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OIA docs confirm English wrote propaganda ad script

Written By: - Date published: 3:22 pm, November 6th, 2009 - 38 comments
Categories: national/act government, spin - Tags: ,

Documents that the government was forced to release under the Official Information Act reveal that Bill English exercised extensive control and sign-off over each stage of his million dollar political propaganda ad, funded by publicly-owned broadcaster TVNZ.

The documents (which, unfortunately, the media organisations have not seen fit to release to the public in full) show that far from just editing the script to correct some economicic misunderstandings as he had claimed, English re-wrote it to include more of his party’s political rhetoric.

TVNZ Script: In these recessionary times
Bill English rewrite: As we emerge from the recession

TVNZ Script: “We can beat those Aussies. Time to back ourselves – kick for the corner then muscle over the line.”
Bill English rewrite: “You know, we can beat those Aussies. It’s time to back ourselves. With a bit of old fashioned Kiwi can-do, we’ll get there.”

TVNZ Script: “It’s time to give the snip snap to the zip zap plastic fantastic” (make finger scissors gesture)
Bill English Rewrite: “Lets get investing and back our exporters. That’s where the jobs will come and that’s how we can boost our incomes.”

TVNZ Script: “Keep a few bob in the bank and Bob will be your uncle. We’ll get there. Bottom line: it’s your economy too.”
Bill English rewrite: We’re nearly through the tough times and things are looking up. We have plenty of work to do. But I’m confident New Zealanders are up for it and together we’ll do it.” (Changed by TVNZ for final cut to “We’re nearly through the tough times and things are looking up. Together us Kiwis can do it.”)

English was given final sign-off on the script and on the final edit of the ad.

This whole thing stunk before, now it stinks even more of corruption. There needs to be an independent investigation. I would think the State Services Commission is the logical body. Shareholding ministers are not permitted to exercise this degree of control over the actions of Crown-owned companies. English knew that, TVNZ CEO Rick Ellis knew that, the presenter, Guyon Espiner, knew that. Everyone involved in the process knew that it is not permissible for a company to pay for a party political broadcast and it is not within the minister’s powers to direct operational matters. The public must be told how and why it was allowed to happen. Heads must roll.

On a wider note, this is another example of the rampant corruption and disregard for the rule of law that we will have to put up with from this Key Government for another two years. Key has neither the will nor the strength to pull ministers into line, especially not English.

That means that English will see fit to continue behaving as he damn well pleases. Whether its ripping us off for tens of thousands of dollars by abusing the ministerial housing allowance, abusing his ministerial powers to give himself a million dollars of taxpayer-funded ads, or whatever other rort he can come up with, English is not going to change his ways. And Key can’t make him.

38 comments on “OIA docs confirm English wrote propaganda ad script”

  1. Lew 1

    Cheers Marty, have been meaning to write something like this as a followup to my post on it last week. Go-go gadget media outcry.

    L

  2. Zaphod Beeblebrox 2

    24% youth unemployment and English added the quote “we’re nearly through it”.

  3. first Maori TV, now TVNZ.
    whatever happened to the idea of hands-off government, or government non-interference in media for that matter?
    i’ve never known such a meddling control-freak government as this one. well, at least not since Muldoon.

  4. vidiot 4

    Sorry – where’s the ‘party’s political rhetoric’ that you are banging on about ?

    #1 TVNZ original script is very negative. The re-write is more factual as the indicators are improving.

    #2 Much plainer English – excuse the pun. Less of a Rugby analogy and more of a take it all head on.

    #3 That original line makes me cringe “snip snap to the zip zap” – it’s media wonk.

    #4 Original TVNZ script far too colloquial, combined with the snip snap comment it would appear the original show was pinched at 12 year old, not a serious show about economics.

    Take the glasses off Marty, make a couple of them charts that you are famous for – and have a good weekend.

    • maybe the point is:

      a) WTF is up with TVNZ’s marketing dept directing the Minister of Finance on what to say?

      b) WTF is up with the Minister of Finance, who is a shareholding minister in TVNZ, directing TVNZ on what he will be said in their ad?

      which leads to

      c) WTF is up with the Minister of Finance ever appearing in an ad for an SOE in the first place, especially when both play an important role in the pantomine of indepence from one another?

      AND

      d) in what way is TVNZ’s credibility enhanced by this tawdry affair?

      very poor political judgement from both parties for precisely no gain but quite a few unecessary headaches.

  5. Pat 5

    “…rampant corruption…”

    An imaginery term, not to be confused with actual corruption.

  6. tsmithfield 6

    I would say the bigger question is why TVNZ is employing such lousy script writers in the first place. I think the alterations to the script flow much better and provide a better connection to the audience.

    • Pascal's bookie 6.1

      The National Party probably has more experience with this sort of ad t.

      And yeah, it does provide a better conection between the MInister of Finance and the viewer, what with the change to all the ‘we’ language, and the ‘ You know’ business.

      Not quite just fixing factual errors like this joker was reckoning:

      Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Of course his office has not been involved in matters relating to the production of the programme, nor has his office been involved in promoting the programme. But his office most certainly has been concerned to ensure the accuracy of the script. Of course, I am sure that one or two of his advisers advised him on how he should appear on the programme. None of that would be unusual.

      (Hit tip i/s)

      • the sprout 6.1.1

        exactly Pb, government excercised full-on editorial control over TVNZ’s content, just like Muldoon.

        any journos out there, ask your forebears what is what like trying to report under Muldoon – you’ve got some great experiences to look forward to

    • Lanthanide 6.2

      Yes, that original script is so shockingly poor, I would be embarrassed for Bill if he’d gone with it. He would have come off looking like an imbecile.

      So, why was the original script so poor? Was someone at TVNZ trying to purposefully spike this ad campaign and wanted to embarrass Bill, or was this more calculated than that – provide something that is obviously drivvel in the knowledge that Bill would have to re-write it, thus fanning the flames of the controversy that was sure to arise from the ad being aired…

  7. tc 7

    Not only does the gov’t want to influence TVNZ, it wants to be seen doing it……all hail our mighty cabinet ministers and take note all you out there who dare challenge us.
    TVNZ is so pathetically managed it’s even helping to create evidence as to why it should be privatised which IMHO is the only way kiwis can get some value out of it.
    At least their slogans correct ” our nation , our voice” ‘our’ being the shareholding ministers party it appears.
    Put this issue in with their inability to even commission a decent drama, various failed (remember NZOOM) and likely to fail digital ventures (TiVo) and a CEO on nearly $1m p.a. with his bonuses and it’s about as well run now as telecom under gattung/deane which had to be legislated into competition.

  8. TVNZ: It’s time to give the snip snap to the zip zap plastic fantastic
    Bill English Rewrite: “Lets get investing and back our exporters. That’s where the jobs will come and that’s how we can boost our incomes

    To my mind this simply proves that TVNZ hires really bad writers and that English’s team were diligent in preventing their boss from looking like an idiot.

    • burt 8.1

      Danyl

      That’s a valid position.

      If I were required to speak as someone knowledgeable on [xyz] then I would also want a high degree of input into what I was saying. It’s a bit like ‘you agreed not to ask that question’ situations in interviews. What is more wrong, the fact there was a prior agreement or the fact the confidence was broken?

  9. RedLogix 9

    This Minister is a trainwreck. Consider:

    1. The ‘secret taper’ debacle, where he is forced to deny in public what he thought he was saying in private.

    2. The deliberate re-arranging of his family trust affairs to maximise his housing allowance, while at the same time he’s preaching restraint to the rest of us. Knowing this rort was so dodgy he gets a high powered lawyer mate to cover his arse … even though in the end it’s stinks so much he’s forced to pay some of it back despite his protestations that he ‘stuck within the rules’.

    3. Cancelling the very tax cuts he assured everyone prior to the election were essential to a rapid increase in economic growth, proving that he never believed his own words.

    4. Grinning goofily and coming over all ‘gee shucks we got lucky’ over TVNZ’s blatant free political advertising… when in fact he had direct involvement in the advert and was directly using his position as shareholding Minister for his own personal and political benefit.

    Four examples of outright lies and hypocrisy. If Key was a capable PM, English would be well gone by now… but this is not going to happen because English is, weirdly enough, irreplaceable for the time being.

    So far most of the media has given this govt pretty much a free pass, but at some point the sheer political mismanagement and incompetence will be impossible to cover up.

  10. burt 10

    This is further evidence why we should have a state broadcaster that is exactly that;

    TV-[insert govt de-jour name here]. Which is funded at a set level and is transparent in the fact that it is a mouthpiece of the govt de-jour. Operating with no commercial basis whatsoever.

    I’m sure this debate about public broadcasting has been had before and left leaning supporters might want to think carefully before engaging the big weapons on the ‘no state influence’ of the public TV channel(s).

  11. tc 11

    Agree with you Burt and I’d sell TVNZ and use those funds to create one……TVNZ will never be a state broadcaster, it’s spent years battling it’s charter and it’s full of the wrong type who are not creative program makers, they all left it before the 90’s ended.
    TV2 should have been separated from TV1 back when it was going from NZBC to SOE….one goes commercial the other state, opportunity lost.
    Look across the ditch and marvel and the excellent high volume/calibre output from the ABC……it can only come from genesis through to maturity not altering what’s there.
    IMHO it’s an academic debate……TVNZ is blatantly commercial and biased, time to throw it to the wolverines it courts as its culture is not compatible with independant activity.
    TV3 can’t believe its luck at what it has to compete with……not much at all really.
    The news current affairs highground in NZ remains barren……which makes it cheap which means more dividends.

  12. trademark 12

    “It’s time to give the snip snap to the zip zap plastic fantastic’ (make finger scissors gesture) […]

    Keep a few bob in the bank and Bob will be your uncle.

    Wow, who came up with these jewels? They’re turd rate.

  13. mike 13

    yawn.. this just shows how professional the Nats advisors are compared to the state broadcasters script writers

  14. bobo 14

    Can you imagine the outcry if Cullen or Clark had done this, English really is as dumb as he looks doing something so blatant as this.

  15. tsmithfield 15

    Reading the comments above, it does not seem that few disagree with the observation that the TVNZ script was terrible. Therefore, there does not seem to be any problem with improving the script from a communication standpoint.

    The issue is did English change the message to promote the National party? Reading the script above, I can’t see one single word that attempts to do this. If anything, the message is one of positive encouragement with the aim of helping get the economy back on track.Therefore, I don’t see any problem at all with the changes to the script.

    Let me ask, if readers were not aware that English had authorised the changes, is there any aspect of the alterations that would give any cause for concern with respect to promoting the National Party?

    • felix 15.1

      I think that’s a fair question. The script was obviously awful.

      But English authorising changes is not trivial – he’s the shareholding minister and he can’t be involved in this way. From this and his housing scam it really seems the guy has no idea what the words “conflict of interest” mean.

      And John Key is so relaxed he probably isn’t even aware of it.

      It also doesn’t let him off the hook for all the lying to parliament about it. Was Gerry answering on behalf of English or Key?

    • Pascal's bookie 15.2

      Lew addresses the lack of explicit ‘vote National’ stuff here:

      http://www.kiwipolitico.com/2009/10/dreams-and-realities/

      I think what makes it political for me, is comparing it to what one of these ads might normally look like. Normally we night have a journo doing a voice over or on screen talking. The politicians might have the camera pointed at them, but the ‘feel’, if you like, would be of the viewer and the journo looking at the politician doing his business, and judging him. The viewer would be ‘connected’ to the observing journo. The politician might be quoted saying “we need to cut spending” or what have you, but we are simply observing him do this.

      The way it is, we are ‘connected’ to the politician. And as you said, the new text makes that connection work better. There is not that ‘observing’ distance, we are not mediated by a journo. Bill English, the Minister of Finance and deputy Prime Minister is there in our lounge talking to us about what ‘we’ need to do, as if his political views are simply a matter of fact. That’s sure as shit political, and if the new text helps make it wrk better, and communicates that idea better then, gabba gabba hey, QED, and Bob’s your uncle.

    • Lew 15.3

      Reading the comments above, it does not seem that few disagree with the observation that the TVNZ script was terrible. Therefore, there does not seem to be any problem with improving the script from a communication standpoint.

      I have major problems with politicians ‘improving’ scripts on public TV, no matter how crap they might be. The quality of scripts is an operational matter for TVNZ — if they’re crap, then that’s TVNZ’s problem and is no matter for government to concern itself with.

      Whether they’re crap is arguable, because we’re comparing two different forms; a political ad and an ad for a TV program. There’s plenty of ways those words could have been used in a perfectly interesting and compelling ad for a TV program; the fault is not with the words themselves, but with the fact that they are incongruent with the form of the final ad. For a bit o’ political propaganda such as we ended up with, they are crap, but what the changes indicate is that that’s not really what TVNZ intended to make.

      L

      • RascallyRabbit 15.3.1

        I have major problems with politicians ‘improving’ scripts on public TV, no matter how crap they might be. The quality of scripts is an operational matter for TVNZ — if they’re crap, then that’s TVNZ’s problem and is no matter for government to concern itself with.

        Now now Lew you are just being too beltway centric – for the average political punter seeing Bill English on an advertisment for a TV show/debate/pseudo documentary whatever is going to strongly asscoiate him with his portfolio and his party whether that is the intention of the advertisement or not. How often outside of the electoral cycle and outside of the evening news does one even see this sort of coverage given to a political party or its individual members on TV? Whilst I agree that the situation is less than ideal and the format of the advertisement was irresponsible I believe that Bill English would have been seriously unwise to have taken whatever TVNZ said he should read and simply read it. Just as it would be irresponsible for say a CEO of a major company to read whatever the ad gurus said he should without checking it if he/she was fronting an ad for a company.

        I agree with you and I believe that the problem here is that this format of ad was chosen by TVNZ in the first place – with my conspiracy theory tin foil hat on I believe there is an equal chance of the following scenarios – A) the charge can be levelled at TVNZ that they were told to format that ad in such a way by the shareholding minister or B) that they knew formating this ad in this way would create a ruckus thus increasing the exposure of the month of programming and thus deliberately and consciously chose to do it this way without any input from the Minister C) that the format was always to be this way but a non-National TVNZ insider was livid with it and thus wrote the ad so poorly in the knowledge that it would have to be change and that the ruckus follwing the revelations could potentially damage the government.D) that they didn’t think twice about it and simply got Bill English to puppet their lines and yet he wasn’t too enthralled by them hence the re-write

        However I am a firm believer in Occam’s razor and as I hold managers of all stripes in NZ in very low esteem I believe that there was no malice intended its just that the drones at TVNZ could not forsee a problem as they are simply to daft and hence a fuckup was inevitable….

  16. poor attempt at distraction tsmithfield.

    forget cute issues like the quality of TVNZ ad writers. here’s why it’s a serious problem in case you missed them above:

    OIA docs confirm English wrote propaganda ad script

    OIA docs confirm English wrote propaganda ad script

  17. TightyRighty 17

    hardly corrupt practices. Though i suppose if you keep throwing the word at national enough…… Maybe then everyone will be dumb enough to forget the rampant, factual, corruption that was a hallmark of the last government.

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