Friday 4 June 2021

Sucking Up and Kicking Down: The NZ Media Covers the Queenstown Summit.

Steady-On, Cobber: After the vicious attack on New Zealand’s prime minister and foreign policy, broadcast on Channel Nine’s “60 Minutes” programme, during which this country was accused of selling its soul and abandoning its Australian “mate” for a mess of Chinese pottage, most Kiwis would have greeted the Aussie media pack with hackles raised and teeth bared. Not our journalists, or, at least, not where anyone could see them.

THE NEW ZEALAND NEWS MEDIA’S coverage of the regular get-together of the Australian and New Zealand prime ministers was appalling. Like their reporting of New Zealand politics generally, most of the journalists’ effort was devoted to seeking-out story-lines with which to embarrass the Labour Government of Jacinda Ardern. In many cases, this involved openly talking-up the Australians’ book at their own country’s expense. Confirmed, yet again, is the unhealthily large number of “suck-up, kick-down” personalities currently at large in New Zealand’s Fourth Estate.

So many contemporary journalists appear to be in the job for trophies. Not the sort of trophies one displays on the mantelpiece (although they like them too) but the sort of trophies big-game hunters hang on their walls. The current Press Gallery’s definition of a good political journalist would appear to be based on how many politician’s they have “bagged”. As if stuffing someone’s career is something to be proud of.

Never has the British Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin’s (1867-1947) crushing condemnation of the news media been more apt: “What [it] is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”

After the vicious attack on New Zealand’s foreign policy, broadcast on Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes programme, during which this country was accused of selling its soul and abandoning its Australian “mate” for a mess of Chinese pottage, most Kiwis would have greeted the Aussie media pack with hackles raised and teeth bared. Not our journalists, or, at least, not where anyone could see them.

Rather than respond in kind to the “60 Minutes” onslaught, with questions about the Australian Defence Minister courting Armageddon over Taiwan and the South China Sea, our scribes were more keen to know how fast Jacinda planned to skulk back, like a whipped puppy, to her kennel in Canberra’s back yard.

Certainly there was no one there in Queenstown with the wit to object, when Scott Morrison blathered on about not letting hostile forces divide the Anzac partners, that, since the man in charge of Channel Nine was his old mate and Liberal Party colleague, Peter Costello, he might like to pick up the phone and ask him to stop calling New Zealand a Chinese puppet.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it. The hacks and hackettes of the New Zealand Press Gallery just don’t know stuff like that. All they know is what the smooth operators at the Australian High Commission, the British High Commission and the American Embassy whisper in their shell-like ears at receptions and cocktail parties arranged for just such a purpose.

One is reminded of the famous scene in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four when the “orator” on the platform is handed a note informing him that Oceania is no longer at war with Eurasia, it is now at war with Eastasia:

The speech had been proceeding for perhaps twenty minutes when a messenger hurried on to the platform and a scrap of paper was slipped into the speaker’s hand. He unrolled and read it without pausing in his speech. Nothing altered in his voice or manner, or in the content of what he was saying, but suddenly the names were different. Without words said, a wave of understanding rippled through the crowd. Oceania was at war with Eastasia! The next moment there was a tremendous commotion. The banners and posters with which the square was decorated were all wrong! Quite half of them had the wrong faces on them. It was sabotage! The agents of Goldstein had been at work! There was a riotous interlude while posters were ripped from the walls, banners torn to shreds and trampled underfoot. The Spies performed prodigies of activity in clambering over the rooftops and cutting the streamers that fluttered from the chimneys. But within two or three minutes it was all over. The orator, still gripping the neck of the microphone, his shoulders hunched forward, his free hand clawing at the air, had gone straight on with his speech. One minute more, and the feral roars of rage were again bursting from the crowd. The Hate continued exactly as before, except that the target had been changed.

For nearly 40 years, New Zealand’s diplomatic stance has reflected its location in the Asia-Pacific region of the world. Its relationships with other nations are based on the indisputable reality of New Zealand being a small, economically vulnerable, trading nation situated in the south of the South Pacific. It’s a stance that has the merit of being both expedient and ethical. Other nations know exactly where we stand and what we want – which is, essentially, to be everybody’s friend and trading partner. For decades now, New Zealand diplomacy has possessed the added advantage of in no way contradicting the general strategic posture of the region’s major military actors – the USA and Australia. We were focused on the Asia-Pacific. They were focused on the Asia-Pacific.

Except, they’re not – not any longer. The USA’s and Australia’s strategic perspective has shifted abruptly from the Asia-Pacific theatre to the Indo-Pacific theatre. From an essentially defensive stance, aimed at preserving the regional status-quo, New Zealand’s former ANZUS allies (with Japan and India in tow) have adopted a clearly aggressive posture aimed at containing, weakening, and ultimately breaking, the Peoples Republic of China. (In exactly the same way the USA and Nato contained, weakened and ultimately broke the Soviet Union.) And New Zealand, like the orator in Orwell’s novel, is supposed to accept the change without missing a beat. “Oceania is at war with Eastasia. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.”

Significantly, the Press Gallery – bless their hawkish little hearts – has fallen into line without a murmur. China is New Zealand’s enemy. China has always been New Zealand’s enemy. Canberra says so. Washington says so. Even London says so. (Although what business it is of theirs God alone knows!)

Never mind that, by putting our export earnings at risk, the demands of our “allies” pose a direct threat to our national security and wellbeing. Never mind that, like the Soviet Union, China is a nuclear power, which, if cornered, has the power to blow up the world. None of this matters. As far as this country’s senior political journalists are concerned, New Zealand is out of step with the big boys. Ergo, New Zealand must get in step with the big boys. Jacinda needs to hold hands with “ScoMo” and “Sleepy Joe”, and quickly – or run the risk of being “bagged” and having her head hung on the Press Gallery wall.

Unless, of course, our “friends” decide that Oceania is no longer at war with Eastasia. That Oceania has never been at war with Eastasia.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 3 June 2021.


Tom Hunter said...

Since I pay little attention to the NZ MSM I'll have to take your word for it that they let poor old Jacinda down on this issue. The caveat I have against taking your word for it is that the MSM have contributed greatly to Jacindamania over the last four years. But perhaps this was less ideological than fashionable, Adern being merely the latest taste sensation and that this reporting you've seen marks the turning point of moving on for the MSM?

(In exactly the same way the USA and Nato contained, weakened and ultimately broke the Soviet Union.)

You say this like it was a bad thing, which for a lot of supposedly "moderate, Centre-Leftists" it was.

Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.”

Speaking of which, I thought this sort of thing wasn't possible given the Neo-Liberal domination of our politics by corporations eager to sell their souls, and ours, just to make a Chinese buck? Certainly outfits like the National Basketball Association and Hollywood have done so in the USA, to the extent that players and actors have crawled on their bellies apologising for giving offence, and of course the cries of various businesspeople here in NZ about the fearful economic risks we are taking have been many, and very much associated with the National Party, and here you are echoing them?

So how'd this happen, Chris? The corporates lose power or is their some machination that they're working behind the scenes? Or is it simply that Old Leftists just can't let go of the Cold War and bugger the Oceania contradictions?

CXH said...

So now it is China good, America bad. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Geoff Fischer said...

It all comes down to whether
i) the United States and its allies "can contain, weaken and ultimately break" the Peoples Republic of China
ii) whether that would be a good thing.

The US and its allies (principally the Commonwealth of Australia) appear to have answered the first question in the affirmative. "We did it once, with Russia, so we can do it again with China", they reason. Well, perhaps they can. But despite some superficial similarities, China in 2021 is not the Soviet Union in 1989. For a start, China is a capitalist nation. There is no kleptocracy waiting in the wings and desperate to see regime change. The Chinese capitalists are doing all too nicely for the comfort of their American rivals. Is this really a regime on the verge of collapse? Perhaps and perhaps not. The consequences of a policy based on a wrong assumption could be massively adverse.

The US alliance also seems to have answered the second question in the affirmative, again based on their experiences with the Soviet Union from forty years ago. But is the western world really better off with a Putin rather than a Gorbachev in charge of the Russian Federation? The Biden administration's own policy towards Russia would seem to suggest otherwise.

That leaves the Realm of New Zealand in a very awkward place, judging by the body language of its Prime Minister. Even if the US assumptions about its capacity to contain, weaken and break China (short of war) are correct New Zealand's relations vis-a-vis China are very different to its relations vis-a-vis Russia in the 1980s.
Yet in that decade, even though its reliance on trade with Russia was minimal, even though there was no Russian community in New Zealand to speak of, and even though the NZSIS was pushing hard for a tougher stand against the Soviet Union, the New Zealand government took a most cautious approach to the conflict.

Now the stakes are higher. A wrong call based on incorrect assumptions could have devastating consequences for New Zealand as Ardern knows full well.

Others, such as the security forces and the mass media organizations which do not share Ardern's responsibility for the state and society, are less cautious. They have convinced themselves that China can and will be broken in short order, ushering in an era of renewed Anglo-American global hegemony. Hence their impatience with the Prime Minister.

People like Mike Hosking, whose gratitude to Australia goes back to the invasion of the Waikato in 1862 when Australian regiments were called upon to pillage and burn our villages. Where would the likes of Hosking be without the colonial connection? Milking cows or milling timber? Certainly not pontificating on the airwaves.

Reactionary colonialists of the old school are taking on the more pragmatic defenders of the Realm who realize that the world has changed in the past forty years. Make no mistake, Jacinda Ardern is a committed colonialist. She just does not want to be the remembered as the Prime Minister who destroyed a big chunk of the New Zealand economy through an unnecessary, unjustified and fruitless trade war with China.

For tangata motu the spectacle of the colonial regime pondering whether to play Russian roulette with China at the behest of Australia and the United States is more interesting than alarming. It would not greatly concern them to see the colonial economy broken, or to see its military assets sink to the bottom of the South China sea. We will survive, as we have always survived, and any folly of the regime will work to our ultimate advantage.