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Bryan Gould: An impartial press

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 workingReposted from Bryan Gould’s website.

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?


34 comments on “Bryan Gould: An impartial press”

  1. dimebag russell 1

    the press there is no good but where is the alternative?
    no playpower.
    no OZ.
    no fun.
    no nothing.
    the left or what ever has to be more creative.
    there is a lot at stake here and the trajectory has to lose its own momentum.
    time to raise a new regiment of hippeis to break the iron bands of conformity imposed by the present state of capitalism.

  2. cogito 2

    Great piece, thanks Bryan. As an ex-Pom, I always followed you in your UK Labour Party days.

    One of the saddest things about NZ is the lack of REAL political analysis on the main tv channels – unlike the BBC etc – no Panorama, or Question Time…. no Sir Robin Day, Brian Walden et al to really grill politicians and show them up for their hypocrisies and double standards. Instead we have political lapdogs and attention seekers who are more concerned with their own careers than with shedding light.

    • Once was Tim 2.1

      True – but I fear that’s a rather romantic notion of the BBC at the moment. At least there are still people within willing to fight for its mandate – whereas here, in little ole aspiration JK NewZill, the 4th Estate have given up.
      Ekshly …. I’d go further. There seem to be a number of budding jonolists in our media who’re are clamouring to go get a job with ‘Auntie’ so they can “get across” all those wonderful stories – except that Auntie is fast becoming ‘Granny’ too (going forward).

    • Chooky 2.2

      +100 …great post!…always admired Bryan Gould …tragedy Tony Blair got in

  3. Kat 3

    The whole Donghua Liu affair has backfired so badly on the Herald and National that in pure poetic irony Labour could now pick up a fair proportion of sympathy support. No wonder Key and his henchman Joyce are this weekend warning of voting complacency by right leaning voters.

    • Ant 3.1

      The problem is that it hasn’t backfired. National know that they can influence a large group of voters whose perceptions are totally shaped by the media ruckus at the beginning of a smear, they never witness the unravelling.

      Hit and run smears rely on journalists that are 50% lazy and 50% complicit, if journalists exercised any scrutiny or criticality these smears would automatically backfire on National. National have been using this method for years and it’s been working.

      • poem 3.1.1

        Not this time. Its been unsuccessful. So yeah, it has backfired but the fallout against national hasn’t been seen YET. If real journalism existed in this country, john key would have been history long ago. So stop with the cop outs, it has nothing to do with reporters being lazy, they are just doing the job for national, or more appropriately, john key.

      • It’s certainly backfired on the Herald, and it may actually shield Labour a little from further dirty tricks campaigns, but we’ll see if it’s actually hurt National or helped Labour at all in upcoming polls- I doubt it will be possible to tell given Labour’s current trend of increasing political disengagement.

    • poem 3.2


  4. David 4

    I think you may be giving a bit too much credit to National for the Liu saga, Labour should have better protected the leader by doing some basic research before leaving him looking absolutely ridiculous.
    The British media reflect British society which is why the Sun, Times, Telegraph do ok and the Guardian is on life support. They don’t risile from humiliating posh boy Cameron either, British sense of humour is all it is and expected from its robust print media.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 4.1

      Basic research ?
      Not finding a letter that was on a computer from 11 years ago ( the days of floppy disks if that)

      While the Herald doesnt do basic research on the value of donations alleged to be given to Labour, but its deputy editor does look a cemetery records to find the local of Keys fathers grave.

      Some of us are going to have a field day with Roughans book , checking the facts given up by Key

      • phillip ure 4.1.1

        i’ve said before i think labours’ big screw-up there was not to wheel out mike williams from day one..

        ..to say:..”i was the money-man then..i wd have known of donations of this size..

        ..there is no way i could not have known of donations of this size..(we aren’t national..!..)

        ..and this is complete and utter bullshit..

        ..cd you plse produce some evidence of this plse..”

        ..that wd have closed down that saga on that day one..

        ..and wd have had the media going back to liu/key..demanding evidence..

        ..(‘mike williams said…etc etc..and he wd know..surely?..so where is the evidence..?’..)

        ..that is why i am so puzzled nobody in the labour inner-circle also realised this..

        ..and did that..

        ..and that is why i was asking every day..in this forum..as that ‘saga’ dragged on and on..

        ..’where the f. is mike williams..?..he cd clear this up in a minute..!’

    • Tracey 4.2

      yes david, your version explains the nats having the letter weeks in advance and key announcing it from the usa so smugly.

      • poem 4.2.1

        And that David Cunliffe was only warned about it a half an hour before it hit the headlines and the NZ Herald REFUSED labour a copy of Liu’s statement.

      • Once was Tim 4.2.2

        Speaking of smugness – I just did my daily constitutional.
        Courtenay Place (2 Homeless/Beggars), thru’ to the Te Papa markets – others looking for a bit of cash for a trip to the local fast food … Then on past MFC where the Natzi were having a get-together – dripping in smugness, fashion crime, and the nouveau-riche …. then on to New World City where I expected to see another person begging for a few dollars. Guess what? Sure enough there was a new face begging (one, not unlike others I encounter, with mental health issues – dosed up and kicked out from his regular shelter for the day)
        A Brighter Future? I think not.
        (btw …. those fashion crimes were bloody awful too!)

    • Sigh. They DID do “basic research”. Unless you have perfect records of all your correspondence with a filing system which would perfectly identify a single pro forma letter mis-spelling the subject’s surnamed from 11 years ago …

      • Once was Tim 4.3.1

        …. and I’ve got a $4m document management system designed by a committee of non-technical people; redesigned as the project proceeded to provide extra bells and whistles; and programmed by a shitload of truly aspirational newbees.
        Should do the trick eh? We can’t call it NovaDoc – but think of an acronym!

  5. Saarbo 5


    This may well have backfired on National. I have noticed that other media now asking the tough questions of National, both coran dann and Susan Wood were noticeably a bit tougher on National on this mornings Q&A. We will see how long this lasts I suppose.

  6. ianmac 6

    Well said Bryan. Disturbing and so difficult to counter.

  7. Tracey 7

    In 1975 rupert murdoch ordered his newspaper editors to metaphorically “kill Whitlam”. Why would he have allowed his editor more independence over tge years, given the success in 1975.

    To those who suggest editors are not influenced by ceo or owners, have a read of the following (you will need to have you eyes open).


  8. dimebag russell 8

    I failed to mention at the start that the media need constant lashing.
    they are hired hands.
    not movers and shakers.
    They need to be bashed up over every false move, corrected and bossed by the people and since the interweb arrived it is now possible.
    otherwise they get too big for their boots and begin to think they are somebodies.

  9. swordfish 9

    Bryan Gould: “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…”

    Yep. And that tells us something too about the constant MSM narrative in New Zealand that Cunliffe’s poor Preferred PM ratings mean Labour/the Left can never win the Election.(part and parcel of this strange ‘Presidentialisation of politics that the local media have foisted on us in recent years – even to the extent of conflating Key with National (National’s ratings often referred to as “Key’s support”) and Cunliffe with Labour).

    The reality is that Preferred PM ratings really don’t mean shit.

    Miliband is well behind Cameron as Preferred PM and yet the British Labour Party has almost always led the Polls since the last British Election. At the moment, here in NZ, you simply have Nat supporters overwhelmingly preferring Key (over 90% of them), Labour voters preferring Cunliffe first and foremost (42%), but closely followed by “Not Sure” (37%) with very few going for Key (6%). Green voters, too, express a high “Not Sure” response, followed by Norman, followed by Cunliffe (again, Key receives just 6 % support as PM from Greens). (all Fairfax-Ipsos Statistics). Although I haven’t yet checked, I suspect it’s the same for Miliband – British Labour supporters far more likely to be “Not Sure” on Preferred PM than supporting Cameron. That’s, to some extent, natural when the Opposition leader is relatively unknown and untested. The Election campaign proper, of course, will often lift those ratings (as it certainly did for Helen Clark in 1996, for instance). So, the fact is, in both NZ and the UK, you consistently have a sizeable chunk of Labour supporters who, despite being unsure on Preferred PM, continue to choose Labour in Opinion Polls.

    • Colonial Viper 9.1

      Milliband has been drifting to the centre more and more under media pressure. Compare the kinds of “real red” speeches he was seeking when he was seeking the Labour leadership. (!)

  10. Delia 10

    Many in the Press are just horrible people. As long as they get a headline that is OK. They rarely attack John Key because that would make them unpopular with the rich folk who employ them. Morals out the window years ago. Look at the difference in the television media in the 1990’s compared with today when they show old film on Q&A. The interviewers actually appear to scare the politicians. No politician has anything to fear from the media nowadays, unless you are Cunliffe, Shearer…Craig as well, who Key does not want. Why do we read or listen to any of it?

  11. swordfish 11

    Yeah, isn’t it always the way ! I was on the New Statesman’s comment thread supporting Ed against his Blairite/Third Way-leaning brother, David, back at the time of their leadership election (I think most other commenters assumed I was a Brit).

    Ed was promising to move the Party’s broad direction heavily away from the ugly Blairite-cum-Thatcherite excesses of the late 90s / early Zeros towards something a little closer to real Social Democracy. How things have changed.

    Arguably something not entirely dissimilar has happened to Cunliffe’s Labour Party here, under pressure from both the MSM and the ABCs. Then again, maybe, as some have implied, it was all a deliberate strategy – start off Red to secure the core activist / supporter base, then move into Light-Blue territory to win over “Centrist” swing-voters, thus implicitly giving the one-fingered salute to a hefty chunk of the Missing Million. As Jack Vowles has argued: Ideological / Policy convergence between the two major parties = lower turnout (particularly for the young and poor).

  12. swordfish 12

    That was a reply to CV, incidently (Lap-top playing up big-time). And there was me a few weeks ago relentlessly taking the piss out of various Tory Tr*lls for not being bright enough to use the Reply button. Oh the irony !

  13. Liberal Realist 13

    Good post Bryan Gould.

    The Donghua Liu saga is yet another, perhaps the most naked, example of NZ MSM’s transparent bias in favour of the National government.

    I can’t bring myself to call these chumps Journalists. They’re not. Sensationalist at best, ‘Rabid Faux Fox’ at worst. Sound bites, served up for consumption seems to be all we get from NZ MSM.

    Look at Gower in NYC / DC for example. The unobjective git huffing and puffing about how JK has some ‘big calls’ to make regarding NZ’s ‘moral support’ for The United States military interventions in the Iraq? Gower appears to be in a long grovel to be JK’s next press secretary. Garner is not much better than Gower although I suspect he’s a bit more intelligent, hence better at hiding his bias. Fairfax sensationalists are no better. Vance et al can hardly be called objective. Seeing Fairfax is majority owned by Gina Rhinehart that’s not a surprise. The Herald has thrown all vestige of objectivity when they chose to run with DHL’s unsubstantiated claims of $100k donations to Labour.

    This lot must get sore knees given all of the prostrating they do to their pin up boy Key, how does he do it?

  14. Stuart Munro 14

    Korea had this media integrity issue in the Park years. The survivors of Chun Do Hwan’s oppressions launched a newspaper capitalised by public subscription which did stirling work in fighting fascism for several decades. It was called the Hankyoreh – and though it has had to be rescued since Lee Myung Bak did his considerable best to destroy it, it remains a way of preserving an alternative narrative to that of the Murdochracy, that governments have unwisely allowed to develop disproportionate influence.

  15. Papa Tuanuku 15

    If a bunch of Labour supporters were actively criticizing labour position holders, it would be all over the headlines.

    What then of the item on Prime News tonight? A national party member of the ‘taxpayers union’ walks across the road from the national party conference and does an interview at the bottom of cuba street.

    Shouldn’t this be blown up into a story of staunch national party members and supporters attacking their own party?

    • McFlock 15.1

      nah – looking at the online report the non-parliamentary ACToids seem to be under the impression that NZ don’t have rural fires, so DoC shouldn’t send staff to Aus for training with the main event.

  16. philj 16

    Q. “This lot must get sore knees given all of the prostrating they do to their pin up boy Key, how does he do it?”
    A. A bottle of wine from JK to the sickophant so caled journalists at Christmas and a friendly phone call, just to keep in touch. Its really simple.

  17. JA Messer 17

    George Monbiot’s column in today’s (July 1st) Guardian ‘The real enemies of press freedom are in the newsroom’ should be required reading for all NZ journalists working in the media – and everyone concerned by the ‘political monoculture’ which afflicts the NZ press.

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