Are the media critical enough of the Government?

The media, in particular political journalists, are seen as playing a critical role in a healthy democracy, being required to hold politicians and parliaments to account.

While commenters at Kiwiblog are as bitter about media coverage of the Ardern government, commenters at The Standard were as disatisfied with media coverage of the Key Government. It seems you can never please any of the opponents any of the time.

But for most of us do our media do a good enough job of casting a critical eye and pen and camera over the actions of the incumbent government? Media certainly earn some criticism, but that not just from the public, it also comes from politicians being criticised.

A few days ago the Government announced an initial support package for media, who were struggling to compete with online megacompanies for revenue before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and now have been hit by a major business pause and another major drop in advertising revenue. Even before the support package a lot of advertising revenue was from the Government via Covid messages.

Going by comments at Kiwiblog (noting that there they are dominated by strongly anti-Government views) one might think that the support package makes the media a paid-for extension of Government public relations. They represent just a small but vocal right wing minority never happy with a left leaning government is in power – and again yesterday in response to a post ridiculing a ridiculous president comments predictably swung to ‘but Biden’, ‘but Clinton’, ‘but Obama’, ‘but Ardern’ (they are well indoctrinated by Trump’s anti ‘fake news’/critical media diversions).

It’s always easy to find things to criticise about the media in general – too much over sensationalising and too much ‘click bait’ trivia were problems long before Covid.

Media have a very important role to play in a democracy, which is why in 1787 Edmund Burke said (from Thomas Carlyle in his book On Heroes and Hero Worship):

“There were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

Political journalists have difficult jobs to do. They spend a lot of time with a few politicians and risk getting too personally affected. And they constantly have to battle against ex-journalists now working in large politician defending PR departments.

Jacinda Ardern has had an unusually good ride with journalists, quite a few of whom are fellow females of a similar age or younger, so empathy with Ardern probably came naturally.

But John Key was popular with media too – he was also easy to get on with and he could be entertaining in an often dour field. Helen Clark had a lot to overcome in her early years as Labour leader but became widely admired (most of the time) in her job as Prime Minister for nine years.

Media tend to favour the people in power, incumbent Governments, in part simply because that’s who the biggest stories come from.

But media also have a tendency to hunt in a vicious-looking pack when they smell political blood, no matter who the victim. One problem is that if some media get their teeth into a big and damaging story the rest tend to join the frenzy because that’s where the attention grabbing stories come from. David Lange referred to this media mob mentality as “demented reef fish”.

Media will never do enough for everyone, and will never do any good for those wallowing in opposition to the current government.

Are media critical enough of our politicians and our Government? Or as well as could be expected in the circumstances?

Even if seen as poor at times, the alternative to inadequate political journalism – no political journalism – is far worse.

Are media critical enough of our Government and politicians?

Are we too critical of media?


Ardern risks being hoist by her own celebrity PR petard

Jacinda Ardern has received international attention since becoming Prime Minister. Some of this is legitimate news, but some of it seems to be jacked up PR, usually more personal pap than political analysis.

This probably shouldn’t be unexpected, international media seems more interested in superficial celebration of so-called celebrities generally, and there is usually little interest in New Zealand politics.

But what is Ardern trying to achieve? She is receiving attention, but she risks being entrenched as a superficial celebrity without political substance.

She should try to sort out her leadership and Government in New Zealand before taking on the world.

Ardern seems to have favoured status at the UK Guardian which at times seems to be a PR arm of Ardern’s office. here are some recent efforts:

Is she planning on standing for election in the United Kingdom?

And not just Ardern, her partner Clarke Gayford is amping the PR as well.

And, suggested by some as preparation for a trip to the United States, Ardern has featured in a New York Times promotion:


Lady of the Rings: Jacinda Rules

Jacinda Ardern, one of the young, progressive leaders countering Donald Trump, talks about being only the second world leader to give birth.

Global hype continues to paint Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as a cliche

Jacinda Ardern was an MP for nine years before becoming Labour’s saving grace.

Yet a new piece the in New York Times was still focused on her shorts-wearing partner and the happiness club she founded when she was eight.

Well-known for her coverage inside the Trump White House, columnist Maureen Dowd labelled Ardern as “Lady of the Rings”.

In an instant, Dowd meshed together a retrograde label with a 15-year-old movie reference and proved we haven’t moved past the shallow caricatures that have come to define us as a nation.

It just seems the international media can’t get past our leader’s novelty value.

Dowd presents our PM as having perpetual sunniness and being someone who would call Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then yell: “OMG, Justin! Are you seeing this?”.

But where is the political meat you would expect from sit-down interviews with an international leader?

The real “Jacindamania” is not the rush of enthusiasm that swept her into leadership.

Rather, it’s the permanent psychosis that has taken hold of global media, preventing real debate of our country’s policies and role in the world.

It leaves Ardern battling a caricature of herself and New Zealand still stuck at the kids’ table where we are described through the lens of a “hip” liberal leader and, inevitably, a few Lord of the Rings references.

Based on the myriad of international media coverage, she is just that unwed working mother representing the “anti-Trump” in the Trumpian age.

Reporters with extraordinary access like Dowd should use that privilege to ask real questions to inform.

Everything else is a disservice.

So why would Ardern go along with this sort of lightweight coverage?

Gayford is a willing partner in this:

 In a sartorial triumph, Ardern wore a feathered Maori cloak to meet Queen Elizabeth at a black-tie dinner in London.

“It was highly coveted among the princesses at the dinner,” Ardern’s partner, Clarke Gayford, told me. “They made a beeline for her, and I’m surprised she managed to leave wearing it, to be completely honest.”

The boyish and charming Gayford, the 40-year-old host of a TV fishing show who smiles with delight no matter how many times he is asked “Is Jacinda your greatest catch?” would be the stay-at-home dad who would show the way for modern men.

She calls Gayford Huckleberry Finn, because he often wears shorts, even for interviews, and wanders around with a fishing pole.

On another day, when I came to interview Gayford, Ardern’s mother, Laurell, is there, helping with the baby.

President Trump will be presiding over the United Nations Security Council when the General Assembly meets in New York later this month. The prime minister will be trying to combine mothering and traveling again, this time hopefully with less ludicrous commentary. She will be juggling more than 40 events in seven days, with Neve and Gayford as part of the entourage.

Gayford also appears to be embracing the celebrity style coverage.

She (Dowd) gets what? She gets how Ardern and Gayford want to be seen, as a modern celebrity couple and parents who manage to fit in a bit of running the country when not being interviewed by sycophant reporters?

Like a significant number of Americans will support Trump no matter how crazy he seems, Ardern is sure to keep a solid level of support in New Zealand based on her celebrity (Woman’s Weekly) style coverage.

But if she continues to look subservient to Winston Peters, and fails to deliver on her promises to deal to child poverty and other ‘revolutions’ that are little more than empty rhetoric so far, and if she fails to live up to her claims of being open and transparent (she has been severely challenged on that lately), she may find that her party’s popularity doesn’t hold up as well as her celebrity status.

Ardern may find it difficult to move from celebrity saccharine to serious leadership. She may end up being hoist by her own celebrity PR petard.

Prime Minister PR plans, if the baby plays ball

The all important PR plans around the birth of Jacinda Ardern’s baby have been announced.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s plans following the birth of her baby

The Prime Minister’s Office has released details of arrangements around the birth of the Prime Minister’s baby.

The baby – the first child for Jacinda Ardern and her partner Clarke Gayford – is due on June 17.

While the couple are happy to share with the public some moments with their new baby they ask that media respect the family’s privacy in the weeks set aside to be together after the birth, and during private family moments.

The following details outline plans for the birth, and the following six weeks:

  • Jacinda Ardern is planning to have the baby at Auckland Hospital.
  • The couple will announce the birth. A formal announcement from the Prime Minister’s office will follow.
  • There are contingency plans in place for the birth in the event the Prime Minister is not in Auckland.
  • They will not be making other announcements or conducting any one-on-one interviews related to the birth prior to the birth.
  • They will not be giving any exclusive media interviews, or offering any exclusive photo opportunities, prior to Jacinda Ardern’s return to work.
  • There will, however, be an opportunity for media to take photos as they leave the hospital and the Prime Minister will answer a small number of questions.
  • Due to the high level of interest, the Prime Minister will also give one round of interviews to major domestic media outlets close to the time she returns to work. This will be the only formal media opportunity in relation to the new baby.

Tacked on to the end of this New Zealand Government Press Release is a minor bit of information:

Transition to Acting Prime Minister

At the point that Jacinda Ardern arrives at hospital to have the baby, Acting Prime Minister responsibilities will begin for Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.

Not sure what will happen if the baby is born in the taxi before getting to the hospital. The probably have a press release prepared for that.

It’s worth nothing that ‘due date’ is not a promise. It could be up to a couple of weeks later than this.

I’m sure the media will be well informed about it when it happens.

Lessons for Ghahraman (and others)

Golriz Ghahraman and the Greens have taken a hammering this week. Some of the criticism has been justified and fair, some has been way over the top and unfair.

Lessons should have been learned – but there is no sign of that yet as far as I’m aware.

Duncan Garner writes in Prosecuting evil but quietly defending the indefensible:

Green MP and human rights lawyer Golriz Ghahraman and her party learned a tough lesson this week about truth, honesty and spin.

Be upfront. Tell the truth. Don’t massage and carefully manipulate your image and public reputation when it ain’t entirely true.

The Greens thought they had stumbled across an angel on the side of good,  sending bad men away. Not quite.

And what did we, the public, learn?

We learned these Greens are no better than the rest of the buggers despite an at times holier than thou outlook.

Truth is Ghahraman was happy to let it spread that she was a crusading international prosecutor. Sounded great, looked even better.

There was nothing wrong with what she did as a lawyer. Her problem was how some of what she did, defending people accused of horrendous crimes against humanity, was glossed over in her and her Green party spin.

No wonder her leader James Shaw said sorry this week for getting it wrong twice. Shaw, like the rest of us, assumed she was doing god’s work. You can’t blame him.

When he got it wrong, why didn’t Ghahraman fix it? Why didn’t she put The Guardian right three weeks ago when it made the same mistake? Why would she?

Truth is Ghahraman looks embarrassed to be defending those responsible for genocide. She looks embarrassed to have been on the side of defending some of the most evil war criminals this world has seen.

She wanted her role minimised because Rwanda was ugly.

It’s normal for people to downplay ugly things from their past, but it was handled poorly this week.

With all the ferrets and weasels trying to trip you up in Wellington it pays to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

But, no, she should not resign as an MP.

No, this is not about defence lawyers.

Yes, this is about the truth. And her wrestling match with it.

Sadly she has shown a serious lack of contrition. She should have said sorry rather than been so offended by the expose.

If she learns anything from this we should see a better response from her.

One emailer told me this week I was attacking her because she’s a “woman with lovely brown Persian skin”.


What indeed. Being attacked because the target of criticism is female or non-European or an immigrant or whatever has become common in New Zealand political forums, and it’s crap.

This is a simple little story. A very basic one. This is about being economical with the truth. This is about minimising the unsavoury and seemingly indefensible.

It’s a rookie mistake, not telling the full story. Let it be a lesson – and stop taking us for fools. We see bull…. a mile away.

It’s been a tough week for Ghahraman. If she learns well from it she will become a stronger politician and a better MP.

I haven’t seen much sign of lessons learnt yet from her or her supporters.

PR disaster for Sky City

Larry Williams on the Sky City scam attempt.

My gut feeling is that the Government, if they do give anything to SkyCity it will be minimal.

I might be wrong, but the hostile reaction from the public will have registered.

The biggest loser in all of this is actually SkyCity.

They are perceived as underhand, devious and manipulative, reneging on a deal. Trying to take the Government for a ride.

It absolutely destroys the millions they spend on PR.

This hasn’t looked good for the Government, especially Steven Joyce and John Key until he went into damage control.

But it looked like a cyncial money grab by Sky City. It will take a lot of free seats to games tro repair their PR on this.

Source (Newstalk ZB)

Curious – Whale Oil versus Uber post

A curious post at Whale Oil under Cameron Slater’s authorship – Uber acting like a teenager on a brain fart.

Curious because last week Slater was posting in support of Uber and accusing the police of acting for “failed business model”taxi companies against them, and today’s post backs the “hard working taxi drivers” of the same companies.

Curious because Cameron Slater has a known record of pay per post from industry lobbyists, so there always needs to be some careful consideration of possible motives for his posts.

And curious because the post doesn’t sound like Slater’s normal writing.

So that naturally raises suspicions that someone with an interest in the issue could have supplied some copy. According to what has been alleged by Nicky Hager it wouldn’t be the first time, that was one of the biggest and most concerning revelations in “Dirty Politics”.

The start of the post amongst the usual clutter:


Whooops could be a bit ironic. Does this sound like normal Slater?

Uber needs to stop trying to be ‘cool’ and follow the rules.  If other taxi companies fail because they run a terrible service, so be it, but if you are undercutting hard working taxi drivers who don’t do anything wrong by not following the law, you need your leash tugged.

Uber has been outlawed in certain countries.  This is a clear signal that it is the Uber way or else, and legislators have had to react by taking punitive measures.

Uber needs to consider the “fair go” aspect of Kiwi culture.  We all love a bargain, but not when people know the bargain comes at the cost of putting good people out of a job by not playing by the same rules.

Sounds curiously non-normal Slater.

Someone in comments has asked “are the taxi companies paying you to smear uber?” The way Whale Oil often appears now it’s impossible to know if that’s a genuine question or a patsy question ‘prompting’ a response, which Slater has done – “No actually and bye bye”.


Whale Oil has a record of deleting comments it doesn’t want or like.

The final paragraph sounds plain nonsense, likening Uber to Kim Dotcom.

Uber is like the Kim Dotcom of the taxi industry – counting on it’s underdog anti-establishment status to get ahead.  As with Dotcom, that works for a while, until the people realise you’re getting ahead by crushing hard working normal people.

Does that sound like normal Slater? Does it mean Whale Oil is preparing a similar crusade against Uber?

Possibly not. Five days ago (January 12) Slater posted Police now hassling Uber passengers as they continue their commercial jihad on behalf of cab companies:

The police have involved themselves very prominently in a civil dispute between Uber and other cab companies and are now shaking down passengers as they continue their jihad against Uber on behalf of cab companies.

Why are the Police even involved in this. Surely it is a civil dispute, there is no public safety issue here, there are no crimes being committed…it is either a vest interest somewhere within the Police with a relative or friend who is an embittered cab owner or it is simply another revenue gathering exercise.

That’s accusing the police of acting on behalf of taxi companies.

A day earlier Slater had posted Why are Police doing standover for taxi companies?

Instead of catching real criminals, or stopping speeding drivers doing one kilometre per hour over the speed limit (because you know, speed kills) it seems the Police are now acting as enforcers for the beleaguered taxi industry under pressure from a new company in the market challenging their fold failed business models.

The Police have overstepped their mark here. The complaints are nothing short of harassment on behalf of business competitors…it is a civil dispute not a criminal one.

The public and market will judge the service and reputation of Uber, but now as a result of basically industrial sabotage that reputation is tarnished because of Police action and headlines in major Sunday papers.

Both those posts sound strongly against the taxi companies and their “failed business models”. Today’s post mentions the company “hard working taxi drivers”  and “hard working normal people”.

The change of side is curious. And the final paragraph in last Friday’s post…

Who ever is their NZ PR person they should be fired, they’ve allowed their customer to be smeared from one end of the holidays to the other while they have been sunning themselves with their high ranking “connections” who have been no use whatsoever for the cause.

…has confusing references to PR and ‘connections’. They seem odd things to blog about, normally.

It may be that Slater doesn’t work for the highest bidder. But with his past record his changing approach to Uber will naturally raise suspicions, especially when he u-turns, and when he brings bizarre associations like Dotcom into it.

Shearer trying to pull the wool

David Shearer was interviewed on TV3’s Frontline this morning. Less hesitancy, more PR puffery.

Shearer tells Labour to focus on issues

“I said very clearly to our MPs, I don’t want to hear about the Labour Party, I want to hear about the issues that are important to people,” he told Firstline this morning, “those are the areas that we need to be focusing on. I do not want to hear about ructions within the party.”

“David Cunliffe is a really valuable part of our team, he’s smart, he’s experienced, he’s leading a portfolio… where this Government lacks absolutely any imagination or any direction of where they want New Zealand to go,” he says.

Apart from him apparently wanting to keep his ears closed to themany party problems he just recitd some practiced phrases.

Sure, Shearer needed to have some media training, he was very ‘unpolished’. But this interview showed too many signs of him being polished up as a PR clone. Just another Phil Goff.

Hopefuly, just maybe, the PR puppetry is just to get him up to speed, and he will then start to speak more for himself. But the signs aren’t good – he’s starting to morph from a stumbling non-leader to a failed party construct.

At least his strings are a getting polished.