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Tapping the media: subverting democracy

Written By: - Date published: 11:16 pm, August 25th, 2014 - 32 comments
Categories: blogs, capitalism, David Farrar, democracy under attack, election 2014, news, spin - Tags:

In the wake of the publication of Dirty Politics, I have been pondering on the urgent need for a revitalised public service broadcasting and online media.


Our media largely works within a corporate context, driven by commercial considerations.   This provides a context where dirty operators, with limited ethics and underhand methods can too easily subvert the democratic potential of the media.

For democracy to thrive, the people need to be well informed of the issues. Here the media has a role to provide in-depth reporting: by researching, examining the truth behind the political spin, and explaining diverse perspectives the issues of the day.

The media should also be a vehicle through which people can talk back to power, and which stimulates well-informed discussions and knowledgeable voters.

Our news media are dominated by commercial interests.  The demise of public service media means that coverage of politics, current events and social issues is ultimately driven by the need to catch the attention of as many eyes and ears as possible.


It’s the sales of newspapers and advertising that drives the whole show.  And as it is becoming increasingly hard to run such enterprises for profit, entertainment, drama, conflict and sensationalism often trumps in-depth coverage.

Journalists may well have the best intentions, but they need to produce copy for the latest stories, quickly and relatively cheaply.  So an on-tap source of insider information from someone with significant political contacts would seem likely to provide an advantage.  And this leaves an opening for those who aim not just to be vehicles of information, but to use that role in such a way as to manipulate the media coverage of politics.

Today David Fisher of the NZ Herald, published an insightful and brave article about his contacts with Cameron Slater.  He also provides some clarity to something that has often been discussed by commenters on The Standard: how is it that for a long time right wing bloggers (like Slater and David Farrar at Kiwiblog) seem to get mentioned in the mainstream media? In contrast left wing blogs and bloggers have largely been ignored?  The answer seems to be that it’s partly in having the contacts and connections, and the ruthless and vicious will to manipulate, not just the media, but the general public.

Fisher explains both the attraction to using the likes of Slater as an information source, as well as how he came to realise that he was probably being manipulated. Consequently Fisher turned his back on the Slater connection. The result was that he was then subjected to vicious smears and misinformation on the Whale Oil blog.

Fisher’s article begins:

Cameron Slater was a contact of mine – Nicky Hager made this clear in Dirty Politics.

What also became clear is how politics is little more than a game to Slater. He says: “I play politics like Fijians play rugby. My role is smashing your face into the ground.”

The media are just players in the game, and bit players at that.

Looking back, Slater kept journalists like he would have kept hunting dogs – hungry, leashed and fed with morsels until they are ready to be unleashed after whatever game he was hunting.

To Slater, it all part of the game of Dirty Politics. About the time I felt I was being gamed, I decided to have nothing to do with the blogger.

This is how it happened.

Part of Fisher’s story includes the changing nature of Slater’s relationship with John Key.  A while back Key wouldn’t communicate with Slater.  Then, in 2012, that changed:

At some point after April 2012, Key went from blocking Slater to talking and texting with the blogger, and posing for photographs at his side.

It was also about this time I stopped dealing with Slater.

Fisher writes of the balancing act journalists need to perform when using sources who have some particular line to push. A journalist needs to maintain some critical distance, so as to be able to, not just report the information received, but to critique it.

Fisher goes on:

Information has power. Those with the greatest access to information are those in power. Slater’s links inside National meant he had access to good information.

But as 2012 got underway, I began to wonder who was manipulating Slater and whether I was in turn being made to do another’s bidding.

It caused a feeling of great unease.

Fisher describes some of the nasty treatment he received once he cut Slater off:

He launched a personal assault with what I believed were threats of violence and created an atmosphere in which I was personally and professionally denigrated. Those who post comments on his website made awful slurs. It is as horrible an online environment as you will find anywhere.

Our news and political media need a big clean-out: not so much a change of people as a total change to the system.  We need a section of the media that is free from commercial bottom lines. We need a better public service media, primarily operating in the interest of the public.

This is a very important election issue.


Better Public Broadcasting has been running a series of events around the country, making broadcasting an election issue. They have an event planned in Auckland this weekend. I will be interested to see what the MPs have to say, as there is not a relevant policy for broadcasting/media on either the Greens of Labour websites.

AUCKLAND – Sunday 31 Aug at 6.30pm (Doors open 6.15pm)

The CBB presents the AK Broadcasting Debate.
Come to the Pioneer Women’s Hall on High St, Auckland City to see speakers:
Maggie Barry – National
Kris Faafoi – Labour
Julie Anne Genter – Greens
moderated by Guy Williams
and asked pointed questions by you the public
 There are similar debates planned for Christchurch and Dunedin next week – details at the link.

32 comments on “Tapping the media: subverting democracy ”

  1. RedLogix 1

    Yes. As time goes on I’m less and less inclined to waste energy on Slater himself – rather all the other people around him who thought they could make use of this mad dog.

    When Slater came out with the ‘feral who did the world a favour by dying’ line, it was just him being his usual sociopathic self. At the time I didn’t waste a moment thinking about it.

    But discovering that Key himself phoned Slater to commiserate about the backlash, to support, encourage and validate what he had done – leaves me gobsmacked. When this conversation became public Key should have been made to resign in disgrace within minutes. His own Party and family should have disowned and shunned him. The media should have made his name a pariah and a byword for shame for a generation to come.

    Slater was always known as a sociopathic slug – but we damn well expect more from our Prime Minister. Far more. And for years Key has pretended he was better – but in private he is not. He turns out to be no better – arguably worse – than Slater himself.

    And yet John Key remains Prime Minister. He’s being allowed to campaign on like business as usual. Suddenly we see a much wider circle equally complicit in this shame. A whole layer of media enablers who are pretending that nothing too much is wrong.

    David Fisher’s article is helpful and he deserves some credit for writing it. But even in this effort to redeem himself he’s failed to understand that this is not all about him. That there is an entire media industry who have some very hard questions to answer.

    • emergency mike 1.1

      Do bear in mind RL, that the evidence presented for Key having made that phone call in Dirty Politics is merely Slater saying so to a mate on facebook. It is possible he was just talking shit, not something I’d put past Cameron Slater.

      I’ve also been wondering differently about the wider MSM in since reading the book…

      • RedLogix 1.1.1

        I agree it could be Slater shit. But we do know for certain Key does routinely talk with Slater.

        Now I may have missed it – but has Key denied this particular conversation?

        And if he has the mere fact that the Prime Minister has put himself – and the Office he represents – into a position of having to deny this otherwise plausible statement from Slater is a problem in itself.

        There should have been zero possibility of something like this happening.

        • Phil Tate

          I think I know the answer to the question. It wasn’t Key that spoke to Slater, it was his office…;)

  2. swordfish 2

    Just one or two examples of Slater on Fisher from 2013:

    ‘David Fisher’s Fat Fetish continues to Fester’ : “Kim Dotcon’s staff reporter, David Fisher, has crawled right up Dotcom’s massive rectal crevice this week in the Herald. He really does seem to have a man-crush on the fat German….”

    In another Whaleoil post, we learn that “David Fisher wrote a scurrilous article about Judith Collins on Saturday”, apparently relying on “a real scumbag” as his source.

    We also learn on Whaleoil of ‘The Unhinging of David Fisher’, that “we all know how low David Fisher has previously stooped”, that he’s “Kim Dotcon’s PR maestro and embedded journalist” , is “desperate to get the stench of compromise off his own career” and that Fisher is the ‘Cry-Baby of the Day’.

    I stopped searching at about that point…..

  3. the pigman 3

    I have to say, reading Fisher’s article, I feel very little sympathy for him finding himself on the receiving end of Slater’s (and his readership’s) bile.

    The lame attempt to cast the National Party as the unwitting victim of a hijacking by Lusk and Slater and the “fiscal conservatives” is the narrative card that Key should be playing now, alongside sacking Collins and her sycophants in caucus… instead Key is letting this weeping sore of a corrupt bully continue on as his Justice Minister… his fucking Justice Minister!!!

    And speaking of inoculation, I would think the closing paragraphs purportedly quoting Slater are prescient: “Remember I still have my emails. Not sure David ‘Tainted’ Fisher is going to like those making their way public. Because the very thing he complains of in his stories he has participated in.”

    Perhaps Fisher fears being outed by @whaledump (indeed, we are told that the Herald has also been provided with everything from whaledump already). In this context the whole article looks like a sad attempt to deflect criticism that he was one of Slater’s collaborators.

  4. Jrobin 4

    Pigman, totally disagree with your judgemental assessment of Fishers situation. Anyone who has been the target of this sociopath will have sympathy for Fisher as Slater has no bottom limit and is a complete liar and slanderer. Journalists have been in a difficult situation and instead of targeting individual journalists you should be looking at a Systems Theory critique. The ownership by partisan and Mafioso media magnates has undermined the security and ethical position of journalists who have had to make the sort of choices that Fisher has described. He has my full sympathy and good on him for his article. Public Broadcasting needs to be reinvented for our democracy to function again.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 4.1

      Well said.

      Please consider employing paragraphs for extra clarity 🙂

    • RedLogix 4.2

      Thank you Jrobin.

      I read that article with considerable interest and could not make up my mind about some aspects of it. But that fleshes it out nicely for me.

      Part of me wanted to credit Fisher for having the guts to write it, part of me wanted to condemn him for having anything to do with Slater in the first place.

      But you are correct – the real story is nowhere near as black and white as that – and your comment concisely explains why.

    • adam 4.3

      I think you raise an important point Jrobin, that Slater is somewhere on the sociopath spectrum. These people know and have all the right skills to charm the pants off most people. They are generally charming when you first met them, they make people feel really good, whilst they fell nothing – either way.

      So folks, future proofing of the left



      I do feel somewhat sorry for Fisher, as having been in the grip of this type of personality myself in the past.

    • Rich 4.4

      Well I did condemn him, but then put in those terms I can see that he has no freedom to act in a way that reflects his own interests let alone the wider community’s. He just reflects our slavery.

  5. One Anonymous Bloke 5

    Speaking of the media, first Patrick Gower and now Andrea Vance advancing the notion of Paula Bennett as Prime Ministerial material.

    I wonder whose story they’re telling.

    • Yes. The only good thing to come out of all this is that now, instead of wondering whether the journo’s been manipulated into running someone’s propaganda for them, you can just take that part as read and skip straight to trying to figure out who it is.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 5.1.1

        Whoever it is, they’re running out of time. The succession clock is ticking 😈

    • karol 5.2

      Andrea Vance says Bennett is going up against Carmel Sepuloni in Kelston this election – major fail there, Andrea.

      • Tracey 5.2.1

        and in her timeline leaves out the state assistance ms bennett formerly of wellington, taupo, westie and niw uppity harbour, received to get wherever it is she has got.

  6. “..We need a section of the media that is free from commercial bottom lines. We need a better public service media, primarily operating in the interest of the public..”

    yeah..it’s called whoar.co.nz.

  7. Peter 7

    What would a media analyst make of Key’s refusal to go on Radio NZ over the last six years, and his love affair with talkback radio? Who has been killing public broadcasting and why?

    • tc 7.1

      That he only attends friendly compliant media outlets and never fronts bad news thats for bill etc.
      An analyst should have more to say about the medias absence on holding him to account over any of his many porkys, this is where the real key emerges and its not a pretty sight.

  8. tc 8

    It has been a systematic and planned subversion of the MSM since early 08 when it became obvious a certain bias was underway.

    Its made all the more simpler as there is no public broadcaster holding aloft a standard the public can access if required. The way the nats have got their puppetts on air has been all too easy.

    you only have to look across the ditch and see the moves being made on abc and sbs by abbott as a payback to rupert whose other business subsidise the papers, a fact some leaked financials laid bare last week making the lawyers busy to stem to publication via crikey.

    Its about controlling the message so murdoch needs that pesky public broadcaster neutered, an issue the nats didnt have here so it was very easy indeed.

  9. philj 9

    Than you Mr Fisher, for coming out as a prestitute I hope you are doing well with your rehabilitation. The importance of this issue of media quality and independence is essential to saving our democracy from the big money interests. Mainly bankers and economists, oh! and Forex dealers!

  10. philj 10

    Nearly forgot the dismal dismissal yesterday In Advance! of David Fisher, by Michelle Boag, attack dog, on RNZ Panel. Come On RNZ! I know it’s called ‘National’ Radio, but really….!

  11. crocodill 11

    If anyone thinks corporate interference in news media is the negative opposite of political interference they need a doctor, quick. The “infiltration” of journalism started way before 2008, way before 1990, even before the cold war, even before 1917. It’s been been going on since people figured they could write things down. To solve it, everyone would have to give up their belief systems and pretty much give up journalism. Sounds extreme huh? Nobody wants that, all anyone wants is to hear what they like to hear from time to increasingly frequent time instead of the opposing view? Yeah, that’s about right and as admirable as a sign that says “real” democracy – as opposed to “unreal” democracy. Can no one remember the Clark Regime and its influence in media matters? No? Ok we’ll just flick the blinkers back on and shove the earplugs back in and dream of real democracy where our team makes the rules and only the approved party news is distributed resulting in approved party outcomes. Real democracy, where reality is whatever the party says it is and news is whatever we want it to be.

    • karol 11.1

      That just reads like a lot of smoke and mirrors, crocodill.

      Sure the current problems with the media didn’t happen overnight. That’s part of the point of my post. But the whole Dirty Politics malicious, Slater-Nats’ two track system is a new low in NZ political media coverage.

      • crocodill 11.1.1

        Oh please, you talk of research? Why haven’t you asked Nicky Hagar, now darling of the left, what happened to him? Want a link?


        Oh but wait, Cunliffe’s Party is different. Like I said, earplugs, blinkers, party ideology, no historical knowledge, no idea about what journalism is …and that’s the real basis of democracy?

        • karol

          Crododill. You really haven’t read/understood what I am saying.

          Yes Cunliffe’s party is different from the Slater-Nats smear machine.

          Labour also have colluded with the infotainment neoliberal shift in the media. But the problem has come from the shift away from public service media that has happened over recent decades.

          Saying they are all as bad as each other is not helpful.

          • adam

            Crocodill, you need to either attack the conservative elites or the liberal ones, not a blanket brush.

            With a blanket brush you miss the small battles that need to won. Yes the liberal elites are in bed with a propagandist system and have self interest running. But, they also have different things which trigger reactions and get results. They also have a different set of ideals they aspire to.

            Conservatives on the other hand are a brick wall – moaning just adds a brick or two to that wall. So differentiate, see the differences, fight the small battles, extenuate the differences.

            Indeed for both groups, being lumped together just means they can ignore you. It also makes it harder for those trying to win the small battles to have victory in anything.

  12. grumpystilskin 12

    “moderated by Guy Williams”
    Really, on such a serious subject he’s the best you can do?
    I don’t want one liners but a discussion, if he starts behaving as he usually does on the tv/radio I’ll be the first to start interjecting.

  13. disturbed 13

    ++++++100% Karol.

    As soon as Key/Joyce closed down real public media TVNZ 7 we all knew control of our free media was gone….
    Kris Faafoi has already targeted that a new Labour lead Government will return TV7 again.

    It was a true example of investigative information Journalism service with a balanced perspective.

    We have now lost all this and suffer under a shallow tabloid press that simply repeats second hand information with a commercial interest only spin.

    Our complaint to TV 1 Q+A was ignored as they said they are not doing anything wrong and are “impartial” Ha, Ha, Ha.

    • grumpystilskin 13.1

      “As soon as Key/Joyce closed down real public media TVNZ 7 we all knew control of our free media was gone….”

      TVNZ 7 was never supposed to be a long term channel, it was to appear to be doing something about the terrible state of broadcasting and get someone in management to stop harping on about it. The expected life was around 18-36 months.
      …as told to me by a former management level tvnz staffer who moved into production.
      disclaimer: I’m a freelance tv tech in my day job.

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