Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A calculated feeding of the beast within


(I'm having a technologically challenged day - forgive the weird html stuff - no time or skill to sort right now!)
 
There was a piece written in The Guardian last year by Paul Verhaeghe about the way that Neoliberalism has shaped current behaviours, titled Neoliberalism has brought out the worst in us. It touched on something I have been thinking a lot about lately: how the social democracy of my youth has so radically collapsed into our current culture of individualism, privatisation and personal greed.

Now hold on! Don’t get uppity at my use of the word ‘social’ (as in ‘socialism.’) For the record, I’m not a Socialist, Communist, Marxist or Anything-else-ist (not even, as one commenter on my post The Hypocrisy of Hate claimed, ‘Hard Right’, whatever the hell that is supposed to mean!) I’m merely using the word as a signifier for the kind of Keynesian-style economic policies that enabled the building of state houses and other communally beneficial assets, free and universal multi-tiered education and healthcare, affordable utilities, supporting local businesses and industry, full employment – in fact, the kind of supportive social environment that we used to hold up as a marker of ‘civilisation’ (i.e. a society’s ability to care for its most vulnerable.)

Whoa again! I’m certainly not saying that it was perfect! In fact, it was structurally racist and unfair for Maori and for other so-called ‘minority’ groups. Still is. But what it underlined and encouraged, I believe, in most ordinary people, was a belief that we were all in this together, and that we should place people’s needs and human rights at the centre of our decision making. We grew up believing everyone had a right to share the riches of the country: to own a home, to go to school with food in our bellies and shoes on our feet. In fact, we prided ourselves for this, even if the reality didn’t always live up to the hype. But underlying it all was an ethos of generosity and compassion. Of community. Of general goodwill.

These were the values I was raised with, as I’m sure were most of you. We were taught to share. Taught to tell the truth. To help the needy. That worker’s rights deserved protecting. That our environment was precious. That war was destructive and hideous; never to be repeated. Taught that those whom we democratically elected were there to act on our behalf for the greater good. (Ah, the good old 1960s, all that love and peace!)

Now fast-forward through the upheaval of the 1980s, to the current cultural climate we are living with today. Verhaeghe’s thesis is that the kinds of behaviour privileged in “meritocratic neoliberalism favours certain personality traits and penalises others.”  

“There are certain ideal characteristics needed to make a career today. The first is articulateness, the aim being to win over as many people as possible. Contact can be superficial, but since this applies to most human interaction nowadays, this won’t really be noticed.

It’s important to be able to talk up your own capacities as much as you can – you know a lot of people, you’ve got plenty of experience under your belt and you recently completed a major project. Later, people will find out that this was mostly hot air, but the fact that they were initially fooled is down to another personality trait: you can lie convincingly and feel little guilt. That’s why you never take responsibility for your own behaviour.

On top of all this, you are flexible and impulsive, always on the lookout for new stimuli and challenges. In practice, this leads to risky behaviour, but never mind, it won’t be you who has to pick up the pieces[1]. The source of inspiration for this list? The psychopathy checklist by Robert Hare, the best-known specialist on psychopathy today. “

Okay, let’s deal straight away with the first obvious distracting argument that might erupt: namely, that NZ under our current government cannot be labelled as ‘neoliberal’.  Bryce Edwards quoted several refutations of this recently in his excellent summary of the ludicrous response to Eleanor Catton’s comments (The Politics of Eleanor Catton and Public Debate) However, in general terms I think it’s fair to say that we have moved from a more Keynesian-style ‘cradle to grave’ approach to what the British Dictionary describes as: neoliberalism: a modern politico-economic theory favouring free trade, privatization, minimal government intervention in business, reduced public expenditure on social services, etc.  (If you don’t like this definition try: Investopedia for a more business-minded approach or Corpwatch for a more left-leaning view or our own Chris Trotter giving it a more feminist spin or good old democratic Wikipedia!)

We saw the first real shifts, of course, during the Labour Govt’s dramatic U-turn in the 1980s, under arch-ACTor Roger Douglas. And by the early 1990s we were hearing social policy referred to deridingly as the ‘nanny state,’ despite the fact that governments have always been in the business of legislating around ‘best’ behaviour ( voting equity, 5 o’clock closing, milk in schools, swimming pools in schools to promote water safety[2], domestic purposes benefit[3] , recognising and criminalising rape in marriage, free vaccinations etc etc.) – and, despite the fact that this current National Government (many of whom who used the accusation of the ‘nanny state’ as a major weapon against the Clark Govt) continues to legislate similarly socially-engineered policies, such as pegging certain behaviours to welfare benefits, the banning of party pills and synthetic cannabis, adjustments to blood/alcohol limits, new work and safety measures etc. yet fails to see the irony (or hypocrisy) in this at all.

While we have seen some gains at the edges of social policy (think: the miraculous vanishing acts of hospital waiting lists before each election) the overall well-being of the majority in the country has taken a slide, despite the claims that a free and open market will benefit us all by ‘trickling down.’. A fascinating paper on the history of Social Policy (Social Policy History: Forty Years on, Forty Years Back,[4] concludes:

“The needs of families with children are treated residually, particularly if they are dependent on the state. It is not a coincidence that a high proportion of these families are socially, economically at the margins and Maori or Pasifica. A much higher level of inequality has not only become politically acceptable, attempts to close social and economic gaps pose clear political risks to government.”

In Bryce Edward’s article, economist Brian Easton argues that he doesn’t think “we have a 'neoliberal' government . . .  In fact this government is  . . . a business-oriented one. Business took on a neoliberal stance in the Rogernomic unwinding of the economic regime which Muldoon represented. But they don't any longer. Rather they actively use the government to pursue their interests. The Sky City deal was not neoliberal.' ” Eh?

Certainly, I don’t think it’s as simple as that.  As Verhaeghe points out, with regards to business focused governments such as National, their main preoccupations are always going to be how to “extract more profit from the situation than your competition.” It’s an attitude. A value. A belief in profit above all else.

National knows it daren’t cut funding for social or artistic supports completely (its parsimonious and reluctant handouts the main argument flaunted by those who insist that the Nats are not ideologically driven by neo-liberal theory – see David Farrar’s piece in The Herald .) They know the outcry would be deafening. Instead, they chip away at it through sleight of hand . . . a tweak of the criteria here, a ‘consolidation’ of resources there. Like death from a thousand tiny cuts they undermine the support systems and push the load over to the already cash-strapped community providers, shifting the blame when these structures become so undermined they eventually fail.  With all the slickness of Marine Le Pen’s PR campaign in France to rehabilitate Fascism, they present a sympathetic shark smile, distributing a few stale lollies to the masses while they knife us in the back.

I admit upfront I’m not an economic expert or a social policy analyst[5], but as a writer it’s my job to closely observe what is going on around me and to hone in on the complexities and vagaries of human behaviour.  This is where my observations and thoughts begin to resonate with the underlying theme of Verhaeghe’s article.  What I see is a growing lack of empathy, a rise in bullying behaviour, not only in a work context, but also in the population at large – and, as recent times have shown us, against those with the audacity to dare speak out.  There’s been a steady creep in our values – in the kind of behaviours and endeavours we celebrate in our role models. Yes, of course, we’ve always been swayed by the flash of money, no doubt of that. But it now seems that the cut-throat accumulation of wealth is hailed as the apex of human endeavour – the highest possible attainable attribute – and that end goal somehow forgives the abysmally self-interested behaviour deployed in order to attain it. As Verhaeghe points out:

 “Bullying used to be confined to schools; now it is a common feature of the workplace. This is a typical symptom of the impotent venting their frustration on the weak – in psychology it’s known as displaced aggression. There is a buried sense of fear, ranging from performance anxiety to a broader social fear of the threatening other . . .

Constant evaluations at work cause a decline in autonomy and a growing dependence on external, often shifting, norms. This results in what the sociologist Richard Sennett has aptly described as the “infantilisation of the workers”. Adults display childish outbursts of temper and are jealous about trivialities (“She got a new office chair and I didn’t”), tell white lies, resort to deceit, delight in the downfall of others and cherish petty feelings of revenge. This is the consequence of a system that prevents people from thinking independently and that fails to treat employees as adults.

Our society constantly proclaims that anyone can make it if they just try hard enough, all the while reinforcing privilege and putting increasing pressure on its overstretched and exhausted citizens. An increasing number of people fail, feeling humiliated, guilty and ashamed. We are forever told that we are freer to choose the course of our lives than ever before, but the freedom to choose outside the success narrative is limited. Furthermore, those who fail are deemed to be losers or scroungers, taking advantage of our social security system.

A neoliberal meritocracy would have us believe that success depends on individual effort and talents, meaning responsibility lies entirely with the individual and authorities should give people as much freedom as possible to achieve this goal. For those who believe in the fairytale of unrestricted choice, self-government and self-management are the pre-eminent political messages, especially if they appear to promise freedom. Along with the idea of the perfectible individual, the freedom we perceive ourselves as having in the west is the greatest untruth of this day and age.

The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman neatly summarised the paradox of our era as: “Never have we been so free. Never have we felt so powerless.” “

It is this sense of powerless, I think, which now manifests itself as mouth-frothing anger; the kind of anger that fuels groups of young people to chant out “fuck John Key” and send many of us to Twitter and other social media, needing to gnash our teeth. What they see is their future being stolen away: housing, education, employment, hope . . . and beneath it all a steady eroding of people’s self-respect, because the culture that has been fostered by neo-liberal ideology is to blame the victim, to despise anyone who does not fit the narrow ‘business’ focussed criteria of a self-made man.

 “Our presumed freedom is tied to one central condition: we must be successful – that is, “make” something of ourselves.” 

There’s a reason that we’ve heard John Key tell his state-house-to-millionaire fairy-tale ad nauseum (especially around election times.) It is part of the common myth fabricated by the rich; the carrot on the stick that serves to keep the workers questing for the riches of the kings. But the rules of this mythic world are very one-dimensional. Money equals power, full-bloody-stop.

Where is the place of arts in all this? It’s hard to believe that a Prime Minster who refers to our very own Booker Prize winner as ‘a fictional writer’ cares much about the arts or intellectual debate, or sees any valid reason for their pursuit at all (in fact, you’d  be excused for thinking Key was channelling that spoonerising genius George W Bush.) Yet the irony, and the deep frustration, is that it is often only through the pursuit and practice of arts that we know so much about previous centuries and generations – often one of the only ways – learning from the art and literature left behind. 

But there’s no place for arts or intellectuals in this neo-liberal Utopia, it gives rise to too many awkward  questions, worships at the shrine of higher values that makes profit for profit’s sake seem greedy, selfish, even (quelle horreur) small. Instead, the masses are encouraged to fill their heads with trivia, feed the beasts inside ourselves. Look at the average programming on free to air TV: out with any commentary or documentary exploration, in with crime shows (murder, blood, betrayal  and mayhem), bullying reality shows, pre-fabricated celebrities. Mean, ugly, dark, dark, dark. It suits those at the top to keep us distracted by dreams of short-lived notoriety and easy gains. It suits them even better to keep us in a trumped-up perpetual state of fear.

This is what I see as I look around each day. This is what Verhaeghe sees. Not that human beings are incapable of living peaceful, supportive communal lives (I hate the cynicism of nay-sayers who claim we can’t rise above our animal instincts), but that through cynical manipulation we are encouraged to live shallowly, selfishly, devoid of compassion for our neighbours and suspicious of everyone else.

“There are constant laments about the so-called loss of norms and values in our culture. Yet our norms and values make up an integral and essential part of our identity. So they cannot be lost, only changed. And that is precisely what has happened: a changed economy reflects changed ethics and brings about changed identity. The current economic system is bringing out the worst in us.”

Whew ! Amen.



[1] Remind you of anyone? That fellow with the mansion in Hawaii perhaps?
[2] As an aside, what a shame government has seen fit to close so many of these down as a cost saving measure, while our drowning rates are now reaching epidemic proportions
[3] one of the most important breakthroughs for NZ women EVER
[4] presented by  Massey University’s Michael Belgrade at the  “Affording our Future” Conference, Wellington, 10-11 December 2012
[5] Here you go, trolls, the perfect quote to jump upon!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Hypocrisy of Hate



(NB: I wrote this originally for The Standard)

Last night I sat down to watch the TV news. First up was an horrific item about the slaughtering of over 2000 innocents in Nigeria by BokoHaram.  The reporting of it lasted approximately 1 minute, with no commentary other than the item itself. Next up came the coverage about the ‘terrorist’ attacks in France, the news item lasting a good 10 minutes, with numerous external commentators putting in their two cents worth about the senseless shooting of 17 people.

Now, I don’t want to down play how awful the attacks in Paris were, but I do think that the coverage of these two tragedies says a lot about the huge divides between the peoples of the world. We seem unable to view our fellow human beings without categorising them and ranking them in importance. 

For a start, coverage of disasters in Africa (and other developing countries/continents) are always covered with less naval gazing and hand wringing than in Western (read ‘predominantly white’) countries (think Ebola, which only got coverage because the West were scared it would spread) – so there’s a racial/cultural element at play in where we are supposed to place our sympathies and loyalties – playing to the tribalism of our natures. Then there is the economic/‘developed’ divide, again always framed by our politicians and mainstream media as a ‘them/us’ issue. There’s also the male/female dichotomy – a divide that is always a subset of every other issue. And, lastly, of course, is the religious divide – where fundamentalists on both sides have drawn boundary lines around their beliefs and are willing to police these boundaries with militant fanaticism. 

On a smaller scale, we also have the divide between the so-called Right and Left (often merely fancy-dress terms for the Haves and Nots, either economically or in terms of wielding power.) Nowhere is this more evident than the Twitterverse, where bile is distilled into 140 characters and spewed across the ‘opposition’ like lethal poisoned darts. Comments on blogs offer another fertile outlet for articulating this putrid bile. We even enshrine it into our political system, by allowing those who govern us to play an adult version of school-boy bullying in Parliament’s debating chamber.
What sits beneath all this posturing and divisiveness is an unhealthy appetite for hate, fed by fear of the ‘other’. And ignorance. And a determination by those who hold the power not to let it go. Oh, we can dress it up – say that it’s an issue of free speech or freedom of expression – but the truth is that acts which incite the silo-isation of certain members of a community are bred in the cesspool of suspicion and selfishness.

Let’s look at the Paris attacks as an example. Of course I don’t think people should be slayed for drawing a cartoon – but (and I feel defensive just writing this!) what did those cartoons really set out to achieve, other than a one-fingered salute to another’s dearly-held beliefs? If you know a certain group in a society has very strict rules around the depiction of their deity, and that any breaking of these is considered the very worst of offences, why would you do it? To what end? To prove that you are somehow above this kind of tribal law? To make some statement about cultural superiority? To show up hypocrisy? To lampoon faith just because you can?  

I once spent a very disturbing two and a half hours at the Jewish Museum in Vienna (the birthplace of my half-Jewish father) studying an exhibition of the Nazi propaganda used against the Jews in the 1930s and 40s. Cartoons and other gross caricatures made up the bulk of the attack. The images made me feel physically sick, not so much because I related to them as a person of Jewish ancestry (although it gave me much to think about on a personal level), but because the hate that spewed out of them was so visceral and ugly it was hard to believe that anyone could have looked upon them and not been appalled. But as politicians the world over have discovered, the first step towards the annihilation of another group is to demonise them, in order to absolve oneself of guilt. There’s none so overtly righteous as those who have climbed to their dominant position on the bleeding backs of others.

This righteousness is particularly galling, especially given the tensions of our current political times, when East vs West has morphed into Islam vs Christianity. In our predominantly pro-Christian/Jewish discourse, the Islamic fundamentalists are evil incarnate, with no right to be pushing their agendas onto other people. I agree with this, in as much as I agree that no one has the right to push their religious agenda onto anyone else. And herein lies the dilemma, for Christian fundamentalism has colonised and slaughtered on an equally ugly scale across the centuries and is, today, as outrageous in its rhetoric as the Islamic propagandists – and with equally repressive and controlling outcomes.

Look, for example, at the current Republican push in the US to eliminate Planned Parenthood funding permanently from the US health system, desiring to end (in the words of a recent petition attempting to stop it) ‘vital services for the 5 million women and men nationwide who depend on public family planning providers every year. Birth control. Cancer screening. STD testing. Prenatal care. GONE. It's especially heinous considering Planned Parenthood health centres are often the last resort for women seeking healthcare in low-income communities.’ [1]

Of course, a huge part of it is a push by the Christian anti-abortion lobby ( see New CongressionalBill Would De-Fund Planned Parenthood Abortion Business ) – a moral stance that forgets Christian doctrine is about one’s personal relationship with Jesus/God, one’s own conscience, and each person should have the right to choose their own path and make their own decisions, based on their own relationship with their religious beliefs and personal code of ethics. The fact that the US prides itself on the freedoms enshrined in their Constitution (and that the GOP harp on about this in relation to such issues as bearing arms, freedom of speech etc.) makes those who would withhold the right of women to choose their own reproductive behaviour hypocritical to the extreme.

I put it to you that if this had been reported as a proposal mooted by the Taliban, for instance, it would be viewed as the dangerous repression of women’s reproductive rights (and human rights) that it really is. But because it’s framed within the context of a supposed ‘civilised’ Christian country, it is somehow seen by huge swathes of the population (in the US at least) as acceptable – and desirable.
This is, of course, led by the Christian Right, who have worked tirelessly in the last few decades to increase their power and leverage in the US policy-making process. If you don’t believe me, watch the terrifying documentary “Jesus Camp for some of the more extreme ‘highlights’). Here you will see motivational pastors asking hyped up kids if they are ‘willing to give up their lives for Jesus” (much hand waving and hysterical crying), “we’re going to break the power of your enemies in government”, “we can’t sit back and accept corrupt govt; I believe God wants to put godly righteous people in government”, “take these prophesises and do what the apostle Paul said and make war with them” … 

The hysterical and carefully orchestrated scenes depicted in this documentary are no different from the clips of gun waving Islamic militants we are subjected to day after day on TV news programmes. But where we condemn the latter (and it fills us with fear) we either condone or ignore (albeit perhaps in a perplexed way) the same fanaticism in our own tribes. And where it causes real outbreaks of violence (it’s impossible not to mention Israel’s persecution of the Palestinian people here) we still don’t speak up against it very loudly if the perpetrators are seen to be on our ‘side’.

What I particularly hate is how this divisive thinking and fanatical propaganda has entered our local discourse as well. Our own government is using the rhetoric of ‘terrorism’ to legislate against our freedoms and democracy, and the same process of demonisation is at work, for they know (as Hitler so successfully demonstrated) that a society in fear of ‘enemies’ and imminent attack is a much more compliant population. They rush us towards conflict to brown-nose our allies, claiming it is for our own protection, when the very act makes it far more dangerous for us!

It feels like we’re slowly, mutely, marching towards a state of never-ending war. You’d think that with all the WW1 commemorations going on at the moment it would make us more vigilant about our freedom and security, not sleep-walking towards another Holy Crusade (in the name of the God of Money and Father of Fossil Fuels), seduced by slick liars and the gods of commercialism and greed. 

What is really frightening is that those at the top know, cynically, how good war is for business and bottom lines. Yes, the general populations will suffer most hideously, but businesses will prosper. The weapons industry is estimated at over 1.5 trillion US dollars annually worldwide (2.7% of World GDP)[2], then there are chemicals, uniforms, food, infrastructure… on and on. And, wouldn’t you know it? The world’s ten largest arms industry companies are all either US or European[3]. War is propping up their economies. War is their bread and butter. Their default mode.

With our Prime Minster, the (un)Honourable John Key, noted as saying after the Paris attacks that “[t]he targeting of journalists going about their daily work is an attack on the fourth estate and the democratic principles of freedom of speech and expression, which must be strongly condemned” (see the excellent John Key on Media Freedom) one would hope that he would champion the rights of people to express their concerns over Government moves to restrict our freedoms and privacy, and our involvement in overseas Crusades… (sorry, had to take a break here to recover from cynical laughing) … but it is now increasingly dangerous for ordinary citizens to speak out against those at the top. 

Deployment of internet trolls, designed to intimidate those who are vocal against such hypocrisies, is now deemed acceptable (‘Oh, everyone does it’), and the name-calling, mud-slinging, vitriolic slurs and abuse dealt out is the very kind of dehumanising behaviour that lies at the basis of all our troubles – the alienation of those who are suppressed by the moneyed power elite. This kind of behaviour is like the drip that, if ignored, turns into a tsunami of hate. The poison that kills over time. The wilful twisting of reality that turns ordinary people into the kind who will hand their neighbours over to the Brownshirts. 

That our leaders condone this casual hatred is distressing and worrying indeed. True leaders, visionary leaders (who care more about the people they are representing than their own bottom lines and power), rule through modelling ‘right’ behaviour. If we are now seeing a rise in hate speech, demonising of dissenters and outsiders, silo-isation and disengagement from serious political and ethical debate, then look first to the people who are at the top. They are our role models. They are the people gutting independent commentary. They are the ones undermining our democracy, and turning off whole younger generations to political engagement via their cynicism and ugly attack politics. We deserve better.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Today's burning issue - and why I refuse to shut up...



Okay - so my 'occasional political rant' has bubbled over onto my main page! Seems like the word 'occasional' is no longer appropriate! but a writer's got to write - and if there's an issue burning up inside, it needs to be let out... so here it is:


There are any number of issues it would be easy to write about as a result of the continuing fallout of my brother Nicky Hager’s book ‘Dirty Politics’: the extraordinary way the Prime Minister continues to tell his porkies (even when it’s obvious he’s lying); the seemingly total disconnect such acts have on the consciousness of the general public; the cynicism with which the government uses fear tactics to defend brown-nosing their war-mongering puppet masters in the US; their bullshit ‘investigations’ into abuse of power (setting up inquiries with such limited terms of reference they are guaranteed to be let off the hook); their disregard for the principles of democracy and freedom as they stomp all over them . . . and us.

But what continues to infuriate me, even more than the horrors of this elitist right-wing agenda (and, trust me, these horrors are HUGE and risk all our futures), is how the media has been so corrupted and divided that some of the influential individuals who work within it can no longer be viewed as practising with any kind of impartiality. Of course, I’m sure, if asked, all would say they do give a balanced view – proof, as if we needed more, of just how far their focus has been swayed.

Take today, for instance, when Patrick Gower, TV 3’s lead political journalist, responded to concerns about giving toxic MP Judith Collins a column in the Sunday Star Times with this, on Twitter: “Twitter says newspaper can't have Right Wing columnist. Yawn. Hello? Anybody home?”

What is truly disturbing about this is that there is no consideration given to the fact that: a) this woman has already been outed as actively manipulating news stories for her own and her party’s political advantage, b) there are an increasing number of right wing commentators being given air time or column length (and who are treated as bi-partisan when they are clearly not) and c) that Gower appears bored by the fact that news integrity might be being undermined, sweeping the foundations of our social democracy away with a cynical yawn.

What he’s saying is that no one cares – and that those who do, do not have a legitimate right to make comment or have any legitimacy regarding their concerns. It’s hard to process this. Gower, one would assume, is an intelligent man, working right there in the corridors of power. He presumably believes in the journalistic codes of fairness and balance (or, at least, I’m sure if he was asked he would assert this). Yet, rather than see that those tweeting their concern about this latest undermining of open and impartial media are seriously concerned about the degradation of our democracy and the underhand behaviour of our government politicians, he belittles it and looks away. 

Of course, Gower is not the only one. And it doesn’t take much to see why he and others who started their careers as well-meaning journalists are sheltering behind snide remarks and lazy reporting: if we look back over the most recent past term of this government, we can see that those who have tried to question the government and its policies have been disposed of, one by one. TVNZ 7’s excellent news and documentaries were the first to go, and now we are seeing the devolution of Maori TV’s fantastic current affairs broadcasting. This is happening at a time when toxic right-wing luvvie-boys have been put into positions of immense power by the state broadcaster (yes, I’m talking Hoskings and Henry - equally vile, vitriolic little men, who are more interested in sneering at those who hold genuine concerns for the state of our country, and propping up their own ‘celebrity’ status, than actually delivering unadulterated news.) They are our pseudo-Fox News presenters, self-absorbed, with little genuine concern for their fellow NZers or the ethical health of our current politicians, using the poor young women who have been partnered with them as mindless Barbie dolls who are presumably there in order to reflect their ‘glory’. It raises bile just to watch.

Any decent news commentary has been relegated to times when most ordinary Kiwis are otherwise engaged. The Saturday morning timing of news and current affairs is a particularly cynical piece of programming – a time when many are taking their kids to sport (or other extra-curricular activities) or partaking in it themselves. Ditto Sunday mornings – when even the most square-eyed among us tend to give TV a miss.

If we had unbiased newspapers this mightn’t be such a problem – but only the very uninformed could now not know that the majority of our daily papers are now owned by huge corporations whose bosses have very clear political preferences and aren’t afraid to show it. And it’s hardly as surprise that they all lean heavily towards the Right. They’re corporations, for goodness sake! Their priority is to make money and to prop up the systems that most benefit the rich.

Even Radio NZ, our national broadcaster, does not seem to have an edge on balance. Jim Mora’s ‘Panel’ continues to use commentators who have been outed as mouthpieces for the Right – and their questioning of Govt. ministers is erratic at best.

The attitude taken by Gower and his colleagues, that those of us concerned by media bias and corrupt government are flogging a dead horse – or, worse, are delusional – is the very trap the Government’s PR men have set for them to walk into. It’s the same strategy that sees John Key repeat their dog-whistle lines, such as ‘most Nu Zelanda’s don’t care’, and comparing every bloody thing to a game of rugby or dragging up the old ‘I was born in a state house’ red-herring – side-tracking away from the issues and pretending to be ‘one of the boys’ when, in reality, these guys are squirrelling away their fortunes while they steal ours. That the very people we rely on to tell us what is really going on have fallen as heavily for this PR bullshit as the unquestioning viewing public is disturbing indeed.

Don’t just take it from me: here’s John Pilger on exactly the same issue: http://johnpilger.com/articles/war-by-media-and-the-triumph-of-propaganda
 
Now, I realise that Gower and co feel like they’re being picked on – in fact, in his case, he has told us all to leave him alone (I guess this makes life easier for him – less to ruffle his conscience) but I would like to think that those journalists who actually entered the profession with some desire to tell the truth of what is happening would find some balls and stand up to the corporate imperative to spread the Govt’s PR spin. They’d sure as hell get my respect for doing some real investigative digging – and the respect of the thousands of other decent, ethical Kiwis who want to see our democracy strengthened and our rights returned.

Meanwhile, we’re left feeling like Chicken Licken, trying to warn that the sky is falling down while everyone else is so busy trying to feather their own nests that they don’t give a damn.
And if our prominent journalists do start to give damn and find the balls for real investigative digging? Then maybe they’d start asking some of the hard questions – and not stop until we get right down to the real answers. Questions such as:

When will the questions raised in Dirty Politics be addressed? Properly. By a really impartial, well respected, ethical, non-partisan NZer? With no limiting parameters or strings attached?

Why was Nicky singled out by the Police when there are very real questions about tampering with evidence, political interference, lying and corruption amongst the Govt ranks? Where are the Police investigations in to this?

Just how much back-room influence was wielded around National Party candidate selection?

Just what is John Key’s relationship with the USA? What has he promised on our behalf?

When will someone held responsible for the manipulation of SIS information? And if not, why not?

Why can’t we have an independent Commission of Enquiry? If Mr Key is so sure that he hasn’t done anything wrong then he should have nothing to fear.

Just who is controlling the narrative in our media outlets? Why are Govt Ministers and apologists given so much page space and airtime?

And then, if the media really did have our best interest at heart, they’d start to put the pressure on over climate change, the very real dangers of the TPP, our involvement in Iraq etc etc… the kinds of issues that will affect us all for generations to come…

Come on guys. If you don’t like the criticism then smarten up your acts. Or if you are being put under undue pressure to leave such investigations alone, come out and say it! We will support you all the way.