Archive for ‘Propaganda’ Category

Reading between the choices of spin

datePosted on 16:01, June 18th, 2009 by Anita

When National leaked and then announced the home insulation fund they had a choice about how to spin it. I can easily think of four options they had (I’m sure there are others):

  1. Environmental/climate-change: home insulation reduces energy consumption, thus reducing the amount of generation required, thus reducing the use of thermal generation (read thermal as burning stuff :) which in turn reduces CO2 emissions which in turn reduces the effects of climate change. 
  2. Environmental/sustainability/primary-production/innovation: NZ businesses are doing some really interesting work in sustainable home insulation using NZ’s primary products rather than imports. A nice photo op with a company making home insulation from wool and voilà, the story is about innovation, sustainability and government support for agriculture and primary production in a recession.
  3. Health/education/social-development: Insulated warm dry homes improve family health and child education outcomes by reducing sickness and deafness. Photo op: Minister visits family in recently insulated home, since insulation went in the kids are much more healthy and doing much better at school, little Moana might even trundle over to the Minister with a picture book and read it to him. PR gold – government cares for families and kiddies!
  4. Traditional-infrastructure/building sector: Insulating homes means the existing builders, insulators and contractors will have more work and will weather the recession.

National chose option 4 – why? It’s not the best PR option and it’s not the most on message, every other option had clear weathering the recession messages plus something forward looking and visionary. Instead they chose the staid dull message which appeals only to the traditional infrastructure industries.

The only explanation I could come up with is that traditional infrastructure is where National’s traditional funders and backers have come from, perhaps they wasted a golden opportunity for positive spin for a little old fashioned pay back?

This post was, in part, inspired by Zetetic’s post about National’s current lack of attention to the concerns of female voters. A couple of  their options would’ve been great options if they cared about women voters, instead they chose the spin best suited for the Fletcher Building board.

Chosŏn Realism

datePosted on 12:37, May 28th, 2009 by Lew

(This and the last are posts I’ve been meaning to put up all week, having been prevented by a migraine and a deadline.)

This week seems an opportune time to link to a small but superb collection of North Korean propaganda posters reproduced (with two brief and fascinating contextual notes) from David Heather and Koen de Ceuster’s book North Korean Posters.

ess_north_korean_39
(“Let’s extensively raise goats in all families!”)

Discussion of the second test in the media has cast a great deal of heat and not very much light on the issues at stake, including one alarming statement in the NZ media by Tim Beal of Victoria University that the USA could defeat the DPRK militarily “without losing a single soldier” (audio), which runs contra to the understanding of the situation I had when I lived there. My understanding, admittedly mostly from pub discussions with officers in the South Korean and US defence establishment, was that the reason there’s a stalemate is a sort of mutually assured destruction, because while the forces in the South clearly have the strategic advantage, the DPRK has an unknown but very large number of well-protected and hidden artillery pieces and conventional rockets in the mountains just north of the border, within easy range of Seoul, and the few dozen hours it might take to destroy them all could result in catastrophic loss of life and infrastructure in that very densely-populated city.

Tough call.

L

Memo to the left: the māori party is not your enemy

datePosted on 15:59, May 16th, 2009 by Lew

Eddie at The Standard has posted the latest in a long line of post-election attacks on the māori party, this time for Tariana Turia criticising Labour’s filibuster against the supercity bill. Leaving aside the fact that I disagree with Tariana’s remarks on the filibuster, this attack is typical in that it picks up some specific decision and applies a convenient ideological misinterpretation of its purpose and likely consequences to prove the existence of a traitorous conspiracy against Māori, the working class, the broader left, freedom, truth, justice, motherhood and apple pie. The Standard is far from being alone in this – others on the left resort to this tactic, and the the original and most egregious example of the form is Chris Trotter’s rabid “Kupapa” attack on Tariana Turia (which doesn’t seem to be online but was helpfully reproduced in full by DPF).

There are good grounds upon which to criticise the māori party, but engaging with the government in good faith and using their independence to progress their agenda, however incompletely, isn’t one. Or to put it another way, it’s reasonable to criticise them on the success or failure of their programme, but not for having a programme at all. Having been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea the māori party decided that the devil needed to be taken at his word for once, and at this point their good relationship with National is all that stands between us and a National/ACT government with a clear mandate to enact precisely the sort of jack-booted majoritarian agenda against which Labour and the Greens are now filibustering. The decision to work with National was a risky one, and if that risk doesn’t pay off they will be sorely punished by their electorate. Labour supporters seem intent on undermining the relationship in order to regain the political allegiance of Māori, and that’s a very big risk. They are also intent on undermining the Greens’ more recent relationship with National, thereby undermining what few progressive options exist for this term. Just because Labour has to sit out the coming three years doesn’t mean others on the left must do so – or even that they should, because every progressive voice involved in the governmental process has a moderating effect on what would otherwise be a very ideologically homogeneous group. The māori party isn’t strictly a left party but it remains a potential ally which Labour alienates at its peril.

If it is to be a credible force, progressive politics in this country should be about more than the kind of `my party, right or wrong’ partisan blindness that these sorts of attacks suggest, and which Trotter’s columns make explicit. The greatest weakness historically faced by progressive movements is their fractiousness in the face of a united opposition movement who are just as strongly factionalised but are prepared to put their individual differences on hold in service of common goals. The greatest strength of progressive movements is their independence and tactical diversity, but this is only of value when that diversity is allowed to stand, rather than being cut down if it does not conform. The left must be as politically inclusive as the society it wishes to create. Howling denunciations and ostracising those who disagree plays directly into the hands of the massed forces opposite.

The impression given by attacks like this is that Labour want three disastrous years, so they’ll have an easier time regaining the treasury benches in 2011. I hope, for all of our sakes, that they have a Plan B.

L

Kissing babies

datePosted on 10:59, May 15th, 2009 by Lew

… or in this case, trying to brainwash them. Ali Ikram’s Political Week in Review includes a clip of John Key at a rally against the Waterview decision telling a wee kid in a stylish National-Blue jersey with ACT-Yellow shoulder pads:

Your favourite colour is blue, ok? Not red. Those people, they’re cold and desperate.

Now, he’s clearly hamming it up for the camera crew and present adults, but this is nasty, divisive stuff. Leave the kids out of it, at least until they’re old enough to know that you can’t always believe what strange men tell you.

This isn’t quite as outrageous as those parents who took their hapless kids along to protest in favour of violence against children, but it’s more evidence against the moderate, inclusive Brand Key.

(Thanks to D for the tipoff.)

L

Shame on who?

datePosted on 15:07, April 2nd, 2009 by Lew

This image is attached to the Stuff story on the death of a protester during the G20 protests in London:

shame-crop

(Screenshot)

I know I’m not alone in noticing that since Stuff remodeled itself on the SMH that they’ve cranked up the alarm-o-meter somewhat, and this is an excellent example. A few facts are clear from the linked story, and a rudimentary bit of reading around reflects some others, to wit:

  1. The person who died during the protest was a man, not a pretty woman who happened to pose for the camera at the time. The shot was chosen purely because it’s a good image.
  2. The man apparently died of natural causes, not a bleeding head wound.
  3. The unstated `you’ in the headline of this image is the riot police. However the man who died was not killed by police or as any consequence of violence in the protest; in fact, protesters pelted police with bottles as they tried to resuscitate him.

This should serve as one more bit of evidence that the media are not intrinsically biased for or against anyone in particular – they follow the story, and in some cases they lead it, for their own purposes rather than those of their masters in transnational capital.

Edit: My mum points out that the composition evokes Brian Brake’s famous Monsoon Girl.

Edit 20090408: Commenter Rich has linked to footage of police attacking Ian Tomlinson just before he died, here. If it’s real and legitimate, and there’s no reason to assume it isn’t, then it more or less invalidates my objections 2 and 3 above. Objection 1 stands, for what little that’s worth.

L

`progress’ in Afghanistan

datePosted on 18:12, March 10th, 2009 by Lew

deadafghani

WikiLeaks has published four internal NATO briefing documents pertaining to the war in Afghanistan – including the Master Narrative which sets out the operational and strategic and symbolic parameters which guide ISAF’s media posture.

This guidance document is designed to assist all those who play a part in explaining the situation in Afghanistan and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission, but especially those who deal with the media.

You can get the documents here. Interesting and revealing stuff but possibly more mundane than you might expect. If I get time over the next few days I’ll post a few observations (and if anyone else wants to do so, be my guest). In an epic security fail, the documents were distributed using Microsoft SharePoint, and protected with the absurd password `progress’.

What significance the image of an ISAF sniper posing with the corpse of an Afghan, you ask? This is the amazingly political choice of image on the WikiLeaks editorial which announced this particular leak – saying it’s misleading doesn’t go far enough, it’s an outrageous association to make. But it’s also the polar opposite of the media agenda which these ISAF documents explicate, and in that regard it’s a crafty bit of work.

(Via Bruce Schneier.)

L

`Iwi tax’ propaganda fail

datePosted on 09:13, March 10th, 2009 by Lew

Despite Fairfax papers the Dominion Post and the Waikato Times cheerfully running their “iwi tax” racist propaganda line, eel fishermen working (or not working, presently) in Lake Ellesmere/Te Waihora now claim in The Press it’s nothing to do with race:

“It’s not a Maori-Pakeha issue, but a bullying corporation treating some small people badly.”

That’s Clem Smith, the same person to whom the `iwi tax’ line was attributed a few days ago. What appears to have happened is that their `iwi tax’ line didn’t get as much traction as they expected – even the normally-rabid comments section on the original article was fairly split between the rednecks and the propertarians – and a Ngāi Tahu former Treaty negotiator came out in their defence, making their anti-Māori position somewhat untenable.

Still, it’s good that they’ve backed down. I still believe the levy is a legitimate means of raising revenue to clean up the waterway, but I also agree with Rik Tau’s argument in principle that Ngāi Tahu ought to act within the spirit of the agreement rather than exploiting it strictly to the letter. The fundamental problem in Māori-Pākehā relations isn’t a lack of agreements, it’s a lack of goodwill in their implementation. Including the first one – the Treaty.

L

`Iwi Tax’ – top-drawer race propaganda

datePosted on 11:12, March 6th, 2009 by Lew

Hard on the heels of my article about giving the overworked minions of the Corporate News Machine ready fodder to work with, The Dominion Post this morning proves my case by running ready-made racist propaganda soundbites from the fisheries industry.

The linked article makes it quite explicit that the fee levied by Ngāi Tahu is nothing to do with them being Māori and the fishermen being Pākehā – it’s to do with them being the owners of a resource which they (as owners) consider to be in need of investment. Their business model is to extract a rent from that resource, and they have decided to raise that rent by constraining commercial access to those who are prepared to support continued investment in the resource by paying a commercial use levy. This is no different in principle than the Transit Agency increasing road-user charges to increase investment in roads, or from a landowner charging higher fees for Fonterra producer-shareholders to graze his property because he wants to adhere to the Clean Streams Accord (and that costs money), or from a resort owner increasing his fees in order to improve the quality of the accommodation.

The fisherfolk and their lobby group the Seafood Industry Council are not trying to play on the economic issues, because they know they have no case. So they’re playing this on symbolic issues – the (coincidental) facts that the product of the lake (tuna) is a Ngāi Tahu tāonga, and the fact that Ngāi Tahu are Māori, they (the commercial fishermen) are (I assume) Pākehā, and the ownership of the lakebed is the result of a Treaty settlement. None of these facts are actually relevant to the case in point – there’s no evidence that there is any discrimination, and it doesn’t matter by what legitimate means the owners acquired control of the resource. Just because it’s the result of a Treaty settlement doesn’t mean they somehow have less right to extract rents from it. So Ngāi Tahu’s case seems invulnerable on material grounds, but it is vulnerable on symbolic grounds. The commercial interests here are cynically trying to leverage the undercurrent of anti-Māori-development racism, pushing the Iwi/Kiwi button in service of their legally invalid cause.

It’s not an `iwi tax’ – it’s a `conservation levy’, and only payable by commercial users. They can’t come out and declare themselves anti-conservation, but it seems that in NZ it’s just fine for them to come out and declare themselves anti-iwi.

L

A useful press release generator, or three

datePosted on 22:32, March 5th, 2009 by Lew

DPF’s post mentioning MediaCom, which allows you to get/send press releases via NZPA feed, reminded me of this, which I’ve been meaning to post for awhile. The reason PR companies need to spam people with press releases is because at a basic level they’re so easy to write that almost any idiot can hack one out in half an hour, and so people do. If you’re someone who relies on them, by the time you’ve read the title and the first three paragraphs in order to figure out whether the press release has anything relevant for you, its writer has already won.

Not to say that writing good press releases is easy – far from it, writing genuinely good press releases is extremely hard; so hard that very few people actually can, and even for those people it can seem futile because nobody knows whether your press release is any better than all the rest of the guff which is clogging their intertubes until they’ve read the title and the first three paragraphs. If you’re a CommsTart,* this is a very important skill, however, because by writing good press releases you give the overworked, underpaid minions of the Corporate News Machine a labour-saving device, and if you can consistently write to spec they will gladly shortlist your releases for pre-publication, sight unseen, because they don’t have time to read the title and the first three paragraphs because … well …

That stuff in them there press releases ends up in your media. I don’t have it to hand (Kate, can I have it back?), but I seem to recall that very thorough Cardiff University research commissioned by Nick Davies’ for his excellent book Flat Earth News found that no more than 12% of articles published in major British papers were entirely free from material published by someone’s PR department or agency. In my work as a media analyst, if I actually want to find out about a major issue I go to Scoop and try to triangulate the facts from everyone’s press releases before I bother with the actual end-user media outlets. It’s rare they can tell me something the stakeholders’ CommsTarts haven’t already.

These facts – it’s easy to do badly, hard to do well, indispensable and ubiquitous – are not lost upon the wags of the media world, who have taken delight in lampooning this most cherished aspect of their craft. There are lots of press release generators out there. Most are good for a black bit of fun – this by one of our few remaining satirists Lyndon Hood only deals with the the one topic of child abuse, but it has good bones.

For the 80th birthday of AdNews, the Sydney office of Clemenger BBDO made this handy visual self-congratulatory press release generator:
adnews80thclem
(From commercial-archive.com.)
They know their stuff: this remains one of the best ways of quickly and efficiently putting together a quality press release – chop all the information up into bits of paper and arrange it so it flows, with just (barely) enough glue to keep people reading. Remember: the title and three paragraphs, and you win.

If you want industrial-strength, this one is made of much sterner stuff. Written by a computer programmer back in the Nineties and endlessly hacked on since, it and its variations will generate a dense blob of impressive verbiage – Bush-speak, web jargon, whatever you want. If fed the right source material, it would probably generate a halfway-competent press release.

It goes the other way, too – David Slack, in homage to George Orwell and Christopher Ketcham, created a DuckSpeak Translator which, if fed media-ready prose, would deliver you a lot of QUACKs and perhaps (if you were very fortunate or the author was very clever) a few actual words and even an idea. The DuckSpeak Translator is sadly no more, brought to its knees by the fact that David allowed any old idiot to add phrases to its vocabulary, so that by the time I got to using it sometime in 2006 it was so thoroughly clogged that you could put anything in and get nothing back but quacks – which may have been the intention after all. I think the project should be revived with a clean database, and phrases only admitted to its vocabulary if they have been taken cleanly from some rich source of such matter – such as the Hansard, or press releases. That’d be something worth quacking about.

L

* I use the term in gender-neutral reference to anyone whose work is tarting up their client’s self-interest so it can be mistaken for news.

Edit: Heh, the `or three’ on the end of the title was an afterthought added without reference to the previous post, which also contains it :)

Montage

datePosted on 17:47, March 3rd, 2009 by Lew

As a dedicated media geek, I wake up each morning to New Zealand’s broadcast news of record – the masterful Geoff Robinson, the muscular Sean Plunket, and the metronomically-consistent Nicola Wright on Radio NZ National’s Morning Report. These three I consider to be among the top talent in the NZ media industry, and we are fortunate to have them.

I also have a lot of time for Checkpoint‘s Mary Wilson – not quite so obdurate as Sean Plunket, but with as little patience for prevarication. It seems the producer who put together the advertising frob for Checkpoint which aired between the sport and weather segments of yesterday’s 0600 bulletin also has a good ear. You can listen to it here, but I’ve transcribed the good bits:

First speaker: We are not a country of whiners, we are not a country of slackers and we are not a country of selfish individuals. We are a gritty little country with the smarts and determination needed to weather this storm.

(Mary Wilson introduces Checkpoint)

Second speaker: You feel as though you’ve been marched out with a blindfold on and tied up to a pole, and your own army is there as the firing squad.

Now, neither of the speakers either side of Wilson is identified. That’s an important point – the first speaker is immediately recognisable as John Key, and his words are clearly to do with the recession and economically troubled times ahead (in fact, from his opening speech at the Job Summit); a bold bit of chin-up-what-what jingoism. Even if you don’t know who the second speaker was or what he’s talking about, his statement is so strongly worded and his tone so far removed from Key’s that they jar in relation to one another; and although the statements are topically different, their contrast and proximity to one another implies a relationship. Although they’re not obviously linked, a listener (in principle) goes away associating John Key’s upbeat jingoism with one’s own army as the firing squad – a hugely disturbing mental picture if you care to think about it. This is an example of the semiotic technique of associative montage, perfected by Soviet filmmakers, where parts of a text are contextualised and given affective weight by their relationship to other parts of the text (in this case, audio; in the classical case, still or moving images on film).

Because I failed to listen to Checkpoint last week when the story about the Army raincoats was in the news, it took a bit of research to find out it was Davey Hughes of Swazi who said the second bit. And it turns out that there is a link between the statements – but not the link you might expect; a real army but a metaphorical firing squad, and nothing to do with John Key. As a matter of reality, the government isn’t in a position to force the NZDF to choose one supplier over another mid-term, and to do so would set a dangerous precedent and open the government up to well-justified allegations of protectionism.*

Not that this makes any difference to the message as received by a naïve listener to this piece. Montage, like other semiotic grammars but perhaps to a greater extent because we’re unused to it, transmits its meaning subconsciously. Actual rational reality doesn’t necessarily get a look in. Now, I’m not arguing that there’s a wily frob-producer at NatRad who’s employing Soviet montage techniques to propagandise John Key in the minds of loyal public-service broadcasting listeners, though I suppose if you were especially paranoid you could argue that airing it at wake o’clock in the morning makes it easier to prey upon the weakened rationality of the half-asleep.

This is the stuff of which peoples’ impressions are made – people have a feeling about a leader, they can’t quite put a finger on it and haven’t necessarily given it any serious thought, but nevertheless it’s their opinion and they cling to it. Despite Labour’s technically excellent but somewhat nasty `Mary’ ads in the dying days before the election, there seem to be very few such impressions of John Key. But he’s a leader going into a long term of economic downturn, and he can look forward to more such as this.

L

* You could argue that the NZDF should choose NZ-made gear – and the All Blacks should use Canterbury rather than adidas – but the fact is that Key can’t simply make it so.

123... 78910PreviousNext