This brief report from Radio Waatea brings into crispish focus a few issues regarding the māori party’s support for the new Marine & Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill, and perceived collaboration with the National-led government against its constituents’ own interests:

Sharples upset at Maori Media Ingratitude
Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples says he’s disappointed at the heat coming on him from the Maori media over the Marine and Coastal Area Bill.
Criticism of the bill by iwi such as Ngai Tahu and Ngati Kahungunu and from Taitokerau MP Hone Harawira has been extensively reported.
But Dr Sharples says it’s better than the existing Foreshore and Seabed Act, and the Maori media should reflect that.
“They forget we’re there on their side to do stuff for them. Instead of sort of helping us knock down the barriers, they try to knock us down as the barrier. And yet without as it were the initiation of us in there, there would be no efforts at all and in the context of past Maoris in government, we have really achieved outstanding results,” he says.
Dr Sharples says the Maori Party hasn’t got enough credit the whanau ora welfare delivery model and for his rehabilitation units in prisons, which will open next year.

Sharples is right in several important respects. The role the māori party party has played in getting take Māori and tino rangatiratanga on the government agenda has been crucial. The māori party really does have a unique claim to an “authentic” kaupapa Māori politics, and this should make Māori media such as Waatea, Māori Television and TVNZ’s Māori programming division (which produces Te Karere and Marae) should be strongly sympathetic towards their policy programmes. Should, I say, if the end policy result was seen to be consistent with those kaupapa.

But these agencies do not owe the māori party any favours. As media outlets their job is not to shill for a party line but to present a considered view of current events in context, and by reporting the deep dissatisfaction within Māoridom regarding the MCA bill they are doing just that. Māori media have generally shown a strong commitment to independence and impartiality — which is a particularly tricky thing to do given their cultural focus — and their coverage of the māori party’s policy platform is simply an extension of that commitment. Long may it continue, and would that it were more broadly shared.

What this episode really illustrates is the extent to which the māori party is isolated from its support structures with regard to its position on the MCA bill. Just as the party has failed to persuade its own constituency, and indeed its own caucus, that the MCA bill is worth supporting, it has failed to persuade the only media establishment which might be sympathetic to its cause as to the merits of that cause. All this illustrates one of two things: either the party is way off base; the strategy of supporting the bill is bad for Māori and Māori know it; or that the strategy of supporting the bill is actually a great deal better than anyone knows, but the party has largely failed to articulate this.

I know which I’m tending toward, and I invite readers to argue their case. But no matter which you believe, I think it’s clear that attacking the media is neither a mature nor a useful response. Successful actors in modern democracy lead the media, like they lead their electors — in the knowledge that both must follow willingly, by consent (however grudging), or not at all. If, as a politician, you ever find yourself running a sustained campaign of trying to shove either the media or your constituents in a certain direction against their will, berating or harassing or whipping them for their stupidity or intransigence or for simply failing to follow instructions — then you have very probably already failed.


27 thoughts on “Isolated

  1. I’m not sure, Lew, whether or not you have a lot of “hands on” experience of the news media, but having grown up in a media household (my Dad was a television producer) and having worked both with, and in, the news media for 30 years, I have to say: “It just don’t work that way!”

    The news media has a political agenda of its own. If what your political party stands for fits that agenda, you will prosper. If it doesn’t – you won’t.

    This is most true of those media organisations which are dependent upon advertising revenue, and least true of publicly-funded media like the Maori Television Service and Radio New Zealand. But, even in the latter organisations, there is always the unspoken threat of state funding withdrawal to prevent independent journalistic inquiry being given too free a rein.

    There’s nothing new in this. The NZ author, Robin Hyde, recalled her induction at the NZ Herald back in the 1920s, when the Chief Reporter told her that reporting anything positive about the Labour Party was a sacking offence.

    The only reason Labour was able to survive the unrelenting hostility of the print media and win the 1935 General Election was because it had grown, by the mid-1930s, into a genuine mass party with its own, independent, channels of communication. That, and the support of 1ZB’s “Uncle Scrim”.

    Nor was ‘The Herald’s’ blatant bias peculiar to NZ. David Halberstam, in his revealing study of the US media, “The Powers That Be”, recounts the following story:

    “In 1934, Turner Catledge, then a young political reporter for ‘The New York Times’, went out to the West Coast to do a story on Upton Sinclair and his radical political movement. Sinclair was running for governor in a passionate and heated campaign against Frank Merriman, the Republican candidate. Catledge picked up ‘The Los Angeles Times’ after he arrived, looking for news of Sinclair. There was none. He thereupon looked for a schedule for Sinclair so he could at least find out where the candidate was speaking and perhaps drive out to hear him. He found none. All he could find about Sinclair was a story saying that Sinclair was attacking the Bible and was un-Christian. That night Catledge went out to dinner with the ‘Times’ chief political correspondent, Kyle Palmer, and, still wanting to cover some Sinclair rallies, asked Palmer where Sinclair was speaking. Kyle who was very charming replied, ‘Turner, forget it. We don’t go in for that kind of crap that you have back in New York of being obliged to print both sides. We’re going to beat this son of a bitch Sinclair any way we can. We’re going to kill him.’ Which they did.”

    And you thought it all started with Fox News!

    As recently as a few months ago, a colleague told me about an exciting television project which had, after jumping through all the bureaucratic hoops, finally made its the way to the top of one of the major television networks, only to be told that it would not, after all, be proceeding “because it could hurt the Government”.

    Successful political “actors” don’t “lead” the news media, Lew, they merely read the script the news media gives them.

    If you don’t grasp that basic truth about modern politics, then you’re never going to fully understand what’s going on.

  2. A pretty good argument, Chris, and one with which I’m very familiar — but I disagree. And I certainly disagree that it’s a “basic truth”. I certainly don’t think it started with Fox News.

    The “basic truth”, as I see it, of the dynamic you describe is not a strictly hierarchical, unidirectional relationship between political and media agents but a feedback loop — both politics and the media lead and follow each other, with varying emphasis. In my experience many people working at the political coal face have an inflated view of the media’s influence and many of those in the media tend to overemphasise political actors’ media influence (though occasionally you get a megalomaniac like Murdoch or Hearst or Peters who sees it the opposite way). Moreover, partisans on either side tend to see “the media” as a unified whole; an entity with a single “political agenda” which provides everyone with a “script”. With due respect to you and to Mr Trotter Sr, I just don’t accept it’s that simple.

    I do agree entirely about the importance of a robust non-commercial media apparatus, and the susceptibility of commercial ad-driven media agencies to play the tunes their pipers call. I have a great deal of time in particular for Chomsky’s (& Herman’s) notion of manufactured consent (though I believe he draws many overlong bows in his book of the same name, the opening chapter ought to be required reading). So I am sympathetic to much of your argument, but I don’t buy it as a whole explanation. In particular, I’m disinclined to put down to ideological malice what can be adequately explained by deep, systemic flaws within the media industry apparatus (best documented recently by Nick Davies in his Flat Earth News).

    For what it’s worth, a large part of my work — “hands on”, as it were — is in helping folk here and abroad, particularly in government agencies but also in corporates and nonprofits — make sense of how this dynamic operates, and by extension help them to tune their actions and agendas and so on to use the system to their best advantage. So, once again, Chris, the disjunction between us here isn’t a matter of my not understanding the subject — it’s a matter of disagreeing about it.


  3. “For what it’s worth, a large part of my work — ‘hands on’, as it were — is in helping folk here and abroad, particularly in government agencies but also in corporates and nonprofits — make sense of how this dynamic operates, and by extension help them to tune their actions and agendas and so on to use the system to their best advantage.”

    Is that a polite description of public relations, Lew?

  4. “Media Intelligence” – what, like “Military Intelligence”?

    Using skills and information your opponents would rather you didn’t have, while spreading disinformation you’d really like them to use, in order to outwit and/or defeat them?

    Hmmmm, sounds uncannily like Public Relations to me ;-)

  5. Well, Chris, I suppose you’ll just have to take my word that it’s not nearly as glamorous as all that.

    Care to comment on the issue raised in the post? I’d have thought it an argument you’d be drawn to, even if only to congratulate me for finally reaching the conclusion which was bleeding obvious all along.


  6. “…the only media establishment which might be sympathetic to its cause…”

    The only. Might be.

    I’d say that’s a pretty clear admission right there, Lew, that Chris’s view is pretty well spot on – and one, incidentally, to which I could add my own wee bucket of anecdotes from the front line. The only “feedback loop” I see is the rare bone occasionaly thrown leftward to maintain the facade of impartiality required for “manufactured consent”, and there’s precious little meat on it.

  7. ak, not at all.

    The māori party speaks to a tiny constituency with a very particular set of perspectives and policy needs. Despite being within government, they’re by no means a mainstream political party. Their foundations — the basis for their actions and their mode of discourse — are alien to the established media ecology; they work to different rules, and and as such the conventional media and political actors simply don’t get them. Or, to put a finer point on it, they only get them if they can “map” their actions and motivations to an existing ideological template — and so we end up with the “Hori Tories” narrative which is a poor fit at best; and as I wrote last week, we have Hone Harawira, Annette Sykes and Moana Jackson shoehorned into the “radical leftist hero” box by people searching desperately for a story which suits their agenda. And so it goes.

    The lack of support in the media establishment for the māori party is largely not an ideological thing, it’s a cultural thing. And while that’s not true of the Māori media; their lack of support in cases like this is not really down to systemic ideological reasons — after all, most of those I named above respond to the same sorts of marketing/advertising imperatives as the conventional media.


  8. “[T]une their actions and agendas” – right there, Lew, right there is where the slippery slope to perdition begins.

    Tune them to what? The frequency of POWER-Fm, owned and operated by Free Market Capitalism Ltd?

    I think you’ve proved my case for me.

  9. Chris, no.

    For one thing, the two broadest-circulation mainstream news programmes in NZ — Morning Report and One News, which account for well over 50% of the news audience in their respective timeslots — both air on state-owned broadcasters who are required to adhere to a public service broadcast model. Of course this doesn’t mean they’re perfect, but they’re not really subject to your primary critique, which is that advertising corrupts news beyond the point of ideological usefulness by its simple existence.

    For another, I think that critique is simplistic and generally used as a crutch by people who have a beef with capitalism in general, but who aren’t willing to accept or critically examine the political left’s failure to adapt to the realities of the media and political environment in which they must exist. It’s an easy cop-out target to blame the capitalists, but ultimately useless when a successful political movement will find ways to thrive — both by developing its own channels, and by learning to operate within those which exist. This is not to say that the red carpet is rolled out — of course, you need to fight to get your message across. But it is usually possible to get it across. The old saying that capitalists will sell you the rope to hang them should be particularly resonant with you, Chris, since they’ve been paying you to measure out that rope for so long.


  10. Lew, If you are a unionist or left winger worth your salt then one day you’ll challenge the political status quo in a meaningful way. Then you’ll get a taste of what it is really all about. Until that day, no amount of telling you is going to convince of or prepare you for the shock you are going to get.

  11. Ah, Lew, if only you knew how TVNZ operates!

    If only you had been privy to the behind-the-scenes manipulation of public opinion engaged in by our chartered “public broadcaster” in the run up to the 2008 election.

    And you forget, I think, Lew, that I was one of those who helped to launch the NewLabour Party in 1989 – so I know a little bit about trying to “tune” an organisation’s “actions and agendas” to the requirements of the mainstream media.

    Shall I tell you what a senior journalist working for one of our major daily newspapers told me when I went to see him about his paper’s failure to carry any of the NLP’s press releases?

    He said: “I’m sorry, Chris, but in our judgement the NLP is a fringe party without the slightest chance of winning a seat – so we’re not giving it any space in our columns.”

    ‘Well, that’s true”, I replied, “but if your paper never prints anything the NLP sends you, what chance has it got of ever becoming more than a fringe party?”

    He just smiled. So I changed tack.

    “Okay then, at what point would the NLP cease to be a fringe party? At 5 percent support? At 10 percent? When would you consider its statements worthy of space in your paper?”

    He stroked his chin for a second or two.

    “If you were polling above 10 percent, I think we’d pay more attention.”

    “But we’re polling between 6 and 7 percent now. If you were to publish our releases that number could well rise to 10 percent – but you won’t, so we won’t.”

    Once again, he smiled.

    “Have you ever read ‘Catch 22’?” I asked him.

    “Oh yes”, he said, grinning broadly, “it’s one of my favourite books.”

  12. A great anecdote, Chris, and one I’ve heard many times in various forms. As I say — there’s never a guarantee it will be easy, but none of this changes the fact that there are other ways of getting into print. And with respect, upbraiding individual journalists about editorial decisions is rarely a winning strategy. Matt McCarten seems to have hit upon something, though.


  13. The leftier-than-thou no-true-Scotsman concern troll is as much as I’ve come to expect from you, Tom.


  14. On thread for a moment I support the first suggestion in para 4
    “bad for Māori”. There was a situation at Taipa yesterday where Ngati Kahu were tresspassed off their own land! by cops egged on by a right wing Mayor. It is acknowledged in the Muriwhenua report 1997 and Waitangi tribunal hearings that title was never properly extinguished but various dubious ‘transfers’ to the Far North District Council are allowed to prevail.

    And what the hell, one more anecdote… a green friend of mine visited the editor of the local rag and asked if his 1080 article had been received, “Yes” said the editor pointing to his bottom desk draw, “it’s in there and thats where it will be staying”. Ed. being a notorious tory with allegedly his own key to the local police station.

    Matt and Unite do very well, direct action is all about the timing, not to be overdone and linked into a full strategy. If you have seen one Greenpeace abseiler you have seen them all.

  15. Wasn’t upbraiding the guy, Lew. I’d known him for years. I was just asking and he told me, honestly, what the story was.

    He was by no means at the top of the totem pole, just knew what was expected of him.

    And viv-a-vis Matt, if the roles were somehow reversed, do you think TV3 would have called a right-wing occupation a “stunt” or a “protest”?

    You can force yourself on to the news, Lew – but you can’t control the way it presents you.

  16. Chris, it is a stunt, or a protest, and it’s perfectly reasonable for the media to frame it as such.

    Though I agree that more attention should be on the issue in play — housing affordability and bureaucratic priorities — than the event of the protest itself, which was hardly controversial until the police turned up. But nevertheless: Matt set out to demonstrate the brutality of the present government, and he sure has done so.


  17. In an ideal world, I hope you will agree, Lew, it would not be necessary to occupy an unoccupied state house, risking arrest, in order to persuade the news media to pay some attention to the housing policies of by-election candidates.

    That this is very far from being an ideal world – especially as far as fairness in the mass media is concerned – was kinda my point.

  18. I do agree with all that, yes. But your raising it indicates that we’re arguing at cross-purposes. You’re essentially responding to what might be, or what ought to be, whereas I’m only really interested in talking about what is.

    While I don’t accept that the unfairness you’ve raised is as bad as you make it out to be, I accept that it exists. But politics at the sharp end is not fair. Wishing it were fair, and in particular complaining that it isn’t fair instead of simply getting on and making out as best you can is simply counterproductive. It is possible to make the system work for you; I know because I’ve seen it done. For all its biases and distortions, it is comprehensible and manipulable. So while I sympathise, I don’t have very much time for “the system is biased” sort of complaints. Yeah, it is. So? In order to make it fairer, you need to learn to work within it.


  19. TM, yes, that business up there is ugly; and how short are peoples’ memories for alienation? The fact that this expropriation by stealth — or by inertia — happened almost everywhere in the country in reasonably recent times. In many cases where it has been resisted by peaceful means such as these (Pakaitore, Whenuakite, Te Kuri o Paoa, Takaparawhau, eg) tangata whenua have prevailed, at least to an extent. And yet, every time, it is reported as if it’s a brand new dispute without precedent.


  20. Firstly, to address your most recent comments.

    It is possible to make the system work for you; I know because I’ve seen it done. For all its biases and distortions, it is comprehensible and manipulable. So while I sympathise, I don’t have very much time for “the system is biased” sort of complaints. Yeah, it is. So? In order to make it fairer, you need to learn to work within it.

    It’s ****ing hard work.

    If you want to talk about something serious, it aint going to happen. Get ya tits out, and you’ve a chance. But media agendas in New Zealand are shockingly small, and no discussion of class (to take Tom Semmen’s discussion) will ever occur in overt terms – it will almost always be framed around issues such race or crime in ways that disempower lower classes. Most things are impossible to talk about in the media.

    To wave your hands and say “it’s just how it is” is ridiculous. New Zealand has a state-owned radio-station that fulfils its mandate very well. It also has a state owned television network that fails in its mandate very badly, because of deliberate decisions made by Dr Cullen to prioritise its revenue gathering function over any commitment to quality in public broadcasting. New Zealand once had other state-owned media outlets, and of course has created new ones in the last few years.

    All of which actually proves your original point – those media outlets which have a specific mandate or focus on Maori issues are qualified to comment and analyse these issues, and do so well. Other outlets have no desire to see things in anything other than exceedingly simple terms, because it suits their profit-making agendas – much of their audience has no desire for complexity or positions that challenge their preconceptions.

  21. Pingback: Tweets that mention Kiwipolitico » Blog Archive » Isolated --

  22. If you want to talk about something serious, it aint going to happen. Get ya tits out, and you’ve a chance. But media agendas in New Zealand are shockingly small, and no discussion of class (to take Tom Semmen’s discussion) will ever occur in overt terms – it will almost always be framed around issues such race or crime in ways that disempower lower classes. Most things are impossible to talk about in the media.

    What is this?? An apostrophe in my name????

  23. Ouch. Sorry.

    That is OK. I am actually pretty dark on teh internet grammar Nazi routines. Being a Semmen’s is high on the novelty grammar index though.

  24. Criticism of various Maori media outlets need to be seen in the context that funding for Maori TV’s news and current affairs programming and TVNZ’s Maori programming is currently being reviewed by TPK and TMP, with a view to stopping the perceived double-up in State funding.

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