Hearing no evil

A few days before the November 26 general election, TV3 aired Bryan Bruce’s documentary Inside Child Poverty, and I posted on the depressingly predictable response of the usual right-wing subjects.

And now NZ On Air board member Stephen McElrea (who, in Tom Frewen’s marvellously dry turn of phrase, “also happens to be John Key’s electorate chairman and the National Party’s northern region deputy chairman”) has used his dual position of authority to demand answers from the funding body and, simultaneously, make implicit but forceful statements about what constitutes “appropriate” policy material for such a funding body to support.

There has been some outrage on the tweets about the obvious propaganda imperative here — agenda-control is pretty crucial to a government, never more so than during election campaigns — and I agree with Sav that this shows a need for NZOA to be more independent, more clearly decoupled from the government, not less so. Stephen McElrea, after all, is not simply a disinterested member of a crown funding agency — he is a Key-government appointee to the NZOA board, a political actor in his own right, and has a history of advocating for broadcasting policies curiously similar to those being enacted by the present government, such as in a 2006 column titled “Scrap the charter and get TVNZ back to business”.

I may write more about this as it develops, although it seems likely that the ground will be better covered by people much more qualified than I am. But what I will do is return to my initial point, to wit:

a documentary about child poverty, covering the appalling housing, health and nutritional outcomes borne by children in our society, and the immediate response is to launch a ideological defence of the National party and deride the work as nothing but partisan propaganda. … I haven’t heard a peep out of National about what they plan to do about the problems since it aired. Isn’t it more telling that National and its proxies immediately and reflexively go on the defensive, rather than acknowledging the problems of child poverty and renewing its commitment to resolving them?

I still haven’t heard that peep. Given the fact that the National party leader feels at liberty to dismiss attempts by David Shearer and others to make child poverty alleviation a matter of bipartisan consensus, and that a senior National party official so close to the leader feels at liberty to throw his weight around in this professional capacity, I rather despair of hearing it.


10 thoughts on “Hearing no evil

  1. A classic “move along, nothing to see here” scenario, as if there’s a law against frowning.

    Citizen Key had a bit of a Simon Walker moment with the BBC’s Stephen Sackur, and the Teapot Tapes clearly rattled him. When vampires get forcibly exposed to sunlight, they behave very strangely indeed.

    And to lighten up the mood in a darkly funny way (from my own blog)…

    A Modest Proposal Indeed

  2. Various NZoA people have said that they are concerned that NZoA should have no role in editorial decisions (very properly), but then seem concerned to make sure that editors publish at a time considered OK by NZoA!

    Surely deciding WHEN to publish is as much an editorial decision as deciding WHAT to publish?

    And if NZoA people think one of those should not be meddled with (I think they have said as much), then how can they legitimately think the other should be?

  3. Pingback: Fear and loathing in the Fascist State of New Zealand « Frankly Speaking…

  4. Hmm, they’ve agreed to set up a (ministerial?) committee on poverty with Te Maori party.

    This means either:
    (a) they acknowledge poverty exists and it deserves to be looked into
    (b) they don’t give a figs but are happy to appease their partners in government.

    So they have sort of made a bi-party commitment to at least look into the issue.

    (Will probably conclude it is a bad thing and that the way out of poverty is work and the way to get more people into work is incentivise them by making welfare harder to get, but there you go…)

  5. It strikes me that Mr. McElrea’s method of appointment to the Board and his attitude towards public broadcasting is more appropriate for the Iraqi or Zimbabwean political contexts than that of NZ.

  6. hmmm… bullying and siccing the police on impertinent journalists, party inserting itself into government structures, attempts to censor inconvenient stories at sensitive times… seems to me the Nats are taking a few too many leaves out of the Chinese Communist Party media playbook. This has to be stopped.

  7. With the revelations of EQC, my analogy about vampires and sunlight is all the more valid. Air the dirty laundry, and the Rove-esque Stepford gloss suddenly peels off.

  8. Come on, fair’s fair. They have set up this wonderful poverty committee thingo with the Maori Party, so it’s bound to deliver, just like the prestigious billion-dollar Wnanau Ora intitiative which after three years is cut back to 130 mill of re-directed money and is almost – very nearly – at the stage of sort-of defining roughly what they might possibly do sometime in the future….apparently.

  9. I posed a question to NZ On Air, via their Facebook page,

    “Interesting story today, regarding TV3’s airing of the doco, “Inside Child Poverty”. Will NZ on Air be pursuing full control over when documentaries may or may not be broadcast?” – January 18 at 7:13pm

    They responded,

    “Hi Frank. In short, no.” – January 25 at 2:13pm

    Good to know!

    Now if only Stephen McElrea stepped down, I could claim “mission accomplished” and return to the Mothership…

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