Peter Dunne: The nature of public discourse

This is a post from Peter Dunne on the United Future blog

In the light of the recent passage of the Mixed Ownership Act, and the apparent public concern at its content, the following observations from the perspective of one who was supposedly most heavily lobbied as the crucial vote on the Bill, might be of interest:

  • Compared to other high profile measures over the years, the level of public lobbying (letters, emails, electorate visits etc.) on this legislation was certainly no higher, and arguably much less than on similar occasions in the past. Only one constituent ever came to see me about the Bill, and I visited one other early in the year who wanted to talk about the issue. Of the letters and emails I received, between 90% and 95% came from people outside my electorate. Of the 40 or so messages received after the Bill’s passage, only 4 were from constituents.
    By contrast, I received considerably more emails, letters and visits from constituents on the demise of TVNZ 7, but both these measures were dwarfed by the reaction I received to Labour’s Electoral Finance Act, where the messages were predominantly from constituents and I was being bailed up in shops and streets to talk about it.
    However, all these examples pale into significance alongside the “smacking” legislation where the messages being received were literally running at hundreds per hours at the crescendo of that debate!
  • The tenor of public discourse has changed. Even as recently as the Electoral Finance Act debate, barely 5 years ago, those contacting me to express their concern invariably produced considered arguments, only occasionally laced with vitriol and personal abuse.
    The tone started to deteriorate with the vehemence of opponents of the “smacking” legislation where personal abuse was far more commonplace, but reached a new peak during the debate on the Mixed Ownership Bill where only rarely did rational argument lace the vitriol and personal abuse.
    I am one of those who holds to the view that resort to personal abuse is the ultimate proof of absence of credible argument, which meant that most of the messages I received actually ended up being extremely counter-productive.
  • The explosion of electronic communication undoubtedly explains much of the change in style, tone and volume of messages received on key issues like these. Its immediacy and comparative anonymity also makes intemperance and abuse far more likely. But thereby hangs its weakness – it is accordingly that much easier to ignore, as either manipulated or extreme.

Now, all of this raises legitimate question about the future nature of public discourse. The current system has clear limitations when it comes to producing a credible way forward, yet, in an open, democratic society, it is vital that the great issues of the day are properly and thoroughly debated.

Debate is much more than just a public head-count of how many are for something, and how many are against, or the levelling of mindless abuse. Debate is about reason, and argument presented with fervour, coupled with an ability to hear what others are saying.

It is not just some animalistic show of strength based around who can shout loudest and rudest. Sadly, however, that is the path we appear to be heading down to the detriment of public discourse. And reduced discourse means reduced democracy.

Curran’s evolving hissy fit

It’s understandable that Clare Curran would be disappointed that TVNZ 7 has closed down, despite her efforts to save the channel. But that’s no excuse for lashing out at others.

And her blame game has been changing.

On Saturday she said to me:

He could have used his political leverage to protect public television broadcasting and could have done the same to prevent the sell-off of our assets, but he failed on both counts.

Then yesterday in her press release this had evolved to:

“He could have used his political leverage to protect public television broadcasting and could have done the same to prevent the sell-off of our assets, but he failed on both counts.

He failed on both counts to follow Labour’s wish list, but he isn’t their follower, he is United Future leader.

Bringing down the government to appease Clare Curran is probably not a priority for Dunne.

Curran blames Dunne for her TVNZ 7 failure

Inevitably TVNZ 7 closed down on Saturday night without being saved. There was a significant campaign to try and keep the channel alive but the fight was conceded with a ‘funeral’ march in Auckland on Saturday.

Clare Curran had toured the country campaigning strongly at a series of public meetings, along with Julie Anne Genter (Green Party) and a range of speakers for each event.

The campaign included a march on parliament, and then the penultimate funeral march in Auckland.

But how realistic was the campaign? What was the chance of success? Russell Brown blogged today in For want of some purpose:

TVNZ 7 was irrevocably dead even when the campaign began; and because I don’t think that inside TVNZ is actually the right place for a public service channel to dwell.

It looked that way to me too. I said as much in my speech to the Dunedin Save TVNZ 7 meeting:

But Curran was determined to do what she could to try and save the channel. Or at least that’s what she claimed – but it’s hard to know if this was through misguided optimism, or cynical use of the campaign to promote her politics.

And now she appears to be either trying to pile the blame onto Peter Dunne for her failure, or is just continuing her cynical politicking.

Dunne’s crocodile tears simply posturing

“Peter Dunne’s comments are simply posturing. He has a vote that counts in this administration and at every opportunity has refused to use it,” Clare Curran said.

“You’d think that the great champion of public broadcasting would have made a bit more of an effort when he negotiated a support arrangement with the National Government late last year.

“He could have used his political leverage to protect public television broadcasting and could have done the same to prevent the sell-off of our assets, but he failed on both counts.

“Dunne’s comments are hollow words from a hollow man.

“The past week provided the opportunity to influence change in the very areas he campaigned on most strongly. His hand in selling off our assets and shutting down TVNZ7 is what will shape his legacy,” Clare Curran said.

This is a repeat of attacks made elsewhere, including on her own blog, Funeral for TVNZ 7. except that then she said he should have haggled for TVNZ 7

He could have used his political leverage to protect public television broadcasting and could have done the same to prevent the sell-off of our assets, but he failed on both counts.

Now she says he should have brought down the government on asset sales as well…

“He could have used his political leverage to protect public television broadcasting and could have done the same to prevent the sell-off of our assets, but he failed on both counts.

She has failed on a basic understanding of coalition politics, and she abuses someone who could be an ally on broadcasting.

This is a very odd approach. Peter Dunne has been a vocal supporter of Public Service Broadcasting. He negotiated inclusion of “There will be no sale of any part of Radio New Zealand” in the United Future Confidence & Supply agreement with National.

Dunne has today criticised National’s stance on public service broadcasting:

Kiwi FM decision an ‘insult’ – Dunne

United Future leader Peter Dunne has labelled the Government’s decision to allow a commercial radio operator to continue to broadcast on a public frequency as the “ultimate insult” to those who supported TVNZ7.

Public channel TVNZ7 went off air at midnight on Saturday, after the Government decided to cut its funding.

Yesterday, a contract allowing MediaWorks to broadcast Kiwi FM – which plays 60 per cent New Zealand music – on a public frequency was renewed for another six months.

Mr Dunne, who has been vocal in his support for TVNZ7, told Radio New Zealand the two events happening at the same time was “not just the ultimate irony, it is also the ultimate insult”.

The decisions were “inconsistent”, he said.

Mr Dunne said it showed the Government had not taken seriously the large group of people backing a campaign to save the channel.

And when I had asked Dunne what his position was on TVNZ 7 (about a month ago) he said:

I think the die re TVNZ7 is probably caste, so the question now becomes how to build a viable public service television for the future, and whether some of TVNZ7′s quality programmes can be preserved on TVNZ’s other channels. UF’s position is to work to this objective.

So Dunne/United Future and Curran/Labour could be allies on what happens now – but Curram chooses to attack and criticise Dunne, blaming him for her failure to save TVNZ 7.

This raises a question – what is most important to Curran? Saving public service broadcasting? Or scoring cheap political points?

TVNZ 7 Funeral March – Auckland

There will be a march in Auckland today marking the final day of broadcasting from TVNZ 7.

Auckland Save TVNZ 7 Funeral March
Saturday 30th at 4.30pm
Starting at Queen Elizabeth Square (Britomart)

Starting at Queen Elizabeth Square (Britomart) at 4.30pm, we then walk up Queen Street, Victoria Street West, past TVNZ to St Matthew-in-the-City for speeches. We know the media will be out in force to get shots of us filing past the TVNZ building so please come along and show your support for public service television.

As well as protesting the government’s decision we are also mourning the loss of our last public service television channel. Please bring flowers or a candle and tell your friends to come along too. It’s a chance to be amongst friends as we remember and celebrate one of the best television channels in New Zealand’s history.

The weather forecast is looking good so please come along for a fun, festive ‘funeral’.

Good on you Myles, I hope you have a good day. Yesterday’s march in Wellington seemed to go well.

Wellington March

The march yesterday exceeded all our expectations. Around 400 TVNZ 7 ‘saviours’ loudly marched to Parliament where the petition with 36,155 signatures was presented to Labour Broadcasting Spokeswoman Clare Curran. It was officially handed over by three generations of TVNZ 7 fans – Anne Fyfe, Kirsty Fyfe and Elliot Baguley.

There were rousing speeches from Clare Curran, Julie Anne Genter (Greens Broadcasting Spokeswoman), Andrew Williams (NZ First), Peter Dunne (United Future Leader), Grant Robertson (Labour Deputy) and Russell Norman (Greens Co-Leader).

Pictures and videos are available in the links below.

Links supplied by Save TVNZ 7  to the many news items and media releases around the closure of TVNZ 7.

Back Benches – sad to see the end #2

Back Benches had it’s final last night, I’ve already posted on it: Back Benches – sad to see the end #1.

But there is another sadness I want to keep separate from that tribute. Some of the MP and audience behaviour was, sadly, inappropriate.

Sad note #1

Clare Curran started on Twitter before the show began:

Peter Dunne has a cheek turning up to #backbenches how’s he going to spin it? #SaveTVNZ7
How can the National Govt and @PeterDunneMP justify killing off such a fantastic channel #SaveTVNZ7

Curran has a cheek. Perhaps she’s annoyed she didn’t get invited on for the fianl panel. Peter Dunne was invited to be on the panel, so why shouldn’t he “turn up”.

Dunne has been a vocal supporter of TVNZ 7. I’m not sure what more Curran expected of him.

Curran has been campaigning hard to retain TVNZ 7 – but this has been over the past couple of months, when the close of the channel was inevitable. So her campaign has been far too late.

Curran has put forward a Member’s Bill to try and save TVNZ 7, but this only happened in the last few weeks, and there hasn’t even been a ballot for Member’s Bills since. It appears to be a “Look at me! I’m doing something!” – but far too late. If she was serious about saving TVNZ 7 this shouldn have been tried a year ago.

Sad note #2

The crowd at Back Benches has become more partisan, and at times very disrespectful. This was evident at the start last night, as described by David Farrar on Kiwiblog-  The final TVNZ7 Backbenches:

So many good things about Backbenchers, and I will miss it. But there were two or three issues which did detract from it.

The first is the behaviour of some in the audience. We saw this tonight where they booed and hissed as Peter Dunne got introduced. I will heckle (hopefully something humourous) an MP when they say something worth heckling, but would never ever boo or hiss an MP – as would be the case for most people.

But the partisan activists who regularly jeer, boo and hiss those they disagree with did the show a dis-service. And if no other broadcaster does pick up the show, then I happen to know their behaviour has been an element in that. Certain broadcasting executives have commented on some of the appalling rudeness.

It was a rude beginning to the programme. Shame.

Sad note #3

The show always ends with the panellists giving a final word with “I’ve been thinking”.

Peter Dunne was first, and he paid tribute to Back benches and TVNZ 7. Similar sentiments were expressed by some of the other panelists.

Jacinda Adern had the final word. She paid tribute, but then chose to address Peter Dunne and asked him to use his “balance of power” vote to save TVNZ 7. How the heck does she expect him to do that? He is not responsible for not renewing funding for TVNZ 7 – a Labour government put a limited timeframe on funding and National chose not to extend it.

There has been nothing in parliament for Dunne to support. The shutting down of TVNZ 7 is not his responsibility, as far as I can see. I suppose he could have not supported the budget because it didn’t include funding, and that may have broiught down the government. I guess that’s what Adern wants, and she doesn’t care about how ludicrous that would have been.

What was Adern thinking? I doubt she thought it through much if at all. She often speaks in repeat stock phrases, so saying something thoughtful may be difficult for her.

I’ve been thinking – that some Labour MPs (and some supporters) spend far too much time on petty and thoughtless politicking, and not enough time being thoughtful.

Back Benches – sad to see the end #1

The last Back Benches programme was on last night, as TVNZ 7 is being shut down on Saturday.

The final panel:

  • Green Party Co-Leader Metiria Turei
  • Labour MP Jacinda Ardern
  • Mana Party Leader Hone Harawira
  • National MP Chester Borrows
  • United Future Leader Peter Dunne.

There was a major disruption as a fire alarm forced an evacuation hald way through, but after a brief break they resumed broadcasting on the street – fortunately they use portable cameras and microphones so relocating was relatively easy – until they were allowed back inside to finish off.

It’s sad to see the end of Back Benches, it had it’s quirks but it was one of the best opportunites ordinary people had a chance to see more of some of the less prominent MPs. It was usually held in the Back Benches pub near parliament but had to relocate for the final few programmes due to fire damage at Bank Benches.

They also sometimes took the show on the road, I attended one they had in Dunedin last year.

David Farrar pays tribute on Kiwiblog – The final Back Benches on TVNZ7:

In the main, I’ve greatly enjoyed the show – both as a viewer, and occasional participant.    The after show drinking sessions ending up at Hummingbird have also been good!

I thought I would first start with the good. The two producers – Caroline and Mary-Anne – are always friendly, always professional, put together an excellent production and two really great people to boot.

The combination of Wallace and Damien worked well. Damien’s humour and Wallace’s engaging style produced a very watchable show.  I said to Wallace some years ago that one day I could see him on Close Up. I still hold to that view.

The floor manager and technical staff did an excellent job of live broadcasts from a non-studio. The Backbenches pub was a great venue for the show, as has been Speights Ale House for the last three weeks.

I think it was a great thing that we had a show, where any member of the public could turn up at the pub, and see four MPs debate the week’s issues, and meet and chat to them before hands and afterwards. There are few countries that have their MPs so accessible. I recall one show on a day the House rose early, and there were over 40 MPs at the Backbencher.

I also think the show was great for MPs, especially well backbenchers. Previously some MPs would never have to debate on live television until they were a Minister – and normally only if they are in the crap! It’s good training for MPs.

So many good things about Backbenchers, and I will miss it.

As I said, it is possible Backbenches will continue on another channel. I hope it does. While I have highlighted some issues (I’d solve the booing issue by having the cameras do close up focuses on those doing it), I definitely think overall it has become a fun part of New Zealand politics.

I too hope that this programme can be picked up and kept alive by another channel.

Letter from Save TVNZ 7 – only a few days left to sign

Dear Supporter of Public Service Broadcasting

I hope you’re enjoying the last two weeks of TVNZ 7.

It’s great to see the channel has chosen to go out with a bang – lots of strong programmes, many series continuing right up to the last week and a visionary new series called The Big Idea.

It’s gutting that such a great channel is coming to an end. No more regular documentaries, local science programmes, The Learning Hub, Kiwi arts programmes, The Court Report and so much more. It’s great that Media7 will continue on a commercial broadcaster (and possibly Back Benches) and we hope they get the same level of support from their new broadcasters even if they don’t get seen in primetime.

TVNZ 7 seems to be ending at an especially bad time. Is it just me or has our news media become more trashy and tabloid – from newspapers to magazines to television? There’s less sources of thoughtful or analytical news and current affairs – and a plethora of loud, sensational and shallow content. Yet an informed, conscious and actively-involved public is vital for a functioning democracy, for accountable decision-making and for our future prosperity.

TVNZ 7 is also a cultural asset – one of the few places on TV where you see the real New Zealand in all its quirky, good-natured and eccentric beauty. TVNZ 7 is where the politicians don’t wear makeup, local authors are celebrated, children can learn something useful and where there’s always something worth watching that won’t insult your intelligence. It’s no surprise that a third of the country watches TVNZ 7 – it’s a great channel.

Sadly our government has shown it doesn’t care and on the 1st of July, New Zealand will for the first time since television began, be without a public service television channel. We will join Mexico as the only developed countries in the world with totally commercial television chasing ratings above all else.

Why is this tragedy happening? So the government can save $16m. Yet they’ll spend $100m selling our energy companies, or $760m to extend a motorway to Warkworth. In two years the digital dividend will earn government around $33m annually and of course they could’ve just slapped a levy onto SKY and the ISP/Telcos which would have fully funded TVNZ 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10!


But it’s not over yet.

You may have seen in the news lately Save TVNZ 7 is not giving up the fight. We’ve enlisted the help of New Zealand’s top public law expert, Mai Chen; we’re still running public meetings around the country and we have two big Save TVNZ 7 protest marches coming up at the end of this month. We’re still fighting because we believe this issue is simply too important to let go, and we hope you will join us to tell the government that NZ needs public service television.

Tell everyone you know.

Oddly, the best way to tell the government to save public service television is to tell your friends and family. That’s because the government makes decisions based on regular polling of Kiwis on their current views and concerns. U-turns such as teacher ratios and mining national parks came about after frantic polling. Other political decisions such as withholding the tea-pot tapes came about because it was found that Kiwis had less respect for the media than for politicians.

With our Billboards and newspaper ads, we’ve been trying to get into the mass consciousness but our main strength are our 31,000 + petition signatories. So, please talk about the closure of TVNZ 7 and public service television with your friends, family, flatmates and Facebook fans –  and especially with the market research company who rings you on behalf of a major political organisation.

Please come to the Save TVNZ 7 marches

The Wellington march is on Thursday, 28th of June at lunchtime. It leaves Civic Square a little after 12pm walking to Parliament where we hope to present the petition to Minister of Broadcasting, Craig Foss (he’s just checking his diary before he gets back to us on this). We hope this will be a huge march opposing the closure of TVNZ 7. And we want to send a clear message to all politicians that New Zealanders want public service television – if not now then definitely in the future.

Later that day at 6.30pm, Labour Deputy Grant Robertson is holding a public meeting at St John’s Hall on the corner of Willis St and Dixon St in Wellington to discuss setting up a broader ‘Friends of Public Broadcasting’ organisation. All are welcome.

The Auckland march is on Saturday, 30th of June which is the last day of transmission for TVNZ 7. In a few days we’ll announce the route of the procession, which will end at St Matthew-in-the-City on Hobson Street at 5.15pm with speeches. Bring a candle or a flower to help us commemorate the demise of TVNZ 7, hear from people involved in the channel and the campaign to save it, and to think about new beginnings.

Sorry for the rant.

I guess in a nutshell what I’m trying to say is “Don’t give up. TVNZ 7 may seem lost but public service television is still possible in NZ and we must call for it. It is our right.”

Thanks very much also for all the donations, for coming to the meetings, writing to your MP and all your efforts already. We have already achieved great things and we have the momentum now to do even more.

Na matou, noa na

Myles Thomas and the Save TVNZ 7 team

Save TVNZ 7: Dunedin speech, Pete George

Pete George is a prolific blogger, promoter of Dunedin interests, and a campaigner for better democracy and more positive politics locally and nationally. He stood for United Future in Dunedin North in 2011 and is still associated (semi-independently) with United Future.

Where I’m coming from

United Future asked me to stand last year when they saw me promoting better democracy both in Dunedin and nationally. Being a candidate was a good experience, and part of a bigger goal.

I’m still associated with United Future, it helps me with my wider aims.

One of those aims is promoting Dunedin, and encouraging more participation in political and social issues here. Building a stronger voice for Dunedin, a more informed voice with strength in greater numbers. And using that voice to communicate with and lobby politicians and parliament.

I’m finding others with similar aims. This public meeting is one example. The Centre for Theology and Public Issues at Otago University is also doing a great job, regularly running public forums.

I wear a wider hat too – nation wide, working for better democracy and more positive politicals. Many politicians work positively, but we often see ugly face, the negative, the destructive. I stand against the negative, and promote the positive. I’m building networks with people with similar aims.

I use the YourDunedin and YourNZ blogs, but also other blogs and social media like Twitter and Facebook, and tie in with traditional media.


I don’t think TVNZ 7 can be saved. It’s a failed exercise, and too late to rescue. I don’t think TVNZ 7 itself failed, there have been noteable successes. And Labour’s intentions were good, even though in retrospect it can be seen as a flawed model. It is TVNZ who have failed, they have failed the people of New Zealand, they have failed to ensure we have strong public broadcast TV.

Tying it to a commercial network made it difficult. A conflict of priorities.

And now it’s too late. It would have been better campaign on it last year but bigger election issues overshadowed it.

But I applaud Clare, Myles and those involved in this campaign. I don’t think it will save TV 7. But it can be the springboard for a new, better model of non-commercial multi media.

The campaign has raised interest, and many people have stood up, like here in Dunedin. Don’t just sit back down at the end of the month. Stay standing. Keep talking. And do some walking.

We can’t just grizzle and wait for a change of government. That will waste two and a half years. Or more.

National aren’t likely to budge,  so continue without them. That won’t get an immediate result, but doing as much as possible may force National’s hand at the next election, or
it at least prepares the way for the next government.

And we need to think outside the TV square.

I would like to consider three things.

The first is money.

There’s no such thing as free TV. All broadcasting costs money.

We often expect Government to provide everything. Even if Government comes up with all the money it’s a cost to taxpayers.

Anyway the initial work to replace TV7 has to be done despite the Government.

That means working for nothing or raising money. Money has been raised for this campaign, why can’t that continue, to start building a new media?

What about subscriptions?

Are the many keen supporters of TV7 at these meetings keen enough to pay for it, like many pay  for Sky?

One extra Sky channel can cost an $5 a month. What is a better channel worth?

The second point is should all efforts be for one channel?

Daryl Baser made a comment on Facebook,

..also wondering about the future of regional television which receives a fraction of the funding across the nation, than TVNZ 7 does for its channel…just saying…

Regional channels serve their own purpose but compete for funds. Why not make them part of the whole solution, don’t focus on a single 24/7 channel, but an umbrella for a network of channels?

The third point is diversity of media.

The focus shouldn’t just be on TV. We need to take a radical look at how modern media works.

I rarely just sit and watch TV. I use my PC much more, on it’s own and while watching TV, when I’m commonly:

  • Keeping an eye on what’s happening online.
  • Commenting on what I’m watching on Twitter or Facebook.
  • Looking up related information.
  • Getting ideas for what I might blog about next – or typing a post as I watch.
  • Commenting on other people’s blogs.
  • Looking for more details and clarifications of what I see on the news.
    In fact most news I see on TV I already know about. I’ve often seen things days earlier on the internet.

Television is only a part of a much wider multi media experience.
And I don’t live with a phone in my hand like many people.

So I think we have to look beyond a TV channel.

We should be exploring a much more diverse, multifaceted and interactive media experience.

Traditional commercial television tries to capture and hold audiences. They want to be the whole machine, the only machine carrying their advertisers.

New media can only be one cog in a much bigger machine. New media will only have teeth if it accepts that they need to intermesh with as many other cogs as possible.

I propose exploring and establishing a much more diverse inclusive multi media. Much of this can be done via the internet, at relatively low cost. Voluntary, collaborative, community driven.

And as more funds are found this can grow. Not based on one channel like TV 7, but weaving a multi media web.

Why not start this now?

Of course there could be room for a dedicated TV channel and a multi media umbrella.

Comment from Peter Dunne:

I think the die re TVNZ7 is probably caste, so the question now becomes how to build a viable public service television for the future, and whether some of TVNZ7’s quality programmes can be preserved on TVNZ’s other channels. UF’s position is to work to this objective.