Govt playing the media, who are falling for it

Peter Dunne wrote:

The question of whether Medsafe would approve the Pfizer Covid19 vaccine was finally resolved this week. Up until then, the constant and near fever-pitch “will they, won’t they” speculation had been one of the biggest “beat-ups” of recent times.

There was never any doubt that Medsafe would approve the vaccine – for a couple of reasons. First, the idea that New Zealand regulators would find evidence against approving the vaccine that no other regulators anywhere in the world had found was simply preposterous. And, second, once Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Agency (TGA) approved the vaccine, as had happened a couple of weeks ago, it was really game-over as far as any potentially different decision in New Zealand was concerned. This is because since the Clark government’s failed attempt in the early 2000s to merge Medsafe with the TGA the standard practice on both sides of the Tasman has been to regard approval of a new medicine in either Australia or New Zealand as approval in both countries, to save duplication of effort and resources.

New Zealand Ministers and officials should have known this full well, which makes their public statements that notwithstanding the worldwide approvals, followed by the TGA’s decision, it would be unwise to prejudge what Medsafe might conclude, look utterly hollow and ludicrous.

But this needs to be seen in a wider context. Having won the election so decisively last year because of public approval of its handling of the pandemic crisis, the government knows only too well the political benefits to be derived from continuing its close focus on Covid19 related issues. Given the inevitability of Medsafe’s approval of the vaccine, there was absolutely no justifcation for the Prime Minister’s special announcement that Medsafe had reached a favourable decision, let alone the separate detailed statement from the Director-General of Health of how the decision had been arrived at. None of it was news – it would have been more newsworthy had Medsafe not approved the vaccine – but it was just another occasion where the government could play the Covid19 card to good effect. By drawing out an announcement that anyone with any knowledge of these issues knew was always going to be an approval of the vaccine, the government was able to keep the focus on itself and then look like the good guys when it was able to announce as some dramatic breakthrough the only decision its independent regulator could have made, the same one which virtually every other regulator in the world had already made.

This is spot on. The media all breathlessly reported this as a major significant announcement, when in fact it was never in doubt. They got played.

Similarly, with the resumption of the daily 1:00 pm press conferences. There has been nothing said in any of those over the last couple of weeks that could not have been covered just as adequately in a departmental press release. But a factual press release without the accompanying spin would obscure the point that the government really is in full control of the situation. The press conferences are less an exercise in conveying information, than one of showing who is in control.

Again spot on.

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