Blogger of the year

Political blogs in New Zealand serve as a useful enough niche in discussions on democratic matters but are waning in influence and newsworthiness.This is largely due to the growing dominance of Facebook as a forum for just about everything, but is also an effect of ‘Dirty Politics’ on the two largest blogs.

Twitter has it’s uses in monitoring news, and views of the news writers, but as a forum it is also diminishing in importance. It has been tainted by misguided and often bitter social crusaders with too much bashing of anyone with different views.

Kiwiblog still chugs along as one of the biggest and most worthwhile blogs to watch. David Farrar was rocked by ‘Dirty Politics’ but kept going and is still a knowledgeable and very well informed political commentator. He is trashed by some on the left because he is closely associated with National but gives some good insights into the Government without being a yes man, he is prepared to criticise his own side and praise opponents albeit with an obvious preference overall.

Amongst the daily noise there are some good comments and a number of commenters are worth watching out for.

The Standard has had a difficult year, with internal divisions causing more than a few problems, and a couple of long serving and prominent authors/commenters being banned over differences. While it there are still strong Labour connections there is a growing influence – often negative – of Green supporters, active in effectively censoring The Standard by shutting out and driving away views and people deemed unwelcome.

There are some commenters worth watching out for but there is a lot of repeat bleating and unrealistic idealism.

The Daily Blog has waned. A lot of effort and resource went into Waatea Fifth Estate which was designed as a great alternative to the struggling traditional media, but failed to get repeat funding for next year -it was interesting at times but didn’t build an audience. Some posts are good but the messy site design and too many rants and ridiculously slanted assertions from Martyn Bradbury detract from overall credibility.

Commenters have been heavily filtered since the beginning a The Daily Blog, with Bradbury’s  lack of confidence in his arguments resulting in him protecting them from examination, so the comments threads are rarely of much value.

Whale Oil is still the biggest blog stats-wise, mainly due to having by far the most daily posts (25 yesterday), by many of these are fillers and click bait. Slater sometimes has some fresh and breaking content but not much these days, and tends to bang on about a few topics repeatedly. Insider sources have diminished markedly. He also now relies a lot on other media content, ironically heavily criticising that same media for being past it and irrelevant.

The commenting community is still very active despite major purges in 2014 in particular but you have search for good content, which can be tedious with the often very slow Discus system.

On blog comments – while Whale Oil keeps conquering the click stats their number of comments gives a better idea of comparative interest, with most posts getting few if any comments. There are often as many comments per day at Kiwiblog, and The Standard usually isn’t far off in comment numbers either (but not the last few days).

Public Address sometimes has some very good posts – Legal Beagle is always worth looking out for and  Russell Brown’s posts on drugs are worthwhile – but they are barely daily so it’s more of a magazine style blog. Comment numbers are spasmodic.

The Pundit is still there but only has the occasional post. Andrew Geddis is always worth checking out but otherwise, from a 16 strong line up of authors there isn’t much content, with only 9 posts this month.

No Right Turn is worth keeping an eye on but with no commenting allowed it lacks community and variety.

Blogger of the Year

For me there has been a stand out political blogger in New Zealand this year – Danyl at Dim-Post.

Dim-Post evolved from a semi-satirical site with an interest in literature into political activism to an extent in 2015. Danyl helped James Shaw in his campaign to take over Russel Norman’s co-leadership of the Green Party, and became a part of the Green campaign committee.

But this year, especially in the second half, Danyl has done something unusual for a political blogger – he has been prepared to examine his own political views and critique his own side, the left, with some very good insights and challenges. He has also been prepared to look across the political spectrum and mix criticism with praise and acknowledge positives with the current Government.

It’s rarely refreshing to see someone involved in politics prepared to break out of the bubble and look at the bigger pictures, even when they are not painting what they prefer to see.

Comments are also often worth skimming through as there are some good contributions there.

For a sort of a lefty Danyl is notably different to the idealists with entrenched views and no tolerance for alternative views.

Some of Danyl’s thought provoking recent posts – if you have spare time over the holidays it could be interesting to revisit these posts and comments.

I think Key’s tendency to blow with the wind has more to do with political expediency than intellectual honesty, and I said so. But I agree that the ability to change your mind is an important trait, and since then I’ve been trying to think of recent instances in which I’ve changed my mind on political issues, and I couldn’t really think of any, which worried me a bit.

I guess I know what twitter and all of the Green and Labour Party MPs have been talking about today. This poll conducted by a Feminist charity in the UK is a pretty typical example of the various surveys about public attitudes to feminism (I’m not aware of any similar work in NZ). Most people will say they believe in gender equality but very few people will self-describe themselves as feminist.

I’m not a fancy media strategist etc but when you’re twenty points behind in the polls and there’s a huge, unpredicted political change, probably not that smart to go around saying ‘nothing has changed.’

One of Key’s strengths was an apparent indifference towards his government’s policy agenda. There were no bottom lines, no hills to die on. With the exception of major natural and financial disasters, everything else in the country was pretty much fine as it was but could be changed, preferably slightly, if the public mood seemed to call for it. ‘We think we’ve got the mix about right,’ was Key’s first response to any problem. It gave him enormous flexibility, and he’s leaving his office with popularity and political capital unmatched by any other Prime Minister.

A series on Marxism:

The Standard has one of those ‘Maybe Marx was right‘ posts you see a lot on the left nowadays, linking to a column in the Guardian suggesting the same thing. Reading the Trotsky biography I’ve mentioned on here before has lead me to a lot of secondary reading about Marx and Marxism, and my half-informed take is that Marx was right about some things but very wrong about other, very major things, and his total wrongness on those major things hasn’t yet sunk in for the radical left, which is a source of a lot of their failure and irrelevance. I want to talk about one of the wrong things.

One of Marx’s big ideas was that history operates according to scientific laws. This was a much more sophisticated way to think about history than people back then were used to. A lot of intellectuals thought that history was shaped by a ‘world spirit’, viz Hegel. Most normal people – In Europe, at least – thought the Judeo-Christian God made everything happen. Most historians thought that ‘great men’ shaped history. The idea that technological and economic change and other materialist factors drove history was, well, revolutionary.

Yesterday a few people asked me why on earth I wrote a long confused rant about Marxism. Like, what does that even have to do with anything that’s happening in the real world? Possibly nothing, increasingly so, but I think it’s relevant to some of what’s happening on the left. The post is a culmination of stuff I’ve been thinking about for a while.

When I wrote my screed about Marxism one of my fears was that Scott Hamilton would show up and tear it to pieces. Happily he has not done this, instead he directed me to this post he wrote a few months ago also critiquing the base-superstructure model.

Giovanni Tiso has written a post about Why he is a Marxist.

I like forums that challenge norms, that provoke thought and encourage discussion. It’s lacking in the big blogs. I think that Danyl has done this better than anyone this year.

Smashing capitalism and the failure of communism

Danyl several interesting posts at Dim-Post on the failure of communism in practice, and the stupidity of far left calls to ‘smash capitalism’.

Labour day thoughts about Marxism and the radical left

The Standard has one of those ‘Maybe Marx was right‘ posts you see a lot on the left nowadays, linking to a column in the Guardian suggesting the same thing. Reading the Trotsky biography I’ve mentioned on here before has lead me to a lot of secondary reading about Marx and Marxism, and my half-informed take is that Marx was right about some things but very wrong about other, very major things, and his total wrongness on those major things hasn’t yet sunk in for the radical left, which is a source of a lot of their failure and irrelevance.

If you interested in this topic it’s worth reading the whole post and there’s also some good comments. Danyl concluded:

The big lesson there is that a large groups of brilliant people all trying to do the right thing can all be completely wrong, for many decades, and cause incredible suffering and harm, while basically wasting their lives. It seems to me that something similar has happened to left-wing intellectual theory, especially the radical left.

That it’s taken a very wrong turn somewhere, and a lot of very brilliant people have been studying, teaching and writing nonsense, for a long time now and that they’re in a deep state of epistemic closure about this, because no one likes to think they’ve been wrong about almost everything. Especially people who fetishise intelligence, like surgeons, or left-wing intellectuals.

It is very meaningful, I think, that Piketty’s critique of capitalism didn’t come from the radical Marxist tradition. He’s read Marx but he trained as an economist and describes himself as a ‘believer in capitalism, private property and the market’ and he discovered a deep and powerful truth about capitalism that none of the tens of thousands of Marxists and Critical Theorists ever uncovered over the last hundred years.

There’s still a lot of serious work to be done critiquing capitalism and solving its problems, but right now the radical left aren’t doing any of it. At best they’re wasting their time, running around telling everyone ‘The problem is capitalism, sheeple!’, at worst they’re trying to impose their nonsense on mainstream left-wing politics and preventing actual progressive change.

Of course, it’s not only the radical left who want to burn it all down: Trump’s campaign manager is a guy called Steve Bannon who describes himself as a Leninist who wants to destroy society and rebuild from the ashes. There’s also a growing ‘neoreactionary’ movement advocating the abandonment of both capitalism and democracy, and a return to the ‘western tradition’ of monarchical feudalism and ‘traditional gender roles’. Smash modernity, and it’ll all come out in the wash. It worries me that there’s so much of this about.

He followed up with What bought that on? Some of his points:

  • About a year ago, just before the Paris conference I went on the Climate march to Parliament. It was a good crowd. Various speeches were given, and everyone cheered. And then someone (I don’t recall their name) got up and gave a speech explaining that climate change wasn’t the real problem. Capitalism was the real problem. Some people cheered, but lots of people didn’t, and as he went on in that vein, telling us all that we needed to smash capitalism because colonialism and cultural hegemony were the true enemy, people drifted away. ‘I’m not here for that,’ one of my friends – not very political but worried about climate change – said as he headed over the road to the pub.
  • It’s a conviction that’s gained a lot of ground on the left over the last eighteen months, metastasising from climate change to social justice and economic issues. I don’t know why. Corbyn and Sanders? Historical materialism? Whatever the policy problem, getting rid of capitalism is the increasingly popular solution.
  • What actually went wrong in Russia though? Lenin and Trotsky were smart guys. Geniuses, even. They lived and breathed Marxist theory their entire lives. Yet they had no plan of how to run their country after they seized power, and they spent years improvising various doomed solutions while their country starved. War communism. ‘Electrification + socialism = communism!’ State capitalism. Eventually it was back to capitalism on the assumption that they could then progress through capitalism to socialism to communism, just like Marx said. It didn’t work.
  • The left is very prone to intellectual fads and I guess this one too will pass, to be replaced by something hopefully less silly. And less frightening, because ‘Smash capitalism’ really means, ‘Let’s destroy society and see what happens.’ I don’t think the activist left has the slightest chance of actually doing this. But they can scare away non-crazy people who want to join left wing parties and causes to find real solutions to problems, like all the people who walked away from the climate march.

There were a lot of comments on that too.

And then some Further reading

When I wrote my screed about Marxism one of my fears was that Scott Hamilton would show up and tear it to pieces. Happily he has not done this, instead he directed me to this post he wrote a few months ago also critiquing the base-superstructure model.

Giovanni Tiso has written a post about Why he is a Marxist.

I read that and it didn’t come close to convincing me there was much value in Marxism in modern New Zealand.

Someone in the comments linked to this, a post by a US based blogger.

He also wrote an excellent review about Francis Spufford’s novel Red Plenty. I read this a few years ago (and I thought I wrote about it too but cannot find the post).

This really was a key book for me, especially on the issue of capitalism and climate change. It’s axiomatic on a lot of the left that capitalism causes climate change (because of the drive for endless economic growth), and Red Plenty showed that you can get rid of capitalism and have a planned economy and have it work pretty well, actually, thanks, and still have your public and leaders demand continued high economic growth, because that’s a great solution to many political and economic problems, regardless of whether you’re a capitalist economy or not – and then dig up and burn huge amounts of coal and oil to fuel it.

It’s refreshingly unusual to see someone sort of from the left giving such a wide ranging consideration of political theories and realities.

One thing that seems to escape those promoting a revolution – how they expect a utopian socialist society to magically emerge after a smashing of capitalism.

The person surviving may be equal I guess.

When’s the last time Greens dazzled anyone?

Danyl makes some curious comments at Dim-Post in the post And so it goes as well as in comments.

It’s conventional wisdom on the left that Key et al are morons, and the left is morally and intellectually superior, and I’m not sure how this squares with Key and his party constantly doing very smart things, and the left’s parties and leaders mostly, consistently being pretty dumb.

Ortvin Satapuu queried this:

The Greens don’t count as part of the left, right?

Danyl responded:

I think they do. When’s the last time they dazzled anyone with their strategic acumen?

If I remember correctly Danyl was on the campaign team that succeeded in getting James Shaw into the co-leadership position.

And Insider said…

Oh I dunno, maybe when they made appointments to their campaign committee…

…and linked to Voluminous disclosure from 31 March this year when he revealed:

Rob Salmond and Matthew Hooton had a discussion about commentators and ‘paid political operators’ and conflicts of interest, which seems like a good time to disclose that I’ve recently done a bit of paid contract work for the Green Party (research, writing).

Also, and possibly more significantly, as of last week I’m a member of the Greens’ Campaign Committee, which is tasked with planning and implementing the party’s 2017 election campaign. So I will not be a totally disinterested commentator when analysing the upcoming campaign or politics in general.

I don’t really do any of the mainstream media political commentary that Hooton and Salmond do. And no one in the Greens asks me to write or say certain things on the blog. (They have, in the past, but the requests were so lame I did not comply.) I find that my bias is mostly one of omission.

I get confused about what I know that is and isn’t confidential, so I basically mostly say nothing about the Greens so I don’t get in trouble. If the party somehow becomes so newsworthy that I have to write about them, and I have to check what I’m writing with the staff or leaders I’ll make sure I disclose that. Otherwise they’ve got nothing to do with any of my pontificating.

I haven’t seen if Danyl is still on the Greens’ Campaign Committee, but whether he is or not he seems somewhat disillusioned with their lack of progress given his “consistently being pretty dumb” and his questioning of their “stategic acumen”.

Shaw has not set the political world on fire. Are he and his supporters not strong enough to influence the direction that the Greens are taking? Are they marking time? Are they resigned to being kept out of power by Labour’s lack of promise?

Whatever, it seems that the Green camp is not exactly united or enthusiastic.

More on the Morgan poll

Apparently continued silence by Martyn Bradbury on the latest Roy Morgan poll which came out a week after he posted BREAKING EXCLUSIVE: UMR SECRET POLL – National 41% Labour/Greens 45%

Since the Memorandum of Understanding, the First Past the Post mainstream media have had to start reporting the results as MMP ones. This perception change now allows Opposition voters to see they can win.

National is in trouble…

Once these private internal polls start becoming reflected in the TVNZ and TV3 Polls, National will start to implode with a power struggle.

The Roy Morgan poll has National on 53%, Labour on 25.5% and Greens on 11.5%. No word on what Bombers perception of this is.

One perception at The Daily Blog though, from Cleangreen. On the UMR ‘secret poll’:

Yes joy rings out finally National are on their way out hooray.

But in a comment yesterday on the Open Mic thread Cleengreen said:

Latest Roy Morgan and any other political poster companies we think we should trust! – well don’t – read below.

The Politicians are all under orders from the Bilderberg Group and are simply minion’s that carry out orders for the global elite and that is why you see a clear hard nosed similarity over every issue now, and the media is the same parrot for these cabals also as the pollsters are to!!!!

Does anyone understand how flimsy and vulnerable and easily rigged results of Pollster’s polling data can occur where the companies cannot verify their results or edit them to see if they are changed?

Poll result good, pollster good. Poll result bad, pollsters bad.

There was a lot of talk about the 10% bounce back for National (but interestingly no one seemed to bat an eyelid at Labour dropping 2.5 to 25.5%).

Chris Keall has posted Roy Morgan manager defends *that* poll at NBR:

The chattering class was quick to scoff when at the new Roy Morgan poll which showed a 10% jump for National (864 eligible voters were surveyed by phone).

There was eye-rolling from the left and the right, and I can see why: there were no political bombshells during the survey period (June 17 to early July) to warrant such a shift.

In a press release, executive chairman Gary Morgan pegged the Nats’ bounce on John Key’s announcement of a $1 billion housing infrastructure fund.

I’m not so sure.

Keall “asked Mr Morgan if he was confident of the poll result” and the RM poll manager responded:

We are very confident these results reflect a shift in voting intention in New Zealand towards the incumbent.

That is very likely to be correct. The questions are by how much, and why.

Andrew Little has had nearly two years to cut through and even before this poll, had really made little headway.

The New Zealand economy is booming at present with Kiwis returning to the country after years of outflows across the Tasman.

Also, specifically with this poll we conducted some additional research during this period which indicates that Housing Affordability/ House prices/ Shortage of Houses/ Homeless etc. has increased significantly as an issue in New Zealand this year.

The announcement of the $1 billion housing infrastructure fund is perfectly timed to take advantage of this sentiment. There are a large number of Kiwis out there who believe they will see the benefit of this $1 billion infrastructure fund personally.

It could be that housing has been a significant factor – perhaps a lack of confidence in Labour’s policies, or a desire by many voters to retain the capital value increases.

There was also a discussion at Dim-Post: Roy Morgan wild guessing game

No doubt Labour will start leaking that their secret polls show them getting a major bump after their conference. If you added all the bumps they’ve claimed from their private polls they’d be on about 500% by now.

Danyl has been quite cynical about Labour lately.

My guess about the swing – if there was a swing – is that the news recently has been dominated by horror, fear and uncertainty. Terror attacks, racial violence in the US, Brexit, and so voters are looking for political stability and supporting National. If they are.

Swordfish, a regular poll commenter at The Standard, joins the discussion. Another pseudonym I’m not familiar with, Pollster,  joined in.

It has nothing like the spikes the Roy Morgan does, and when it does it’ll be an occasional 2-3% shift, not a 5-10% (or in this case 16%) swing as the Roy Morgan has. What the UMR has shown since the election has been a pretty static political environment. The Roy Morgan suggests that from month hundreds of thousands of people are swinging wildly from Labour and the Greens to National and back again. It’s why no one in the business takes them seriously.

As the UMR polls aren’t published their claims can’t be verified, although Swordfish says:

Last 4 UMRs had Labour on 28-33%. Over the same period, the Public Polls put the Party in the range of 26-31%. Not an enormous divergence.

That’s a 5% range from UMR, the same as for ‘public polls’.

The last four RM polls for Labour were 25.5, 28, 29,5, 26 which happens to be a smaller range of 4%.

Pollster also said:

As for Labour staffers briefing internal polls, that’s not something I’m aware of, but I wouldn’t assume that’s why the UMR poll occasional finds its way into the public arena.

Frequently it’s Hooton who claims to have had a leak of Labour’s secret internal polling, when actually he just gets the UMR Omni from one of his clients as I do. I can also confirm he often makes up the figures, because he is a shameless liar.

Hooton bit back:

I think I have mentioned specific quantitative numbers from UMR polling data twice in the media. UMR polling is what “Labour’s secret internal polling” is – or, has been historically. It is also sold to corporates as you indicate.

Unless you think UMR does one quantitative study each month for its corporate clients and then another one for Labour. Perhaps it does. I don’t see that point in that though. Whenever I have mentioned polling of any kind the numbers have been correct.

Pull your head in with your lying accusations, whoever you are, anonymous guy on the internet.

Anonymous people on the Internet who appear to have a vested interest, and who promote polls only when their cherries are ripe, but never publicly publish any poll details, and make lying accusations about people with different political leanings, barely deserve to be taken with a grain of salt.

On ‘The Whale’s model’

Danyl at The Dim-Post has posted on The Whale’s model.

You’ve got to give Cameron Slater credit – he is/was an innovator in the media space, creating a new and unique business model I think of as ‘defamation PR’. Lobbyists like Carrick Graham, Katherine Rich and who knows who else could collaborate with him to defame public health researchers doing work critical of their employers. No one else figured out how to monetise blogging in New Zealand.

This sort of monetising of blogging (or use of attack blogging by anonymous PR people) was already already known about but got substantial exposure in Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics.

Unfounded and defamatory attacks by bloggers and is a serious issue, I know well as I’ve been on the receiving end from the likes of Slater and Lauda Finem.

I’m dubious about the benefits of taking defamation action due to the cost and the timeframe let alone the effectiveness, and some people seem to take advantage of this by attacking people due to the low risk of defamation action, like Slater.

And Slater is practiced at dragging things out. He has admitted misusing court processes to inflict costs on people or organisations (he openly admitted this  when trying to play down losing a bid to keep suppression on the case he got diversion on after he admitted attempting to procure a hack of The Standard).

But I can understand people getting fed up with his ongoing and at times over the top attacks with highly questionable motives behind them.

Slater is acting gung ho over the latest defamation action against him but on top of two others it will continue to wear him down.

He claims to be simply holding health researchers to account, but an interesting point was made on this in comments at Dim-Post, comparing Slater’s attacks with Eric Crampton’s critiques.

rjs131:

Whether you like it or not, Slater raises a valid point about “public health advocates” that are basically funded by the state and their zealous advocacy against “the sugar barons” against any other causes of why people get fat. How dare someone who gets tax payers money get questioned!

Tinakori:

So much public health stuff that gets into the media are examples of the worst of social science, vast claims for at best modest results. Eric Crampton is very good on applying some very basic scrutiny to their claims.

Flashing Light:

“How dare someone who gets tax payers money get questioned!”

Are the researchers suing Eric Crampton for defamation? No? Then you see the difference between legitimately “questioning” research claims/policy advice and what Slater did, right?

This new defamation action may highlight the difference between Crampton style scrutiny, questioning and holding to account, which tends to be fact based, and Slater style attacks that may be funded by anonymous PR people like Carrick Graham, which has at times in the past aimed nastily at the people rather than giving counter arguments to the issues.

Eric Crampton posts at Offsetting Behaviour.

Cameron Slater (and allegedly Carrick Graham) post at Whale Oil.

Slater has posted on the new defamation action in Defamation? They’ll need to get in line where he got a wee warning in comments:

Unfortunately the ‘other side’s’ lawyers supported by judges take a very dim view of defendants posting claim and associated documents on the internet for the world to see and if appropriate to laugh at.

However Slater can be deaf to good advice.

I suspect it is being privately funded, I suspect a couple of people actually, which will make for interesting reading when that comes to light.

And:

Truth and honest held opinion. The opinion one is fascinating. You can be completely wrong, but escape defamation if you believed what you said at the time was true based on the evidence you held.

But mostly the burden of proof in defamation rests with the defence, it is the reverse of criminal cases. Many plaintiffs forget this, and think they are going to run this long involved “prosecution” only to find out that defamation doesn’t work that way.

And in his post:

The Three Troughketeers have stated they won’t say another word about it until the case has completed. I won’t make such an unrealistic commitment. And I will continue to monitor and report on their public communications and spending while the case is before the courts. If they were hoping for their legal action to result in silence, they can chalk that up as their first strategic error.

However it’s on record that Slater does not have a good record in court actions. Nor on not being silent.

The Whale’s model is floundering somewhat.

 

Sex crime trial by media

There’s no doubt that trial by our traditional judicial system has significant problems when dealing with sexual assault complaints.

Where there are genuine victims it can be highly traumatic for them, again. Many victims don’t make or don’t follow through with complaints because of the exposure and the pressures it can put on them.

And where false complaints are made it can make things very difficult for the person the complaint was made against.

A different approach has suggested for some time. This week Radio NZ reported:

‘Roast Busters’ case drives calls for sexual violence court

A decision looms on whether New Zealand will get its first sexual violence court, while other specialist courts are proving a success.

The decision will be the final instalment in the Roast Busters’ under-age sex case scandal, which revived the idea at a time when other specialist courts were proving their worth in cutting reoffending.

Part of the reason no one was prosecuted in the scandal was the teenage girls’ families not wanting them to be put through the wringer of court.

It can be a hell of an ordeal, on top of the ordeal of the offending.

A sexual violence court is being touted as a circuit breaker that the girls could have gone to without fear.

Law professor Warren Brookbanks wants the sexual violence court established; he leads a new research centre at AUT looking into just this type of non-adversarial justice.

“At the very sharp end of the criminal justice system there’s always going to be harsh penalties imposed for very serious crimes, especially serious violence or homicide,” Professor Brookbanks said.

“But at the other end of the system where you have a lot of young people, and people from various minority groups, the heavy punitive approach is not necessarily the best way to go, and it doesn’t necessarily reduce recidivism.”

In the Roast Busters case, a sexual violence court would have offered the chance to hold the abusive young men to account, while standing a better chance of actually changing them, he said.

But it’s just at an exploratory stage.

Justice Minister Amy Adams has until mid-June to respond on the Law Commission’s recommendation for a sexual violence court.

Chief district court judge Jan-Marie Doogue, police, lawyers and the Ministry of Justice are all exploring the feasibility of such a court.

In the meantime some women who believe they have been offended against have taken a different course of action. They went to media, and this has been reported at The Spinoff

‘I will come forward’

How a prominent New Zealand music identity conducted a troubling series of relationships with young women, including girls as young as 12.

Earlier this year several women spoke out on social media about their experiences with [name redacted] and a prominent member of the New Zealand music community. Alex Casey and Duncan Greive spent two months interviewing those women, along with their friends and family. The interviews, along with emails and chat logs, are the basis of this feature.

Tidball has strongly denied any wrongdoing but has already been suspended from a radio  show since this was published.

This ‘trial by media’ has been applauded by some and has raised concerns with others.

If the victims are one hundred percent right then it is effective journalism. If not then it could be unfair on the accused person. Possibly very unfair. He chose not to respond but was put in a very difficult position. The police are reported to be looking in to the allegations.

I’m sure Casey and Greive  were very careful in how they put the story together and how they wrote it. But even if justice is completely on the side of those victims it sets a precedent that could become a problem.

Other journalists may not be as thorough or as careful.

Amateur ‘journalists’ may see it as approval for running witch hunts online.

A lot of damage could be done, to victims and to people who could be falsely accused.

John Drinnan touches on some of this:

Lawyers have been called in over an article on the pop culture website The Spinoff, which reports allegations about a man said to be well-known in the music industry.

The website recounts sexual harassment claims against the man, based on interviews with women who said they had dealings with him.

The allegations have been made at a time of intense concern about society’s attitude to abuse of females, and the way such claims are sometimes treated.

But ignoring for a minute the substantive issues, in my opinion the coverage raises issues over the growing trend towards trial by social media.

At this stage, police have only begun to look at the claims, but there is a risk that people might form conclusions based only on the allegations in the article.

Spinoff owner Duncan Greive says the website took a lot of time considering the issues involved in running the article, which he says was clearly displayed as the women’s view of events. Several journalists have since held up the report as an example of good journalism.

I asked Greive whether the coverage was a case of trial by internet. He said that been happening for a long time, and he was comfortable with the way the claims had been dealt with.

The man’s lawyer says he is considering his options.

Danyl at Dim-Post sides with the trial by media approach in So I say ‘for justice we must go to Don Duncan Greive’.

Firstly, as the opening scene of The Godfather points out, if the criminal justice system is broken then people route around it. These workarounds are always less optimal than having an effective criminal justice system. The solution to that, in this case, is to fix the justice system’s demonstrable inability to punish or deter the majority of sexual offenders, not to question the work-arounds. The government is always quick with ingenuous fixes and compromises to the justice system and its principles when, say, the revenue streams of copyright holders or the powers of the security services are threatened, so it would be nice to see that ingenuity put to use to protect actual living humans from sexual assault.

I agree on this, as suggested above I think different ways need to be found of dealing with sex crimes in our judicial system. But in  comment he also says:

I’m not saying I have all the answers, but say we did move to a balance of probabilities system. That might result in a few unjust convictions. Which would be sad. But unjust convictions happen anyway, and it would also result in people being prosecuted and convicted for terrible crimes which they currently consistently get away with.

Nearly everyone would like to see more criminals held to account appropriately. But our judicial system always has a battle between convicting criminals and not convicting people who are not guilty.

The result of a few more unjust convictions is big price to pay for those who are unjustly convicted, as people like Teina Pora and Peter Ellis would probably attest to.

Some interesting comments follow in the Dim-Post thread on various sides of the arguments.

A different approach to sexual crime allegations should be seriously explored.

The challenge will be balancing the rights of victims to not be victimised further and to see justice being done, versus the rights of the accused to fair trials and the rights of the not guilty in particular to avoid conviction – and avoid vilification regardless of a trial result.

Sexual crimes are far to prevalent and everyone except the minority who are perpetrating awful crimes against fellow human beings would like to see criminals brought to account and potential criminals deterred from offending and convicted criminals from reoffending.

But the not guilty must also be given as much protection as possible too.

I think that trial media has to be viewed very cautiously.

It’s laudable for responsible journalists to hold people to account, but there are major risks if trial by media escalates amongst online cowboy and cowgirl writers and campaigners, no matter how well intentioned they are.

Repeated from The Spinoff:

If the events depicted in this story have been triggering in any way, please consider contacting any of the following organisations:

Poll driven flip flop

It was classic John Key – last week he batted off and played down criticisms of New Zealand tax and trust legislation, but he arrived into this week suggesting and then announcing a review of those laws by an ‘international tax expert’, John Shewan.

Media and political opponents predictably called this a flip flop and a u-turn. And it didn’t take long before there were accusations of being internal poll-driven.

Danyl at Dim-Post in Panama Papers thoughts:

In terms of Key’s reversal from last week on whether our trusts need investigation, I wonder if National now have a formal process in which they respond to breaking stories like this.

Phase one. Deny everything while blaming Labour.

Stage two. Poll.

Stage three. If the polling hits some pre-arranged benchmark then reverse your position and/or announce an inquiry.

Nick R responded to that:

I reckon that’s probably how it works. And it works very well, because the polling seems to be very accurate and the occasional abrupt U-turn in policy position never seem to hurt the PM at all. When he does this, it is so fast that it barely seems to attract any comment at all, and certainly not negative comment.

It often does attract comment.Like amirite at The Standard:

How’s the Dearest Leader polling? Fantastic, only he had to flip flop 360 degrees on his ‘NZs foreign trusts practices are legit-stance, move on, nothing to see here’ to saying he’ll appoint an independent expert to review the policies.

I thought a flip flop would have been more like 180 degrees but the intent of this comment is clear enough.

And like the Greens in Inquiry into foreign trusts must restore NZ’s reputation:

The Green Party is welcoming John Key’s U-turn on foreign trusts…

Danyl happens to be on the Green campaign committee but this could be a coincidence.

Back at Dim-Post Tinakori posted:

My god, a government that often listens to public opinion and/or waits to see if there is substance in an issue. Is that weird or what?

Surely you don’t expect a government to announce an inquiry into a subject the moment it becomes a news story or an issue in Parliament.

Winston Peters and the Greens seem to be quick to call for inquiries, despite a lack of evidence being available. Peters in particular is keen on promoting fishing expeditions based on little more than his innuendo.

The public sector would be engaged in nothing but inquiries if that were the case.

Some issues resonate and some don’t. Some issues have substance and some don’t. Some issues have legs and others don’t…….

Once again, the test is what would you be saying if the incumbent government was one you favoured. I can see the blog post now demanding a measured response to the issue du jour.

That’s politics.

John Key has mastered the art of dampening down or fobbing off issues, and then after a while reacting contrary to his initial indications.

Even if this is in response to polls gauging what the public think and want is not a bad thing at all in a democracy.

And I’m sure David Farrar isn’t the only expert Key goes to for advice.

I’m sure Key gets some advice from the advisers that work in his office, from Government departments and from people around the country and around the world.

While he is open to criticism with the way he manages issues and manages the media, being prepared to react in line with public opinion should be seen as a positive.

And Key’s opponents seem to flip flop between accusing him of being poll and public opinion driven, and being an elite rich person who is out of touch with ordinary New Zealanders.

That’s more like flip flops in futile frustration.

The media just seem to love exaggerating things, sometimes to extremes, to create headlines and drive clicks.

Sock puppetry, shilling and lying

There were some prominent accusations of political sock puppetry yesterday.

Mickysavage at The Standard: The sock puppets, the media and the UBI

And now for the second “contribution”, this one from the sockpuppets at the Taxpayers Union.  I think a few lefties should sit down and design a similar sock puppet organization and see if it can attract similar media atteniton.  I suspect that North Korea is looking our way to see how it is done properly, such is the TU’s ability to get media coverage.

The level of hypocrisy here is really high….

Why the media even tolerate these clowns is beyond me.

NBR sparked a major spat on Twitter with a head to head interview of Matthew Hooton and Rob Salmond.

Head to head: Hooton & Salmond
on accusations of shilling and lying

After quibbling about what Andrew Little actually said about tgreats against Paul Bennett and implications about Matthew Hooton:

Hooton: …and then of course for some reason he brings highly paid PR operatives into it and when he’s asked what he means by that he says me…

Little didn’t bring Hooton into it, he didn’t rule Hooton out when asked about him.

Salmond: Again that’s not true, you’re just making it up again Matthew.

Hooton: No, he was asked, Rob, you need just to, I know you’re being paid for this interview by the Labour Party, but you need to take into account …

NBR: All right Rob, are you being paid?

Salmond: Of course I’m being paid, I’m you know so’s Matthew being paid…

Hooton: No, so I’m losing money from being here Rob because I don’t, I’m not a paid shill. You are a paid shill. You go on the media, and you are paid to run lines on blogs, and in the media, on behalf of the people who are paying you money. I’m not.

Salmond openly posts at Public Address, his last post was prior to and related to the Standard post: The Taxpayers’ Union rides again!

Salmond: Matthew you’re in the PR industry aren’t you, is this true? I’ve heard rumours you’re in the PR industry…

Hooton: Yeah that’s right.

It’s well known that Hooton runs a PR company: Exeltium “is is New Zealand’s most successful corporate and public affairs consultancy”.

Salmond: You’re in the PR industry, isn’t that exactly how the PR industry works? So that’s really you isn’t it?

Hooton: I also have a hobby called political commentary, and one of the things which I think the Labour party fails to understand, because you come from more of a command and control culture, is that some people just do have political views and wish to talk about politics and some people find that interesting. And they don’t have a financial in it. They don’t get paid by a political party the way you are. The only political party in recent times i think that’s paid me is the Mongolian Green Party, and I think I got a speaking fee from the Conservatives, whereas you are paid by Andrew Little’s Labour Party.

Salmond: Yes I am and I’ve never hidden that fact from anybody.

Hooton: But you’re accusing me, and Andrew Little does this regularly, and many of your friends on the left wing blog, accuse others of taking money. But the irony is it’s you that takes the money.

Salmond: Well I think you know, I’m not sure if you’ve got the Alanis Morrisette irony disease there, I don’t think there’s anything ironic about that…as you heard earlier in this interview what I’m accusing Matthew of isn’t of being paid by anybody, those words never crossed my lips…

Not those words but strongly implied at least in the above transcript.

Salmond: I’m accusing him of being an incompetent commentator, now he says he’s just a hobby commentator, and maybe that’s showing…

Now that’s ironic. Salmond was prominent in Labour’s embarrassing Chinese sounding surname debacle, and he continues to show that he’s out of his depth as a party paid political commentator.

This is only half way through the NBR interview, I’ll transcribe more when I get the time.

But after this, yesterday morning, Salmond and Hooton continued a slanging match on Twitter. See:

This included:

2004! Wow. Time to stop hyperventilating. Can someone take a paper bag? , you nearby?

Not a good look for Salmond, nor for Labour.

If Andrew Little wants to turn his leadership around he needs better PR advice and much better shilling.

Danyl reacted to this with a disclosure at Dim-Post:

Voluminous disclosure

Rob Salmond and Matthew Hooton had a discussion about commentators and ‘paid political operators’ and conflicts of interest, which seems like a good time to disclose that I’ve recently done a bit of paid contract work for the Green Party (research, writing). Also, and possibly more significantly, as of last week I’m a member of the Greens’ Campaign Committee, which is tasked with planning and implementing the party’s 2017 election campaign. So I will not be a totally disinterested commentator when analysing the upcoming campaign or politics in general.

I don’t really do any of the mainstream media political commentary that Hooton and Salmond do. And no one in the Greens asks me to write or say certain things on the blog. (They have, in the past, but the requests were so lame I did not comply.) I find that my bias is mostly one of omission. I get confused about what I know that is and isn’t confidential, so I basically mostly say nothing about the Greens so I don’t get in trouble. If the party somehow becomes so newsworthy that I have to write about them, and I have to check what I’m writing with the staff or leaders I’ll make sure I disclose that. Otherwise they’ve got nothing to do with any of my pontificating.

He has disclosed connections to the Greens and in particular to James Shaw before but this takes his party association to another level.

This means that most of New Zealand’s biggest political blogs have party connections:

  • Cameron Slater (Whale Oil) has National Party links and is paid by some MPs and national and local body candidates to promote their interests and attack opponents.
  • David Farrar (Kiwiblog) has long had close connections to National and is John Key’s pollster.
  • Public Address – Russell Brown is closely aligned with Labour and Rob Salmond is paid by Labour.
  • The Daily Blog – Martyn Bradbury has been paid by the Mana Party and implied he was paid by Dotcom’s Internet party.
  • The Standard has had and still has authors with close connections to the Labour Party and to a lesser extent to the Greens.
  • Danyl/The Dim-Post is now on the Green’s campaign committee

Matthew Hooton floats around commenting wherever he can on radio, on TV, in print media and he pops up on various online forums – he often pops up at The Standard and elsewhere. He denies any party funding for his activities, so (not disclosed in the NBR interview) he was a keynote speaker at the recent ACT annual conference.

Most people with the commitment to comment online have (or have had in Hooton’s case) party involvement.

Disclosure: I have never received any money for any content here at Your NZ, and everything posted under my name has been written by me unless shown as a quote. I have no involvement or connection with any political party or politician, nor with any media organisation. Your NZ is financially and politically independent.

Radio NZ abuse

There’s  and interesting issue of abuse on Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint with John Campbell Facebook page.

Some fairly extreme abuse went on for several days, targeting John Key and his mother.

5:30 pm yesterday Whale Oil picked up on it and posted Why are RadioNZ and John Campbell allowing death threats against the Prime Minister?

6:36 pm David Farrar followed up with a post at Kiwiblog – Hate speech on the Radio NZ Checkpoint Facebook page. 

9:23 pm Farrar also commented about it on it on Twitter:

David Farrar @dpfdpf

The John Campbell Checkpoint Radio NZ FB page has some of the worst hate speech I have seen online. People saying…

9:30 pm this was followed by:

That’s a speedy response once Radio NZ found out. It has since been claimed they ended up deleting around a hundred comments.

Farrar had several digs at Radio NZ over funding, I don’t think that’s the issue here.

My guess is that Radio NZ had had relatively few problems with abusive comments and were caught out by a sudden spate of them. I’m sure they will be more vigilant in the future.

Danyl at Dim-Post joined in on this early this morning – The mysterious case of the hate speech comments on the RNZ Facebook page.

He suggested it looked suspicious.

So it seems really odd that people like Insane Clown Posse fan ‘Tim Wikidclownz‘ would all randomly one weekend decide to pour into a sleepy Radio New Zealand Facebook page and leave comments about gassing John Key’s mother and similar obscenities. And that WhaleOil, the guy who stumbled over that copy of The Luminaries uploaded to Mega that only the person who illegally uploaded it would know about, also stumbled over these.

This has been expanded on in comments.

I haven’t had a detailed look at the Radio NZ comments and they are now deleted, but some at least seem to have been made by people who look like they have been generally abusive. It’s not uncommon on Facebook.

Especially absent any evidence I doubt this was a sophisticated sting by Slater or associates. I’ve had first hand experience of that sort of thing here and there were differences.

I think it’s more likely someone saw the abuse and informed Slater or someone at Whale Oil who then put the post up to take a swipe at Radio NZ.

A good citizen would have informed Radio NZ so they could take appropriate action. It looks like Slater might have passed the story on to Farrar, who later advised radio NZ.Both could have done better but seemed more interested in dumping more on the state funding of Radio NZ

Farrar has followed up with another post today: Further on Radio NZ Facebook page

A few extra thoughts on the hate speech which was on the Radio NZ Checkpoint page.

Unless you vet comments in advance, no publisher can prevent inappropriate comments from appearing. I don’t think anyone blames Radio NZ for the fact they appeared.

Most won’t blame them, it’s unavoidable in forums with open access, as much of Facebook is.

But what one can judge on is how quickly they were removed. RNZ staff acted once there was publicity about it, but for an organisation with $35 million a year of taxpayer funding, the comments should have never lasted as long as they did.

No they shouldn’t. Someone at Radio NZ should probably have picked up on it.

And one would hope someone who noticed the problem would have informed them. That was less a priority than putting up blog posts.

Some salient points:

  1. Some of the comments had been up for three days or longer – conclusion no regular checking of the page.
  2. The comments were incredibly vile – massive use of the c word to describe the PM and one person saying his mother should have been gassed in the holocaust – how could people feel you can say such a thing on a Radio NZ page?
  3. Over 100 comments had to be deleted by RNZ staff, which was close to a quarter of the comments on the page. So this was not one or two comments that slipped through, but a mountain of vile abuse which dominated the page.
  4. No-one alerted RNZ to the comments before they got publicity. If someone used such language about a politician on KB, I’d have several e-mails within minutes from readers alerting me to it. But somehow no one reading the Radio NZ Checkpoint Facebook page thought the comments needed drawing to the attention of Radio NZ. This suggests that the only people on the page were those of a similar view on John Key.
  5. Has Radio NZ done anything beyond delete the comments? Have they reported those who made the most vile comments? Have they blocked them from the Radio NZ FB pages? Or are they free to do the same next time?

Apparently Radio NZ is investigating.

Of course as well as Dim-Post there’s been comment and accusations elsewhere. I’ve seen some on Twitter, but none with supporting evidence.

The irony of Whale Oil and Farrar highlighting and strongly criticising onlibe abuse has not gone unnoticed.

Whale Oil comments have been cleaned up but posts can still be fairly abusive and provocative, and Slater’s tactics online along with people associated with him are amongst the more despicable in New Zealand taking in to account the power imbalance involved.

Comments threads at Kiwiblog are not for the faint hearted, with abusive comments, lies and attacks common. But Farrar will address serious examples if they are pointed out to him.

And this is symptomatic of a major online problem. It can be a wild west where people seem to think they can have a free for all.

While moderation is necessary by those responsible for forums I think there are wider community responsibilities. I think it’s important to confront and stand up against online abuse.

But that’s sometimes not easy and not without substantial risks, as I have found out (I think justice will end up being done but it takes some time).

Online communities should be like any other communities, with responsibility for decent behaviour taken by all those taking part.

We are all learning as we go how to deal with a rapidly evolving online world. We need to keep looking at how to improve on what we have.

And this also requires politicians and media to show a lot more responsibility with their own behaviour and not encouraging and glorifying bad behaviour. More on that next post.

Piles of pile-on palaver

There’s been ongoing angst and other discussion about a so-called pile-on on Twitter.

Last Wednesday there was an article in the Herald by journalist Kirsty Johnston. After a lot of Twitter reaction Johnston was said to have “rage quit Twitter”.

This was still simmering yesterday. In reaction to a post and discussion at Dim-Post plus presumably more tweeting another journalist announced they were having a break from twitter after criticising Danyl.

I haven’t had a close look at the rights or wrongs in all this but it seems to be a mix of Twitter swarms meeting with a slow news time of year.

The Dim-Post post was mainly aimed at pointless feuds involving “progressive activists”.

A note on pile-ons

Second day back at work and NZ Twitter is already the site of pointless feuds, the latest one causing one of the best journalists in the country to delete her account so she doesn’t have to engage with progressive activists any more.

Online progressive activists tend to have a high regard for what they do: they’re educating people, speaking truth to power, changing the world, etc. But mostly the result of this education and challenging via social media pile-ons and call-outs seems to result in the subjects hating progressive activists and identity politics and/or deleting their social media accounts. These don’t seem like big wins for the cause. It often feels to me like the real goal here is to have fun shitting all over people while feeling sanctimonious about it.

But now Danyl has been accused of doing the shitting on because of attempted explanations as the comments continue in parallel to the twittering.

There seems to be a lot of immaturity and over-angst on Twitter in particular, but it can be very hard to separate that from genuine concerns and collateral damage.