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For the people

Written By: - Date published: 12:01 pm, July 28th, 2008 - 28 comments
Categories: activism - Tags:

A sage comment from our reader, Bill, got me thinking. He said “If political news was even given the same modest in-depth coverage as (say) sports news we wouldn’t be living in the NZ that we inhabit today.” I might put it like this: “If you knew as much about politics and how your country is run as you do about the All Blacks, New Zealand would be a better country.”

Unfortunately, there is a very strong tendency to dumb down and sensationalise politics in the media. National too, knows it benefits from voters having cliche view of politics. And the collapse in membership of the major parties has distanced people from political decision-making. All these factors turn people off politics, which allows politicians to succeed based on the Crosby/Textor formula of fear, greed, and resentment.

Democracy’s lifeblood is an informed and engaged population. The political elite (if you’re reading a political blog that’s you, whether you’re of the Left or Right) needs to think about how the rest of the population can be reengaged. A good starting point would be realising that politics is not an elite sport – it is something that everyone has an interest in and everyone is capable of participating in if they are given the opportunity. The media needs to start providing proper, extended, coverage of politics as the process by which decisions affecting everyone’s lives are made (rather than as a soap opera). The political parties need to treat Kiwis with respect by a) putting out real policies and having real debates on a vision for New Zealand and b) making themselves into mass parties once more.

28 comments on “For the people ”

  1. That is exactly what is proved by the responses to last week’s SST Trotter column.

    Whilst, I disagree with Trotter characterising all people within those groups as self-interested, National voters, it seems a great majority are, the leaderships of such groups present and advocate for policies to achieve that end. Therefore, his conclusions are largely correct. The only difference I would possibly make is to exclude the name-calling as it takes away veracity of the opinion.

    The issues that many National plants harp on about, i.e. social engineering, are ones that National would never change or implement on gaining government. Essentially, they are attempting to bring all of us down to their level, where politics is a nasty business conducted by nefarious individuals. It really points out how hypocritical the slogan “Ambitious for New Zealand” really is.

  2. Rex Widerstrom 2

    A small part of the equation (and by no means would I ever advance it as a panacea) is to embrace the opportunity technology provides us for real democratic interaction.

    If, instead of coming here and debating Steve, we could come here and debate Helen Clark or Michael Cullen or John Key, asking questions, demanding they be answered (and within 5 minutes – after all, doesn’t everyone eat, work sleep and procreate with one eye on their screen?! 😉 people might begin to feel they could affect the outcomeof the political process – or at least that their opinion had been given consideration by the powers-that-be.

    There are numerous, mainly European, models for using technology to facilitate citizen engagement with politicians. One I looked at decades ago was sophisticated enough to create an online “Parliament” where someone wishing to speak had to electonically “raise their hand” and couldn’t address the group till the moderator recognised them. This allowed the politician to frame considered answers and not be lost amongst a constantly streaming babble. There were lots of other features as well. But my point is, if this were possible before the turn of the century, what must be out there now? The system I’ve mentioned was actually being used, at a regional level, in Germany.

    In short, if we want a re-engaged populace we need politicians willing to listen and take on board their ideas – not display the hubris of Labour or the evasiveness of National. Technology is merely a tool to help deal with the volume.

  3. T-rex 3

    Crowdsourced policy – could be interesting.

    I noticed just yesterday actually – Stuff’s front page categories are as follows:

    National News
    World News
    Sport News
    Business News
    Entertainment News

    Like I said, if our political system goes to the dogs it’ll be because the average person let it.

    Add “political literacy” to the proposed “financial literacy” education. At the end of the day it’s probably going to have a more significant impact on your life (although obviously both will be huge).

    I tend to think that highly intelligent and highly informed people will tend to make decisions that are both
    a) Right, and
    b) (from a) the same.

    Obviously there are some prepared to deceive themselves for the sake of personal gain, but I think an educated society IS largely a moral society.

    So – to all parties – for f*cks sake stop scrimping on budgets for education.

  4. Matthew Pilott 4

    How about education? I know many shudder at the thought of schools dealing with this topic (and I can see their point), but at the very least a bit of time devoted to New Zealand’s socio-political history might be in order.

    I’d bet the average kiwi, upon leaaving school, knows more about our geological history than our political one. I know they’d know more about our sports history!

    Political history can be taught from a fact-based neutral standpoint – basucally saying who did what, and when. Maybe a bit of why. It is remarkable what a little bit of knowledge in this area can do.

    How about Michael king’s History of New Zealand – some of that stuff should be mandatory in schools!

    The media aren’t beholden to the people, they are a business like any other. Without a proper education, a commercial media will not have an imperative to inform or educate as people don’t know to demand it – merely to entertain.

    This neatly brings up my second point – public broadcasting! Make it happen, make it worthwhile. I’d like to see TV2 being the cash-cow, the proceeds from which could be used to fund informative and intelligent content on TV1 (and maybe premiere good NZ movies, many of which areoverlooked here). Make it revenue neutral, but go for quality over quantity.

  5. T-rex 5

    Matt – High five.

    Looks like we’ve got at least part of the syllabus sorted out for the secret island.

  6. Yeah, I think a proper civics course, not just ‘you are a citizen, you vote then the people you vote for make laws in this manner’ but a syllabus designed around having young people actually debate the issues themselves, get informed and think about things like ‘what the pros and cons of ACC?’ and ‘is it the Government’s place to regulate private behaviour (and when does private behaviour become public)?

  7. Daveski 7

    I tend to agree with most of the sentiments here.

    IMO both Labour and National play the game – clearly most people here believe that Labour is virtuous and every single decision is made for the benefit of mankind and never to influence potential voters. Because Labour is principled, they would never resort to policy flip flops or petty, personalised comments. So diddums to that 🙂

    Regretably, we seem to be back to the future with bread and circuses … I suspect there will be more public discussion on the AB’s failure than political issues.

    I like the concept of “civics” being taught in school but the reality is that that type of programme would only appeal to younger versions of ourselves.

    The media has a lot to blame with the 15 mins of fame given to all sorts of 2 bit celebrities and trivial matters rather than more important topics. Likewise, while I like the idea of “intelligent and informative” TV, it won’t stop the punters for tuning into the latest reality BS programme.

    Perhaps we need Mathew and Mark to do NZ Politics??

  8. Matthew Pilott 8

    T-rex – yup, social education, civics policy, and turnip cultivation (incidentally, I can’t attest to having consumed a turnip) will make up the syllabus. Might need some good trades skills in there too.

    Steve – with that kind of education, you’d have to be very very careful. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with it to tell the truth. It’s not exactly that I’d disagree in principle, but that such education could be A) open to abuse and maniuplation for political gains, and B) even more open to accusations of the same.

    If a party had a policy that was against something that was on such a syllabus, they’d be fighthing an uphill battle against state-funded education. That could be very divicive.

    I feel it’s a debate for the adults, not the kids, and feel that we’re failing to have that debate, apart from isolated outposts such as the NZ Political blogosphere.

  9. Vanilla Eis 9

    Daveski: Perhaps a Havoc and Newsboy World Tour of the Houses of Parliament?

  10. Phil 10

    Paul Henrys next Intrepid Journey; The Beehive

  11. matt. acknowledge the risks, but it would be about getting kids to think fundementally on these issues – you just assign groups to research both sides of the arguments. If you wait until people are adults they don’t have the tools or experience and there’s no real way for them to pick it up.

  12. Felix 12

    Mathew and Mark to do NZ Politics??

    That’s pretty much the state we’re in now. We can do better Daveski.

  13. Daveski 13

    Felix – yep Havoc and Newsboy.

    Actually, I kind of like Mathew and Mark in Russia or wherever just so long as they are out of NZ.

    They’re a perfect example of the personality driven BS on TV.

  14. Bill 14

    Politics is perceived as boring because the politics fed to us is, well, boring. Politics is far more than the parliamentary parties,the rising/falling dollar and all the other ‘stuff’ we are fed on a daily basis.

    What about civics that placed our parliamentary system of (cough), democracy in a wider context? Well, that’s not going to happen for the simple reason that the system we have protects, serves and is crafted by powerful elites who are not going to stand by while their neat little state of affairs is dismantled by an educated or aware populace.

    On the bright side, a person does not have to be educated to be aware. The education might help them to articulate what it is they are aware of.

    People are far more aware than is generally recognised. The problem would seem to be that many feel acutely disempowered…there is fear in other words.

    There is also a distinct lack of practice at this thing called democracy. Two small indicative incidences spring to mind.

    The first incidence involved the moving of a bus stop. The council moved it about a hundred meters meaning passengers had to stand in the elements. Over a period of months campaigning through recognised channels, the bus stop was finally repositioned to a spot that satisfied everybody concerned.

    In my mind a far more efficient and democratic process would have involved passengers and bus drivers communicating their concerns directly to each other (along with any other affected party) and moving the bus stop to a mutually acceptable position in the first place. Might have taken a couple of days including the physical work involved?

    No need for the involvement of council bureaucracy and a protracted costly affair lasting several months.

    The second instance reflects on a barrier to the above scenario.

    Was at an anti-war rally. The usual affair of speakers talking at the crowd. No room for exploration of ideas or for people to inform themselves beyond the lines being thrust upon them by speakers. I was invited to speak and told that particular organiser that I was only going to suggest to the people in the crowd that they talk with those around them…share ideas/analysis and possible courses of action/protest.

    The organiser informed me that people weren’t ready for such an exercise in democracy. I didn’t take the stage. Party lines were affirmed (possibilities narrowed) and by and by people felt disenfranchised and drifted away from future protests.

    In summary, I don’t believe that people are ‘not ready’ to exercise democratic control over their affairs. We are simply never given the opportunity and so tend to ‘give up’ and retreat into apathy and disenfranchised cynicism.

  15. 08wire 15

    Steve

    I love the vast majority of your work – but I disagree here.

    The key to engaging the majority of the population who are not in the political elite is to provide them political content that they want to read. We need to shift supply to meet demand – and a diet of lengthy, serious, in-depth coverage has little demand outside of elite circles. If there really was a massive untapped demand for domestic news of this sort, then Agenda and The Economist would be much more widely viewed/read than they are.

    Some academics have called for a “burglar alarm” model of political journalism – where media widely report political stories only when they really matter, and they do so as loudly and colourfully as possible. That way the wider citizenry knows that when a political story is on: (1) it will be important; and (2) it won’t be boring. I agree with this.

    Does this mean most citizens know nothing most of the time? Not at all. Social networks do a really good job of providing some nuggets of information, and plenty of research has shown thet people can operate pretty effectively in a democracy without the encyclopedic knowledge of goings on that you have,

    Put it this way: for most citizens the real world choice isn’t between shallow political news some of the time or in-depth political news some of the time; instead, it is between shallow news some of the time or in-depth news none of the time. This is not to cast aspersions on then in any way – they are busy people with lives to lead.

    (The record of civics classes in the US, by the way, is mixed at best.)

  16. Bill 16

    Which allows the dominant voice, as maintained through education and reinforced by the media etc to continue unchallenged.

  17. randal 17

    if anybody thinks the coverage of the all-blacks and the nzrfu is in-depth then they need their heads read. it is as labrynthine and as disingenuous and dissembling as anything the national party is putting out

  18. We both might need to lie down to cope with the shock.
    But I think we are in full agreement here.
    This is something I have commented on a few times over at No Minister.
    We just need to change one of your sentences a little.

    “All these factors turn people off politics, which allows politicians to succeed based on the Ninth Floor/ Chris Trotter formula of fear, greed, and resentment.”

    There, that’s better 🙂

  19. Tane 19

    Hey Fairfacts, just a warning while you’re here. Smear us on your blog again and you’re banned from here for life.

  20. coge 20

    Steve, I think I’ve been moderated off this thread. Don’t think I violated the rules, or did my comment get confused for spam?

    [lprent: Can’t see anything going into moderation or spam from you. I’d suggest trying a restart on the browser first as it may be that it is having problems saving the comments from your side. I’ll have a look at the server as soon as I get home. ]

  21. It would be nice if there was a greater focus on the substance of issues, to question framing labels that are slung around like cancerous, corrosive and slippery, wouldn’t it?

    FM: I guess you are really worried now eh?

  22. randal 23

    no…creeps like fm dont care what crap they leave hanging around as long a sthey can look back and say “meeeee did that” like the infantile goons they are

  23. Matthew Pilott 24

    Oh, like arrogant, tired, out of touch, corrupt, wasteful, The Double Standard?

  24. Rex Widerstrom 25

    Annnnnnnnd… yet again and intelligent blog threat degenerates into threats and abuse.

    Thanks those who’ve been sticking to the issue, it’s one I find fascinating as well as seeing it as having vital importance.

    I think Bill sums it up well when he says;

    People are far more aware than is generally recognised. The problem would seem to be that many feel acutely disempowered

    I found some of the most intelligent political debate was to be had at places like the Naenae RSA and the Petone Workingmen’s Club – blue collar haunts where few if any of the attendees could be described as part of the “political elite”. But two things seemed to hold them back from any involvement in the process.

    First, the belief that those in power paid them no attention until election time, and then only to tell them what they thought they wanted to hear, with no intention of keeping their promises.

    And second, that you might “get a funny look” or, worse still, start a real disagreement if you discussed politics. How many people walk into a barbeque and say “Geez, that John Key, is he the right choice or what?”. Instead it’s far more socially acceptable to say “That Graham Henry, is he the right choice or what?”.

    God forbid we ever get Mark and Matthew discussing politics – I think viewers would lose an IQ point for every minute they watched.

    The answer to that problem is the same, really, as the answer to the first. Politicians need to leave the spin doctors at the office and get out amongst people. Talk, listen, and act upon what they’re told.

    That’d not only restore some confidence in the process but start making politics once again an acceptable topic to raise in company for people who presently feel they can’t.

  25. coge 26

    Iprent, ta. There may have been a problem when I tried to edit the post. Seems to be working OK now.

  26. max 27

    Look out FairFacts! You’re on thin thin ice! hur hur.

    My god Tane you are a power mad little man.

  27. Bill 28

    Rex, I don’t think the main point is fear and disempowerment, important as it is.

    If we overcome fear there still remains the stumbling block that we simply don’t know how to do things. That’s why I gave the two simple examples before. I was trying to illustrate the point that democracy has become something foreign to us. We’d stand around waiting to be herded by another ‘cure all’ authority and in the absence of such authority, for the ground to open up and swallow us.

    When was the last time you experienced something being done democratically? It certainly wasn’t in your workplace. It’s perfectly understood that democracy is hung up in the locker when you clock in.

    It probably wasn’t through your union either since they have become unremarkable ‘party’ bureaucracies in the Lenin/Trotsky tradition.

    Your local bowling/golf/ whatever club? Nope. They be run by committees and like everything else have reduced and marginalised individual expressions of democracy to asinine ‘yes/no’ reflexes.

    I can’t really think of any spaces where democratic practices are allowed to flourish.

    We’ve been locked in to a situation where all democratic decisions are made on our behalf by others. We simply get a nominal input into choosing those others, which isn’t by any stretch of the imagination something approaching democracy.

    If I can tweak your proposal of “Politicians need to leave the spin doctors at the office and get out amongst people. Talk, listen, and act upon what they’re told.’

    And propose instead We need to leave politicians and their spin doctors at the office and get out amongst people. Talk, listen and act upon what we’re telling each other.

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