The Government pissed off journalists at a bad time

Journalists and media have largely been supportive of Government efforts to deal with Covid-19, but as the general population gets restless under Level 3 restrictions and want to get back closer to normal living, journalists seem to have also changed their approach to coverage.

This shift was given a big boost with the Friday dump of Covid information, along with a leaked email telling Ministers to not give interviews or answer questions apart from using dished out patsy phrases.

The Government has two big challenges this coming week, trying to keep the population on-side with lockdown restrictions, and delivering a budget in extraordinary times. And they head into this period  with a suddenly more sceptical media openly questioning Government arrogance.

Derek Cheng (NZH): The gagging order from Jacinda Ardern’s office – cynical, arrogant and unnecessary

Controlling the message is critical, especially at a time of crisis, and the PM’s office has clearly tried to continue its tight control over the Government messaging.

It is a common communications strategy to release bad news late on a Friday, when newsrooms are emptier and people are more focused on weekend plans rather than the news.

With the gagging order, there is virtually no chance to ask a minister about anything in the documents for three days, and by the time Jacinda Ardern fronts on Monday afternoon, the nation will be firmly focused on whether we are moving to alert level 2.

And it’s not just the cynical timing. The “no real need to defend … we can dismiss” reeks of arrogance – the subtext is “we are above scrutiny” – and blatantly flouts Ardern’s cultivated reputation for openness and transparency.

It also undermines the access provided in the almost-daily press conferences that have taken place during alert levels 3 and 4.

Even if the information drop could not have happened before yesterday afternoon, ministers should be able to front.

The shackles should be discarded and ministers should be open to scrutiny. If they can’t be trusted to answer questions about their portfolios, they shouldn’t be ministers.

Tracy Watkins (Stuff):  Are these the first signs of third term arrogance from a first term government?

Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s budget this week will loom over generations to come; it’s no exaggeration to say its the most important budget in decades.

There will be intense debate about whether he has got it right; so it’s unfortunate that as we head into budget week the government is exhibiting premature signs of the affliction known as third-termitis.

That was most evident in the emergence of a leaked memo this week in which ministers’ offices were advised not to waste any time defending themselves to the media – not because they had anything much to hide but because (to paraphrase) people love us anyway, so why bother?

It’s the assumption behind that advice that is so alarming; it speaks of supreme confidence at the moment that this government can do no wrong in the eyes of the public.

So will this confidence and arrogance come out in the budget with opportunistic major changes in direction? There has been a lot of lobbying from idealists wanting to change the economic and political systems, and there has even been suggestions that Jacinda Ardern can change the world.

And Friday’s dump and email were not isolated reasons for media discord.

Given the scale of this crisis, and the extent to which it has touched every life, that is more important now than ever. The Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, for instance, says 20,000 operations were cancelled and 60,000 specialist appointments parked. It will take more than a year to catch up, they say. Yet questions about how the Government will deal with this have largely been fobbed off.

There was another disturbing sight this week when Attorney General David Parker refused media interviews on the legality of the Covid lockdown, preferring instead to interview himself in a 42 minute long livestream on Facebook.

Did Parker take a leaf out of Trump’s playbook?

Facebook has become this government’s best friend; its shoulder shrug in response to questions about transparency and accessibility. But of course it’s also about controlling not just the message, but image, and the news agenda.

But as we come out of lock-down, and face up to the huge recovery mission ahead, fronting up to hard questions should not be optional.

If the Government tries to use the huge current economic and social disruption plus their current popularity after initially being widely seen to handle Covid-19 well here to lurch towards some sort of revolution they could find themselves quickly off-side with a public seemingly intent on getting back to normal ahead of the lowering of lockdown restrictions.

An obvious risk of a sudden rise to popularity on the back of unprecedented social and economic disruption is that that can become a fall just as quickly if the Government gets out of step with public sentiment.

One might think that Winston Peters would act as a check on starting a revolution via the budget (unless superannuants benefit). But it may be too late. He seems to have been sidelined by the big decision making clique now calling the shots in Government, and may have been already pressured into supporting changes due to popular support for the Government.

The confidence and arrogance of the Prime Minister and Ministers seems to be actively shutting themselves off from public contact via the media, and they already look to be rapidly getting out of touch.

The public supported them because the wanted the disruptions due to Covid to stop, and saw drastic action as necessary.

But now the public wants disruptions and changes to their normal ways of life to dissipate.

If the Government have decided to take some revolutionary steps in the budget next week they may find that the media are not so supportive as they have been over the past couple of months, and the public could easily rebel (there’s a mini-rebellion already happening against the restrictive level 3 lockdown).

Emergency measures in a crisis are generally supported. But using an emergency to undemocratically impose major changes may turn the tide against support for the current Government, and even Ardern.

A rebellion against the inner circle

Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

chwjgqauoaqiwip

I don’t see any sign of this happening in New Zealand, unless you want to count the rebellion against Labour’s policymaking clerks and journalist insiders.

Here the only upward movement is the party of an old school politician who wants to return things to how they were half a century ago.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Arabic: نسيم نيقولا نجيب طالب‎, alternatively Nessim or Nissim, born 1960) is a Lebanese-American essayist, scholar, statistician, former trader, and risk analyst, whose work focuses on problems of randomness, probability, and uncertainty.