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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    Eighteen months ago, the government promised to strengthen the Bill of Rights Act, by explicitly affirming the power of the courts to issue declarations of inconsistency and requiring Parliament to formally respond to them. So how's that going? I was curious, so I asked for all advice about the proposal. ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Corbyn and Brexit
    As the Brexit saga staggers on, the focus is naturally enough on the Prime Minister and his attempts to achieve Brexit “do or die”. But the role played by the Leader of the Opposition is of almost equal interest and complexity. The first problem for Jeremy Corbyn is that he ...
    Bryan GouldBy Bryan Gould
    1 week ago
  • A ditch for him to die in
    Last week, English Prime Minister Boris Johnson boldly declared that he would rather die be dead in a ditch than delay Brexit. Unfortunately for him, the UK parliament accepted the challenge, and promptly dug one for him. The "rebellion bill" requires him to ask for and secure yet another temporary ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Warning! Warning! Danger Jacinda Ardern! Danger Marama Davidson! Warning!
    Lost In Political Space: The most important takeaway from this latest Labour sexual assault scandal, which (if I may paraphrase Nixon’s White House counsel’s, John Dean’s, infamous description of Watergate) is “growing like a cancer” on the premiership, is the Labour Party organisation’s extraordinary professional paralysis in the face of ...
    1 week ago
  • Union solidarity with Ihumatao land occupation
    by Daphna Whitmore Every Sunday for the past two months unionists from First Union, with supporters from other unions, have set out to the Ihumatao land protest, put up gazebos and gas barbeques, and cooked food for a few hundred locals and supporters who have come from across the country. ...
    RedlineBy Daphna
    1 week ago
  • Climate Change: The wrong kind of trees?
    Newsroom today has an excellent, in-depth article on pine trees as carbon sinks. The TL;DR is that pine is really good at soaking up carbon, but people prefer far-less efficient native forests instead. Which is understandable, but there's two problems: firstly, we've pissed about so long on this problem that ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • No freedom of speech in Turkey
    Canan Kaftancioglu is a Turkish politician and member of the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). Like most modern politicians, she tweets, and uses the platform to criticise the Turkish government. She has criticised them over the death of a 14-year-old boy who was hit by a tear gas grenade during ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Speaker: Tadhg Stopford: Why I’m standing for the ADHB
    Hi there, just call me Tim.We face tough problems, and I’d like to help, because there are solutions.An Auckand District Health Board member has nominated me for as a candidate for the ADHB, because her MS-related pain and fatigue is reduced with hemp products from Rotorua.  Nothing else helped her. If I ...
    1 week ago
  • Good little vassals
    The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security has published their report on whether the SIS and GCSB had any complicity in American torture. And its damning. The pull quote is this:The Inquiry found both agencies, but to a much greater degree, the NZSIS, received many intelligence reports obtained from detainees who, ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    1 week ago
  • Who Shall We Turn To When God, And Uncle Sam, Cease To Defend New Zealand?
    Bewhiskered Cassandra? Professor Hugh White’s chilling suggestion, advanced to select collections of academic, military and diplomatic Kiwi experts over the course of the past week, is that the assumptions upon which Australia and New Zealand have built their foreign affairs and defence policies for practically their entire histories – are ...
    1 week ago
  • The Politics of Opposition
    For most of the time I was a British MP, my party was out of government – these were the Thatcher years, when it was hard for anyone else to get a look-in. As a front-bencher and shadow minister, I became familiar with the strategies required in a parliamentary democracy ...
    Bryan GouldBy Bryan Gould
    1 week ago
  • More expert comments on the Canadian fluoride-IQ paper
    The Green et al (2019) fluoride/IQ is certainly controversial – as would be expected from its subject (see If at first you don’t succeed . . . statistical manipulation might help and Politics of science – making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear). Anti-fluoride campaigners have been actively promoting it ...
    1 week ago
  • The return to guerrilla war in Colombia
    by Gearóid Ó Loingsigh On August 29th a video in which veteran FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) commander Iván Márquez announced that they had taken up arms again was released. There was no delay in the reaction to it, from longtime Liberal Party figure and former president Uribe, for ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    1 week ago
  • Air New Zealand identifies this enormous plot of unused land as possible second airport site
    Air New Zealand couldn’t believe its luck that this seemingly ideal piece of real estate had so far gone entirely unnoticed. Air New Zealand’s search for a site to build a second Auckland Airport may have made a breakthrough this afternoon, after employees scanning Google satellite imagery spotted a huge, ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Redline on the Labour Party
    No-one on the anti-capitalist left in this country today puts forward a case that Labour is on the side of the working class.  There are certainly people who call themselves ‘socialist’ who do, but they are essentially liberals with vested interests in Labourism – often for career reasons. Nevertheless, there ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    2 weeks ago
  • New Fisk
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Labour’s failure
    When National was in government and fucking over the poor for the benefit of the rich, foodbanks were a growth industry. And now Labour is in charge, nothing has changed: A huge demand for emergency food parcels means the Auckland City Mission is struggling to prepare for the impending arrival ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Ardern attempts to vaccinate Clarke Gayford live on television to prove that it’s safe
    Gayford, pictured here on The Project, before things got wildly out of control. A bold public relations move by the Government to encourage parents to vaccinate their children has gone horribly wrong. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appeared on tonight’s episode of Three’s The Project, where the plan was for her ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Has Mr. Whippy gone too far by parking on our front lawns?
    Mr. Whippy’s business model has driven it down a dark road of intimidation. Residents in major centres around the country are becoming disgruntled by the increasingly aggressive actions of purported ice cream company Mr. Whippy, who have taken to parking on people’s front lawns and doorsteps in a desperate attempt ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Cleaning up the water
    Today the government released its Action Plan for Healthy Waterways, aimed at cleaning up our lakes and rivers. Its actually quite good. There will be protection for wetlands, better standards for swimming spots, a requirement for continuous improvement, and better standards for wastewater and stormwater. But most importantly, there's a ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Fronting up
    Today I appeared before the Environment Committee to give an oral submission on the Zero Carbon Bill. Over 1,500 people have asked to appear in person, so they've divided into subcommittees and are off touring the country, giving people a five minute slot each. The other submitters were a mixed ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Politics of science – making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear
    Anti-fluoride activists have some wealthy backers – they are erecting billboards misrepresenting the Canadian study on many New Zealand cities – and local authorities are ordering their removal because of their scaremongering. Many New Zealanders ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Democracy – I Don’t Think So
    So, those who “know best” have again done their worst. While constantly claiming to be the guardians of democracy and the constitution, and respecters of the 2016 referendum result, diehard Remainers (who have never brought themselves to believe that their advice could have been rejected) have striven might and main ...
    Bryan GouldBy Bryan Gould
    2 weeks ago
  • Government says it will now build just one really nice home
    Following publication of this article, the Ministry has requested it to be noted that this supplied image is not necessarily representative of what the final house will look like, and it “probably won’t be that nice.” As part of today’s long-anticipated reset of the Government’s flagship KiwiBuild policy, Housing Minister ...
    The CivilianBy admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Imperialism and your cup of coffee
    Over the next week or two we will be running three synopses of parts of the opening chapter of John Smith’s Imperialism in the 21st Century (New York, Monthly Review Press, 2016).  The synopsis and commentary below is written by Phil Duncan. Marx began Capital not with a sweeping historical ...
    RedlineBy Admin
    2 weeks ago
  • Still juking the stats
    The State Services Commission and Ombudsman have released another batch of OIA statistics, covering the last six months. Request volumes are up, and the core public service is generally handling them within the legal timeframe, though this may be because they've learned to extend rather than just ignore things. And ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Hard News: Time for a New Deal: 25 years on
    In 1994, I was editing an ambitious street mag called Planet, from a fabled office at at 309 Karangahape Road. The thirteenth issue of the magazine was published in the winter of that year and its cover embodied a particularly ambitious goal: the end of cannabis prohibition.I wanted to do ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Not impressed
    KiwiBuild was one of the Ardern government's core policies. The government would end the housing crisis and make housing affordable again by building 100,000 new homes. Of course, it didn't work out like that: targets weren't met, the houses they did build were in the wrong place, and the whole ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago
  • Solar beats coal
    As the climate crisis escalates, it is now obvious that we need to radically decarbonise our economy. The good news is that its looking easy and profitable for the energy sector. Wind is already cheaper than fossil fuels, and now solar is too:The levellised cost of solar PV has fallen ...
    No Right TurnBy Idiot/Savant
    2 weeks ago

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