Book Review: On Offence: The Politics of Indignation, by Richard King

October 3rd, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Listener has a book review by me on an excellent book by Richard King called On Offence: The Politics of Indignation.

To quote my own review:

Richard King’s On Offence: The Politics of Indignation is very timely. King argues that all around the world more and more people are claiming it is their right to not have others offend them, and governments and other institutions are bowing to their demands. …

King argues that the principle of free speech is meaningless unless it includes the freedom to offend and that the modern fetish for sensitivity is corrosive of genuine civility. Well-documented and researched, his book doesn’t just report on the high-profile cases of manufactured offence, but dissects the changes in society that have led to this.

It condemns sensitive souls on the left and right of politics, lambasting both political correctness and religious conservatism. Governments and the media are jointly judged as spineless for their failure to defend freedom of speech in the case of the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

King slates political correctness as moving beyond political liberalism when those fighting against intolerance and bigotry do not seek freedom from others’ views but the freedom to impose their own on others. He also takes aim at what he calls patriotic correctness, where political opponents are browbeaten for undermining national pride.

I suspect many readers would enjoy reading the book. It is in no way a kneejerk book, but a very incisive examination of the growing culture of a claimed right not to be offended.

The new party rules are saving Shearer

July 16th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

listener shearer


This clipping is from The Listener.

Jane Clifton makes the valuable point that Cunliffe could win the party-wide vote but can’t get a majority in caucus to trigger it. Either of Robertson or Little could probably gain a majority in caucus to trigger a leadership ballot – but probably can’t win the party-wide vote. Hence you have the irony of the new rules put in place by the activists specifically to challenge Shearer, are in fact keeping him in the job.

Listener on Grant Robertson

March 8th, 2012 at 2:10 pm by David Farrar

An interesting profile of Labour Deputy Leader Grant Robertson in the Listener:

Look at Robertson and you see a big guy with glasses, a slightly sloppy student politician. Talk with him and you find a highly professional MP with a disciplined and meticulous mind. Call him cautious, though, and you make him angry. He doesn’t want to believe that the hesitation that allows him to avoid political pratfalls could also sap his courage to make change. At times his courage trumps his caution. To advance the equality agenda he believes gays should be able to marry and also to adopt children.

“I can’t see any reason why a gay couple who are good functioning human beings can’t provide that environment. It’s about the best interests of the children.” He also wants Labour to adopt a policy of allowing gay marriage. “I am really proud of what we did with civil unions, but I get that for people it is not absolute equality,” he says.

I agree with Grant on gay marriage. However I do think the cautious tag is an accurate one for him. Grant is very cautious in his press releases, in his statements etc. It’s the caution of someone who expects to be a party leader one day, and doesn’t want to have words from the past comeback to haunt him.

“There are gay bus drivers. There are people in all walks of life. It is important that people understand that. That’s one of the issues we have to get past: believing that there is a particular type of gay person.” He knows his sexuality would be more of an issue if he were Labour’s leader and considered that when deciding whether to challenge for the top job. “I thought about, is New Zealand ready for there to be a gay Prime Minister, or a gay leader, and I actually think we are.

I agree. If the good citizens of Wairarapa don’t blink at electing a transsexual as their MP, I can’t imagine the majority of New Zealanders will have a great issue over the sexuality of the Prime Minister. The challenge for Grant, once he ascends to the leadership, will be that his sexuality doesn’t define him (there is a difference between being an MP who is gay, and a gay MP), but I don’t think he is at any risk of that.

The next question was, am I ready? Is this where I should be?”

His answer was no. “I’m 40 and I think I’ve still got a bit more to learn.”

A bit more? As in a year or two?

Labour will also review its policy of extending Working for Families tax credits to beneficiaries. He says there may be other policies to ensure income is “redistributed” to help those children.

Or one could redistribute their parents from welfare to work?

Robertson has little experience in the private sector, but doesn’t see that limiting his understanding of businesses. “You can be the Minister of Health and not be a heart surgeon.”

True. But not have any practical knowledge of how the private sector works is not the same as not being a specialist in an area. Far too many MPs do not have any background at all in the private sector.

I once went from doing the finances for a charity to doing the finances for a small advertising agency. The difference was huge. In just a few weeks I discovered the huge difference between being profitable on paper, and  cashflow and the challenges of paying bills on time. No textbook really teaches that. My two years with that small business taught me a huge deal about the realities of business.

Key started the recent trend of “non-political” leaders and Shearer was chosen to match him. Clark was a politician, Robertson muses. Jim Bolger was, too. And they both led long-term governments. He knows that this is not yet his time, but he senses it may come. “I want to take it as far as I can take it and we’ll see how long that takes.”

Is Grant talking weeks, months or years?

The Listener on the Pretenders

September 14th, 2011 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Listener has done a a big five page article on Phil Goff’s leadership, and the problems around it. This is not anything out of the ordinary.

What is unusual is they have profiled the five pretenders to the throne (Cunliffe, Parker, Little, Jones and Shearer) and the five pretenders have all posed for photos for the article.

Boy talk about having your eyes firmly focused on the future.


Listener on National Standards

October 18th, 2010 at 3:59 pm by David Farrar

The Listener’s editorial:

Hands up those who agree with this proposal. Not only should there be national standards in schools, but the government should pay schools bonuses of up to $100,000 if they demonstrate improvements in the literacy and numeracy achievement standards of their pupils.

It’s no surprise, perhaps, that teacher unions have denounced the plans and immediately threatened to boycott the tests, talking of their concerns about “damaging league tables”.

What is a surprise is that all this is happening in Australia.

How is it, one might ask, that in New Zealand the introduction of national standards in primary schools has been denounced by teacher unions as nothing more than right-wing ideology while across the Tasman, the minister driving this “education revolution” is none other than the Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard? In her bid to improve school standards, Gillard has already muscled aside one of Australia’s most powerful left-wing outfits – the Australian Education Union – to ensure all school results are published on the My School website. This with the express purpose of identifying poorly performing schools.

Indeed. National Standards are just common sense. They require no change to current testing or assessment. They just require one additional step – to moderate the school data onto a national standard and add on one extra page to the school report with the national standard data also.

Frankly they are no big thing, and the opposition from entrenched interests is actually about league tables, not national standards.

Talking of her passion and commitment to ensuring every child has access to good schooling regardless of their background, Gillard spoke at the launch of the website earlier this year of the danger of schools quietly underperforming. “No one ever knows and no one ever does anything about it,” she said. “But children only get one chance at school.”

In New Zealand, where many principals are now promising to step up their campaign against national standards, it was Pita Sharples who this week talked of under-performing schools. A lot of schools, said Sharples, fail to monitor the achievements of Maori students, fail to use the professional support offered to them to help raise standards and fail to involve Maori families in the education of Maori students.

Absolutely. Despite what is said, we do not know well enough which students are failing and which schools are failing.

Contrast his statements with that of primary teachers union spokesperson, NZEI president Frances Nelson, who recently claimed that the Education Minister Anne Tolley had distorted data to “manufacture a crisis in education”. There is indeed a crisis but it is not of Tolley’s creation. The facts speak for themselves: 15,000 New Zealand students end up leaving school without NCEA level two and 7900 without level one.

Although our top performers are among the best in the OECD, it is the long tail of underachievement that causes alarm.

This is what the NZEI says is not a problem. 15,000 students every year leaving school without even NCEA Level 2.

This is not an imaginary crisis. In this country, almost 50% of Maori students and 35% of Pasifika students leave school without level two NCEA. In all, 29% of the students who will be leaving school at the end of next month will leave without this qualification. It is the minimum qualification that any young New Zealander needs to succeed in further study or skilled employment.

And this is the status quo the education unions defend.

Air NZ responds to The Listener

May 14th, 2010 at 6:36 pm by David Farrar

In response to the Listener’s editorial on the proposed alliance between Air New Zealand and Virgin Blue, Rob Fyfe has done this video response above, which is at Dear Listener.

I’m not convinced by the alliance proposal, but I do love the response by Air NZ. It really is first class.

Listener on Goff

August 10th, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

I was intrigued by some quotes I saw on Keeping Stock from a six page Listener article on Phil Goff, so I got a copy.

Now it is sensible for Goff to be doing these big profile pieces. In fact that is exactly what I suggested a couple of months ago.

However a few Labour MPs may have said more than they intended in the profile. Items of interest are:

  • Helen Clark still regularly e-mails and texts caucus members. This reinforces the view I have that the party is still very much Clark’s, not Goff’s. I’ve still yet to hear a Labourite get passionate about Goff, but they’ll jump in to defend Helen at all costs.
  • Andrew Little says party membership has dropped from almost 50,000 in 2005 to under 10,000. That 50,000 figure I am sure would include union affiliate nominal members rather than individual who actually choose to join a party.
  • At the post-election Cabinet meeting it was decided Goff and King would be Leader and Deputy, and all agreed neither would be challenged before the 2011 election. They have a pact. This is useful knowledge for National as some Nats were getting worried if Goff sinks too low in the polls he may be rolled – which is the last thing they want. There was talk of going easy. But now they know there is a pact to keep him on regardless of how he performs, there is no need to hold back.
  • David Cunliffe was considered for the leadership but the consensus was “Look, mate, you’re not ready”. I understand gleeful National MPs yell this out everytime DC speaks in the House now!
  • Goff talks of how he was kicked out of home at 16 by his father. A former MP has e-mailed me to suggest that what Phil did not mention is the same father paid for the residence Goff moved into.
  • Goff and King are looking at first three years in a child’s life as area for greater intervention with troubled families. On that issue I’d support them 100%. Please stop campaigning for free silk scarf painting courses and focus more resources on those first few years.
  • They acknowledge not doing well with the male vote. I would go further and say they have a major disconnect.
  • Hilariously some of the Caucus think the nanny state backlash was not genuine and all whipped up by Crosby Textor. I’m glad I don’t have to buy Mark Textor or Lynton Crosby a beer for every time the left credit them for some nefarious deed. I am sure they will be blamed for global warming soon.
  • Usefully the article reveals that many in Caucus would push in Government the exact same nanny state policies, just with more listening!!!
  • Maryan Street reveals she is investigating ways to control the exchange rate. Superb. This will allow international currency dealers to make a killing as a Labour Government tries to set the exchange rate. And who the hell put Maryan Street in charge of monetary policy!
  • Annette King is thinking of extending the full Working for Families tax credits to beneficiaries removing one of the few incentives to be in work. This would be an extra $450 million a year of welfare.
  • Clare Curran on Phil Goff “He’s a real man. And we need that”. Words fail me.
  • Phil Twyford, Labour’s Auckland spokesperson admits that under Labour “the city wasn’t working properly, with traffic problems, crappy infrastructure, and a downtown that looks like a bomb site. He concludes “I think our Government was very late in coming to the party and doing something about that. Every National MP in Auckland is thanking Twyford for his quotes to be used in their 2011 campaign literature!
  • Andrew Little sagely concludes on the Electoral Finance Act that “there was a sense the Government was taking revenge and shutting down otherwise legitimate avenues of expression”. Of course that is because they were!

As I said, a very interesting article.

MPs survey of the media

September 29th, 2008 at 3:20 pm by David Farrar

Last week I set up an online survey for MPs, asking them to rate various media organisations and senior gallery journalists on a scale of 0 to 10. Just under one quarter of MPs responded, and the results are shown below.

As the media often rate how well MPs are doing, I thought it appropriate to reverse this and ask the questions in reverse. The media are a hugely powerful filter, and it is appropriate (in my opinion) to have some focus on how well they are perceived to be performing.

The questions were:

  1. For each media organisation please give them a rating from 0 to 10 for how well you think they do in their parliamentary reporting. This should take account of all relevant factors – accuracy, fairness, thoroughness, relevance, substance etc.
  2. Now for some individual senior members of the press gallery, please rate from 0 to 10 how well you think they perform at proving fair, accurate, unbiased and informative reporting on Parliament. You can skip any that you do not feel able to rate.
  3. Finally can you indicate your party grouping as National, Labour or Other. Your individual identity is not sought by us, and we have no way or interest in identifying individual respondents. However we would like to summarise results for all MPs and by the three groupings to see if they vary by party grouping.

It is important that these be read in context, so make the following points:

  1. This is the opinion of MPs only. It does not set out to be an objective rating, and should not be seen as such.
  2. MPs get reported on by the gallery. While this makes them the group of NZers potentially best able to have an informed opinion on the media (which is why I surveyed them), it also gives them a conflict of interest. MPs may score journalists lowly due to personal run ins with them, or the fact they are too good at their job! This should be borne in mind.
  3. I only e-mailed the survey to the 121 MPs, but it is possible that one or more responses was filled in by a staff member who has access to the MPs mailbox. I think this is unlikely, as most staff are very professional. However MPs were not required to prove their identity to vote, as confidentiality of individual responses was important. You need to know the Survey URL to be able to vote.
  4. National MPs made up 43% of responses, slightly above their numbers in Parliament. Minor Party MPs were also slightly over-represented, Labour MPs under-represented and some MPs did not give a party identification.
Media Mean Median Mode Minimum Maximum Range
NZ Press Assn 6.1 6 6 4 9 5
Newsroom 5.8 6 5 1 10 9
Trans-Tasman 5.5 6 6 0 8 8
NZ Herald 5.3 6 6 0 8 8
Scoop 5.2 5 5 0 10 10
Newstalk ZB 5.1 6 7 1 8 7
Listener 5.0 5 3 1 8 7
NBR 4.9 4 4 1 8 7
Radio NZ 4.8 6 3 1 9 8
Radio Live 4.4 5 1 1 8 7
Sky/Prime News 4.3 5 5 0 7 7
The Press 4.2 5 1 1 7 6
TV Three 4.1 5 6 0 8 8
Dominion Post 4.1 4.5 1 1 7 6
TV One 3.9 5 5 0 6 6
Maori TV 3.7 4 5 0 6 6
Herald on Sunday 3.5 3.5 7 0 7 7
Sunday Star-Times 2.7 3 3 0 5 5

NZ Press Association tops the rankings with a mean or average 6.1 rating – and received no very low ratings from anyone. The two Internet agencies were in the top five, indicating MPs like the fact their releases are carried in full. Trans-Tasman also does well.

Television generally gets ranked lowly with all four stations in the bottom half. Sky News actually ranks highest.

Radio is middle of the field with NewstalkZB being the highest ranked radio broadcaster.

The newspapers range the spectrum. The NZ Herald is up at 5.3, Press at 4.2 and Dom Post at 4.1. I would have them all higher, but this is a survey of MPs, not of my views.

Now the sample sizes are of course very small (but of a limited population) but let us look at how National MPs ranked media compared to all the other MPs:

Media All Mean Nats Mean Others Mean Difference
TV One 3.9 6.3 2.2 4.2
TV Three 4.1 6.2 2.6 3.6
Maori TV 3.7 5.2 2.5 2.7
Sky/Prime News 4.3 5.5 3.3 2.2
Sunday Star-Times 2.7 3.5 2.1 1.4
Radio Live 4.4 4.8 4.2 0.6
Radio NZ 4.8 5.0 4.6 0.4
Dominion Post 4.1 4.2 4.0 0.2
Herald on Sunday 3.5 3.5 3.5 0.0
Newstalk ZB 5.1 4.8 5.4 -0.6
The Press 4.2 3.8 4.6 -0.8
NZ Herald 5.3 4.2 6.1 -1.9
NBR 4.9 3.3 6.1 -2.8
Listener 5.0 3.3 6.3 -3.0
NZ Press Assn 6.1 4.3 7.4 -3.1
Trans-Tasman 5.5 3.3 7.1 -3.8
Scoop 5.2 2.8 7.0 -4.2
Newsroom 5.8 3.0 8.0 -5.0

National MPs ranked the four TV channels much higher than other MPs did. Maybe this is minor parties upset that they do not get on TV much?

Despite the generally accepted lean to the left of Radio NZ, National MPs ranked Radio NZ higher than other MPs did. And while some on the left attack the NZ Herald at favouring National, National MPs actually ranked them lower than other MPs did. The Listener and NBR also get accused of leaning right, but again get ranked lower by National MPs.

The Nat MPs also rated the online media very lowly.

Now the journalists. I decided not to list all members of the press gallery, but only those who are relatively senior, and are more likely to have a reasonable number of MPs have formed opinions about them. Looking back I could have included more.

If any journalist is unhappy about being missed out, happy to include you next year. Now again it is worth remembering these are only the opinions of those MPs who responded to my survey – it is not an objective rating.

Journalist Mean Median Mode Minimum Maximum Range
John Armstrong (NZH) 6.4 7 2 2 10 8
Peter Wilson (NZPA) 5.8 5 5 3 8 5
Audrey Young (NZH) 5.7 6.5 7 0 10 10
Ian Templeton (TT) 5.6 7 7 0 9 9
Jane Clifton (Listener) 5.6 6 6 2 9 7
Barry Soper (Sky & ZB) 4.9 5.5 7 1 9 8
Ian Llewellyn (NZPA) 4.9 5 5 1 8 7
Vernon Small (DP) 4.6 5 6 1 8 7
Colin Espiner (Press) 4.5 5 6 0 8 8
Guyon Espiner (TV1) 4.4 5.5 7 0 7 7
Tim Donoghue (DP) 4.1 4.5 2 1 9 8
Brent Edwards (RNZ) 4.1 4 4 0 7 7
Tracy Watkins (DP) 3.8 4.5 6 0 7 7
Duncan Garner (TV3) 3.7 3.5 3 0 8 8
Gordon Campbell (Scoop) 3.6 5 5 0 7 7
Ruth Laugeson (SST) 2.7 2.5 2 0 6 6

John Armstrong tops the ratings, followed by the NZPA Political Editor Peter Wilson. Generally MPs ranked journalists slightly higher than media organisations. As can be seen by the minimum ratings showing, some MPs were very harsh handing out zeroes. Did WInston multiple vote? 🙂 (Note I have no idea if Winston did vote)

And once again we compare responses between National MPs and other MPs.

Journalist All Mean Nats Mean Others Mean Difference
Laugeson 2.7 4.2 1.6 2.6
Clifton 5.6 7.0 4.5 2.5
Soper 4.9 6.2 4.0 2.2
Campbell 3.6 4.8 2.8 2.0
Edwards 4.1 4.8 3.5 1.3
Llewellyn 4.9 5.2 4.7 0.5
Young 5.7 6.0 5.5 0.5
Garner 3.7 3.5 3.9 -0.4
Espiner G 4.4 4.2 4.6 -0.4
Wilson 5.8 5.5 6.0 -0.5
Armstrong 6.4 6.0 6.8 -0.8
Watkins 3.8 3.0 4.4 -1.4
Donoghue 4.1 3.2 4.9 -1.7
Small 4.6 3.2 5.6 -2.4
Espiner C 4.5 2.8 5.8 -3.0
Templeton 5.6 1.8 8.5 -6.7

Again very interesting. The SST is generally seen as hostile to National, but Ruth Laugeson is ranked much higher by National MPs, than by other MPs. Likewise the Gordon Campbell and Brent Edwards (both left leaning) are ranked higher by National MPs than other MPs.

Also for some reasons National MPs ranked Ian Templeton very lowly. Maybe they don’t like his weekly chats with Clark and Key, ignoring the lesser MPs?

Qantas Awards

May 10th, 2008 at 8:44 am by David Farrar

The lovely folks at the Herald on Sunday invited me to join them at their table for the Qantas Awards in Auckland last night (as I have done a couple of pieces for them), and it was definitely the place to be as they went on to win not just Best Weekly Newspaper but the coveted Best Newspaper.

Earlier in the night briefly popped into some blogger drinks and caught up with some of the old regulars, and met a few new people which was fun. Also failed to recognise Phil U due to his new look 🙂

Back to the Qantas, and as I said it was a great night for the Herald on Sunday. On top of the two main newspaper awards, they also won Best General Columnist and Best All Round Columnist (Paul Holmes) and Best Portrait or Object Portfolio Photographer (Janna Dixon).

The Herald on Sunday is less than four years old, and when you start with no subscribers, it is swim or sink, and I think it shows the power of hunger and competition that such a new newspaper has done so well. The Sunday newspapers are almost the only ones which still have direct competition in the print media.

Most people didn’t give speeches, but Paul Holmes gave a hilarious speech which Bill Ralston (one of the MCs along with Mary Lambie) tried to cut short. Paul just retorted “Knock it off Bill or I’ll fucking thump you” which had the desired effect. Ralston and Lambie were both very good as MCs, with Ralston making many jokes at the expense of his former bosses at TVNZ.

The winner of the most significant individual award – the Qantas Fellow to Wolfson College in Cambridge went to Phil Kitchin of the Dominion Post which was indisputably deserved. Kitchin and his editor Tim Pankhurst also got an Outstanding Achievement award for the Louise Nicholas story. Few stories have ever had such an impact on a country, and as Pankhurst pointed out it was their most defamatory story ever – except for the defence of truth – so deciding to run it was pretty ballsy.

Peter Griffin picked up Best Information & Comms Technology Feature Writer and Carroll du Chateau, Best Government, Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs Feature Writer. The Herald also had a very good night winning the Best Daily Newspaper with over 25,000 circulation. I understand their major stories on the Electoral Finance Act were submitted as their portfolio.

The best IT Columnist was Jillian Allison-Aitken from the Southland Times. I have to confess I have not read her stuff,so will have to look out for it in future. Colin Espiner was Best Politics Columnist.

Oh yes the best newspaper section went to the ODT for their world focus section. A few people joked they didn’t know the ODT had a world focus section – I have to admit when I lived in Dunedin my memories were that the Oamaru fair day would received twice as much space as the Berlin Wall coming down 🙂 Obviously things have improved!

The Listener won Best Newsstand Magazine which editor Pamela Stirling appreciated greatly as vindication for her decisions to make changes to The Listener. We know this, because she said so in her acceptance speech!

In the online categories the Herald won best news website, NBR won best single report on a news website and the globally popular Read Write Web won Best Blog. Congrats to No Right Turn for being a finalist.

As I mentioned the Herald on Sunday won Best Newspaper and Best Weekly Newspaper, and NZ Herald Best Large Daily. The Manawatu Standard won Best Small Daily, the Aucklander (West) Best Community Newspaper, and the NZ Herald Best Front Page (for their Democracy Under Attack  story)

The full awards list is here.

Was a very enjoyable night, meeting new people and catching up with others. Having a quiet recovery day today and then off to a play in Auckland tonight.

Gordon Campbell on The Listener

May 5th, 2008 at 8:30 am by David Farrar

Gordon Campbell, a former Listener journalist, writes on Scoop about Pamela Stirling’s description of the “old” Listener as “the house journal of the Alliance Party”. I comment on his comments:

It is not the first time the former Listener as ‘house journal of the Alliance Party’ line has been floated by Stirling. Whether this is the intention or not, the effect is to portray her tenure as having more journalistic integrity than her predecessors, and her staff as being more professional than staff in the past.

I don’t see her comments as meaning a lack of integrity or professionalism. I see it as a comment on the lack of diversity of views the Listener used to have. Just as the NBR doesn’t exactly have a lot of articles promoting higher taxes either. A magazine can have an ideological bent but still be ethical and professional – look at the UK newspapers. The problem comes when a publication has an ideological bent but tries and denies it.

The reality is that the Listener was never the sort of doctrinaire publication that the “Alliance house journal” jibe would suggest. Its spirit was liberal, compassionate and contrarian. The voice it had in our national debate was alternative in the best sense, of standing apart from the mainstream and analyzing it critically. It was that contrarian spirit that saw the Listener endorse MMP, and run fair and balanced profiles of Roger Kerr, Lindsay Perigo, Winston Peters and other polarising figures in its pages.

Of course the Listener in the past has had fair and balanced ((c) Fox News) features. But overall it was very predictably leftwing. The test I used to apply to it was whether I could accurately predict the substance of a story based on just knowing the topic off the cover. And 95% of the time I could – it was almost without fail the left liberal view of the world.

This was in marked contrast to say North & South where I could see they were covering a topic, but never really know what sort of position or angle they would take on it, until I had actually read it.

Now I have no problem with any publication (so long as not state funded) having an ideological leaning. But to try and argue that no such leaning existed, does people a disservice.

In my experience, we at the Listener tended to have a healthy skepticism towards everyone – including Labour when in power in the 80s ( the Listener invented the term ‘Rogernomics’ and it wasn’t meant as flattery) National in the 90s, and Labour again early this decade. Consistently, the Listener bit the hand of power, and would then explain in 2,500 reasoned words why it felt the need to do so.

It is true that the Listener has railed against every Government from the 1980s onwards – but almost always for not being left wing enough. I don’t recall any articles complaining about the killing off of choice in accident compensation, or complaining about making union membership compulsory for employees who want a collective contract. Just being critical of both National and Labour Governments does not mean you are not free of ideological slant.

What the Listener used to stand for was intellectual depth, critical analysis of the left and the right, good arts pages and Bradford’s Hollywood. It was a great ragbag of a read. Again, I beg to differ with Stirling – the current Listener seems anything but diverse. It exhibits instead an increasingly narrow fixation on the lifestyle choices and social anxieties of a baby boomer elite. Someone recently suggested to me that a typical Listener cover story nowadays would run something along the lines of “Is Your House Making You Fat?”

Here Campbell is on stronger grounds. I do find the Listener pretty trite at times, but this tendency pre-dates Stirling to be fair. Around seven or eight years ago I decided to keep getting the Listener mainly for its columnists, having gone off their features as often superficial. Sadly it is not only the Listener going this way – Metro and North & South are now pale shadows of their former glory.

The lawyers strike back

April 19th, 2008 at 1:20 pm by David Farrar

Hot Topic has done what looks to be a lawyer dictated apology and retraction to the Listener:

In fact Mr Hansford was not sacked by The Listener, and nor did The Listener seek to censor or suppress Mr Hansford’s views. Hot Topic and AUT Media Ltd accept that The Listener and its editor have a strong commitment to environmental issues, and that there was no basis for any of the criticisms expressed on this site of either The Listener or its editor, or of the editorial integrity and independence of The Listener. Hot Topic and AUT Media Ltd unreservedly withdraw those statements an apologise to The Listener and to Pamela Stirling for the distress caused by our publication.

While blogs, like any publication, are not immune from the responsibility of good faith and accuracy, it seems fairly heavy handed to sic the lawyers onto a blog rather than using the opportunities blogs provide to provide rebuttal and the other side of the story. I hope this isn’t the start of a trend.

Climate Change Censorship

April 18th, 2008 at 10:40 am by David Farrar

A lot has been written about the Listener’s dumping of “Ecologic” columnist Dave Hansford and whether it was linked to a complaint by Bryan Leyland – a prominent sceptic.

John Drinnan covers it in the Herald.

But Listener editor Pamela Stirling is insisting that the two events are unconnected and that she is losing a staffer because of budget cuts.

Wellington freelance journalist Dave Hansford has been the ecological columnist since November.

He has had differences of opinion with Stirling during much of that time and on occasion was asked to changed the tone of the column.

Hansford would not be the only staffer who has had differences of opinion with the Editor.

Stirling says Hansford was only ever hired as a short-term position for two months and the column was now being written by a staffer.

But it’s clear that Stirling’s approach to the eco-column – like her approach to the Listener – has been a lot more right of centre than the line of the old days.

Stirling took over in 2004 and she says that for a long time the Listener had been the house journal of the Alliance Party.

Stirling says the magazine is more centrist and allows everyone to express a view.

It was indeed the Alliance house journal. not that I had a problem with that – if enough people want to buy the Listener as a left wing magazine, good on them. And if enough want to buy it as a centrist magazine also good on them.

Poneke blogs on the issue also. Likewise Russell Brown. And the issue was first raised on the very good Hot Topic blog.

Meanwhile in Australia they have the opposite issue with Earth Day. The Melbourne Age is known to be a very left wing paper. I doubt more than 5% of their journalists vote Liberal/National. But even they have protested about the editor forcing them to write supportive material for Earth Day. Read this story in The Australian:

In a statement accompanying the resolution, staff said the Earth Hour partnership placed basic journalistic principles in jeopardy: “Reporters were pressured not to write negative stories and story topics followed a schedule drafted by Earth Hour organisers.”

Andrew Bolt points out:

In a statement of protest last week, 235 Age journalists confirmed that their coverage of last month’s Earth Hour had been, in effect, propaganda.

“Reporters were pressured not to write ‘negative’ stories and story topics followed a schedule drafted by Earth Hour organisers,” they said. 

That confession came after the ABC’s Media Watch released an embarrassing email sent by the green group WWF to Age editor-in-chief Andrew Jaspan under the creepy header Re: Any last requests?.

In it, WWF staffer Fiona Poletti replied she indeed had more requests, and told Jaspan to run three more puff pieces for Earth Hour, a stunt in which readers were told to help save the planet from global warming by turning off lights for an hour.

Here’s one: “We would love the fashion story to get a good run. This has been given to Orietta and is about the fashion industry’s unified support for Earth Hour.”

WWF ordered, Jaspan obeyed. The Age dutifully ran that story, under the headline: “Fashionistas no dummies when it comes to be switching off.”

WWF’s request for a second story on businesses backing Earth Hour? Also obeyed. On cities around the world joining in? Obeyed. In each case Jaspan had journalists writing, albeit unwittingly, to a green group’s script.

Bolt also observes:

The joke is most Age journalists are so green they don’t need to be pushed to preach this gospel. But their bosses’ prodding changes everything.

What a reporter may freely write as news becomes propaganda if he or she is not free to report all the relevant facts. So all Age journalists writing about Earth Hour, or global warming, must for now be considered propagandists.

Too harsh? Then consider: after all that pushing of the green line by Age bosses, which staff writer would dare write that global warming in fact may have stalled, with oceans cooling and the planet not heating since 1998? Indeed, none has.

Which Age staffer would dare write that Earth Hour actually saved so little in greenhouse gases that just eight cars will make good those emissions in a year? Again, none has.

And finally Bolt uses his own situation as an example of how editorial independence should be preserved:

Responsible newspapers at least try to ensure their staff know they are still free to dissent and report inconvenient truths, which is why I’m still here, writing as I do, even after our boss Rupert Murdoch last year said it was time to “give the planet the benefit of the doubt” with global warming.

Yep, that is how it should be.

The Listener on Hawke’s Bay DHB

March 12th, 2008 at 10:33 am by David Farrar

David Fisher puts his investigative skills to good use in the latest issue of The Listener. The article will not be online for a week or so, so I really recommend people interested buy a copy.  Some key points I noted:

  • The e-mail between Hausmann and CEO Chris Clarke in January 2006, discussing details of the contract Hausmann was tendering for, was only accessed by Board Administrator Deborah Houston as she was filling in for his PA. Hence there may have been many more e-mails like that.
  • King’s appointment of Peter Hausmann was at whim, and while legal (she can appoint anyone she wants) failed to follow best practice by having the potential appointee go before an interview panel.
  • The Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee staff alerted King’s office to the extent of Hausmann’s conflicts of interest
  • A senior Ministry of Health staffer wrote a letter describing Hausmann’s appointment as posing a “huge risk”.
  • Peter Hausmann asked for an inquiry not just into his own actions, but for a full review of the Board’s performance and governance. The Ministry of Health advised there was no need for this, and that it should be into Hausmann’s conflicts only as they believe “these are prima facie serious matters”.
  • Pete Hodgson ignored the Ministry advice, and by making the review so much wider, meant the review took much much longer to complete, which in itself led to greater dysfunction.
  • Ray Lind recorded several conversations with staff and board members, without telling them at the time.
  • These secret recordings were only discovered when PWC audited the e-mail system and found Lind had e-mailed himself a copy – the e-mail had been deleted but was on the backup tape.
  • Hausmann had access to the RFP months before his ten competitors did, and at least one of them complained about the lack of time to respond when it went public
  • The e-mails to and from Hausmann regarding the RFP were deleted from the DHB’s e-mail system. This is arguably illegal under the Official Information Act.
  • The only backup tape which had the e-mails was May 2005, and of the 12 backup tapes given to PWC, it was the only one damaged.
  • DHB Management were severely criticised by the Audit Office for another (Wellcare Education) contract they gave to Hausmann’s company.
  • An e-mail from Hausmann, after he was appointed to the Board, was sent to a senior manager extensively advocated on behalf of Wellcare Education, which Hausmann’s company’s owned.

The failings of both King and Hodgson, but also Lind and Clarke seem numerous. Deleted e-mails, official advice ignored, preferential treatment, secret recordings, appointments without interviews, to name a few.

What Annette King has yet to answer is why she appointed Hausmann? She says she just met him and as impressed with him.  But why did she ffail to follow best practice? She says she was not legally obliged to do so.  Fine, we know that.  But the question is why did she not have an interview panel as normal?

And has Pete Hodgson explained why he ignored the advice from Ministry officials who had no political interest in the outcome? Did he talk to King before making that decision? Did he talk to Hausmann, Clarke or Ray Lind?

And why did DHB management not once, but twice, fall over themselves to give preferential treatment to Hausmann?