Tuesday 18 May 2021

Radio Waves.

Waving Us In - Or Away? Increasingly reliant on pollsters and PR people, Nine to Noon has quite consciously narrowed the range of political discussion down to the weekly wins and losses of the major parliamentary players. Only very occasionally does its “Political Panel” venture out into the broader realm of ideas. The sort of discussion and debate listeners might have heard if the programme’s producers had reached out to academics and political iconoclasts was not something that RNZ seemed eager to promote.

LAST MONDAY (10/5/21) Neale Jones and Ben Thomas were Kathryn Ryan’s guests on RNZ’s Nine To Noon programme. Ryan’s “Political Panel” is one of the programme’s most listened-to segments – it’s influential. Listening to Jones and Thomas last Monday, however, I was left wondering “influential with whom?”

Political commentary on RNZ has evolved in a very strange way over the past few years. The original intent seemed pretty clear: to secure independent commentary from competent representatives of right-wing and left-wing opinion about the deeds of government, opposition, and other sundry political actors across the week just passed. There can be little doubt that the Political Panel’s most popular right-wing commentator was the volatile – but never boring – Matthew Hooton. The Left, too, put up some formidable champions: Peter Harris from the CTU; the former Alliance MP, Laila HarrĂ©.

Critical to the success of these commentators was their willingness to tackle what were often highly sensitive and contentious issues without feeling the need to look over their shoulders. They were as ready – when it was warranted – to put the boot into their own “side” as they were to criticise their more traditional ideological foes.

For the programme’s listeners, this independence of mind constituted a vital ingredient in the Political Panel’s success. The moment commentary becomes predictable it begins to take on the character of spin. Heterodoxy has another important advantage over orthodoxy: its ability to surprise and provoke; a capacity to make those who encounter it think differently about an issue. In other words, it makes for both a better democracy and great radio.

Why, then, has RNZ abandoned this winning formula in favour of a Political Panel comprised, more-or-less exclusively these days, of pollsters and public relations mavens? Now, to be fair to RNZ, it was their star turn, Hooton, who started this particular ball rolling by establishing his own PR company, Exeltium. Not wanting to lose Hooton’s prodigious talent, Nine to Noon decided to offer its listeners a fulsome disclaimer – and hope for the best.

Gradually, however, the nature of RNZ’s political commentary changed. More and more, it became a forum for major players from inside the Wellington beltway. The official pollsters for National and Labour started turning up, followed closely by former ministerial press secretaries and chiefs-of-staff turned PR specialists.

On its face, this seemed like a great idea. After all, if pollsters and well-placed insiders didn’t know what was going on, then who did?

The problem, of course, is that well-placed insiders and party pollsters don’t remain well-placed insiders or party pollsters by blabbing everything they know about the moving and shaking of the movers and shakers to RNZ’s listeners. For the Nine to Noon audience, these keepers of secrets could not be expected (and, presumably, were not expected) to provide anything other than a carefully framed picture of New Zealand politics.

Carefully framed and ideologically neutered. By relying on pollsters and PR people, Nine to Noon was quite consciously narrowing the range of political discussion down to the weekly wins and losses of the major parliamentary players. Only very occasionally does the Political Panel venture out into the broader realm of ideas. The sort of discussion and debate listeners might have heard if the programme’s producers had reached out to academics and political iconoclasts was not something that RNZ seemed eager to promote.

Which brings us back to last Monday’s discussion between Ryan, Jones and Thomas. Unsurprisingly, one of the topics up for discussion was the Leader of the Opposition’s, Judith Collins’, ongoing effort to get the Labour Government to offer up any sort of coherent response to the He Puapua Report.

If ever there was an issue that called out for a broader discussion, it is the He Puapua Report. Under review is nothing less than the future shape of the New Zealand constitution and a radically reconfigured relationship between Maori and Pakeha New Zealanders.

Rather than venture forth into these stormy waters, however, Ryan attempted to re-frame the discussion as a shrewd Opposition manoeuvre to drive a wedge between the Prime Minister and her Maori caucus. Having thus constricted tightly the parameters of the discussion, Ryan passed the speaking-stick to Thomas. It was at this point that things took a decidedly weird turn.

Riffing off his co-commentator, Jones’s, sneering characterisation of National’s interest in He Puapua as some kind of “conspiracy theory”, Thomas upped the ante by claiming that the report’s critics were treating He Puapua as something akin to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This charge represents a major step-up in the effort of what might best be described as the New Zealand “political class” to stifle all further debate on the issues covered in the report.

What Thomas (PR consultant) had done was to move beyond Jones’s (Managing Director of PR firm Capital Government Relations) strategy of marginalising the Government’s critics as tin-foil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists, into the much darker realm of virulent anti-Semitism and far-Right mythology.

For those who don’t know, the Protocols were published by fanatical Russian anti-Semites in 1903 as a means of inciting murderous pogroms against the Tsar’s Jewish subjects. They concern a supposedly secret Jewish plot to take over the world. Brought out of Russia in the aftermath of World War One and the Bolshevik Revolution, the Protocols served to inflame Adolf Hitler’s already passionate hatred of the Jews. Copies of this ur-conspiracy theory are still on sale in bookshops all over the Middle East.

By invoking the Protocols, Thomas – wittingly or unwittingly – was associating National’s Judith Collins with the worst excesses of the Nazis and their admirers. And, it appears to have worked. In her keynote speech to the Southern Regional Conference of the National Party in Queenstown (16/5/21) the name He Puapua does not appear.

Listening to last Monday’s Political Panel, the similarity between the attitudes struck by Ryan, Jones and Thomas over He Puapua, and those struck by the British political class in relation to the UK-wide debate over Brexit is … well … striking. There is that same lofty tone of condescension; that same propensity to belittle those who refuse to endorse the “official” policy-line; the same impression that those opposing them are ignorant and powerless peasants who may be safely waved away and ignored.

The Political Panel’s airy dismissal of their fellow citizens’ concerns was bad enough in itself, but what made it worse was the fact that it was being broadcast on a network supposedly owned by, and committed to serving, the people of New Zealand – all the people of New Zealand. A state broadcaster rigorously excluding any and all voices dissenting from the official line, is something most New Zealanders would expect to encounter in Moscow or Beijing – not in Wellington.

This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website on Monday, 17 May 2021.


David George said...

I see there has been a big drop in audience figures for RNZ, it has become predictable and therefore boring. They don't seem concerned, apparently, perhaps they see their job as preaching to the converted. Fortunately most people have an innate ability to discern propaganda. There's two sides to every story (that's the nature of reality itself) so the first clue is the disclusion of any counter argument or, more subtly, to set the counter up as strawmen to be easily knocked over.

The idea appears to be "to refuse to admit to the possibility that reasonable people can object to their ideological staff. Because if reasonable people objected, that would imply that their ideological stance is not reasonable". Jordan Peterson

"I've studied authoritarianism for a very long time - for 40 years - and they're started by people's attempts to control the ideological and linguistic territory".
Jordan Peterson

Anonymous said...

He Puapua is not the most significant reform being undertaken. Others should worry us more. Because if the media are unable to cover He Puapua in their role as the 4th Estate, there's little chance any of them will adequately cover the following.

Our health system is being centralized globally. The government handed over the responsibility for the build of our immunization register to Salesforce and Amazon; much to the anger of the MoH's former, local provider, who said, along with some medical experts, that it didn't make sense for the government to reform the health system now.

But it does make sense if you understand that what is driving those reforms is not a failure of the present health system per say, but big data, AI, and IT seeking new markets - human capital markets.

New Zealand's health system is being reformed in parallel to reforms in the UK and elsewhere. The health system has to be reformed because it is being reformed according to not He Puapua, primarily, but the Open Government Partnership. The OGP is the key, cross Ministry and government and industry blueprint.

The first government department to integrate with this new global digital system was StatsNZ, under James Shaw, as it worked to implement the OGP, after space docking with Luminate, which we didn't hear much about at all, either.

Reforms are coming to the education sector, too. To understand the coming education reforms, again, it is best to look at the plans of "stakeholders" and measure their progress:


He Puapua is one of the pieces of the puzzle but not a keystone piece.

Look into "EdTech". It's a nightmare of education as surveillance and data harvesting where the student is the product and the consumer, and where the totally of the data about a person determines the course of their lives.

All these programs tie into the UN and the World Bank's ID2020 program.

Note that Luminate, the lobbying firm run by ex-Obama staffer Ben Scott that interfaced with StatsNZ, is the World Bank's partner on Digital ID.

Ray M said...

I have adandoned RNZ after 50 years because it offends me at a number of levels. This is yet another.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Let's face it, it shouldn't be called "From the left and from the right" anymore. It should be called something like "from the marginally almost left to the centre-right." The more I listen to radio New Zealand, the more I find that it is not in fact sticking to its charter (assuming it still has one) by way of representing all of New Zealand. It's an echo chamber for the middle-class and the aspirationals. It does long segments promoting small businesses (for which I hope they pay) which may or may not be a good thing though I have no great objection to it. They review books, for which at least they used to pay possibly they still do. What they don't do is interview anyone from the left, except when there is some controversy surrounding trade unions.
I listen to it when I'm running. Some of it's really interesting, particularly the sciencey bits. But no one could claim it's representative anymore.

John Hurley said...

Yep, and I hope they enjoy my texts to Morning Report admiring their News Plus Te Reo Bonus Pack. I don't accept that Te Reo on Morning Report will make a jot of difference to Maori breaking into houses.

I liked Mathew Hooten on A Slice of Heaven where he said "If Bill English wants Auckland to grow by another million (?) he should make a speech and say so. I have never heard him.....".
Democracy can't be served if we aren't allowed to question the elites.

Beanai said...

We are hurtling head first into a totalitarian nightmare. Why is not of the local democracy reporting budget being used to explain complex changes that affect our constitution and civil liberties?

Remember Glenn Greenwald's 'Moment of Truth"? Where is the outrage now?

Anonymous said...

Matthew Hooton knew about all of this before taking a job with the National Party.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"I've studied authoritarianism for a very long time - for 40 years - and they're started by people's attempts to control the ideological and linguistic territory".
Jordan Peterson

Peterson recently threatened a professor at Cornell University with a lawsuit after she discussed him in academic but unflattering terms in an interview.

“Peterson's threat to sue me for defamation for expressing my opinions about his book was, I believe, a classic attempt to chill speech,” said Kate Manne, assistant professor of philosophy at Cornell, who, along with her department chair and Vox Media, received a libel notice from Peterson’s lawyer in June. The notice demanded an apology and the removal of the “defamatory” content, such as, “[Peterson says] some really eyebrow-raising, authoritarian-sounding, and even cruel things.”

Good old Freedom of expression Jordan Peterson. Wouldn't dream of trying to control the language would he? :)

The Barron said...

It is perhaps time to clear the cobwebs of opinion on He Puapua.

The first point is there is no evidence that any Government policy has been as a result of the report.

The changes to the Local Government Act have been called for since Hon. Sandra Lee wrote the Act. It was always envisioned that as the public got used to Maori wards, the ability for over-rule referendum would no longer be required. Hobson's Choice upset this by orchestrating petitions and preventing the wards by a majority of a small turnout. Like any other local wards, the determination was returned to the elected councilors accountable to the electorate. While Nanaia Mahuta was aware of the report, the changes to the Local Govt Act and her support for changes preceded the report by decades.

The change to the History curriculum were being discussed over a decade ago. One time History revisionist such as Sinclair, King and Belich have been mainstream for half a century. The idea that NZ History has a 1642 bilp, the begins for real in 1769 is cringe-worthy. The Polynesian voyaging over the world largest geographical area, the establishment of a people used to tropical climates in a temperate land, and the interaction with the strongest power in the globe are some of the most worthy studies in world history. The development of a nation from multiple perspectives is what modern history demands. Education officials and history teachers preparing this pre-dates He Puapau.

The Health reforms do not need the He Puapua report. Andrew Little understands the zeitgeist and if long term reform is wanted, the inclusion of greater Maori autonomy and decision making is required.

The next point I wish to touch on is this bazaar idea that anything that deviates from majoritarianism is somehow separatism.

A monocultural local body with electoral structures that disadvantage the indigenous is separatist. Inclusion is not. A Health system that excludes significant input from those that have been shown to be disadvantaged in health statistics is separatist. A system that allows indigenous proportional input to the health measures that affect them is not separatist. An education system where history is warped to show one parties view of interaction is not only separatist, but isn't really history.

The culture and societies are looking for inclusive models. He Puapua at least shows an intent to establish debating points. Evolution not revolution.

Anonymous said...

Please could the Anonymous commented who posted at 10:11 on 18 May please provide a link to further information about Luminate and Statistics NZ. Thanks.

David Farrar said...

A minor note. I have never been a regular on Nine to Noon. In fact I think I have appeared once in the last 15 years, as a substitute.



Anonymous said...

@Anonymous @18 May 2021 at 17:03

Some links incl. background w Cabinet. StatsNZ's role flagged in the first pdf.





David George said...

GS, you know perfectly well that slander and libel against an individual is a civil justice matter. You can't willfully misrepresent someone and damage their reputation or business without risking the consequences. I don't know of anyone suggesting that right be sacrificed.

Anonymous said...

Lots of interesting documents here if you are interested in the OGP:


Breccan said...

This is a Luminate project:


How is it connected to the Christchurch Call?

Interesting that reset.tech received its seed funding from the Sandler Foundation. It was money from the Sandler Foundation enabled John Podesta to set up the Centre for American Progress:

The Centre for Australian Progress is where all New Zealand's key activists and think tank lobbyists are now trained before being given roles at civil society organisation that belong to the same network, with the same funders (mostly Silicon Valley orgs).

For instance, ActionStation's submitter to the Justice Committee on the need for hate speech laws, Laura O'Connell, is an Australian Progress fellow.

ActionStaton received money about four ways from the person who runs Luminate, who btw is partnered with the ADL:


At the Justice Committee hearing the expert submissions were from the Law Foundation, the Workshop and the Helen Clark Foundation. All of those organisations received funding from this very same funder through different funding streams.

I am not against lobbying but efforts suggested by the above should not go unnoticed.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

David. I've never noticed Jordan Peterson carefully excluding slander or libel from his freedom of speech diatribes. In so far as you can make sense of them, given he can't speak clearly to save his life. But it does speak to his hypocrisy when he sues someone for critiquing his book. And it's not the first person he sued or threatened to sue – in this particular case for calling him a misogynist. Can't see what's defamatory about that, I've called people misogynist in various forums – probably including here.
Hell, in the comments to one of Chris's blogs I was called a communist. Didn't whine about it, just asked for evidence. (Which was not of course, produced) Didn't sue anyone.
One of the statements they objected to (him and his lawyers) was:

“I also suspect that for many of Peterson’s readers, the sexism on display above is one tool among many to make forceful, domineering moves that are typical of misogyny.”

It was obviously a SLAPP suit which apparently are common in the US, less so in Canada. It was a book review for Christ's sake. Not only that but he sued in Canada, because the US has more freedom of speech protections than it does, though even Canadian lawyers thought it was frivolous.
Of course, you can sue pretty much anyone for anything, especially in the US, but maybe you should think about what you've said about free speech before you do it.
I find it ironic that it's conservatives who invented the terms "snowflake" and "fuck your feelings" or perhaps less forceful, "facts don't care about your feelings". But they often turn round at the slightest hint of criticism and act like whiny little children.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Actually David from what I can gather, she didn't actually directly call him a misogynist, she called his work misogynist. Which it is. So maybe he can sue me now?

greywarbler said...

That comment on 18 May 10.11 tells it like it is. The government has no power, we bleed millions in setting up a computer system to end all systems (Incis and others). With all the hacking and diminishing of the people it is supposed to be helping. We need a Jphn A Lee storming about not this quiescent mob.

And education should be helping youngsters to be self reliant so they can discern why they shouldn't be dependent on an octopus on-line system. The authorities don't want us to be able to phone any more. I hung on for 9 minutes to the Nelson City Council while an annoying voice kept telling me to leave a message and they would call me back. That's very inefficient for me. Half an hour later still the same. I don't want to channel myself through the on line network. I'll try to phone again first thing in the morning.

But what power and consideration do we get as citizens. I was trying to get a degree and a job at one time and the criteria was so tight I couldn't get finished but have an $8000 student loan. They have just dumped an extra $400 on it to cover some past nothings. It is interest free but I see that anyone who has been in the country 183 days can get one.
So as a citizen trying to up my education I don't count for more than any johnny come lately.

Anonymous said...

>He Puapua at least shows an intent to establish debating points.

Pity though that trying to debate those points results in accusations of racism.

Anonymous said...

I have been dithering about contributing a caveat about some of the "sciency bits" Guerilla Surgeon still enjoys. However, this morning (Saturday May 29) an interesting "sciency bit" was overshadowed by the dreadful arrogant "wokeism" displayed by the host sitting in for Kim Hill. The interview with the doctor using CRISPR gene editing to try to cure otherwise untreatable hereditary blindness was both fascinating, and the only bit really worth listening to. There was listener feedback at the end of the show expressing the opinion that whatever medical benefits CRISPR may bring, it should not be used in food or the environment. An important subject, which could and should be thoroughly discussed in a forum such as National Radio once was. For instance, a Maori activist had called earlier on the show for all available science resources to be mobilised against kauri dieback. (She had an excellent point, current efforts are both underfunded and divided between competing groups). But this raises questions such as: should research on using CRISPR against kauri dieback be done? What if it's the only way to stop kauri dieback? Would Maori rather see kauri go extinct than be saved by CRISPR? If they would, can a non-Maori majority insist kauri are saved by CRISPR, if indeed the majority is for that?
Instead of such discussion, in a morning of low points, we reached the lowest with the hosts reaction to listener feedback on a claim, alledgedly present in Maori oral tradition, that Maori reached the South Pole first. (Unfortunately, in the words of Dave Barry, I am NOT making this up!) To the listener feedback doubting waka could reach the South Pole, the host sneered that such doubt only showed the listeners ignorance of Maori waka! (I emphasize, I am NOT making this up!). The host did seem to realize he might have paddled his own waka a bit too far up a rather malodorous creek, and finished the show with a bit of reverse paddling/self-defence with the comment there was evidence of a Maori presence on the sub-antarctic Auckland islands, dating back to about the same time as the settlement in New Zealand. Maybe, but that's still quite a ways north of the South Pole.
Up until now, I have thought taxpayer funding for public radio was a public good, even as my worries and doubts about the "woke" preaching to the choir have grown. Now, I'm not so sure. Maybe taxpayer funding should be cut, and if National Radio is to survive, it has to scratch up funding from iwi authorities, and whatever it's small remaining audience will donate.