Agenda setting

datePosted on 14:43, May 8th, 2009 by Lew

While I don’t intend to post on the substance of what has become known as the Napier siege, this sort of event happens rarely and has profound consequences for NZ’s political-media agenda. Maxwell McCombs’ view (based on a study of the 1968 US Presidential campaign) was that it wasn’t so much that the media tell you what to think as what to think about. Currently there’s only one game in town. How might stakeholders respond?

Under the radar: With wall-to-wall coverage (good commentary on its ghastly nature at Ethical Martini), now is the ideal time to sneak out news which must be released but which the releaser doesn’t want to receive wide coverage. Good comms managers will be instructing their minions to air all their dirty laundry this afternoon, before the black hole that is this weekend, and while the media agencies’ resources are stretched. Watch the Scoop wires; there might be some interesting releases.

Police image rehabilitation: Not that it’s intentional, and certainly not to imply that it’s somehow a beneficial thing to lose an officer in the line of duty, but this event and its coverage is manna from heaven for a police force beleaguered by public image problems and allegations of incompetence and corruption. From the facts which are available, it seems the police are 100% in the right here – they arrived unarmed and without intention to provoke any sort of conflict on a mundane policing matter and were met with deadly force. All their dealings with gunman, media and the public have been calm, patient and disciplined. If they succeed in their stated objective of ending this situation without further loss of life (including the life of Jan Molenaar) then they will rightly enjoy a huge resurgence of public sympathy.

Crime and punishment lobby: This looks to be a case which doesn’t tick too many hang’em-flog’em boxes, in that it’s a drug crime but (apparently) not a high-level drug crime; there is no gang involvement; committed by a middle-aged white man in a nice middle-class suburb. It may be difficult to turn this into an iconic crime case, although there are some ready angles: gun control for instance. That won’t stop the usual suspects from trying to make political capital of it – some commenters around the ‘sphere already are.

The future of NZ policing: This will undoubtedly have enormous implications for police doctrine and practice. It seems likely that, at a minimum, it will result in the Police Association calling for police to be better-armed and equipped, at least when conducting any sort of invasive operation. It will probably provide a basis for a more militaristic, less community-based approach to policing – in international relations terms, a more strongly realist law enforcement posture.

(Update 19:20: Stuff’s opinion poll has been updated to ask “Do you think all police should be armed?”, surprisingly not overwhelmingly in the affirmative (screenshot). Smart opportunistic stuff by the Fairfax Digital editors, in contrast to the Herald, who’re still asking for predictions on the Rugby League. Comments on the article are a fairly predictable mix of outrage, condolence, disbelief and armchair expertise.)

Whatever the case, we’re in for interesting times. I hope, as the police do, that the situation is resolved quickly, cleanly and without bloodshed.

There are plenty more possible issues in play here – feel free to discuss them in comments. But I won’t allow this to descend into ideological arguments about the specifics of the case, so please don’t try.

L

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10 Responses to “Agenda setting”

  1. StephenR on May 8th, 2009 at 15:51

    If they succeed in their stated objective of ending this situation without further loss of life (including the life of Jan Molenaar) then they will rightly enjoy a huge resurgence of public sympathy.

    You think they wouldn’t get a lot or as much public sympathy if they eventually kill him? The fact that a cop has been killed probably justifies a lot in the eye of the public, especially killing the guy in a raid, as the moment this guy has NOTHING going for him, that we know of. I don’t think the public would go as with if say (god forbid) capital punishment was mooted as a punishment.

  2. StephenR on May 8th, 2009 at 15:51

    How might stakeholders respond?

    I would’ve thought the legality of drugs (at least weed) would come up – too obvious? :-D

  3. Lew on May 8th, 2009 at 16:29

    SR,

    You think they wouldn’t get a lot or as much public sympathy if they eventually kill him?

    Oh, I think they would – but the stated position is that they intend to arrest him, and if they do so then they’ll be shown to be 100% in control. Shooting him will draw accusations of revenge and such.

    I would’ve thought the legality of drugs (at least weed) would come up – too obvious? :-D

    Already has.

    L

  4. StephenR on May 8th, 2009 at 17:52

    I meant that in a smug ‘ha-ha, something escaped your initial analysis’ way, but whatever.

  5. Lew on May 8th, 2009 at 17:57

    SR,

    I meant that in a smug ‘ha-ha, something escaped your initial analysis’ way, but whatever.

    Ah, the joys of internet ironicality. Sorry, I can be dense sometimes.

    L

  6. StephenR on May 8th, 2009 at 17:58

    I would say you seem to have a pretty firm handle on it.

  7. Neil on May 9th, 2009 at 09:10

    …and its coverage is manna from heaven for a police force beleaguered by public image problems and allegations of incompetence and corruption.

    I think you’ll find that that image problem is confined to a very small group of people. You generally put the “left-wing radicles get a hard time” argument in reasonably terms but here you’re making generalisations about the gerneal public based on a small sample size.

    This incident shows that the times when the Police “over-react” are very few and far between. That the usual case is that the Police choose to place themselves in greater risk rather than to be more heavy handed. I think most of the public understand and appreciate this. People with poltical agendas are sometimes reluctant to acknowledge this.

  8. Lew on May 9th, 2009 at 13:33

    Neil,

    I think you’ll find that that image problem is confined to a very small group of people.

    I don’t, and it’s not just `lefty radicals’. I get this impression from talking to actual policemen who’ve noticed higher levels of distrust from the general public, and who put it down to a number of recent issues. Here are a few recent issues off the top of my head:

    * The wingnut conspiracy theories about political corruption in the police, and allegations that the police are soft since they’re run by people like Howard Broad and Lynn Provost instead of people like Clint Rickards.
    * The Rickards affair.
    * The Urewera Terror raids.
    * The failure to move more quickly in the Navtej Singh case.
    * The decision to charge Greg Carvell for shooting a man trying to hold up his gun shop and Virender Singh for beating youths trying to rob his liquor store.
    * Revelations that the police have been deploying resources and paying informants to spy on lefty radicals instead of doing their core tasks properly.

    There are others, but you get my point.

    You generally put the “left-wing radicles get a hard time” argument in reasonably terms but here you’re making generalisations about the gerneal public based on a small sample size.

    I don’t represent a `left wing radical’ position; I’m a sensible moderate. See the about page :)

    L

  9. Ethical Martini on May 9th, 2009 at 18:05

    The political spin on this is just as Lew describes it.
    More power for the police; marijuana and guns=deadly combination that requires cops to have same firepower, etc.
    Unfortunately, the news media, by and large, falls into the trap of buying into this agenda uncritically (viz the Stuff poll on police powers).
    It contributes to moral panic – we’re all in imminent danger and only the STATE can save us.
    The news media in this instance fell into a frenzy of chasing rumours and ratings, thus they are not able to stand back with a critical and reflective position.
    It boils down to one thing: What drives eyeballs to our network, website etc?
    The easy answer is sensationalism. Unfortunately, there is something about being first to know the rumour – as opposed to the facts – that ignites the human imagination.
    It is also easy to go “Yeah, why don’t the cops just shoot this MoFo…”, rather than actually deal with the complexities of the issues.
    For journos, it’s easier to chase the next sound bite – family member, friend who hasn’t seen the perp for weeks, if not years – rather than take a deep breath and look at the bigger picture.
    Better to go with the “Rambo” image, than talk about Jan Molenaar as a wounded soul.

  10. BeShakey on May 10th, 2009 at 13:03

    Unsurprisingly ‘the world is turning to hell’ line didn’t take long to come out (eg “Napier shooting: Three police killed in a year brings NZ on par with US” from the Herald).

    Presumably this is on a per-capita basis. No mention in the article of the fact that this isn’t the worst (or even second worst) year on record. Or of the fact that the two years where four officers have been killed (1941 and 1963) are both ‘the good old days’, and times when we had a much lower population. Really this should be seen for what it is – a tragic blip.

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