Written By: - Date published: 11:25 am, June 29th, 2014 - 34 comments
Categories: accountability, david cunliffe, labour, making shit up, Media, news, Politics, spin, uk politics - Tags: bryan gould, Donghua Liu, ed miliband, nz herald
Bryan Gould was a British MP, contender for the British Labour party leaders position, and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Waikato. This article was first offered to the NZ Herald as an opinion piece. For some reason they declined to print it.
The leader of the British Labour Party, Ed Miliband, is undoubtedly competent, and he enjoys the support of his party, but his poll ratings are abysmal – and that is welcome relief to a Conservative-led Coalition government, whose performance in office has been less than stellar and for whom Ed Miliband’s troubles are the only thing going for them.
The overwhelmingly right-wing British press has played a significant role in this scenario. They lose no opportunity to show the Labour leader in a poor light, as witness the media frenzy when Miliband was filmed making a mess of a bacon sandwich during a television interview.
A bacon sandwich? A minor affront to good manners or good taste, you might think, but hardly a hanging offence. But the press knew what they were doing. The episode offered a chance to reinforce an image of incompetence – and a politician, particularly one of Jewish origins, eating a bacon sandwich would offend significant numbers of voters from different religious groupings.
In New Zealand, the episode may occasion a wry smile; we all know that the British press is notoriously biased. Our own press may have their own allegiances but they manage to maintain (don’t they?) a reasonable degree of impartiality in their political reporting.
Which is why there are some disturbing features about the press treatment of the supposed “scandal” (as it is regularly referred to) of Donghua Liu and David Cunliffe. There can be no doubt that this supposed saga was deliberately designed by National Party strategists to do the maximum damage to the Labour leader, and that the bullets they fashioned were duly fired, as they knew they would be, by the national media.
Let us rehearse how the saga developed. A perfectly appropriate letter written by David Cunliffe on behalf of a constituent in 2003 was discovered by National’s Immigration Minister a month or two ago. It was then held back until after David Cunliffe had been lured into denying that he had ever advocated for Donghua Liu – something he had no reason to remember and which a search of his records had failed to reveal. The letter was then released with the intention of showing that Cunliffe, in making that denial, was either a liar or a fool.
That same Donghua Liu then alleged that he had donated over $100,000 to the Labour Party; that allegation had been signalled in advance by the Prime Minister from New York. “There is more to come – wait and see,” he said, and in doing so revealed that he knew that the allegation – true or otherwise – was coming and that he was confident that it would be headlined by the media, as it duly was.
The allegation has, of course, crumbled following proper investigation. But, another day, another headline – this time the shocking revelation that Donghua Liu had given $2000 in 2007 to a Hawkes Bay rowing club whose members included the daughters of a Labour politician.
How is it that this minor gift, an unsubstantiated allegation made by a convicted criminal, and an innocent letter written by a constituency MP doing his job, were magnified to dominate the political agenda for so long? How did the Prime Minister know in advance that a story that had little or no substance would be so useful in damaging the Labour party and in diverting attention from the much more significant story of Maurice Williamson’s , Judith Collins’, and his own links with various Chinese businessmen?
And how can the media as a whole be proud of their role? Is this what is meant by and is to be expected from an even-handed treatment of the political debate? Or does it show that our press is prepared to offer its services to one side of that debate, by giving maximum coverage to a story deliberately engineered to show the other side in a bad light?
The defence offered will always be that a free press must be allowed to make its own judgments of the newsworthiness of particular stories and that there are other outlets that take a different and equally partisan approach. But can we be happy when supposedly responsible journalists so deliberately use their privileged access to our most important news outlets to shape the news, thereby serving the interests of just one party and reflecting the political preferences both of themselves and of the major corporations that own the papers they work for?
And, on the day when the Herald prominently promotes the carefully-timed, pre-election hagiography of John Key written by one of its senior leader-writers and political journalists, we are surely entitled to ask, how close is the nexus between that paper and the National Party? Is our press really so different when it comes to the political treatment of bacon sandwiches?