Who are the news media

February 29th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Law Commission is discussing at public address the issue of who are the news media, and what regulation should there be of the media. You can comment over there and your views will help influence their final report. One extract:

In chapter 4 of our Issues Paper we attempt to answer these questions by posing another, more fundamental, question: what is the function of the news media? What is it that distinguishes the news media from other types of publishers?

These questions are the subject of a very large and divergent academic literature which we cannot traverse here. But it may be worth re-stating the orthodox view that suggests the key functions of the “Press” in a liberal democracy are to:

* act as an independent watchdog on government and other seats of power;

* represent the public (for example in Parliament and the courts );

* disseminate information to the public;

* provide a forum for debate and the formation and expression of public opinion.

You can also make a formal submission to the Law Commission.

More on Chris Carter

October 7th, 2009 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Before I get into this substance of this, I want to say a couple of things. The first is that I have known Chris Carter for around 15 years, think he has a great sense of humour and has been an effective MP. In fact it isn’t a great secret that I was hoping he would beat Brian Neeson when they both stood for Waipareira in 1996 as I found Neeson just far too conservative for me (and note Neeson in 2002 broke his written pledge to not stand against a National candidate by standing as an Independent in 2002 when he failed to be reselected).

Also it drives me crazy that some people are unable to comment on any issue about a gay MP, without making some dig about his sexual orientation. People really need to get over it. And Chris has had a longer relationship with his partner than most married couples, let alone divorced ones.

Now I blogged on Sunday:

I’ve been musing about whether to post on this topic, because I think Chris Carter was acting with good motives in flying to Samoa, but nevertheless I do question the appropriateness of it.

I don’t think it is the job of the Opposition Foreign Affairs Spokesperson to fly into foreign disasters, any more than it is the job of the Opposition Police Spokesperson to fly into fatal crime scenes, or the Opposition Health Spokesperson to fly into quarantine areas.

Three times I stressed I was not questioning Chris’s motives in going to Samoa, just his judgement on appropriateness. And I still stand by that. I think the motives were honourable.

I got flak from Russell Brown at Public Address and The Standard for my post. The Standard said (and Russell agreed):

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, Winne Laban headed to Samoa to assist her family there. Carter went as her support person, the two are close I understand. He did not go there to be Labour Foreign Affairs spokesperson.

Now I don’t know anyone at all who thinks or has said Winnie going there was inappropriate. And going as a support person for Winnie would be entirely uncontroversial. One could quibble whether it is a good use of parliamentary funding to have an MP go as a support person, rather than say a family member, but I don’t think that is an issue.

This has not been disaster tourism by Carter

I have never used the term disaster tourism, and would not. In fact the blogger I recall using the term is No Right Term who used the label against John Key.

But sadly for The Standard and Russell, Chris Carter himself shoots down their defence f him that he was there solely as Winnie’s support person. Chris blogged:

What a great posting from Winnie. I am so glad she agreed to go with me to Samoa. She was not only a wonderful travelling companion, but her understanding of the appropriate cultural approach and her Samoan language skills meant we could engage with those affected by this terrible natural disaster in the most sensitive ways.

This makes it very clear Chris was going regardless of Winnie going. Later on he says Winnie asked him to go, but that be referring to the specific flight they caught.

It was clear to us that Winnie as Labour’s spokesperson for Pacific Island Affairs, and me as our Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, needed to be there, on the ground, supporting the victims and listening to their plight.

And here Chris makes very clear he was there not just as Winnie’s support person, but as the Foreign Affairs Spokesperson.

And with respect I disagree that rushing into a foreign disaster should be the job of the opposition foreign affairs spokesperson, just as I don’t expect the opposition health spokesperson to rush to medical emergencies.

It was important for Samoans and holidaying Kiwis to know that the Labour Party cared about the disaster and was quick off the mark to demonstrate its concern.

And here Chris says it was about showing the Labour Party cared. Now by his own words that raises the issue of appropriateness. Should the Greens have flown over also to show they cared? I think what was needed is to show New Zealand cared, regardless of political affiliation. And that is the job of the Government – whether that be National or Labour at the time.

It is an important role of the Opposition in a Parliamentary democracy to challenge, push and where appropriate support the actions of the government of the day. It is a legitimate role for Opposition MPs to provide a different voice and often alternatives to government policy or action, whether it be in domestic affairs such as Education, Health, Housing or Welfare, or dealing with issues concerning Employers, Workers, Unions, in International Relations/Foreign Affairs, and even in disaster relief.

That’s our job!

It was immediately obvious to us that what Samoa urgently needed was doctors, nurses, immediate food, fresh water supplies and medical equipment.

Now I absolutely agree Opposition MPs should and must hold the Government to account. But I do not accept that means it is appropriate for the foreign affairs spokesperson to fly into a foreign disaster, any more than you expect the opposition Police spokesperson to fly to the scene of an armed siege so they can comment on whether or not they think the Government or Police handled the siege well.

An Opposition spokesperson can critique the Government’s response to a foreign disaster by reports from the dozens of media at the scene, by talking to non-media on the ground, by asking MFAT (through the Minister) for a briefing etc etc. I’ve never before known an opposition spokesperson to assert they need to fly to the scene. And as I said in my original blog, Helen Clark would I am sure have ferociously denounced a National MP doing the same.

So if Chr ris had gone purely to support Winnie, I would have no criticism. But The Standard clearly invented that as a defence, to have Chris himself contradict it. And I think it is legitimate to have a debate on whether that is the correct role of an opposition spokesperson. Again, I have never criticised the good motives in going, but it is fair to question judgement.

Now Chris also made the TV3 news last night about the fact the published figures showing his spending on international travel over six months to be $83,000 was wrong, and in fact it was $131,000.

Now many will condemn him on that lavel of spending, but I do think people should not rush to judgement until all the facts are known.

I’ve had friends travel with Ministers in the past, and they get back absolutely knackered. One mate(ess) got back from a trip to UK and Netherlands for a week, and apologised for no souvenirs. She had worked from 7 am to 10 pm from when they land to when they took off apart from a two hour break one afternoon which she spent sleeping.

Many Ministers (and staff) do have punishing schedules on their trips. I suggest that the fairest thing would be for the itineraries for the travel in question to be released, so people can judge the value for the $131,000. Duncan Garner blogs that he has asked the Cabinet Office for the travel reports but for some reason this will take at least another week.

Blog Advertising

April 24th, 2009 at 9:50 am by David Farrar

John Drinnan in the Herald looks at the Powershop advertising on Scoop and Public Address and Kiwiblog.

People may be amused to know that originally they wanted all three of us to be photoshopped as “Che Guevara“. I said that I didn’t think me dressing up as a left wing torturing and executing revolutionary leader would go down too well here, so they made me Uncle Sam instead 🙂

A Public Service Manager speaks out

March 10th, 2009 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

A compelling guest blog from an anonymous public service manager at Public Address. It is a must read for those who do not understand the culture of the public service. Some extracts:

On top of that, we’ve seen lots of Head Office bloat in the last few years. Rooms of endless meetings going on and on about “Vision” and “Strategy” … interesting how the best private sector firms don’t stuff around with all that. I have a feeling that we felt a bit inadequate because we didn’t have all the things that CEOs in big private businesses get to play with – you know, HR strategies and Corporate Compliance units. We just had a thing called The Law, which we have to carry out.

I saw this thing in a book once about how people in the institutional banks in the UK used to get posted if they weren’t doing too well: FILTHK (Failed In London, Try Hong Kong). I have to wonder if people who fail in the private sector sometimes end up being posted to Wellington (and it is a noticeably Wellington issue…). To be clear, I don’t think these people are malicious or stupid. I just think they are, well, a bit distant from reality. They’ve started to believe the management books and “Best Practice” guides.

It is a culture issue. Wellington has a very peculiar culture in terms of workplaces – very very risk averse.

Another good example is all the law around careful management of public money. Great intentions, but combined with a culture that says “the auditor is always right [and believe me, they’re not most of the time – if you can’t do, teach. And if you are really crap, become an auditor] then you end up in a situation where stupid rules are put in place so that rather than have someone take responsibility for a decision, a committee is formed and reports are written. This means there’s a thing called an ‘audit trail’ so you can completely fail to identify who stuffed up if something goes wrong.

We call it “all hold hands and make a decision”.

Decision making by committee.

I recently heard of a situation where a project was completed ahead of schedule, on time and under budget. Much of this was that the person running it didn’t bother waiting for pointless meetings and reports. Instead he just got on and did it, thereby saving the taxpayer two hundred thousand dollars. The audit report on the project flagged it as being very “high risk” in a number of areas. The best bit was the audit report was completed after the project was finished! So they knew it had worked at the time of writing! Did this guy get a medal for being pragmatic and sensible? No, he gets called in for a Stern Talking To. Will he ever try and do anything like that again? I doubt it. And we’re all poorer.

I can’t emphasise how absolutely focused the public service is on risk – to the detriment of most other things. Risk management and mitigation  is very important, but one can’t operate without risk.

Here’s one of my favourites. There was an article in a law newsletter recently that held up a case of a sacking by the IRD as a perfect example of how to get rid of a useless employee. I’m guessing they went through committees and panels to appoint him in the first place. I expect there were several people who thought he shouldn’t have been hired, but they hired him anyway, because after all they’d followed “The Process”.

Reading between the lines, when they realised he simply couldn’t do the job they started The Process of sacking him. It took three years, and then another four years in court. Eventually he lost. But this is held up as the perfect way to sack someone! If it had been the private sector he would have been out on his ear and awarded a few grand by a tribunal. On our side of the fence we spend (I’m guessing) hundreds of thousands of dollars on The Process, because the CEO (and minister) might get beaten up in the press over the payout.

Sacking someone for incompetence in the public service in near impossible. You can soend years documenting every mistake they make, and you will still have to fork out money to stop them taking a personal grievance.

When we buy stuff, there are laws to say how it must be done. These have been around for years. They were designed to reduce the cost of stuff ups. Interestingly, what they’ve done is replaced the chance of a cost blow out with a guarantee of spending far more than necessary on paperwork and “Governance”. In the private sector, a typical project budgets 15 – 30% of cost for management and administration.

In the public sector it starts at 30%. Because the rules a blindly applied, it means there’s a minimum set of paperwork for everything. These aren’t meant to be applied across the board, but woe betide you if you get caught out trying to save some money and then an Issue arises. Years of habit and cover-your-arse have developed a generation of public servants who live by meetings, committees and reports. And a bunch of auditors who NEVER say “it was pleasing to see that processes were not followed unnecessarily, thereby saving the taxpayer X million dollars”.

I think National is going to make some difference with public sector spending. But I doubt it can change the underlying culture as it is too ingrained.

Worth reading the full post.

Surviving as a Small Business

February 27th, 2009 at 2:57 pm by David Farrar

Over at Public Address, there are guest posts and discussions on surviving the recession as a small business.

The first post is by Scoop’s Alastair Thompson and a second one by Xero’s Rod Drury. Xero are sponsoring the discussion about business survival strategies, and advertising its existence on this blog, and others.

We also had a discussion at Foo Camp (I’ll explain later what that is) about business surivival strategies, and it is fascinating how many good and practical ideas there might be out there. So if you have ideas, or are interested in the area, go on over to Public Address and join the conversation.

Internet Filtering

September 10th, 2008 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Emma Hart at Public Address has done an excellent post on how the Australian Government is spending $75 million implementing compulsory filtering of the Internet, and why we should be very wary of any such proposals here. Some extracts:

In July, the government ran a trial of various filtering systems in Tasmania. There’s an excellent round-up of the results here. In brief:
– while load testing was based on thirty users and only blocked 3930 sites, network degradation was as high as 75%. The more accurate the filter was, the worse the effect it had on performance. One filter caused a 22% degradation in speed when it wasn’t actually filtering.
– at best, sites were correctly blocked 92-95% of the time. At worst, more than one in ten got through.
– at best, sites were incorrectly blocked (blocked when they contained no objectionable content) 1% of the time. That doesn’t sound too bad, but imagine that’s your business, one of the one in a hundred sites blocked from the entire Australian market when you’ve done nothing wrong. At worst, over-blocking hit over 6%.
– the only way to filter content on instant messengers or peer to peer protocols was to block them completely.
– The filters do nothing to protect children from actual dangers such as cyber-bullying or stalking.

I helped set up a test a few years ago of the UK Clean Feed system, with the Dept of Internal Affairs and the Chief Censor’s Office. The UK system is actually quite good as they manually check every site that gets entered on – they don’t rely on some sort of “guess”. They didn’t appear to block any legitimate sites (a 1% false positive rate as the Ausises have is actually very high) but they didn’t block a huge proportion of objectionable (in the legal sense) sites. So relaying on such a filter may give a false sense of confidence, as the reality is that illegal sites changes hosts, domain names, IP addresses almost every day.

The way Australia is going about it, is just bureaucratic madness. Read Emma’s article in full to see why.

Congratulations Keith

July 22nd, 2008 at 11:25 am by David Farrar

Keith Ng is temporarily giving up blogging at Public Address, which is a loss to the blogosphere.

However his talents are not lost to the nation, as I understand he is taking up a job in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Kiwiblog Advertising

June 12th, 2008 at 11:33 am by David Farrar

I’m pleased to announce that advertising on Kiwiblog is now handled by Scoop Media. They do advertising for their own news site, plus Kiwiblog and Public Address, so online advertisers can easily advertise on all three sites, or pick individual ones.

Kiwiblog is not cheap to run. Putting aside my own time, Inspire Net spend may hours supporting the site, doing upgrades and providing a grunty server to host it. Oh yeah plus 100 GB or so of traffic a month. So they now get a portion of the advertising revenue as compensation.

Please do support the advertisers, if you are interested in their goods or services.

And anyone interested in advertising should contact Chloe at Scoop.

Du Fresne on blogs

April 30th, 2008 at 10:37 am by David Farrar

Karl Du Fresne had an article in yesterday’s Dominion Post about blogs:

BREAKING NEWS: Police hold grave fears for the safety of a man reported missing in the Internet blogosphere.

The man told family members he was taking a short afternoon excursion to explore Poneke’s Weblog … He hasn’t been seen since.

“Poneke’s is a relatively gentle blog that shouldn’t have exposed him to any serious risk,” a police spokesman said. “But there are lots of links leading off it to other blogs, some of which are a good deal more hazardous. He may have strayed off the beaten track.

“We’ve seen this sort of thing before. Someone sets out to have a look at a blog like Poneke’s, then they get diverted on to Russell Brown’s Public Address weblog or David Farrar’s Kiwiblog, and with just a couple of innocent clicks they wander off into the wilderness. They lose track of the passage of time and before they know it they’re hopelessly bushed.

“It’s a maze out there and he may have ended up a long way from where he started. There are links to political blogs, media blogs, sports blogs, wine blogs, heavy metal blogs, climate change blogs, hard-left blogs, extreme-right blogs, greenie blogs, sado-masochism blogs . . . you name it.

An inquiring mind could ask how Karl knows there are sado-masocistic blogs :-). Unless he means Whoar where reading Phil’s uncapitalised prose does cause pain!

The police spokesman said concerns were heightened by the fact that the man was inexperienced and poorly equipped.

“He’s not had much previous exposure to infantile abuse and personal invective of the type that he’s likely to find in the blogosphere. Also, his family advises us he has a history of severe allergic reactions to bad grammar, misspellings and missing apostrophes. We’re encouraging them to keep their hopes up, but it’s not looking good.”

I think Karl is admitting to a secret addiction. Or maybe he is the mystery Queen Bee blogging at The Hive!

Blog Comments on National’s Fibre to the Home Plan

April 23rd, 2008 at 3:30 pm by David Farrar

It has been interesting to see the various posts and press releases on National’s Fibre proposal. I’ll try and cover most of them:

Phil at Whoar labels it as “what could well be an election winning policy.

Bomber at Tumeke calls it a “Bloody good idea”. Heh shouldn’t that be damn good idea 🙂

Mike at Morphyoss says:

“good on you National for releasing a good policy that will massively benefit New Zealand should they win the election. Now it is up to Labour to respond, remember fibre is extremely important to our economy and it is important that labour do something about that or they will lose the election”

David Slack at Public Address is unimpressed with some of the arguments against:

Here’s my response to the snide folk who have been saying: faster downloading for your YouTube and your porn and your pirated movies. I spend thousands on hosting in the USA because no-one here can set me up with a fast enough server and a big enough data allowance. That money could be being spent here. Ask Rod Drury what it could mean for the Software As A Service businesses he’s involved in.

It’s becoming trite to say it, but it’s nonetheless true: internet infrastructure is as important to us as roads, railways and refrigerated ships. Why not have it in abundance, rather than relatively scarce and expensive? Let a thousand e-commerce sites bloom!

Business NZ says

National’s plan to speed up provision of broadband to most premises is welcome, says Business NZ.

Chief Executive Phil O’Reilly says a public-private partnership is a logical way to spread the cost of such a huge undertaking.

“The challenge would be in working out just how the partnership would operate to ensure as many investors as possible could contribute, and in finding an appropriate regulatory regime.”

The EPMU is also reasonably supportive:

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union says John Key’s policy of rolling out fibre optic cable to 75% of New Zealand homes is a step in the right direction, but is concerned the task may be impossible given the current skills shortage.

“We really want to see this sort of project happen as any investment that will increase productivity in New Zealand is good for our members but until we see details on wages and training around this it’s hard to see how fibre roll-out will be possible.”

In terms of the issues the EPMU raises about skills and capacity, I don’t think it will be a major barrier (but certainly is a factor). When InternetNZ met with David Skilling of the NZ Institute last week to discuss his fibre proposal, one of the issues we raised was whether there was enough capacity to physically get fibre laid out by 2018 (note National is proposing 2014 as a target). Off memory Skilling indicated that they had talked to two separate engineering firms and their advice was there was enough people and and capacity to do it within 10 years, and even within five years if you really pushed it.

Now that is second or third hand so it doesn’t mean there may not be issues, but it does show some work has already been done looking at the capacity issue. One reason it is important is if supply can not meet the demand, prices could go up significantly. This has been an issue in the roading sector.

Jordan Carter is also pleased:

I am pleased that with John Key’s policy proposal, launched yesterday at a Chamber of Commerce lunch in Wellington, the debate about New Zealand’s broadband future has shifted from “whether” to do fibre to the home, to “how and how soon” to do it.

Professionally speaking, I am pleased there is now a political commitment from one major party to putting money into this. I am looking forward to assessing the various plans that come forward, and I’m sure that InternetNZ will be looking to persuade all parties to invest in this critical infrastructure.

As a Labour person I am quite sure the Nats’ proposal can be bettered, and that Labour will do so. David Cunliffe’s comments have critiqued what the Nats have proposed – the specifics of it, such as they are – but he has not criticised the goal. That’s good, because it is important for New Zealand to get on with it.

As Jordan says, the ball is in Labour’s court. A win-win will be as many parties as possible commited to the goal.

Final point, I ended up next to Williamson at the launch lunch. His zeal for this is impressive, given his record in government. It’s nice to see a genuine change of view and broad, cross-party acknowledgement of the importance of this kind of technology.

I was at the same table, and it is generous of Jordan to note Maurice’s enthusiastic advocacy of this proposal. Some have suggested he would have problems with it, but far from that – he has helped John Key with a fair bit of the research going into this.

In fact I joked to one person, that Maurice was now so enthusiastic about this type of intervention, it was a bit like how a smoker who gives up smoking becomes the most passionate anti-smoker 🙂

Also somewhat amusing was that a fellow guest at our table (not knowing Jordan’s political background I think) stated his view that Labour had done an awful job in this area. Now the last thing one wants is a big political debate over lunch, so Jordan was being very tactful with his response. I actually interjected into the conversation and praised most of what Labour and David Cunliffe has done in this area, and said the work they had done to date built a good base, but this was really about taking a big step up from that base.

Anyway I found it amusing to be defending Labour’s record in this area, in front of National’s IT/Comms spokesperson. I must say though I was disappointed with Cunliffe’s response to the policy, but I suppose he didn’t have much choice unless he could convince Michael Cullen to lend him a quick $1.5 billion 🙂

Finally on the luke-warm but positive side we have Russell Brown at Public Address:

National’s new $1.5 billion broadband spending proposal — it’s a bit soon to be calling it a “plan” — is nothing if not ambitious: 75% of homes with fibre connectivity in by 2014 is not a goal that has been envisaged as realistic before.

It is ambitious.

The initial step is a doubled of the Broadband Challenge Fund to $48 million, and there’s a very welcome commitment to “open access” (whether that means dark fibre or open access on the operator’s terms isn’t clear). There’s no indication as to whether National is talking about a monolithic FibreCo-style operator, or multiple providers whose interconnection is subject to regulation.

They are critical details, and that is why it is not planned any actual digging and laying will start until 2010. One has to get the structure and policy right and you really need time to do that. However while those details are being worked out there are things one can do in the very short-term which will make the task easier – such as ensuring duct or fibe is laid every time a current road is dug up. Some firm guidance (or instructions!) to local government can help reduce the cost a lot, as can environmental regulations.

What benefits would this massive investment bring over new DSL technologies via the existing residential copper network? For a start, it would work as advertised: 24Mbit/s DSL is more a theory than a reality for most users (although Telecom’s programme to bring the fibre closer via cabinetisation will help) and it’s extremely asymmetric — much fast down than back up. The problem of long cable runs basically disappears when you install fibre. You’d be doing it eventually anyway: when the existing copper expires, there’s no point in replacing it with more copper.

Absolutely. Fibre to the Home is inevitable. It is just a matter of timing – do we want to wait until 2040 and be last in the OECD, or try and secure some advantages by being early, to counteract our geographical disadvantage.

Russell also points some credit my way for “tireless advocacy”. While obviously I am an advocate, and have been for some time, I don’t think anyone should doubt this came about because of John Key’s personal belief and commitment to this infrastructure investment. I understand he has spent scores of hours in talks and discussions on the issue, and probably knows the ins and outs better than most industry specialists now.

Two others who are influential and helped make it happen were Maurice WIlliamson and Bill English. Jordan Carter has already noted Maurice’s passion for this plan. Bill has had a bit of stick for his comments a year ago which were sceptical of crown investment. The role of the Shadow Minister of Finance is to be sceptical and hard nosed on colleagues spending ambitions. I wouldn’t quite say his or her initial response should always be no, but hey it’s a reasonable negotiating position to start from 🙂

I am not Bill’s spokesperson (for which we are both grateful 🙂 ) but I think people will find he is fully behind the initiative (in fact I understand all of Caucus is quite wildly enthusiastic about it) and his job is to help make it happen as Minister of Finance. If anyone thinks there is some violent behind the scenes struggle about this policy, I think they will be sadly disappointed.

Now of course not everyone has been positive, and for those who want a libertarian critique I refer you to Liberty Scott who labels it as Think Big Mark II and argues in favour of leaving it to the market.

Also against is NZ First (they just whine about Telecom) and Kiwiblogblog which claims it will be wasteful government spending as we will never need home Internet speeds faster than Telecom’s ADSL2+ rollout.

Sounds to me a bit like the infamous “640K ought to be enough for anybody” statement in 1981, attributed to (and denied by) Bill Gates. I am very confident they will be wrong by similar levels of magnitude!

UPDATE: The Standard has also come out against it.

I think it is has been extremely enlightening that basically all the left wing blogs where the authors use their real names have been supportive of the policy, while the left wing blogs where the authors are anonymous are against. I’ll leave it to others to draw conclusions on whether this is a coincidence or not, and what this may indicate about who the authors are.

UPDATE2: I missed a couple of comments. No Right Turn labels the policy as good at first glance. And since I wrote the blog post, Dancer at The Standard has labelled the policy as a good thing.

NBR’s online plans

March 14th, 2008 at 12:30 pm by David Farrar

The Herald has an interesting article on the business newspapers. Most of it is about some sad layoffs at the IFR. But I was intrigued by this section on NBR:

Gibson said a new-look NBR would begin next week moving opinion pages on to newsprint which he said would allow more space for news and glossy adverts.

Meanwhile, the NBR website was being revamped and would be developed into what Gibson described as a right-wing answer to the Public Address website which had assembled left-wing commentators under its banner.

Technically one of the PAers is not left-wing. The token “rightie” I call him 🙂

Anyway good to see NBR planning to ramp up their online presence.