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John Key Selling (out) New Zealand

Written By: - Date published: 8:21 am, November 11th, 2012 - 53 comments
Categories: business, culture, democracy under attack, Environment, Minister for Overseas Holidays, tourism, workers' rights - Tags:

In the latest installment of saga of John Key selling out NZ to Hollywood, we can see just how low our PM is prepared to go. He’s undermined New Zealand workers’ rights in order to sell NZ’s identity and tourist industry to Warners, the TPP and beyond.  John Key has no shame: he is strongly aligning his role as NZ minister of tourism, with this ill-fated Hobbit saga. This seems to be promoting John Key’s reputation with the US corporates and government over the best interests of NZ.

Today, a Stuff article shows exactly how much John Key has sold NZ to Warners.

Tourism NZ sought approval from Warner Bros for every aspect of its $10 million “Middle-earth” marketing campaign – even checking with the film studio over issues that did not directly concern it, official papers show.

The documents, released under the Official Information Act, reveal the extent of the company’s sway over the government agency’s “100% Pure Middle-earth” marketing strategy, as well as the influence of Peter Jackson’s Wingnut Films.

In an earlier post I showed how the Hobbit actors union dispute resulted in NZ workers’ rights being undermined.  As I quoted in that post, Nigel Haworth (2011) made this excellent summing up the outcomes of the dispute.

Thus, analytically, the New Zealand state simultaneously conceded, financially and legislatively, to the global film sector whilst taking the opportunity to further its ER liberalisation and attack the domestic trade union movement.

In a later post, I argued that the massive promotion of the Hobbit involved piggy-backing the branding of New Zealand as 100% Middle-earth on the earlier branding as 100% Pure, all to please Hollywood.  Statistical evidence shows this is not the best way to promote NZ as a tourist destination.  The focus on attracting US tourists is misplaced, and only shows how much John Key is in awe of, and a lackey for US corporates, especially the razzle-dazzle of the Hollywood industry.

Others agree that this extensive selling out of NZ, is not likely to provide the benefits promised.  In an op ed piece in Stuff today, Tony Wall asks, Isn’t it time we kicked the Hobbit?

Tourism NZ is relying on hobbits to boost a flagging industry, promising that the coming Peter Jackson films will be bigger than the Rugby World Cup. But some experts warn it’s a risky strategy and not a true reflection of who we are.

It’s not enough that Key’s government has turned NZ’s 100% Pure image into a farce with the withdrawal from Kyoto2, but this intensive selling of NZ to Hollywood is becoming cringe-worthy, as Wall reports:

Simon Milne, director of the New Zealand Tourism Research institute, says the approach could be counter-productive with the “high-yield, experienced, knowledgeable traveller”, who could see the Middle-earth comparison as “naff”. …

Milne believes the 100% Pure campaign has reached its use-by date, with international media already pointing out the hypocrisy.

“We have to be careful about branding ourselves Middle-earth. It’s not who we are, it’s a film set. We need to do more than that, we have to go deeper than that. If we look at global trends in tourism, there’s a real focus on authenticity.”

Milne says the films might provide a short-term benefit, but does not believe they will lead to a sustained increase in visitors.

In The Guardian in October, Toby Manhire was also not entirely convinced by the shift to 100% Middle-earth branding.  And he makes a wry comment about how far this is from Tolkien’s vision of Middle-earth from 1930s Oxfordshire. He reports how the 100% Middle-earth branding has engulfed TVNZ, Air NZ, commemorative stamps and coins, and Wellington Council.  This relies on NZ’s highly skilled crews and digital animators, but is now being undermined by the high NZ dollar.

It’s not enough that this government is destroying our economy and culture, increasing unemployment, and demonising those struggling most to survive on low incomes, but it is selling out our government and democracy to US corporates.


53 comments on “John Key Selling (out) New Zealand”

  1. marsman 1

    John Key is an insult to NZ. He is beyond a joke, a nasty joke at that.
    I feel ashamed that Wellington, a cultural city, is being cheapened by the whole Middle Earth farce.
    Compliments on your post KAROL.

  2. infused 2

    ‘Middle Earth’ isn’t that Warners IP? If you actually read the entire thing, not just the shitty story Stuff put up, you’d realise that was the reason for sign off.

    Your blog post is just as bad as the Stuff article.

    Kyoto is shit. No one wants it. Lets pay millions of dollars to someone else for no reason. Sounds good to me.

    • Colonial Viper 2.1

      1) ‘Middle Earth’ in direct relation to trademarks and images of the films is owned by Warners. NZ however, is NOT owned by Warners. You would think.

      2) “Kyoto is shit”. Kyoto was a highly detailed, very well balanced, widely accepted international agreement. But who cares; universal laws remain and the human race will reap what it sows.

    • We’ll be paying for climate change either way. Better to pay now and prevent as much of the problem as we can, rather than pay to adapt to the change later.

  3. BM 3

    As the article that you linked to says:

    Tourism NZ’s spokesman Chris Roberts said Warner held the rights for The Hobbit so any direct or indirect references had to be cleared with the company, but he admitted some of the matters raised did not require Warner’s approval.

    “Considering how much value is in this ‘brand’, they have been very generous. So, in terms of maintaining good relationships, we have tended to share with them aspects of our campaign that might not strictly require their sign-off.”

    Roberts said Warner did not veto any aspect of the campaign. “They loved it.” He said Tourism NZ had worked with Warner to identify the best media outlets to “meet their needs to promote the movie and our need to promote NZ”.

    I don’t see what the issue is.

    Also once again all this shows is David Shearer being negative about NZ and any efforts to get the economy going, this will be a big lose for him and the Labour party in the eyes of the NZ voter.
    Really dumb politics.

    • Colonial Viper 3.1

      This is absolute double talk. Who cares about the “VALUE” in Warner’s branding and IP, the true IP value is NEW ZEALAND.

      THEY should be checking with US as to whether or not they are representing our country correctly.

      • BM 3.1.1

        Warners own the IP rights to the film, we’re going to use the hobbit to promote NZ.

        Of course Warners should get to yay or nay any proposal put forward that may effect the Hobbit brand, bizarre to even think that they shouldn’t.

        For me the main point I took away from that story was the negativity of David Shearer and the Labour party.

        • Colonial Viper

          Bullshit. You’re still back to front. NZ should get a yay or nay to any proposal Warners puts forward that may affect the NZ brand. Bizarre to even think that they shouldn’t.

    • Draco T Bastard 3.2

      Also once again all this shows is David Shearer being negative about NZ and any efforts to get the economy going,

      This isn’t about getting NZ’s economy going because, quite frankly, it won’t. What this does is get Warner Bros’ economy going at our expense.

      • Wayne 3.2.1

        This is a typical Left delusion, still can’t get over that the Hobbit is made here. You would sooner have a wholly NZ cottage film industry, rather than a much larger industry that is globally connected through the one place that really counts in this industry – Hollywood.

        Of course Warner Bros benefits, but so does NZ and especially Wellington.

        I bet Grant Robertson goes to the opening, assuming he has an invite, or is Labour going to boycott it, with a demo outside.

        • karol

          This is as much about NZ’s tourist industry, as it is about The Hobbit. I’m happy for anyone to make movies here if it benefits NZ.

          But Wayne, there’s not a lot in this promotion for NZ. Even many in the NZ tourist industry see this.

        • Draco T Bastard

          This is a typical Left delusion, still can’t get over that the Hobbit is made here.

          Could have made The Hobbit here without Warner Bros or Hollywood.

          You would sooner have a wholly NZ cottage film industry

          You mean that world class industry that produced LoTR, Avatar and numerous other movies?

          …through the one place that really counts in this industry – Hollywood.

          1.) There’s this nice little idea called competition, perhaps you’ve heard of it.
          2.) There’s also an entire world outside of the USA.

          We really don’t have to compete with Hollywood for the US market. Watch A Lonely Place to Die to get an idea as to what I’m talking about.

          WTF should I, or anybody, be concerned if Grant Robertson is going to watch a movie?

        • lprent

          I bet Grant Robertson goes to the opening, assuming he has an invite, or is Labour going to boycott it, with a demo outside.

          Why are you asking Draco? He doesn’t support the NZLP and from memory he probably never has.

          Read the about. The labour movement is somewhat wider than the NZLP and this blogsite frequently has people from well outside even that broad group.

          However in my view labour should boycott it. I’m afraid that the sight of National cravenly changing labour laws at a whim from Warner’s went well beyond anything that Labour or any other party in NZ should support.

          • Fisiani

            We will thus soon see whether Grant ( ) Robertson is truly an acolyte of the Laft and boycotts the movie premiere and protests or whether he sits in the comfy seats with the capitalists. Problem is that he has been denying being a Hobbit hater. Images of him protesting would sully his image. Robertson must thus face trial by Hobbit.

        • Colonial Viper

          Shame that Jackson, belonging to at least 3 unions himself, and happy to get the benefits associated with belonging to those unions, worked against NZ actors getting union protections and benefits.

          The Hollywood kowtowing hypocrite.

          • Frank Macskasy

            On top of which, CV – not many folk know this – but Jackson needed funding from the QE2 Arts Council to finish his first project, “Bad Taste” (the final scenes involving the Alien House taking off like a rocket).

            Had it not been for taxpayer funding (which I don’t begrudge), “Bad Taste” would never have been finished; his career in movie-making might never have taken off; anbd we’d be living in an alternative timeline where he never produced movies, and LoTR nver happened…

            • Draco T Bastard

              anbd we’d be living in an alternative timeline where he never produced movies, and LoTR nver happened…

              We can always dream…


        • Tracey

          Are you still buying that already proven false line, that the Hobbitt was going to be made somewhere else???

    • BM, the issue here is twofold;

      1. Subsidies to big business. I thought subsidies were a no-no in our Neo-liberal Nirvana?

      And if Warner Bro’s can get subsidies, why not our own local industries? Key doesn’t seem to like subsidising our own enterprises, according to his statements.

      2. In bowing to Warner Bro’s pressure, Key used government power to unilaterally change the status of workers from employees to contractors. This wasn’t “nanny statism” – this was all out Big Brother at work, interferuing in the lives of employees. (More here, in a blogpost on National’s track record on raising wages in NZ: http://fmacskasy.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/john-keys-track-record-on-raising-wages-preface/ )

      If Labour had pulled a stunt like that, you and your fellow National supporters would be livid with rage.

      “Also once again all this shows is David Shearer being negative about NZ and any efforts to get the economy going…”


      In case you hadn’t noticed, National has been in power for the last 4 years. Why is it that you right wingers demand responsibility from the unemployed, solo-mums, etc, but you’ree willing to turmn a blind eye to your own Party?! The right wing are big on others taking responsibility – but you don’t apply the same expectation to yourselves.

      Why is that?

  4. LynW 4

    Totally agree Karol, excellent summary of the situation! I read that article and felt so angry and dismayed! We are a country not a corporation and we have our own identity! I lost respect for Peter Jackson after his involvement with Key in undermining workers’ rights and made a personal decision to shun the Hobbit. I note the Hobbit has also crept into Air New Zealand’s marketing! I guess you can’t expect much less from a leader whose background involved selling to the highest bidder and wheeling and dealing! My heart aches for New Zealand.

  5. Bill 5

    Imagined conversation.

    “We’re willing to incorporate your movie into our branding. Now, let’s sit down and negotiate how much you will pay us for what would otherwise be quite long term free publicity for your commercial venture.”

  6. Draco T Bastard 6

    It’s not enough that this government is destroying our economy and culture, increasing unemployment, and demonising those struggling most to survive on low incomes, but it is selling out our government and democracy to US corporates.

    That, from what I can make out, is this governments sole purpose for being.

  7. felix 7

    The film industry isn’t promoting tourism. It’s the other way around.

    We are spending our tourism budget to promote a movie.

    • Draco T Bastard 7.1


      Thing is, everything this government does is to promote/prop-up the private sector at the taxpayers expense up to and including dropping those same taxpayers into poverty.

    • LynW 7.2

      +1, and the film industry acting like they’re doing NZ a favour!

      • Tigger 7.2.1

        +1. It’s smart to leverage off a major movie to sell some tourism. It’s dumb to tie your entire tourism brand to that movie.

  8. bbfloyd 8

    THe conclusion is rather stark…Johnny sparkles (nee Key) is a DISGRACE!!

    It will take New Zealand, and it’s people years, possibly decades to live down the embarrasment that he is to each, and every one of us…..

    Not to speak of the possibly permanent damage to our reputation, and ability to make our own way in economic terms alone…..

    How long before we do an “aussie”, as in tell people we are australians while overseas, simply to avoid the stigma?

  9. Richard Christie 9

    I’m with Milne. 100% naff.
    As an aside, I’m hoping Jackson does better with the screenplay and character development this time around, last effort 10/10 for visuals, sets etc, 1/10 for it’s really pathetically poor screenplay which reduced the books to a comic-strip equivalent, but his using the same scriptwriters is not cause for confidence.

  10. Barry 10

    The “news” report seems to be a lot of noise about very little.

    The interesting point is that it is published at all. This is similar to the sort of rubbish that was published about Labour 5 or so years ago. It seems that the News media have fallen “somewhat” out of love with National and are prepared to criticize them randomly to fill their columns.

    • karol 10.1

      are prepared to criticize them randomly to fill their columns.

      You mean as opposed to the way the MSM usually fills its columns, with news of stuff crucial to large numbers of Kiwis – like the latest car crash (I’m sure it’s crucial to those affected), or news of Lindsay Lohan’s latest run-in with the law, John Key’s latest mincing photo op, something the (non)sensible sentencing trust said, queues to buy the latest over-priced Apple product…. etc, etc?
      Yet the selling of NZ in ways that will further undermine NZ’s economy, workers’ rights and our democratic independence, are just “noise about very little”….

    • Barry, you would’ve loved my parent’s homeland. The media was Party-controlled and published only pro-government stories.

      There’s still Nth Korea and Cuba, I guess.No “falling out of love” in those countries.

  11. Johnm 11

    Key is Corporate Man, Kiwi ordinary people and true democracy simply don’t register for him, he’s blissfully happy that way, selling of our assets is like asking a Jew or Christian “Do you believe in God”? The Free market cult has enriched him: it’s his religion, people are mere market fodder. 🙁

  12. Shorts 12

    I see where this is going…. Middle Earth to be replaced by the Hunger Games (sequels)… Winners get a trip to planet key

    Golf on warners, golf on

  13. I think this “Middle Earth” branding is even worse than this article relays.
    I believe it is about taking NZ away from 100% Pure in order to set us up for the big-boy-big-money mining and drilling interests.
    This aim has nothing to do with the interests of NZers and everything to do with big money interests.

    • We have an opportunity to be a clean, green country and pursue income generating activities that will only create increasingly desirable products, services and applications and would generate interest for tourism too, or we can go down the same old filthy road of “drill it, mine it, sell it.”

      One only needs to see the political and physically aggressive quagmire, such countries who’ve followed this “D.I.M.I.S.I.” paradigm, are embroiled in and view how morally or practically bankrupt (or both) they are, to see that, with present world conditions, inviting foreign oil interests into this country is fool-hardy and not in the best interests of New Zealanders.

  14. Rich 14

    It’s mostly nothing about helping the local or national economy and everything about getting an invite to parties with movie stars. Especially for an operation like Wellington Airport, which is basically a glorified bus station whose management, in normal circumstances, would draw a salary in the high five figures and an invite to the Fulton Hogan party with a bunch of roading contractors.

  15. xtasy 15

    “100 per cent pure middle-earth”, wow!

    NZ will in years to come be known as “Little Hobbiton”, “Middle Earth Land”, or something along those lines, if this gets out of control.

    Coins, t-shirts, brochures, figurines, items and insignia representing copies of such used in the films, tourist play-grounds, fairs and what else there may come, is this “New Zealand”, or will it not rather be some kind of “Disneyland” type country in future, where tourists come to see and experience “play stuff” out of fantasy land and movies.

    Of course there is a place for it, but it could have adverse effects.

    And what is it all based on? The films were made based on a book, by whom again? He was Russian by the way. Maybe next the Russians will get envious and come with intellectual property claims?

    “Clean and green” and “100 per cent pure” are certainly gone as credible labeling, since the government will not even bother participating in working out and agreeing to a follow-up to the Kyoto Protocol.

  16. Hmmmm… interesting…

    None of National’s apologists have come up with the usual excuse for kowtowing to the Wide Boys from Warner Bro’s…

    Wait for it…

    Wait for it…

  17. Tracey 17

    I don’t think this is off thread, but accept it should be deleted if it is.

    A few days ago a trial began in Sydney of a man who had defrauded about $8.5m. He was never asked about his company, the dozen or so investors never did due diligence. These people were not dupes as such, apparently bright successful people in careers and business. How were they duped? By the lure of celebrity it seems. The ybased their investment in his music label on his photos of himself rubbing shoulders with celebrities…

    So why is this relevant tot his thread??? Because I can see our PM doing this. He seems so blinded by the bright lights of celebrity that he almost loses control of his thinking side… Is it this kind of non-thinking that leads to Warner Bros having to be consulted before we market our county? For those who say they vetoed nothing, that’s not the point, they have the option and can’t be left out of the process.

    Apparently bright and successful people doing silly things to get a chance to stand beside a celebrity???


  18. Not more Middle Earth and 100% Pure. *starts being sick* What about things like Maori culture, artwork, society, food and how New Zealanders actually live? Rather than just focusing on exclusive resorts, golf courses, elves and hobbits. xD

  19. Tracey 19

    Case in point… Mr Key will have an idea what we are paying for the royals to come here to celebrate their mother’s 60 year reign…. but wont say until they are gone…

    ” The New Zealand Government is paying for the costs associated with their six-day visit, including the Duchess’ hairdresser, who is paid to travel with the royal entourage.

    “The reality is it costs quite a lot but I think that is realistic when you think about how far they’re coming and the number of people they bring, the size of the operation. The size is significant,” Key told Newstalk ZB.

    He said the staff requirements were appropriate, given the number of functions the royals would be attending.

    While Key said the cost of the tour wouldn’t be released until after the visit, “

  20. JonL 20

    ” He seems so blinded by the bright lights of celebrity that he almost loses control of his thinking side”

    What do you mean, “almost”………

  21. tracey 21

    Those who support him in polls must think so.

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    3 weeks ago
  • War on drugs needs more troops
    The Minister of Police must urgently address the number of officers investigating illegal drugs if she is serious about making a dent in the meth trade, says Labour’s Police spokesperson Stuart Nash.  “Answers from written questions from the Minister show ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Doctors strike symptom of health cuts
    The notice of strike action issued by the junior doctors today is the result of years of National’s cuts to the health system, says Labour’s Associate Health spokesperson Dr David Clark. ...
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  • Government starves RNZ into selling Auckland asset
    Just weeks after TVNZ opened its refurbished Auckland head office costing more than $60 million, RNZ (Radio New Zealand) has been forced to put its Auckland office on the market to keep itself afloat, says Labour’s Broadcasting spokesperson Clare Curran. ...
    3 weeks ago
  • Government must be more than a bystander on the economy
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    3 weeks ago
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    The Māori Party should stop tinkering and start fixing tragic Māori housing statistics in the face of a national housing crisis, says Labour’s Māori Development spokesman Kelvin Davis. ...
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