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How much information is being withheld from us?

Written By: - Date published: 9:13 am, May 13th, 2017 - 12 comments
Categories: journalism, making shit up, national, Propaganda, spin - Tags: , , , , ,

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. …

12 comments on “How much information is being withheld from us?”

  1. Ed 1

    Neoliberalism pretends it’s about freedom but it’s really fascism.

  2. One Two 2

    Assume 100% and work backwards from there

    That’s for ‘important information’ which enables people to make ‘best decisions’

    100% of nonsense, fluff and distraction is dumped into various media channels and forms the basis of too high in numbers, decision tree

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      If the people had the real information then they wouldn’t National ever again and National knows that and so they lie.

  3. greg 3

    the national government has created a huge mess right across society the only thing such incompetents can do is cover up the mess we don’t know the full extent of lies and BS . RWNJ would justify the lies as necessary to protect the economy and anyone who contradicts the alternative facts is commuting economic vandalism eg safe animal abuse commercials or john Campbell ,Nicky Hager its a wars against the truth to retain power at all costs

  4. Philj 4

    AND, when I hear government stats quoted verbatim in the Mainsteam Media I immediately think we are being massaged with BS Alt ‘facts’. Good work by Graham Adams and Croaker Liddell et al.

    • Enough is Enough 4.1

      Exactly

      That is what Trump has realised and he just works around the media now by talking directly to the public through social media.

      You don’t have to agree with him but his way of removing the corrupt main stream media is to be applauded.

      Winston attacks the media similar to Trump. Little should begin doing the same and learn to make the corrup fake news main stream media redundant.

  5. RedLogix 5

    I have no way of verifying this, but I’d hazard a guess there are now more journalists working for the government than there are in the media. Especially if you weight your measure by years of experience.

    It’s probably not too far from the truth to say the NZ govt’s own spin doctors and PR people are the dominant propaganda engine when it comes to anything important. What’s left of the media is allowed to report on car crashes and celebrity click-bait … but rarely strays into serious, sustained political analysis.

    Two nights ago we watched an ABC Four Corners program Power Failure which is a 45 min doco very clearly demonstrating the history of political failures that have led to a real lack of planning and investment in the Australian power generation sector. Slick, nicely produced, well researched and worth watching twice. At the end I said to my partner, “can you imagine anything of that quality being made in NZ?” We shook our heads.

    It’s been a complex process, corporate agendas, the internet, political hostility and so on … but the media in NZ is now a crippled shadow of it’s former self. It’s not entirely dead, there remain some bastions of resistance ( I’m thinking of Scoop) , maybe even pockets of health from which a recovery could be made.

    But yes … essentially we are now at the point where the strength of government spin, lies and manipulation clearly outmatch a weakened public media. Our so called Fourth Estate model is broken. And not a lot of people seem to care much.

  6. Whispering Kate 6

    Our education system has been dumbed down so much that citizens now can’t see drivel when its in front of their eyes. Their attention span is so engineered that they now only see things in sound bites and with an entertainment value attached to it. This is how right, wing or for that matter any government want their citizens, it suits them for us to be docile, servile and without a mind that wants to question or to enquire. Accepting is the word that comes to mind – accepting everything at face value.

    Mind control is insidiuous and is hard to retreat from once its got its hooks in. Not really much we can do as money is now the God and journalists are in the pay and good pay at that of the masters in control.

  7. Rosemary McDonald 7

    Case in point.

    Back in 2008 when the Atkinson plaintiffs put their case before the Human Rights Review Tribunal the Word was…

    “The Ministry of Health refuses. It argues this case is much bigger than the concerns of these eight families. If they win and the policy of not paying families is overturned, the floodgates for other families to claim payment would be opened with costs of anything between $17 million and $593 million, though Human Rights says the figure would be $40 million a year, if that.

    The ministry went further. If the families won, the consequences would be significant and immediate. The policy would be void and the ministry’s entire framework for disability services would crumble.”

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/catherine-masters/news/article.cfm?a_id=49&objectid=10536859

    Truly scary costings and dire apocalyptic predictions for the entire disability sector with the Misery of Health telling the Tribunal….

    “[156] Not surprisingly, these various sets of data provided information that was not easy to reconcile. But it was evident (and agreed by the parties) that there is a significant number of people with severe disabilities who do not receive Ministry funded disability support services – this group could total up to 29,000 in all. ”

    The “30,000 severely disabled being cared for by unpaid family carers ” stuck, and was repeated through the media on a number of occasions with Chief Crucifier Ryall one of the main offenders.

    Long (and painful) story short….Ryall’s answer to losing (numerous times) this case was to have the Ministry devise a plan for paying family carers…one which ‘respected the rights acknowledged by the Courts and was fiscally responsible.’

    Funded Family Care….$24m per year, paying a maximum of 1600 parent carers minimum wage for a maximum of 40 hours per week.

    However….”Effectiveness

    There is no doubt the FFC policy is effective for some, but its overall effectiveness is constrained by its limited uptake by those who could potentially benefit from it. As at 1 April 2015, only 191 adult disabled persons nationwide were accessing FFC (compared with 1,600 forecast). ”

    https://www.health.govt.nz/publication/evaluation-funded-family-care

    My understanding is that to date…that 191 has gone up to about 300. Not all paid family carers are being paid for the full forty our week.

    What happened to the “29,000” family carers of those with severe disabilities receiving no funding for care we were told about back in 2008?

    They never existed.

    How many came out of the woodwork (their words) demanding to be paid for what we had being doing for nothing?

    For all the media attention in 2008, 2010 and 2012 and 2013…the Appeal Court (for Spencer) heard that….

    “[89] Fifty-six people have enquired or complained to the Commission about the Ministry’s policy. Of that number, one complaint is presently open, nine are the plaintiffs in the Atkinson proceeding, one was a witness before the Tribunal in the Atkinson proceeding, 20 have had their complaints suspended pending the outcome of the Atkinson proceeding, and 25 have had their complaints closed.
    [90] Of the 25 complaints that were closed Ms Crane says:
    (a) Three complainants requested that the Commission provide their files to the Director;
    (b) 12 are aware of the Tribunal’s decision and expressed interest in its practical application, given that they were caring for a family member or advocating for someone who was; and
    (c) 10 did not claim direct disadvantage as a result of the Ministry’s policy and required no further contact.”

    There are currently about 10 of us (disabled people and their chosen family carers) with outstanding claims yet to wend through the system.

    The Ministry of Health and the Government ….Labour and National…lied.

    I’ll never trust any of them…ever.

    And don’t get me started on this little turd…http://www.treasury.govt.nz/publications/informationreleases/ris/pdfs/ris-moh-fcc-may13.pdf

    And ironically the Treasury webpage where you’ll find the RIS begins…

    “To help ensure that the regulatory process is open and transparent, Regulatory Impact Statements (RISs) prepared to support the consideration of regulatory proposals are published at the time the relevant bill is introduced to Parliament or the regulation is gazetted, or at the time of Ministerial release.”

    I’m laughing, honestly.

  8. Incognito 8

    This is the paradox of the Government: it does not want to share information with us, the people who give it its mandate and whom it is supposedly representing and yet it wants to collect all sorts of big data (metadata) on us.

    The Government is authorised by us to collect data and often legally required to do so but in some situations the legal benchmark feels more like “pretty legal”.

    The Government cannot measure (child) poverty because it is too hard yet social investment has become a central plank and it seems to be determined with pressing on with the Predictive Risk Modelling Index in education (and elsewhere?).

    The relationship between Government and the people has become too asymmetric and the balance needs to be restored lest we slide into even less democratic rule.

  9. greywarshark 9

    In this weekend’s Press on Saturday paper:

    A report on trauma treatment in New Zealand announces good standards.
    Medical professionals complain this cannot be believed. Why? Because there are no South Island statistics included, that is the first surprise. Then the second, there are no (reliable?) South Island statistics on their trauma treatment.

    No stats!

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  • Driving prompt payments to small businesses
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  • $14.7m for jobs training and education
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  • Is it time to further recognise those who serve in our military?
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  • Paving the way for a fully qualified early learning workforce
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  • Sport Recovery Package announced
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  • Major boost in support for caregivers and children
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  • Great Walks recovery on track for summer
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  • Māori – Government partnership gives whānau a new housing deal
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  • New Zealand condemns shocking attacks on hospital and funeral in Afghanistan
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  • $62 million package to support families through the Family Court
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  • A modern approach to night classes
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  • Christchurch Call makes significant progress
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