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Guest post – Democracy and debate in the suburbs

Written By: - Date published: 1:00 pm, August 13th, 2014 - 25 comments
Categories: election 2014, The Standard - Tags:

One of the more intriguing features of New Zealand politics and political debate in recent years is, to my mind, the preparedness of appointed and self-appointed gate keepers to shut down any opportunity for informed political debate.

The gate keepers can range from the editors of suburban news-sheets who, in the 1970s and early 80s were ready to seize the chance to open their pages up to robust debate and exchanges of viewpoints by local political party activists regardless of persuasion. I can recall the local suburban papers offering regular columns to the local Political Parties and insisting on getting copy each fortnight on a contentious issue be it on a local, regional or national issue.

The same papers ran regular and, often quite large letters to the editor pages that encouraged an-imated discussion of political issues. In fact, if memory serves, the vitality of the letters to the editor writers to one regional newspaper (the Evening Standard of PN) was such that the paper managed to print an entire edition made up purely of such commentary when their journalists went on strike!!

A colleague has recently had occasion to search through the back issues of several suburban news-sheets published in Auckland from 1970 through to the present and noted that from the mid 1990s these papers had shed all pretence of encouraging local debate and had reduced their let-ters to the editor columns to one or two (on a good day four) innocuous letters and had removed the opinion columns offered to the Political Parties.

But, now, in 2014,the Editors appear to have lost that sense of local responsibility and involvement and have crept into a shelter of remarks like: “ We live in a very sensitive area so we must be cautious about what we publish…. if there is space left after we’ve placed our advertorial we may publish the story you so very kindly sent us… but you must realise…” The nett result is that in much of suburban New Zealand the chances of the local election campaign being reported will be little or none.

The gate keeping of debate and public interest discourse also extends into the local “Service Clubs” which were, once, organisations that actively encouraged discussion and debate amongst their members and community. One can recall a Rotary Club in the lower North Island hosting contentious speakers like J.K.Baxter, Nuclear Free Campaigners and other similarly vocal groups at their monthly meetings. But, it appears, not any longer.

While the following exchange may not be representative of the attitudes of Service Clubs in other parts of New Zealand the following example of the gate keeping and censorship of informed debate and discourse is anything to go by then the concept of informed debate and involvement in the community, particularly suburban communities, has long gone.

The newly selected Labour Candidate wrote to the different organisations in the electorate informing them of his selection and readiness to meet with them and, perhaps, address the members.

Dear Mr XXXXX (the Chair of the organisation),
My name is xxxxxx xxxx. I have been chosen by The New Zealand Labour Party to represent the xxxxxxxx Electorate to Parliament. The New Zealand Labour Party has a whole new team with some innovative new ideas to return the focus of government back on the business of serving the people of this country and their needs.
In the last two years that I have been living in xxxxxxx I’ve noticed that the conversation in our community has been one sided. As the New Zealand Labour Party candidate I am bringing the balance back to the conversation in our community, by discussing the role the Labour Party can play in solving the problems facing our country and our community.
If you and your organisation would like to join in on this conversation please contact my Campaign Secretary to book a time:

Yours faithfully,
xxxxx xxxxxxx

The internal correspondence within the local Rotary Club was inadvertently sent to the writer of the letter and read:

Hi Bill,
Well, as a bunch of socialistically minded people, we should embrace this opportunity! (Yeah Right!!!)
Who wouldn’t want to vote for David Cunliffe, Matt McCarten, The Union Movement, and an $18+ minimum wage, not to mention prospective deputy prime minister Dr Russell Norman?
I will leave it to you to ponder this difficult decision and to respond to Comrade xxxxxxxx.
Charles

Needless to say no response to the candidate was ever received as a follow up to the internal commentary.

One is, therefore, forced to wonder if there has developed both a climate of fear among local suburban news-sheet editors that their advertorial providers will withdraw their sponsorship if the News-Sheet dares to report contentious political issues and, if the self-appointed gatekeepers of local “Service Clubs” are unwilling to allow their membership the chance to engage in the political discussion and debate that would and does make for a vibrant and involved local community.

One cannot help but regard the bigotry of the writer of the “internal memo” from the local Rotary Club as being indicative of a malaise that has infected New Zealand much to the detriment of its democracy and informed debate on issues of importance to many New Zealanders.

Old Irascible

Old Irascible blogs at The Irascible Curmudgeon

25 comments on “Guest post – Democracy and debate in the suburbs”

  1. vto 1

    That is sad on so very many fronts

    • aerobubble 1.1

      The internet, by allowing access to the world, destroys local politics and culture. It doesn’t have to, it should be just as easy to connect to the person one street over as on the other side of the planet. Just the internet does give that control, well, except to the aggragators (collectors of identity and usage patterns).

      • vto 1.1.1

        Absolutely it does. Couldn’t agree more.

        But this … “It doesn’t have to, it should be just as easy to connect to the person one street over as on the other side of the planet” …… is not right, as much as it seems better to be so..

        It is in fact easier to email or text or social network, than it is to physically approach the person one street over.

        Where will it go to next? Will we humans ever peak, or stop, or pause? I don’t think so… so ….

  2. Draco T Bastard 2

    One cannot help but regard the bigotry of the writer of the “internal memo” from the local Rotary Club

    The letter from said writer indicates that said writer is, as a matter of fact, a radical RWNJ who refuses to hear anything other than what supports his own delusional beliefs.

    • Roflcopter 2.1

      Pretty much you then, but from the other side of the fence… we all have to put up with this kind of stuff in some form or another.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 2.1.1

        Yeah, sure, jumped up little gate-keepers at Rotary are totes what the organisation is all about.

  3. Big Blue Al 3

    As a long term and committed right winger, I only occasionally have a look at the Standard.
    I rarely (in fact, I believe, never) have made a comment, and found little to agree with on your site.
    However, I must agree totally with Old Irascible on this one. It’s not just local and community papers which have shied away from the opportunity of robust debate, but, as you say, community, social and local organisations as well. We unfortunately appear to have become a community of neutrals when it comes to “showing our colours” or taking a stance. The movement towards Presidential style elections have certainly enhanced this, but I believe the Political Correctness attitudes in both New Zealand and around the world have now denied us the right to publicly hold and express strong views, lest we “offend” some section of our community.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 3.1

      What has partisan bigotry to do with neutrality? The technical illiterate suppressing debate at the Rotary isn’t afraid to express their extremist hatred are they?

      I agree that racists and other right wing types aren’t quite so open with their hate-speech these days; they always did pay lip-service to good manners after all. It’s revealing who complains about it.

      PS: the real “problem” with “political correctness” is that people had a gutsful of low-IQ bullies ruining public discourse, so we pushed back, and the Right lost, and you’re still bumming out 🙂

      • Tracey 3.1.1

        pc was a label invented to mock those who stood up to people disrespecting others based on ignorance and to replace coherent, mature discourse.

    • McFlock 3.2

      I agree with everything except what you attribute it to. 🙂

      I think the reluctance to take a stance goes hand in hand with a singular lack of nuance, the lack of any effect a stand might have, and the use of offense as a weapon (as distinct from “political correctness”, which to my mind means simply having enough respect for someone to avoid causing needless offence).

      Presidential style politics are a byproduct of the lack of nuance, as is paul henry either being vapid or grossly offensive (rather than using the full range of territory between the two).

      Ordinary people tend to not be listened to any more, I think. The polly/decision maker makes the right sounds to indicate that their shit doesn’t stink, then continues on business as usual.

      And the hypocrisy of using offense as a weapon has been well demonstrated in the last few days when some folk who probably hadn’t even heard the word “Shylock” before (unless they were in a class that studied MoV at school) expended great effort being outraged by supposed anti-semitism. Some might well have been genuinely upset, but I doubt it. It was just another attack weapon. I’m not saying that both sides don’t do it to greater or lesser degrees, or anything like that – just that I don’t think that that many folk gave a shit.

      • Draco T Bastard 3.2.1

        Ordinary people tend to not be listened to any more, I think. The polly/decision maker makes the right sounds to indicate that their shit doesn’t stink, then continues on business as usual.

        QFT

    • Tracey 3.3

      i agree with everything you wrote until the comma on the third last line.

    • Clemgeopin 3.4

      Our democracy and freedom of expression now seems to be given a serve by a bunch of fearful, biased, controlling, dictatorial, cowardly, politically correct, humourless, thin skinned, egotistical self important little nit wits infesting MSM and various avenues and entities of political discourse….just because they have the ‘power’ to frame an issue as they want, to twist it as they desire and feel smug doing whatever they want, no matter how unfair.

    • Draco T Bastard 3.5

      I believe you need to read this.

  4. One Anonymous Bloke 4

    This story deserves a wider airing. The Rotary club in question needs a chance to publicly distance itself from the trash currently mismanaging it.

  5. Macro 5

    Mind you, if there is the chance to publish a photo of the incumbent National MP holding a pussy cat – well what more is there to say?!

  6. weka 6

    Thank god for admin mistakes.

  7. Johnny on the spot 7

    Having left West Auckland over a year ago, I am impressed with the Opunake Coastal News coverage
    http://www.opunakecoastalnews.co.nz/Elect_Mag/August%207%202014/index.html

  8. Tom Jackson 8

    My mother belongs to Rotary. I cannot understand why she, as a lifelong Labour voter would, as it seems to be composed of ignorant, elderly fascists.

  9. just saying 9

    About five years ago a friend in Auckland became politicised around a couple of issues that had touched her personally, and which she came to know a lot about. She disagreed with the editorial line in The Herald on the issues and started writing letters to the editor in which she presented an alternative point of view argued clearly and backed up with facts. She writes a lot with her job and she writes very well but she never had a letter published. She noticed that the few letters published that disagreed, as she did, were badly written and incoherent while the many letters in agreement with the Herald were usually much more cogent and literate.
    After a while, she tried an experiment. She wrote a truly dreadful letter which didn’t make much sense at all, in support of her opinion. Sure enough the Herald published it.

    Balance – Herald style

  10. TightyRighty 10

    from one email you assume all suburban broadsheet editors are quivering in fear? you lot see a conspiracy everywhere don’t you?

    so pathetic. just another example of pot calling the kettle black and then having a moan as its against the left.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 10.1

      No: from one email it’s clear that a typical National Party supporter thinks they open and close the gate, which funnily enough, is about all they’re good for.

  11. tricledrown 11

    Tighty almighty your just the prospect street thug who needs to be seen defending the indefensible!

  12. Glenn 12

    I belonged to a service club (not Rotary) for 15 years The local national party M.P. was a regular speaker. No other party candidates or MPs were considered and none were invited.
    When I first joined the club was a good mixture of folk, manual workers (like myself), teachers and professional folk. By the time I left only the latter were left. 4 years after I left the club folded.
    I left because I could no longer stand the bigotry and racism that was more suited to what one would expect in a 1950s Gentlemens Club. I suspect those that had left felt the same.
    I regret I had never quit years earlier.

  13. vto 13

    You know, this shit doesn’t occur all over the place. Local rags I consume with great vigour generally because they can have more flavour and more guts than the bland big daily daisies like the Press.

    The best example of this is the Greymouth Star and its cuz the Hokitika Guardian. They are the best way to get the full flavour of the community. Funny, accurate, forgiving, informative, knowledgeable, funny,,, such great waze to start and end the daze.

    I’m sure there are more around the country.

    The demographic reflected in the interchange expressed in this post has its place in the world, and that place is well known now. It affects nothing.

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