Journalism versus political hit jobs

There has been discussion and questions asked lately  about why some media (Newshub and RNZ in particular) have been publishing conversations that had been secretly recorded by Jami-Lee Ross. It has appeared at times as of they are aiding ongoing attacks on Simon Bridges and National on behalf of Ross and/or Cameron Slater and/or Simon Lusk. They have at least aided and abetted the attacks.

Some of the latest headlines on it from Newshub:

That ‘expert’ was an employment consultant, and the issue being covered had nothing to do with employment.

An indication of how agenda orientated these are is that this sort of article is being repeated at Whale Oil – and most other media are not covering it with anywhere near the same attack style.

The Newshub approach prompted an interesting discussion on Twitter:

Matthew Hooton: People complaining that is campaigning to get rid of Bridges don’t understand current media ethics. etc are doing . They think Bridges is too socially conservative so they think they need to protect NZ from him by getting rid of him

Tim Watkin: Matthew, I’m putting this into your ‘wind-up’ category. Because I assume you do actually know what advocacy journalism is… and know that’s NOT advocacy journalism.

Liam Hehir: Advocacy journalism is more like what John Campbell does – or did – right? What do you call it when you simply go out to wreck politicians and degrade public trust in the institutions of politics?

Time Watkin: Advocacy journalism explicitly advocates for a cause or argument. Sometimes for a group of people/victims. It takes a viewpoint & transparently says it’s not balanced. Saying Tova is not balanced is insulting & undeserved. I don’t like lazy insults.

Lawrence Hakiwai: I think what is saying is that there is a clear and obvious attempt by members of the media to unseat as leader of the National Party by using manufactured and imagined crises. The issues this Government faces are real and far more newsworthy.

Tim Watkin: Well if that is what he’s saying, then I think he’s very wrong. (And I’m sure he knows that’s not true). If any journalist in NZ set out to try to unseat a politician they would be fired. Anyone claiming that has never been in a NZ newsroom. Let’s value our independent media.

Matthew Hooton: Don’t make me laugh. Journalists of a certain kind constantly speak privately in terms of “we’re gonna get her/him” as you very well know. This is exactly what is happening in this case.

Russell Brown: On this one point, I agree with you. I hate hearing journalists brag about “scalps”, as if ending a political career is what they’re there for. But that’s quite different to your original allegation. It just happens to weakened leaders, because that’s safer and easier to do.

And I don’t even know that that’s what’s happening in this case. Maybe it’s more about a supply of newsworthy material for people who are under constant pressure to deliver news. That’s why some journalists used to hold their noses and deal with Slater.

Matthew Hooton: “used to”?

Liam Hehir: The nihilistic approach to covering political news here, with its emphasis on corroding trust in institutions & assuming the worst about everyone, will continue to have purchase since at any one time, half the audience just laps it up with little regard to how they felt earlier.

Matthew Hooton: It’s like the thing. A total colossal fuck up of course. But “gotcha” reporting didn’t start speculating on how it all happened (which would be of huge interest) but on whether he would resign (which is neither here nor there).

Russell Brown: To be fair, the gotcha was the key message of the Opposition party. National doesn’t *actually* think ILG has committed a resigning offence, but must be delighted that the more biddable commentators have bought into the idea.

Whether the sort of journalism being discussed is a result of pressure to produce headlines and clicks with a fast turnover of stories, or whether some journalists get sucked into the thrill of the political kill (there is probably some of both) this is a serious issue facing both journalism and politics in New Zealand.

One symptom is media making virtual demands that politicians resign over embellished stories that can look more like hit jobs than reporting.

How important a right is vote?

Professor Richard Shaw, a professor of politics at Massey University, in an article looking at decreased turnout in general elections, characterised the franchise (vote) as the “most fundamental of citizenship rights”.

Liam Hehir at Stuff: Voting is important, but is it more important than other civil rights?

I’m not sure that’s quite right.

Imagine that you had to choose one of the following sets of rights to be stripped away from you:

  • The right to hold property secure from unjust government confiscation.
  • The right to choose your own career and to not be compelled to work against your will.
  • The right to live where you want, use public spaces and travel freely along the roads.
  • The right to be free from arbitrary arrest and to have the protections of proper criminal procedure.
  • The right to have one 2.5-millionth of an indirect say in the selection of the prime minister once every three years.

Some sort of universal voting rights are important in a modern democracy but how important?

A universal franchise is a recent thing. International history:

The Magna Carta is rightly seen as an important development for our liberal political life. And yet while it covered taxation, access to forests, the right to trial by jury and the protection of other customary liberties, there is nothing in it about electing the Government.

The same goes for the Petition of Right in 1628 and the Bill of Rights 1688. Both of these set out all kinds of rights that were considered essential liberties. Like the Magna Carta, these laws are considered so fundamental that they remain in force under New Zealand law to this day. But they don’t say anything about a guaranteed franchise.

Over time, these privileges accumulated into an informal body of rights that the legal scholar William Blackstone called “the Fundamental Laws of England”. In pre-independence America, they often went by the name “the Rights of Englishmen”. When colonial Americans felt these rights were being infringed, they declared independence.

By this time, the idea of rule with the consent of the governed was gaining ground. But it is easy to overstate just how much the American Revolution was really about democracy. For many of the Founding Fathers, the very word was synonymous with “mob rule” – something to be feared. It is no coincidence that the US constitution, despite its elaborate checks and balances, enshrines no explicit right to vote.

New Zealand history:

When this country was founded in 1840, the inhabitants were promised all the rights of British subjects. But that promise did not extend to any guaranteed voting rights, because British subjects did not enjoy such rights.

Indeed, it was not until 1853 that we had our first general election.

Even then, the franchise was limited to non-imprisoned men over the age of 21  owning a certain amount of property.

From NZ History: Political and constitutional timeline

Now in the 21st century, with reducing voter turnout, an increasing number of people seem to not think much of their right to vote.

How important is voting?

‘Neoliberalism’ debate continues

The economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s in New Zealand rescued the country from the extreme interventions of Robert Muldoon, which were misguided attempts to re-invent New Zealand’s economy after Britain dumped us as one of it’s primary producers and to deal with the oil shocks of the late 80s.

I don’t recall those reforms ever being described as the introduction of a new ideology, nor them being called neoliberalism. (But I didn’t follow politics closely in those days).

I’ve followed politics a lot more over the last decade and even then it seems to be increasingly in more recent years that people from the left have lamented the advent of neoliberalism and expressed a yearning to how things once were (while never saying how that was supposed to have been).

Certainly how we manage our economy and social services and public services has changed markedly over the last half century. Margaret Thatcher changed things in Britain, and Ronald changed things in the USA. But it was hardly a massive shift from capitalism to neo-liberalism as if it was as drastic as a move in the other direct to communism would have been.

Then this week Jim Bolger, New Zealand Prime Minister in much of the 1990s, seemed to denounce neoliberalism in an interview for RNZ: The Negotiator – Jim Bolger: Prime Minister 1990-97

Bolger says neo-liberal economic policies have absolutely failed. It’s not uncommon to hear that now; even the IMF says so. But to hear it from a former National Prime Minister who pursued privatisation, labour market deregulation, welfare cuts and tax reductions – well, that’s pretty interesting.

“They have failed to produce economic growth and what growth there has been has gone to the few at the top,” Bolger says, not of his own policies specifically but of neo-liberalism the world over. He laments the levels of inequality and concludes “that model needs to change.”

That’s kind of remarkable. Certainly there has some problems that have emerged from how the country is managed over the last three decades.

A discussion was sparked on Twitter today.

Bryce Edwards:

Jim Bolger recants neoliberalism, & now on Michelle Boag graciously acknowledges Laila Harre’s good work in industrial relations!

Liam Hehir:

Can you point to an instance of him explicitly praising “neoliberalism” at any point?

Bryce Edwards:

He’s widely accepted to have overseen the implementation of a version of a neoliberal programme, no? He was fairly praiseworthy of that.

Liam Hehir:

Yeah – and he really expressed no regret for that in the podcast. He also didn’t suggest his reforms were neoliberal – that was Guyon’s word

Bryce Edwards:

All true. Yet David Farrar suggests that Bolger is now “to the left of Helen Clark”. I look forward to your column on this.

Rob Hosking:

There’s a huge amount of oversimplification & revisionism going on about this (and related matters) at the moment. It’s very misleading.

Phillip Matthews:

I’d be interested to know if the word “neoliberalism” was used much in NZ in the 1990s. People talked about market forces or Rogernomics.

I’ve only heard “neoliberalism” being used over the last few years. It’s a retrospective label that most people have no understanding or even knowledge of.

Greg Jackson:

I wrote about economics and politics in the 80’s and 90’s. Never heard “neoliberalism” bandied about in popular or private usage.

Liam Hehir:

Whatever you call it, it was never promoted as an ideological agenda. It was sold as a necessary, if bitter, medicine.

(By prime ministers, I should add).

In the interview, Espiner asks Bolger about neoliberalism. Bolger is non-committal about the term. He then goes on to express some dissatisfaction about current economic circumstances. So what happens, “OMG Jim Bolger has denounced neoliberalism you guys!!!!”

Ben Thomas:

Re revisionism: Guyon suggested Douglas’s economic plan happened under cover of “popular social reform” like homosexual law reform.

I mean, we all pretend on Twitter we’ve always been woke, but that’s a helluva way to misremember 1980s NZ (& the courage of the reformers)

Yeah, the BWB crowd’s window into the 1980s is via Kelsey’s books and Alistair Barry’s documentaries. It gives a skewed picture.

I was sorta relieved when Moore pointed out actually there weren’t thousands protesting in the streets each day, or complete social collapse.

I think generally people knew things had to change and quite drastically.

Matthew Hooton:

The craziest is the idea the “unpopular” economic reforms were possible because of the “popular” anti-nuke & homosexual law reform moves.

For many, anti-nukes was tolerated cos of economic reforms & the homosexual law reform bill was extremely controversial at the time.

How things were economically in the early to mid 80s was untenable, and we can’t undo what has happened.



  1. How the heck do you change the model from neo-liberalism?
  2. Why don’t we address the problems, deal with them and move forward?

From what I’ve seen most people who say “we must reverse neoliberalism” actually mean “we need to change to socialism”. We can’t go back.

Why don’t we just do what we can to fix the problems we have now and not worry about labels and revolutionary changes.


Is tax a positive thing?

To some people it seems that tax is a positive thing – as long as it’s others who pay more of it.

Liam Hehir raises this in Panama Papers have little impact so far in New Zealand

At an even more abstract level, the question is raised whether the Panama Papers point to a more generalised problem of wealthy people exploiting loopholes to minimise tax in a way that is legal, but somehow unfair.

The Panama Papers may not themselves be directly on point here as far as New Zealand is concerned, but the argument is that they serve as a useful entrée to the subject. And it is an interesting debate.

The purpose of taxation used to be the efficient raising of the revenue required for state spending.

There now seems to be a view that, far from being a necessary evil, the levying of tax is a positive thing unto itself. Under this model, it’s greedy for those who already pay the most to not want to pay more than they are legally required and it’s somehow not greedy for the rest of us to demand that they do.

A good philosophical question. But if you want New Zealanders to treat it as food for thought, you’ll need to serve up more than the thin gruel of lame international comparisons.

Is the paying of tax a positive thing?

Or is it a necessary evil that evil rich people should be made to pay more of?