- Date published:
10:01 am, January 30th, 2014 - 56 comments
Categories: babies, capitalism, child welfare, class war, cost of living, david cunliffe, david shearer, education, election 2014, greens, labour, news, same old national, welfare - Tags: income inequality, infotainment
The infotainment, ratings/sales driven basis of our news media, results in the skewing of political news in various ways: whether or not such skewing is intentional. One of the things the MSM does with this “neoliberal”-supporting approach to news, is to focus on human interest stories. Following the party leaders State of the Nation speeches, inequality is currently the main focus.
So, in an apparent attempt at “balanced” coverage of the Labour Party’s Best Start policy, Simon Collins has compared the responses of two couples to the policy: article entitled ‘Labour’s baby bonus: a waste or a boon’. Simon Collins has written a lot of well considered, fair, and knowledgeable articles about social policies. However, this one provides a comparison, that while stark, skews the playing field in some unstated ways.
It looks like this is an attempt to compare a relatively high income couple with a couple on a low income, both with young children. The article doesn’t claim the two couples are representative of others in the same income brackets. Nevertheless, in the current context where the income inequality gap is center stage, they will most likely be understood as representative of all the “haves” and “have nots”.
However, neither couple is truly representative of either end of the income inequality spectrum.
The female half of the high earning couple is far from representative, although she may be representative of some of the 1%er wannabes: Jane Siloway Smith is a high earning woman in an economy where the average female income is lower than that for the average male; and she works for the right wing, anti-welfare think tank, the Maxim Institute. The last two posts on the Maxim’s website blog are:
20-01-014: Jeremy Vargo praising National’s (alleged) education policy, as mentioned in John Key’s State of the Nation speech last week.
24-01-14: Jane Siloway Smith giving praise to some minor statement from David Shearer – a long with a backhander to Labour. Ignoring Labour and the Greens’ SON speeches, Siloway Smith focuses on Shearer’s private members Bill aiming to feed children in schools. Siloway Smith refers to an op ed by David Shearer of 20 January 2014. She claims Shearer is doing a major U Turn with respect to his Bill. Siloway Smith claims that this means Shearer is agreeing with her that welfare is a bad thing. Shearer is NOT arguing against such welfare, but is saying this needs to be coupled with policies aimed at ending poverty in the long term.
In his op ed, Shearer says that his Bill is a start, but that he also wants to include some provisions aiming for long term self sufficiency. This will include education on nutrition and the acquisition of practical gardening skills.
Back to Simon Collins’ article.
Dr Jane Silloway Smith, research manager at the conservative Maxim Institute, and her scientist husband Dr Bryan Smith between them earn just under the $150,000 threshold that Labour has set for its proposed child payment for the first year after a new baby is born.
The Smiths, who came here from the United States in 2008, say they would be grateful for the extra $60 a week, but they could do without it.
Not suprisingly, given Siloway Smith’s views on welfare, she is opposed to Labour’s Best Start policy (though supports Paid Parental Leave). In the course of her comments she manages to get a few words in praising the fact that the economy is (supposedly) heading in the right direction.
There is a quote from Ardern saying that, if this couple is opposed to the Best Start payment, they don’t have to apply for it.
The second couple are are both of the middle class and part of the precariat: Dr Barnett has been made redundant from lecturing at UNITEC, and her partner, Francois Byamana, is an actor and musician. This couple, though well qualified and with skills and experience, are sometimes in need of social security payments.
The article does, however, show that they are huge differences in lifestyles in New Zealand, and describes the realities of low income living. However, it focuses on the struggles of a couple with more options than many who live on low incomes for long periods.
On the other hand, Bryce Edward’s Wednesday round up of articles and blog posts on the inequality, election focused debates, does give a pretty full coverage of the range of arguments. The round up ends with reference to Greg Presland’s “pushback” against the criticisms of Labour in two Standard posts.
These are among two articles, that show that Labour (and to a lesser extent, The Greens), have so far set the agenda for this year’s election.
The Maxim blogs in contrast, are doing their best to ignore this as Key tries desperately to regain his momentum through some flag waving.
Meanwhile, the majority of potential voters are more likely to read Collins’ article; that’s if they don’t just watch the even more highly infotainment skewed coverage of the 6pm TV news.
A couple of thoughts looking at the article.
The framing, style and background of the photos reinforces the tone of the article.
Despite the broad mention of income for the first couple, the second couple provides more detail on where the money is spent including $445 for rent. Would it have been too much for the journalist to ask the same detail of the Smiths?
Auckland housing is notoriously expensive – if you are mortgage free – then you have quite a substantial cushion against financial woes. If you have the use of a company car, or access to Airpoints from business travel – these too provide benefits unavailable to many wage earners.
“She has a second baby due in April and plans to take six months off this time – 14 weeks on taxpayer-funded paid parental leave, part of the remaining time on leave paid by Maxim, and several weeks unpaid.
Dr Silloway Smith supports paid parental leave, but she said the Government had a limited budget and giving her family $60 a week would be “a waste of money”.
Dr Smith benefits from a generous employer – and doesn’t consider their extra maternity leave payments a waste of money for them – even though maternity and early childhood care are not part of their mission. However, she applies this description to our government – where it is one of their core functions.
Also, working for this think tank – as a research manager – you would assume that she would know that policy works in broad brushstrokes and will always have those on the fringe who are included or miss out.
Surely the equivalent in the US is a bit like asking Karl Rove if he is going to get anything out of Obamacare?
not sure if Baby bonus is bs it has been popular in Aussie…
Nice one. Also maybe worth pointing out the use of the term ‘dosh’ in the secondary header? Lot’s of connotations to that term. Also…what is it with the headline ‘Baby Bonus’ bullshit? (I know what it is. I’m being rhetorical)
It’s a way for them to spin it negatively but also alliteration and that’s what the aussies call their similar system. Except over there, it’s not a dirty word.
oops you were being rhetorical, my bad.
Good points, Karol,
As a side issue, a quote from David Shearer linked in the post regarding teaching children about vege gardening:
I want to see parents and communities given the support they need to look after their kids and not simply depend on a government feeding scheme.
David Shearer is MP for Mt Albert and Labour Party spokesman for Foreign Affairs and Energy and Resources.
This really pisses me off.
Does Shearer have any idea how much it costs to set up a functioning food garden?
How weather/soil/luck dependent the results are?
The words “feeding programme” annoy me too. I associate “feeding programmes” like “breeding programmes”, with livestock. If people don’t have the resources to buy nutritious food*, we need to provide adequate resources. Does Shearer have any idea how much land, resources, and expertise is required to provide adequate nutrition for a family? – plonker.
This smacks of victim-blaming to me.
*Benefit levels were deliberately set below amounts needed to meet adequate levels of nutrition. This was supposed to “incentivise” work.
NB “Feeding Programmes” are exactly what he helped to organise and manage at the UN.
Thinking of it – he very well might – but hasn’t thought it through.
I doubt that he’s proposing clearing acres of land in the middle of Auckland suburbs for this. Which is what it would need.
Absolutely agree with your comment about set up costs. Took me a long time.
Not proposed as a complete solution, but what about school gardens? Perhaps a possible component of the Green Party’s school hubs?
I’m thinking they could be much more accessible than community gardens that often require using a car to get to and the necessary social/community connections already exist to some extent or other in a school context.
I’m aware that this is a tangent and Karol might want to move this to open-mike.
Most primary schools have a rudimentary vege garden, and a couple of the community gardens locally, (bigger and worked by community volunteers) are located at schools. However, there is a problem with access in at least some cases. Something about permission to be on school grounds.
A substantial community garden at each school would be brilliant. It would also be great if food was grown in every park and reserve area. Locals could tend them – fruit and nut trees and berries aren’t necessarily labour intensive. The biggest problem with the community gardens is how few and far between they are (so far).
Now if Shearer were to talk about significant resources devoted to this kind of thing (without mentioning ‘feeding programmes’ at all)……
Not really off topic, js.
The post is about media coverage of inequality and political parties policies on it. The post included comments on Shearer’s article, which also suggested a way to decrease poverty/inequalities through development of gardens.
Some good critical comments here on Shearer’s article.
With regards this, in my local community there is a well maintained community garden at the local library because it is all council owned and anyone is welcome to call past and grab a head of broccoli or similar… depending on what has been having success…
I agree Just Saying – and to Karol too. Good post. I’ve only just read the Simon Collins article and Herald editorial (sent a comment into both) and was thinking along the same lines, Karol.
As to poor people growing gardens – like Bill and Just Saying have said – it takes several years, and quite a bit of input with money as well as whatever you can harvest from your presumably bare land – to build up decent vege gardens. We’ve used access to free manure from local farm animals – that’s not a choice for many people living in urban areas.
We’re in our sixth year of building our vege garden and fruit trees and only now, are starting to reap a benefit from them. We were given the feijoa trees, they’ve been in and well manured for five years, and this is the first year I’ve seen flowers and now fruit forming – so hoping to at last harvest them later this year.
And a vege garden takes up a lot of day time. If both parents are working, and have to come home to look after kids, cook meals, do the shopping, housework, etc – there’s not much time left over for them to get a decent vege garden going.
Its patronising for people in authority or in a better financial situation to suggest that those who are poor should just get outside and dig up a vege garden.
Isnt meridian running an ad about 1 in 4 kids going without food? I thought poverty couldnt be measured.
Anyone who thinks the delving into the 60 bucks waS even handed compare with keys 359m education policy… which schools and when. What criteria. Msm didnt chase those answers
Expect more of this b.s. as we get closer to the election. National are desperate.
Let’s assume Labour/Greens/Mana do win, then Cunliffe and the Labour Party must make it abundantly clear to those right-wing M.P.’s that their time in Parliament is limited.
What does “40,000 Kiwi kids arrive at school every week without food” mean?
40,000 Kiwi kids only go to school once a week and when they do it’s without food?
8,000 Kiwi kids go to school 5 times a week and every time they do it’s without food?
40,000 Kiwi kids have arrived at school without food on one day out of a week?
At the end of a week we totalled up every time a kid had arrived at school on at least one day without food and the total was 40,000?
seriously? The problem doesn’t need addressing if it’s only 8,000 constantly hungry kids, or if 40,000 kids miss one breakfast a week because of poverty?
Whether or not it’s a problem that needs addressing is not my point. The headline on the campaign document is shit. It’s vague. It needs explaining. Labour fails at communication, episode 956309.
No, it’s not.
The only thing that matters is whether thousands of NZ kids are going to school hungry. That is clear whichever way you want to interpret it. 8,000 or 40,000 should not affect whether or not something needs to be done about it.
But keep pretending the problem doesn’t exist
Why doesn’t the campaign say that then? Why doesn’t it just say “THOUSANDS OF KIWI KIDS GO TO SCHOOL HUNGRY”?
Again, Labour can’t communicate a policy to save itself.
Because then you’d argue that the problem’s exaggerated, that only hundreds go hungry. Because then you’d criticise the font, or the pic, or the colour palette. Because then you’d do anything else you can think of to avoid addressing the facts presented in the poster.
I mean, if you genuinely gave a shit you’d have looked up the report cited in the poster, rather than whinging here.
Heaven forbid that Labour get some people who can actually communicate effectively.
I think the words you are looking for are Heaven forbid that Labour get some people who can actually communicate so pedantically and exhaustively that every poster it produces takes the format of Das Kapital, for fear that someone going “LALALALA NOT LISTENING” might be able to wilfully miss the point.
the current poster does the job for most people who are not intentionally blind.
The current poster does the job for people who already support Labour’s policy on child welfare and will be voting Labour anyway. It’s preaching to the choir – a choir that for two elections in a row hasn’t been big enough to get Labour into government.
What Labour should be doing is making its messages so clear, direct, and unassailably powerful that even someone who WANTS to go “lalalala not listening” has to concede the point. Labour should be crafting and timing its messages to attract people who currently don’t intend to vote for Labour. It should be communicating effectively. But it’s not.
I didn’t see Cunliffe’s speech because he gave it on a public holiday, and I was at the beach. So I watched a recording of it, and then I read Labour’s documents, and they said two different things on an important point so I was confused. Then when I wanted to think about it a bit more I didn’t get a chance because I was swamped with work the day after a public holiday. Then I was distracted by Labour announcing that it considered Facebook a paedophile network and would ban it, which is something I consider retarded, so I was less likely to consider Labour a party with sensible policies. Then I saw a Labour poster about hungry children and while I think that’s an important issue my attention was already lost because I wasn’t sure what the heading actually said.
All of these things could have been avoided, and they weren’t because Labour can’t communicate for shit.
The fact that you were not convinced does not mean that the material was only preaching to the choir.
Failing to convince people who follow the catechism “if I don’t know exactly how many thousands of children are going hungry each day, I will refuse to acknowledge that there is even a problem” is likewise not the same as “preaching to the choir”.
Try drawing a Venn diagram to figure it out.
If a sensible reader’s first reaction upon reading your headline is “what does that mean?”, then your headline is shit.
Yeah, but that was your reaction. Don’t go accusing a sensible person of being in that club.
I have still not received an answer as to what those children do during the school holidays.
I am aware that in some lower decile schools they are open for breakfast and some supervision, but only a few schools.
Youve nailed it. Those are the most important things to sort out before we feed a single child.
”One of the things the MSM does with this “neoliberal”-supporting approach to news, is to focus on human interest stories.”
With so-called ‘hip pocket’ issues, the news media always sought out and highlighted people directly affected. It pre-dates neoliberalism.
To the wider point, I think the prevalence of the human interest angle (and often this means angling the story on the ‘real’ person but having official comment/statistics in the body of the article) is linked with the Rogernomics era overhaul of the public sector.
It is incredibly difficult for journos to get straightforward answers from government departments because of their defensiveness about disclosing information, and their legions of ‘communications’ operatives acting as gatekeepers.
It’s another reason we have personality-driven political news coverage; other information sources have virtually been closed down. From reading the Ombudsman’s annual report, the watchdog does not have the resources to investigate all the complaints that are lodged regarding departments and ministerial staff refusing to comply with the Official Information Act.
Turning government departments into quasi corporate entities, inculcating an odd mix of public and private values, was driven by a de facto bipartisan consensus between Labour and National that the public sector should be run like a business.
Should the media become activist in changing the system, or should political parties do something to change it?
Very good comment, gem.
Also working with the infotainment approach, is the cut backs on experienced journalists. There’s a lot of quite young journalists, without a strong background in many political areas. Furthermore, journolists are given less time for research, and spend a disporportionate amount of time behind their computers or roaming the corridors of political power.
Simon Collins is one who actually does get out to demos and interviews people there.
You just about need a private income to be a journalist these days, thus for most it’s become a stepping stone to a higher-paid, less stressful job.
Journalists used to be on par with teachers when it came to pay, as I understand it, but that is no more.
The consolidation of ownership also saw the axing of evening papers, which generally held left-leaning political views compared with the more pro-establishment morning papers.
The Maxim Institute is mentioned in Nicky Hagar’s book “The Hollow Men” (2006).
A collection of some of the mentions:
Maxim was set up “based on the model of right-wing United States thinktanks.” [Hagar, 2006, p203]
and was active in supporting Don Brash’s National party (the one that didn’t get in in 2005) – The head of that Institute at the time supported Brash’s divisive Orewa speech publically in The Herald. [Hagar, 2006, p204]
for another meeting the head of that Institute ” offered ‘to put together a meeting of up to 1000 “flammable”: parents on the North Shore of Auckland’, so Brash could present National’s education policies to a large and sympathetic audience.” [Hagar, 2006, p204]
….So methinks providing a voxpop of a woman who is one of that group (a group that has been active in electioneering for a previous Nat party – and I would suspect nothing has changed for this election) is hardly ‘a person off the street’ and this choice of TV3’s can hardly be called ‘balanced’ and certainly not politically neutral in any way, shape or form.
[n.b. I do not consider Karol is attempting to make the point that TV3 is managing balance, I am merely adding some detail for those that hadn’t heard of this ‘Institute’].
+1 At least the fact she is a staff member of a right-wing thinktank makes her less credible to the public (the word ”conservative” was used as description in the Herald piece).
Maxim must have waning influence; surely it could have organised a ”flammable” parent to ring the Herald to volunteer their views who did not have such an obvious link to itself.
Yes I agree re at least they introduced her as “research manager at the conservative Maxim Institute”[the exact words] – It did give a lead. I was thinking of adding that point to my comment, so am glad you did!
I still get concerned about the use of a member of that particular group, however, because had it not been for my having just happened to have picked up “The Hollow Men” last night and recalled the name mentioned in the first chapter of that book – I wouldn’t have known the extent of their involvement with the Nat party and that puts a different slant on the comment she made and the choice to quote her.
I do agree, though, that at least they mentioned the name of the Institute and that it was conservative.
”I do agree, though, that at least they mentioned the name of the Institute and that it was conservative.” And ideally the story would mention Maxim’s involvement in the 2005 pre-election machinations, because as you said in your original post, some people won’t know what it is.
The Hollow Men is a great resource, a book every Kiwi should read, and re-read in an election year. Thanks for the page refs.
+1 & glad to be of service 🙂
Thanks, bl. Some very good background.
In this case the article was from NZ Herald, not TV3.
Thanks for the correction, my apologies for the error – The Herald not TV3 argh!
[I had TV3 in my mind having just read Micky Savage’s post, whom mentioned your comment about Maxim and separately mentioned TV3 – have made a similar error before – the mainstream media outlets are all lumped into the same ‘read or watch with severe scepticism’ section of my mind and so I will have to take care not to commit this error again for that reason!]
Assuming they are not returning New Zealander’s how did they manage to emigrate here. Being a RWNJ is probably not on the skill’s shortages list?
This piece from the Herald, while it does allow Cunliffe to clear up misunderstandings around the Best Start policy, is illustrated with not one, but four, unflattering photographs. Four photos of the same subject hardly seem necessary to such a short piece. He is not smiling in any of them, and in one the shadowing lends his face a purplish hue. A subtle addition to “balanced” reporting.
+1 The bias in this choice of pictures is shocking
Simon Collins has been stopped from writing as he used to, because his “paymaster” wants him to “tow the line”, that is behind all this. If he does not tow the line, he will join others on the damned “dole”!
That is the way power plays in this country, and under Key and Nats more so than under any other government!
Do as you are told, and you will be “fine”, if you raise issues, hey, we got some “news” for you, it may be worth to rethink, what you just said!
Make no damned doubt about it, this society is controlled and manipulated with pressure plays 24/7, and as the society has been divided into endless fearsome, mindsome, worried and also mercenary individuals, nobody dares to rock the boat. Nobody dares to even discuss certain things with work mates anymore, as the boss may hear, and then it is “down the road”.
Yes, they have done a thorough job, the Natzies, and I hear and see it every day. But where is the “guts” that is displayed by some on the rugby fields? Where is the guts of people here to take a solid and firm stand, and to bring about change? I am waiting!
Aye Olwyn. We should think about a special “The Herald is trying to make David Cunliffe look bad” post and put all of them up.
A standard special of the Herald’s depictions of DC is an excellent idea.
there will always be haves and have nots food and accommodation is not a human right kids are a life style choice they shouldn’t have them if they cant afford them.
I thought Dr Barnett and Mr Byaman were a fairly poor choice to represent those who might need the $60 because she was not laid off. It says she left her job voluntarily to study further. Therefore, if the child was planned, she chose to be studying (and lowering her income) at the time she was having a child. Her desire to extend herself in her field is great, but lecturing Art History is one of the few ways to earn a living with an education in Art History and she was already doing that… her timing in furthering her education was her choice and so it opens up the criticism of the policy that it only makes it easier for people to make personal choices without having to fully appreciate the consequences.
You are right insofar as they are not minimum wage workers, so are not in the most desperate need. But Best Start, as I understand it, is intended to take the pressure off families, and they too would have benefited from having less pressure on them when their child was born. And you are drawing a long bow in suggesting that their example opens the policy up to the criticism that it encourages ill-considered personal choices. It is quite usual to juggle financial needs, personal development and so on, in order to include a child. We are not automatons. Moreover, Dr Barnett’s PhD makes her more employable in her chosen field, and she is working at the moment.
John key is a cunt. I’m shamed that I voted once for him.
I do not suffer from that sense of regret but it is good that you acknowledge it Anthony.
fair enough. My mother says she won’t vote national this year for the first time in her life.
“One of the things the MSM does with this “neoliberal”-supporting approach to news, is to focus on human interest stories.”
KAROL, thank you, another good contribution to expose what goes on. Yes, the MSM (mainstream media), they “love” those individual stories. They just love to “personalise” and “individualise” everything, because it is “VERBOTEN” to challenge the main reasons for the malaise, the SYSTEM!
So they continue to personalise, individualise, trivialise the issues at stake, and because the MSM (being mostly large corporate, or similarly minded “competing” media organisations, even in public hands) does not want to force any issues, or even “bite” the hand that feeds them (advertisers and agencies that do the expensive brainwashing work for them).
New Zealand is in this regard the same as Australia, the same as Canada, and ultimately the same as the United States of America, as that is where the major influences on our economy, our economic and social realities come from. New Zealand maybe doing great trade with China, Japan, the EU, and others, and be quite a lot dependent on this, but in its “spirit”, tradition and “culture”, it is the US and the UK that have shaped and thus control New Zealand and the people’s psyche here.
The powerful lobbies behind the media, the payers of the advertising, the lobby groups and major economic participants in this society, they DICTATE, where the journey goes, and what is “allowed”. Make no damned doubt about this!
That is why we have NO “independent” media, apart from a few blogs catering for a few tens of thousands at best, that is why we have NO democracy. The spin is always favouring the government, and since at least the early to mid 1980s, ALL governments in NZ have been influenced, if not been “determined” (through basically “rigged” elections by manipulated media serving the interests of certain “contenders” and their lobbyists), by forces other than the people who voted.
When you have a manipulated, poorly or even misinformed public, then you will end up with totally biased, thus irresponsible, and “bought” voters. That is what we are heading for again, with that, what I have observed the last two or three weeks.
It appears that anything Labour, Cunliffe, the Greens or New Zealand First, let alone Mana or others, say, that is instantly “rubbished”, and anything that “the government” says, it gets taken up with a statement from “officialdom”, and thus with credit and respect.
Karol and others, I cannot believe, how patient, long suffering and patient so many of New Zealanders are, you are taken for a damned ride again. It is not helpful, this “New Zealand way”, to not speak up, to not protest, to endure, and to somehow sort things out without standing for firm positions and principles. No, that is NOT my way, I fight, I stand for principles, and I will never make rotten, or half rotten deals, with what this government, the rotten media and whosoever tries to promote.
Having shopped again in todays Auckland supermarket in an inner suburb, where it is push and shove now, like anywhere else in the world, I know, the traditional “New Zealand way” is dead, as that was allowed to happen. Better wake up and start fighting, for the remnants of what this country may still stand for!
So Natures drive to reproduce should be repressed by poor and uneducated…
Laws of the jungle only the strongest should be allowed to reproduce what do you suggest forced abortion alah China.
Compulsory birth control .
Or just leave children of the poor starving cold sick.
Remember We Johnny Key he would have been on your eugenics list.