nonsense. there’s a lot of research that’s been done on hate speech, and what it does, hate speech, it silences it’s victims, it causes them to withdraw because of fear, it causes them to move from their jobs, leave neighbourhoods…

Corrin Dann: Let’s be clear about the bit that you’re arguing is hate speech, we’re talking about they argue on the IQ thing, on the racial superiority.

Anjum Rahman: It’s not just that. They argue that, for example, their comments around aboriginal culture and that white people have done more in two hundred and fifty six years than aborigines did in forty thousand years and therefore it was a good thing you took the land away.

Stacey Morrison: We need to look at that in the context of this country, and in terms of our bi-cultural framework for our country, and therefore if they’re talking about multiculturalism as a danger and trying to make people feel threatened so that they fight back, that’s when you incite hate.

So telling people that they are threatened is where it becomes dangerous, whereas it’s not true in terms of whether they face danger.

Stephen Franks: I am threatened, I am threatened when Amjun and the Islamic Federation says we don’t want someone coming here who doesn’t like Islam.

Anjum Rahman: I didn’t mention Islam, I’m talking about people, no I did not, I’m talking about the fact that what these people do…what I am saying to you, these acts of hate speech have an impact on people’s daily lives, and what I’m saying to you is whenwould you draw the line? When there are people with tiki torches on the street, and driving cars into people, and killing them, would you stop the line when we start wearing yellow stars, would you stop it when they’re on cattle trains…

Bryce Edwards: We can clearly see that we’ve got this looming culture war, and it’s happening on this panel…it’s actually happening throughout the globe at the moment…it’s an escalation of new debates, and we’re seeing over the last five years that there’s been this rise of radicalism, and we’re seeing it with these Canadian duo, it’s a reactionary version of it.

We’re seeing it on the left, we’re seeing it amongst gender politics, ethnicity politics, it’s happening everywhere.

Corrin Dann: Is New Zealand hostile to that free speech?

Bryce Edwards: I think everywhere’s having to deal with these radical views, especially when they’re pushing the boundaries, to find a way of dealing with it. At the moment the way of dealing with it is to try and ban it, and there will be consequences if we go down that route. I mean it is a logical way to do it, but it means that I think other groups, marginalised groups, suppressed groups will end uip being banned as well.

Stacey Morrison: You don’t need a stage to have a platform, and what they’ve done is performed an excellent PR opportunity. We’ve been talking about people that I didn’t know about a month ago, and therefore in terms of their free speech, that is welcomed on other platforms, you don’t need to be at a particularly privately owned venue like the Powerstation.

Stephen Franks: The question though about rights of assembly and association is that you actually do, because you’re getting a filtered message through almost all media. People actually want to go and say, can I look at, what sort of body language do I see, they want to hear other people’s questions in the meeting. I didn’t want to go and hear them because our researchers said some of it’s quite offensive, it’s set out to be agent provocateur,

Corrin Dann: They don’t have filters on a Youtube channel, you can go and watch half an hour lectures if you really really want…

Stephen Franks: It’s structured the way he wants it. The thing about meetings is that they’re not structured. They’ll get questions and challenges…

Anjum Rahman: Did you see the rules of those…

Stephen Franks: …at a meeting you actually get a chance to make up your mind directly, you see body language, but more importantly you see the other people at the meeting, and you make up your mind how are they feeling…

Corrin Dann: And you think the people going to that meeting were there to be open minded about what was going to be said?

Stephen Franks: As I said, we’re there for the right to do it. I don’t actually care about that meeting. It doesn’t worry me that it was stopped except that it’s a trend that changes our society dramatically. I didn’t like Phil Goff saying…

Anjum Rahman: I just want to go back to what Bryce was saying. This is not new. It happened in the 1930s and 1940s in Germany, it’d happening in Myanmar with that Royhingyas, it happened in Rawanda, it’s happened all around the world and it’s happening all the time. And what the research on hate speech shows is that acts of racist violence are preceded by vilification in speech.

That we create the atmosphere that makes violence acceptable, because victims of that speech are so vilified that people then act it out. And that’s what I’m saying, if you were living in the 1930s at what point would you have said ‘right we have to stop this’. We can’t have this language that’s going to end up at this place.

Bryce Edwards: There are all these offensive things that are being said, and I think you’re right, it’s increasing, but it’s a question of how do you deal with it. Do you suppress it? And does that work? I think we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks it doesn’t work. It’s had the counter effect, that we’ve had more…

Anjum Rahman: I disagree with you, I think it’s really worked. If there had been no protests…I’ve been to a speech like this that was real vilification, I’ve sat through it, there was ov er a hundred people in the room, there was no question and answer session, there were strict rules to their meeting, and there would not have been a debate…

Stacey Morrison: In terms of free speech, whose freedom of speech do we always protect, and in terms of say for instance Taika Waititi as a Maori man saying that New Zealand is racist, no one responded in terms of  that was his freedom of speech to express his opinion, it was more about how dare he say that.

So in these experiences it is important that we look at what we think about this, where we stand, and what we support and at what point we define this as hate speech.

 

 

KiwiBuild “socialism for the rich”

Phil Twyford and Labour talked up their ambitious KiwiBuild policy while in opposition, but have found implementation in Government difficult.

This week Twyford announced eligibility criteria for going in the ballot to get a KiwiBuild house which includes income caps of $120k for a single person and $180k for a couple. This has raised fresh criticisms.

Barry Soper: KiwiBuild scheme looking more and more like middle-class welfare

Phil Twyford was, in his words, opening the door to affordable home ownership, which was little more than a public relations exercise. He invited aspiring home owners to register their interest in a ballot for a KiwiBuild home which was a bit like taking a stab in the dark.

Far from opening the door, there’s still not a door to open – the first house has yet to make its appearance and over the next year just 1000 doors will beckon the ballots. And to qualify for a key to your phantom household you’ll have to be earning less than $120,000 if you’re a singleton and $180,000 if you have a partner.

Unfortunately it looks as though it’s shaping up to be a middle class housing programme where you’d certainly need that level of income to cope with the mortgage, with the current average expected to be $650,000 and rising.

$120-180k is hardly middle classes. It’s double average incomes.

The Government has also been criticised for it’s expensive fee-free tertiary education policy mostly benefiting better off students. And for it’s ‘winter warmer’ handout going to all pensioners, including far from poor ones like Winston Peters.

Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Kiwibuild is now “socialism for the rich”

If there was any excitement brewing at being able to enter a lottery to buy an affordable Kiwibuild house, it was certainly short-lived, as further details revealed that the “lottery of birth” has probably already scuttled most people’s chances. Disappointment is setting in as more people realise that the scheme is really only going to benefit the rich.

This is because the houses are priced so high that few will be able to afford to even enter the final ballot for them. What’s more, many are asking why the income caps have been pitched so high that the scheme seems destined to be dominated by rich buyers who are after a good investment.

Newshub’s Jenna Lynch was highly critical: “in effect there is no real income cap. Only the top eight per cent won’t be able to buy these homes. It’s a free for all. This is not going to help those on low or middle incomes – they’ll be locked out by relatively high wage earners” – see her column: Kiwibuild a free for all.

According to Stuff journalist Henry Cooke, the “sky-high income cap”, together with any lack of “weighting for need or income like there is for state houses”, means the rich will benefit the most: “Needy families who could really use the help will be out in the cold hard private rental market while a couple of doctors making $80k each will happily move into a nice new home” – see: Why the Government is letting the rich buy KiwiBuild homes.

But Cooke reports that there is some logic behind this “socialism for the rich” approach. First, Twyford argues that there will be a trickle-down effect whereby the rich buying the Kiwibuild houses will eventually benefit the poor through other houses becoming cheaper (or just not getting more expensive).

I thought that ‘trickle down’ was a dirty term these days, especially on Labour’s left.

Second, there’s the need, electorally, for Labour to keep the rich happy, with the idea that Kiwibuild is also for them: “Setting the income cap so high also invites quite a lot of middle-class buy-in.”

In other words, handing out houses to a voting demographic. Some may call that vote buying (using taxpayer money).

Third, there’s a likelihood that the Government will actually need rich people to be buying the houses, given that they will be unaffordable to most others.

New houses are usually too expensive for lower income first home buyers.

There’s a line being run by the Government that the lottery-element of Kiwibuild is a great equaliser – because poor applicants have just as much chance of having their name picked as rich applicants. Twyford has said “Everyone has an equal shot in the ballot so people who are on a low income, or a high income, as long as they fit the criteria … then they can have a crack at doing this” – see Jane Patterson’s Ballot will keep Kiwibuild equal, Twyford says.

“Great equaliser’ is a nonsense claim.

It is an equal chance for those who can afford a half million dollar plus new house to be drawn from the ballot, but only some will be able to win a prize house.

From Reddit:

When even avowed lefty Bryce Edwards is calling you out with such a brutal headline you have a problem Phil.

This whole thing has been a complete and utter disaster from Labour. They campaigned on a fantasy and instead the lower and middle classes’ tax dollars are going straight into the pockets of property developers and investors.

He even used the trickle down argument!

Twyford seems to be stumbling from Pr disaster to disaster, and at best it is going to take some time for KiwiBuild to actually build any significant number of houses.

And by trying to show that he is making progress well before significant progress has been made could backfire.

If people who could afford to build their own home decide to sit and wait in the ballot hoping for a windfall capital gain thanks to the Government it could reduce new house building further in the private sector.

 

 

‘Culture war’ in New Zealand – revolution or evolution?

Do we have a growing culture war in New Zealand? Or have we had one and it is as good as over? Or is most of New Zealand, beyond the political activist bubble, chugging along in quiet evolution?

Bryce Edwards looks at Our new culture wars at Newsroom, and shows that in some ways there has been a spike in the use of some terms over the past five years.

Occurence of the words in an online database of newspapers and magazines in New Zealand.
Source Bryce Edwards

The last five years have seen a distinct increase in what might be called “cultural politics” or “culture wars” in New Zealand. The simplest way to understand this is to think of “cultural politics” as being about “non-economic politics” – debates over issues that aren’t directly about economics or materialism, but are more about issues of identity and discrimination. Political scientists also refer to such issues as being post-materialist.

Debates about issues relating to ethnicity, gender, sexuality, human rights, discrimination, disabilities, and so forth have become much more prominent over recent years. And divisive topics such as abortion, euthanasia and drug law reform, will continue to be extremely difficult for politicians to navigate.

The “culture wars” are particularly associated with political and social issues relating to ethnicity and gender. And some key words go with these issues – such as “feminism”, “racism”, and the more modern buzzword “diversity”. All of these terms have had an explosion of usage in New Zealand over the last five years.

But how divided is the general population, as opposed to the political media and social media bubble?

Most of the country largely ignores most politics between elections, and is more interested in the All Blacks, Shortland Street and the latest repackaging of a burger or some chicken, plus the usual chips of course.

Racism, feminism, and diversity aren’t the only words representing the new culture wars. The rise of more socially-liberal causes and debates have led to a new way of talking about politics.

By the minority who talk to any extent about politics and political issues.

Racism, feminism, and diversity aren’t the only words representing the new culture wars. The rise of more socially-liberal causes and debates have led to a new way of talking about politics. The slang term “woke” is an example of this.

I follow politics more than most but hadn’t noticed the term ‘woke’ being used. I have noticed that even All Black coaches use the term ‘learnings’ though.

Similarly, the term that has been used for woke political activists is “social justice warriors”. However, although once used to self-describe as a term of pride, it’s now increasingly seen as pejorative (in the same way that “politically correct” was once embraced by liberals and then became a term of disparagement).

I have noticed the increasing use of “social justice warriors”, but only in political social media.

The phrase “check your privilege” refers to “privilege theory” – which is a central concept of the culture wars – that one’s identity (ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc) represents certain structural advantages in society.

“Privilege theory”is new to me, and sounds like academic-speak.

Here, “identity politics” kicks in, with one’s membership of different social categories being an important indicator of one’s value to the debate. For example, the term “middle-aged white men” (or variations on this) is a trifecta of disparagement and critique about the dominant group in New Zealand politics.

I have certainly seen growing attacks on “middle-aged white men” (and variations) and attempts to shut people up who are identified by others as such.

Is it even “the dominant group in New Zealand politics”? Look at the current party leaders.

Jacinda Ardern is not middle aged nor male. Simon Bridges is not middle aged nor ‘white’. Winston Peters is old, and Maori when it suits him. David Seymour is relatively young. Marama Davidson is not white, male nor middle aged. Ironically perhaps only James Shaw could fit the demon category, and he is hardly dominant.

Arguments about political representation of groups who are traditionally under-represented, are central to cultural wars. We can therefore expect to see more debates about dedicated Maori wards in local government elections, and ways to achieve better representation of the whole of society in other political vehicles, and in structures such as company boards.

Other concepts are also now more important: post-colonialism, decolonialism, CIS-gendered, cultural appropriation, hate speech, and free-speech.

I’m not sure these things will be being discussed much in the cafes, bars and suburbs of New Zealand, let alone fought over.

Has the culture war actually already been won?

The keenness of the Establishment to embrace liberalism can be seen in the number of businesses that are becoming more concerned than ever with issues of diversity and cultural sensitivity. This indicates that some parts of the culture wars have largely been won.

Looking at the leadership mix above, perhaps it has been ‘won’. But I think this has been an evolution rather than a revolution, changes that were started in the sixties  which was a cultural revolution – that’s now fifty years ago – and has gradually changed as young idealists have got older and had more influence in power over several generations.

We can look at how things are now compared to how they were and think ‘wow, that’s a big step forward’, but it hasn’t happened suddenly, nor has it reached a conclusion.

Te reo Maori, for example, is now entirely accepted as an important part of the nation. It’s also no longer unusual to see the Tino rangatiratanga flag fly in many public places, often on Government buildings. And the concept of gender equality is now universally accepted in politics.

I wouldn’t say universally accepted, but certainly largely accepted (with the exception of small pockets of past-dwellers).

But not all of this is this is a pull of the political elite.

On drug law reform, especially cannabis reform, the public has been well ahead of our ruling class, pushing our reluctant politicians to deal with a political and legal failure.

And this is more of social rather than a political pressure, the ‘war on drugs’ was obviously lost a long time ago but our politicians have been too cautious (or gutless) to step up and make long called for changes. This is only slowly happening now – in fairness to Ardern and Shaw this is probably being held back by an elderly Maori gentleman.

It seems that the more socially-liberal elements in most of these conflicts are in the ascendancy.

This has been a several generation evolution.

Labelling it as a cultural war does not do it justice. Wars tend to end up with winners and losers (or perhaps that should be losers and loser-losers).

Overall New Zealand culture has changed markedly in the last half century, relatively quickly as many things have changed rapidly in the modern world. But it is more due to growing awareness and understanding of the majority of people, who are mostly oblivious the warring factions on the political fringes.

This hasn’t been a war of attrition. In the main we can all benefit.

 

The Spinoff and RNZ “sharing our journalism” – and also sponsors?

There were some heated exchanges on Twitter last night over a just announced arrangement between RNZ and The Spinoff to share news – “we’ll be sharing our journalism”, but there are issues over whether RNZ are also sharing The Spinoff’s sponsorship and advertising.

RNZ is a long serving non-commercial Government funded media organisation based on radio, but with a growing online presence.

The Spinoff is a a relatively new online media enterprise which relies on sponsorship for funding. They have just launched a premium prescription service – “the best stories from around the NZ media hitting your inbox at 7 am weekdays”. That sounds similar to a service Bryce Edwards has provided free for several years.

Yesterday (12 March) RNZ announced RNZ and The Spinoff announce content partnership:

RNZ and The Spinoff are delighted to announce we’ll be sharing our journalism.

Under the arrangement material from rnz.co.nz will appear on thespinoff.co.nz and vice versa.

The new arrangement maintains RNZ’s policy of sharing content with media partners and extends to 16 the number of agreements in place with a range of media organisations.

Glen Scanlon, RNZ’s head of digital, said The Spinoff team had blazed a path for independent websites and the partnership extended RNZ’s proactive approach to make news and information available to more New Zealanders.

“The Spinoff is the source of some of New Zealand’s wittiest, and well-thought, journalism and we’re very much looking forward to being able to feature it.

“Duncan Greive and his team are a creative force, and they have helped bring issues to the forefront of people’s minds in many new ways.”

Greive, The Spinoff’s managing editor, said he was “extremely stoked to be entering a partnership with RNZ”.

“It’s an organisation we admire immensely. The work it does feels thoughtful, urgent and agenda-setting, and we’re privileged to be able to share it with our audience.

“We’re particularly happy that we were able to design a pioneering relationship for RNZ – one which sees our work available for syndication on their sites, as well as theirs on ours. It’s our way of supporting a cultural and journalistic giant which does so much to sustain the rest of our media.”

The Spinoff made their own announcement, quoting from the media release and trying to add some humour: Spinoff and RNZ announce conscious coupling

The juggernaut of quality New Zealand journalism is teaming up with friendly local website The Spinoff, it was announced today to nil fanfare.

According to a media release from RNZ, both parties are delighted about the arrangement, which provides that “material from rnz.co.nz will appear on thespinoff.co.nz and vice versa” and “maintains RNZ’s policy of sharing content with media partners and extends to 16 the number of agreements in place with a range of media organisations”.

“Sixteen seems a lot,” said one unnamed source at The Spinoff. “Are there even 16 media organisations in New Zealand?”

According to Spinoff sources, staff were excited about adding more top RNZ content to their website, but more importantly they were motivated by the opportunity to get a mention from New Zealand’s most consistently funny parody Twitter account.

A story shared yesterday led to a heated exchange on Twitter last night.

The original article was posted on The Spinoff on 7 March: 30% cheaper to build and pre-consented: is this a solution to the housing crisis?

An old cigarette factory in Masterton, a remnant from the Think Big era, has been re-purposed to tackle our affordable housing crisis. Rebecca Stevenson caught up with builder Mike Fox to find out how a plant in the Wairarapa is producing modular, kitset homes on the cheap.

That is from Rebecca Stevenson, and looks almost like an advertorial for a house building company, but there is no suggestion it was paid for publicity. However like other Spinoff stories, it has a sponsorship message:

The Spinoff’s business content is brought to you by our friends at Kiwibank. Kiwibank backs small to medium businesses, social enterprises and Kiwis who innovate to make good things happen.

Check out how Kiwibank can help your business take the next step.

That’s how The Spinoff pay their wages and bills, and it is open disclosure – similar to commercial TV stations have sponsors associated with programmes or news segments like business news and the weather.

On 9 March RNZ republished this article – note that this is prior to them announcing their sharing arrangement with The Spinoff. They acknowledged at the end of the article:

This article was first published on The Spinoff

Bryce Edwards got suggested potential problems with this approach for RNZ, and was confronted by Duncan Grieve from The Spinoff:

Touchy from Grieve. I thought the Spinoff article read like an advetorial too, and that was before reading Edwards’ tweets.

Toby Manhire (from The Spinoff) also seemed aggrieved:

It may have not been paid content on The Spinoff (just openly sponsored), but it is odd content for RNZ to choose to share.

Remember that The Spinoff has just launched a subscription service that sounds similar to Edwards’ free daily round up.

Another Twitter exchange on the topic:

@GeoffMillerNZ – and have announced content-sharing deal. Seems fairly dodgy from RNZ’s perspective, given much of Spinoff’s content sponsored by corporates/PR. You can’t spell “Spinoff” without “spin”

@DCohenNZ – I support what RNZ is doing with content sharing. It’s one of a number of impressive decisions that have been taken on the watch of . Whether other participating media have a “spin” (or political tilt) isn’t important as long as the RNZ content is used extant.

@fundypost (Paul Litterick) – My concern is the problems arising from RNZ taking The Spinoff’s content. The Spinoff runs on sponsorship. It also has an ideological slant.

@GeoffMillerNZ – What’s different about this deal is that RNZ for the first time is reproducing another outlet’s content. Other content-sharing deals were one-way, i.e. other outlets paid a nominal fee to use RNZ content, but the arrangement was not reciprocal.

@DCohenNZ – So the question will be what content is used. Presumably, there will be vetting. The concern you raise is reasonable, but my point is about the need for new ways of thinking about the ongoing good health of media (which I’m sure we both agree is important).

@GeoffMillerNZ – Agree on your last point David, the question is how we get there. As it stands we have RNZ republishing sponsored content without even the disclosure that the Spinoff provides (e.g. see the housing article today, sponsored by Kiwibank but no mention of this on RNZ).

@zigzagger2 (John Drinnan) – In which case RNZ was smart enough to remove the mention because it would undermine the story, but loose enough that it did not see the sponsorshp an issue for the state broadcaster,

@GeoffMillerNZ – Exactly – they are in an unsolvable bind here. Provide disclosure and it’s free advertising for sponsors on RNZ, don’t provide it and it’s arguably even worse. Hence why the deal should not have been agreed to in the first place.

@fundypost – RNZ does not need to trade. It produces high-quality stuff that other broadcasters want. Why should RNZ want anything from the Spinoff; what does it do that RNZ cannot do?

@GeoffMillerNZ – Exactly. Content needs to be paid for somehow, so I am not totally against the sponsorship models The Spinoff and Newsroom are pursuing (although still problematic). But RNZ gets public money (& more under Labour) precisely to stay out of this murky area. So why go there?

I suspect that RNZ will be somewhat more careful about what content they share from The Spinoff – the housing article was a very strange choice and I think poor choice, republished before the sharing arrangement was announced.

It appears to be the only article republished at RNZ so far (as indicated by a site search of ‘The Spinoff’).

But the links to sponsored news publications (along with advertising) remains a problem for RNZ.

 

 

More on the media and murky lobbying in politics

Bryce Edwards has continued to question the relationships between paid lobbyists and politicians, but also points out that relationships between lobbyists and media mean it isn unlikely ton get much exposure.

Political Roundup:  Lifting the lid on lobbying in politics

Recent revelations that a lobbying firm owner and director was recruited to work over summer as Chief of Staff for the Prime Minister, with the expectation he would then immediately return to lobbying, barely raised a mention in our media.

What should have been a major political scandal, was the subject of a must-read investigative report last week on The Spinoff website – see Asher Emanuel’s Conflict of interest concerns over lobbyist turned chief of Jacinda Ardern’s staff. Emanuel’s article is important because it raises unanswered questions about ethics and procedures in the hiring of lobbyists to work for the government.

One explanation for this extraordinary situation going largely unreported, is that Wellington political insiders often operate as a “political class” who are careful not to step on each other’s toes. For the media, in particular, a symbiotic relationship can make it problematic to report on powerful individuals who they depend on for stories and access.

Danyl Mclauchlan earlier this week pointed to a second, very important, factor in why so little public scrutiny had been applied to this lobbyist. He writes, “a jaw-dropping conflict of interest” such as this could have been massive: “If such a thing happened during the Key government there would have been a huge outcry: protests, online petitions, Twitter hashtags, Radio New Zealand flooded with academics lamenting the death of our democracy. Instead there was an indifferent silence” – see: Simon Bridges and the opposition vacuum.

Partly, Mclauchlan attributes this to partisan bias. But, crucially, he suggests that another important component of New Zealand’s “political class” – Parliament’s Opposition – decided not to make the issue a scandal. He says “Most government scandals need opposition leaders asking questions in the house, crafting lines so that the voters can understand what’s happening, providing optics for the TV news, and having their research units breaking new angles to keep the story live. If none of these things happen then there’s no scandal.”

The Opposition is supposed to be a check on Executive power – it’s their job to expose the government’s ethical transgressions such as any misuse of power or willingness to allow conflicts of interest to occur at high levels. So why didn’t National push the issue? According to Mclauchlan: “National has no interest in progressing such a story because they in many ways spent the last nine years acting as a vertically integrated lobbying and fundraising operation, and their former chief of staff is now a consulting partner with the same lobbying firm as Labour’s former chief of staff.”

More here from Edwards:

But with the primary means of holding power to account – the media and the Opposition – both complicit it is unlikely this will be given much scrutiny.

Good on Edwards for having a crack at it. He could be putting his media access at risk.

Time to give a push for more open government

Bryce Edwards is being an open political activist, calling for support to “guide the new government” into being “more open with its information”.

Newsroom: It’s time to open up the Closed Government Act

Calling all journalists, academics, public servants, political activists, and members of the public who believe in the need for government to be more open with its information. We need to form a coalition to fix the Official Information Act (OIA).

It’s time for everyone who believes in reforming the OIA processes to join together and campaign to make that actually happen. Such a coalition could guide the new government in making the necessary changes so that New Zealand is once again a world leader in open government, the way we were in 1982 when the extraordinary act was introduced.

The OIA itself may still be fit for purpose, but the wider official information system desperately needs review, especially in the way that the act is adhered to by government. At the moment, it often functions more as the Closed Government Act.

Now is the perfect time to act. Whenever a new government is formed, it’s normally enthusiastic and idealistic about fixing problems in the system. And when it comes to problems with the OIA, the parties coming in from opposition are highly sensitive to its faults because they’ve been on the receiving end of governments keeping an overly-tight grip on information.

The parties making up the new coalition government have protested strongly against abuses of the OIA that occurred under National. So, hopefully they’ll want to prioritise some sort of review aimed at fixing the problems.

Clare Curran is the minister with responsibility for “Open Government”, as part of her role as Associate Minister for State Services. She has already committed her government to doing much better than the last government in terms of releasing information.

But in a recent interview with the Otago Daily Times’ Eileen Goodwin, Curran wasn’t very clear about whether any reform of the OIA would be forthcoming.

Hence the need to ‘guide’ the Government.

Instead, journalists are now leading the way in calls for reform. Newsroom’s Shane Cowlishaw has recently explored all of these issues in his must-read article, The OIA is broken, can it be fixed? He says, “the spirit of this law has dissolved in an air of contempt that has spread, like a stain, from the top down”.

Cowlishaw reflects on his own experiences as a journalist, noting the growth of government department spin-doctors, and saying that the “ever-growing mighty wall of ‘comms staff’ has seemingly forgotten its obligation to the public in a desire to protect its Ministers from embarrassment.”

The new government – as well as the opposition – need some constructive encouragement to take this key area of democracy very seriously and make sure it’s fit for purpose.

I’m keen to bring together participants, set up forums, and help establish a way for interested parties to come up with ideas about how to move ahead. At the very least, such a campaign could compile all the complaints and examples of how the OIA isn’t working, or is being thwarted and put everyone in touch who has an interest in OIA reform.

There’s a lot to consider. For example: Does the legislation need fixing, or just the way that the OIA is observed? Is there a need for a new Information Authority that would be responsible for overseeing the operation of the OIA, and teach government departments and the public how to use and adhere to it? Or is the Ombudsman’s Office best placed to carry out these functions? And is it resourced and empowered enough to fulfil such a role? Should there be stronger penalties for abuse of the OIA? Does the OIA need to be extended to Parliament, or at least to some of its agencies such as the Parliamentary Service?

The new coalition government has specifically made a commitment to “strengthen New Zealand’s democracy by increasing public participation, openness, and transparency around official information”. This wording is in the confidence and supply coalition agreement between Labour the Greens, and it could quite easily also be the stated focus of a new Campaign for Open Government.

Sounds like a worthwhile aim. As well as journalists and media it should get support from blogs from across the spectrum, as well as from other online forums.

If you’re interested, please get in touch. Contact me: bryce.edwards@vuw.ac.nz

 

TOP lose legal bid to debate

The Opportunities Party went to court to try to get included in tonight’s minor party leaders debate and lost. This isn’t surprising, it’s hard for a court to force a media organisation, but it’s very disappointing to see our state owned television broadcaster using ‘rules’ to be undemocratic.

The MMP system – in particular to ridiculously high 5% threshold – is stacked against new parties making it into Parliament.

TVNZ’s ‘rule of not allowing parties who haven’t got at least 3% in their last two polls to take part in the biggest debate of the campaign for minor parties is a disgrace to democratic principles.

RNZ: TOP loses legal bid to appear in multi-party debate

The Opportunities Party (TOP) has lost its legal fight to appear on TVNZ’s multi-party debate tomorrow evening.

TVNZ lawyer Stacey Shortall said it had robust criteria for parties to be involved, including either already being in parliament or polling at at least three percent in one of the two Colmar Brunton polls before the debate.

It is not ‘robust criteria’. State owned broadcasters in particular should have a responsibility to be fair to serious contenders, but TVNZ is denying TOP a prime  chance of being seen and heard.

TOP polled at 1 percent in its poll at the end of August and at 1.9 percent today.

TOP’s lawyer Francis Cooke QC argued the party’s inclusion in the debates was critical to the election process and TVNZ’s criteria should be more robust.

But the political-media system remains stacked against them.

Key points from Edwards’ affidavit:

24 Fourth, in my view the use of such criteria is self-perpetuating and antidemocratic. A party that is excluded from the debates has little chance of making headway in the polls. What is more, I think that excluding them from the debates sends the message to viewers that their views and policies are not worthy of consideration. I think this is dangerously undemocratic.

25 Fifth, this year’s election campaign is proving extremely volatile. Political scientists and commentators appear to be in consensus that we are witnessing the greatest polling volatility yet recorded in an election campaign in New Zealand. Therefore, it seems unreasonable to take two Colmar Brunton polls as a snapshot of likely outcomes in the election – the flux is just too great at the moment in politics to regard such polling to be definitive.

27 Finally, the minor parties seem set to play a pivotal role in this year’s election as they are likely to hold the balance of power after the election. In my view, this makes it particularly important that the public is given sufficient exposure to their leaders and policies.

30 In my view TVNZ’s exclusion of TOP would do a disservice to democracy.

31 If TVNZ proceeds with minor party leaders’ and young voters’ debates without The Opportunities Party (TOP), this will have a significantly negative impact on TOP’s chances to be taken seriously by those members of the public looking to vote for a party other than Labour and National. It will send a strong signal to voters that it is not a viable candidate for voting consideration. It may seriously affect TOP’s electoral chances. And given the inclusion of less popular parties, it would be arbitrary and irrational.

The full affidavit: http://liberation.typepad.com/files/affidavitdraft.pdf

The judge probably had no legal basis to rule in favour of TOP, but TVNZ are doing a disservice to taxpayers and to democracy.

Large and incumbent parties (and their supporters) and large media do what the can to deny newcomers a fair chance. Incumbent also have other substantial financial advantages.

Politics isn’t theatre

Politics is serious stuff, especially in an election campaign when we get to decide, sort of, who will run the country for the next three years.

Several months ago some journalists openly dreaded a boring election between the two main contenders, Bill English and Andrew Little. All they had to over-embellish headlines was the old troubadour, Winston Peters.

Then Little changed everything when he stood aside, allowing Jacinda Ardern to take over. The media had already played a party in Ardern’s promotion to deputy earlier this year, and this was headlines on a plate for them.

The media was besotted, as were a lot of potential Labour supporters who had had a drought of hope for nine years. So we had ‘Jacindamania’, the ‘Jacinda effect’.

Journos were fizzing at the bung in anticipation of last Thursday’s first leaders debate.  This turned out to be a useful opener, but there was media disappointment at the lack of excitement.

Bryce Edwards summed it up:

Last night’s leaders debate on TVNZ1 was lacklustre. A lot of people will tell you that the debate was quality – it was calm, it was respectful, and it focused on policy. But, actually it was boring and we didn’t learn anything new. Yes, of course they put forward their different policy generalities and attempts to show that they have vision and values. But it was all terribly bland and vague.

Woe is Bryce. A boring debate! Most people find most politics boring most of the time.

We did learn something important and new – two leading politicians could have a respectful debate.

Media would have loved attacks and abuse and mayhem, but here’s an important thing – elections aren’t for the entertainment of journos and pundits. Or they shouldn’t be.

Barry Soper:  The Soap Box: Politics is missing the theatre

Politics is these days missing the theatre, although in fairness Winston Peters is still performing and looks set to be playing the starring role after the vote in three weeks time.

He’ll undoubtedly put on another performance this week while the big players will continue what so far has been a fairly mundane affair…

Woe is Soper – despite continually giving the old Thespian Peters a nationwide soapbox the campaign is still lacking sufficient drama!

And it’s fair to say the current aspirants don’t put in the same election campaign hard slog that former contenders did. Long gone are the daily Town Hall meetings around regional New Zealand, along with the theatre that accompanied them…

Soper is yearning for the past, much like Peters. The world has moved on to much more wide ranging and far reaching forms of communication.

Last week, officially the first of the campaign, saw Jacinda Ardern essentially at schools and tertiary institutions where she was mobbed by students wanting selfies while Bill English also hit learning institutions but at least did venture into a shopping mall for a walkabout among the great unwashed which can be high risk, given they’re expected to shake the hand of any random who approaches them.

But these are essentially the fill-in events while they prepare and perform for their spin doctors away from the cameras for the main event, the television debate. There’s another one of those tonight and another one on Thursday.

Actually there is going to be a town-hall type debate in Christchurch tomorrow night – where opposing leaders contest, rather than an old fashioned one party PR exercise that Soper seems to prefer,

You’d have to wonder what they can say that hasn’t already been said but with the political tumult of the past several weeks, the only thing that’s predictable about this campaign is the unpredictable.

Many voters want to be able to actually assess the capabilities and policies of the politicians, and these debates are the best way most have of doing that.

They aren’t looking for the best actor – to the contrary, they want to most credible and most capable leader. There are far more important things to do in running a country than supplying drama and headlines.

In trying to decide who to vote for I try hard to see past the headlines, past the theatre, past the noise and nonsense, so I can judge policy details and especially competence.