- Date published:
9:13 am, May 13th, 2017 - 13 comments
Categories: journalism, making shit up, national, Propaganda, spin - Tags: brighter future, censorship, coverup, inconvenieht truths, list, spin
Earlier this week I wrote about a ham-fisted Ministry of Social Development (MSD) attempt to gag emergency housing providers – quickly dropped after Checkpoint got involved. I wrote “Given this government’s record, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that there will be further attempts to shut down bad news”. Let’s dig in to this a bit further. The best roundup is by Graham Adams on Newsroom:
Information underload: We’re all mushrooms now
Kept in the dark and fed endless bullshit, it’s difficult for even engaged citizens to make sense of much in New Zealand’s public and political life.
[On Pike River] Roy is a little late to the party in starting to question the government’s willingness to bend the truth to its own ends, if not downright lying when it suits its purposes. Some commentators have been appalled by this for years.
And, of course, it’s not just ministers; it’s also government apparatchiks spouting half-truths, distortions and lies. There is a huge body of experienced former journalists employed by the government massaging messages to the public to hide or distort what is really happening behind the scenes.
Journalists on the Kiwi Journalists Association website complain that it’s difficult to get past the police media teams to talk to officers who actually know what’s going on. And try getting any information out of District Health Boards that isn’t sanitised and processed by their PR handlers first.
It came as no surprise that in early May international journalists organisation Reporters Without Borders pushed New Zealand down from eighth to 13th on a global register of 180 countries it surveys each year measuring the basic principles of press freedom.
“Our lower standing is due to the growing list of government agencies trying to hide information by thwarting the Official Information Act, and these agencies are ruining our reputation,” Dr Catherine Strong, from Massey University’s School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing, said.
The result is that anyone who cares about what’s going on in society will have a very difficult job trying to work out, say, how much dodgy Chinese steel has been used in the Waterview tunnel, how many foreigners are buying our houses, or why Fletchers have such a stranglehold on building supplies that German insulation giant Knauf quit the New Zealand market after barely a year.
And the list of the things the government doesn’t want us to know gets longer by the month. There will be no inquiry into the allegations made by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson of civilian deaths in a SAS operation in Afghanistan because the Prime Minister was advised by the Defence Force that there was no need. It is simply staggering that those accused of behaving illegally effectively get to decide if their actions should be examined more closely.
The government will not set up a foreign land ownership register, even though Australia and other developed nations have one. As Winston Peters said after his bill to set up a register was defeated in Parliament last December: “New Zealand voters can now conclude that the government does not want this information to get into the public domain.”
It also rejected suggestions that we should have a public register for foreign trusts. When Andrew Little recommended a public register in a parliamentary debate after accountant John Shewan’s report appeared last year, then Revenue Minister Michael Woodhouse dismissed it with: “Any suggestion that the salacious searching of the public register would be necessary or appropriate is just inappropriate.” Wanting to know what dubious transactions are being made behind New Zealand trusts is apparently “salacious” according to this government.
We really, really want to believe the best about our nation, but increasingly the only way to do that is to ignore the chasm between the rich and poor, our bulging jails and filthy rivers, and accept the bland reassurances that pour from the lips of our political masters that all is well, even as we quietly suspect there is a lot going on we’re not being told about.
Well worth reading the whole thing. Covering up inconvenient truths is an old pattern for this government. Back in 2012:
National scraps crucial environmental report
The National Government has decided to stop producing the essential five-yearly State of the Environment Report, the Green Party revealed today.
“The Government is keeping New Zealanders in the dark about what is happening to the environment and what the problems are by stopping publication of this report,” Green Party environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage said. …
When the news is bad, don’t count it or report it:
MSD report leaves out number of abused children
The number of abused children in state care has gone uncounted for 18 months, after years of reporting them.
The Ministry of Social Development has included this number in its annual report since 2010/11. Almost 170 children were found to be abused in state care from 2010 to 2015. But the number was not included in the last report for 2015/16. …
Same logic as refusing to develop a measure of poverty. Similarly:
Government manipulating social housing data – Child Poverty Action Group
Mr Johnson believes that the waiting lists are being tampered with.
“We believe that … there is evidence of those lists being manipulated by the Government officials who are responsible for them.” …
More on how the mechanics of how the Nats withold information, see excellent pieces by David Fisher: The OIA arms race, and Felix Marwick: No sunlight, no disinfectant. Political machinations remain behind the veil (seriously, if you haven’t already read those two pieces, do so). It’s no wonder that Reporters Without Borders have dropped NZ down from 8th to 13th on a global register of basic principles of press freedom:
Media freedom thrives in New Zealand but is not entirely exempt from political pressure. The media continue to demand changes to the Official Information Act, which obstructs the work of journalists by allowing government agencies a long period of time to respond to information requests and even makes journalists pay several hundred dollars for the information. In August 2016, the government revealed a grim future for whistleblowers, announcing a bill that would criminalize leaking government information to the media and would dramatically increase the surveillance powers of the intelligence services. Journalists, bloggers, and civil society representatives would be among the potential targets of the proposed law, which could be adopted in 2017.
On and on and on it goes, the fevered effort required to maintain the lie of the Brighter Future. What percentage of the government’s effort goes in to obfuscating and hiding the facts? How much information is being withheld from us?
Taking it to the next level, referenced in the Adams piece, Michael Reddell at Croaking Cassandra:
A government that simply makes things up
Perhaps all governments these days eventually do it, but one of the things that I’ve come to dislike most about our current government is the way they and their acolytes simply make stuff up. I could, I suppose, understand them not actually doing anything much. After all, they didn’t promise to do anything much. But the endless spin, and stuff that is just made up, sickens me. …