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“The Pom and the Pitbull”
Thank you for the invite to speak here today.
As you know we take a deep interest in the media and have done so for many years.
There is a story.
A young Englishman visiting relatives in Brisbane heard some noise next door so rushed over and found a young child being threatened by a snarling pitbull terrier.
The Englishman threw himself at the dog, wrestled it to the ground and eventually choked it.
He was bitten several times but saved the child.
A reporter from the Brisbane Courier Mail heard about this and interviewed our hero.
At the end of the interview highly impressed he asked the Englishman where he came from.
Yorkshire lad, came the reply.
The banner headlines next day read – “Crazed Pom kills Child’s pet dog”.
Today I am not here to talk about the lofty ideals of journalism and its role in upholding freedom of speech in a democracy.
I am here to talk about the Pom and the Pitbull and the reality of life with the media in this country.
From the outset let’s make it clear that not all journalists and political commentators fit the Pom and Pitbull scenario.
There are in NZ some excellent journalists who can be relied on to try to be objective and fair.
However, many are not and there are a number of reasons for this including the changing face of the media, the cost of gathering news and the proliferation of information generating sources.
When I started in politics there was no press secretary for MPs, no media minder. Press secretaries were provided to ministers by Internal Affairs.
Press releases were laboriously worked in longhand, then they were typed up and then we traipsed around to the press gallery distributing copies.
There was no internet – a few daily newspapers – a couple of radio networks and two state owned television channels.
Since then there has been an explosion of outlets, all competing for attention by trying to shout the loudest – at the least possible expense.
This is why media outlets seized with such savage glee on Nick Smith and the case of the ACC “victim”, and John Banks’ memory problems with Kim Dotcom.
Here were two stories that required only a bit of beltway stopping, a few telephone calls and an outbreak of blogging and tweeting.
Digging and researching takes time and effort.
The delivery of news oblique stroke information is now instantaneous.
No sooner had the Banks/Dotcom story hit the headlines than Newstalk ZB decided to interview a bewildered blogger called Whaleoil.
Without a fact to fan his considerable self with Mr Whaleoil explained to ZB listeners that New Zealand First had been a beneficiary of the giant German.
The ZB people did not bother to check with Dotcom or New Zealand First.
After all why spoil a good story with the facts?
Let me give you another case.
A mischievous blogger known as Kiwiblog made up a story the Thursday before the election that New Zealand First was an incorporated society and that Winston Peters was an illegal candidate.
That story running as it did immediately before the Election Day is a corrupt practice under our election law.
By sheer coincidence, this blogger is the paid pollster of the National Party.
The foreign owned newspaper Dominion Post felt compelled to also publish this garbage and the story appeared to be taking off until some spoilsport presented the true facts.
That story could have been the difference between eight and nine MPs for New Zealand First.
With one more we could have stopped the sale of state assets - and the National Party knew it.
My point is that media outlets – whether radio, newspapers, television or the Internet - are full of opinions masquerading as facts.
And these opinions get a life of their own and become news – just like the opinions expressed in the endless polls in the lead up to the election.
It has been stated by some commentators that the low Election Day turnout was the result of the media’s endless predictions of a landslide victory for National.
New Zealand First was not given a chance.
Yet on the ground we found a completely different story.
Throughout the country we filled halls and community centres.
We knew that we had strong support on the ground – especially in Heartland New Zealand.
When an elderly woman embraces you at a meeting and slips twenty dollars into your pocket for the campaign, it’s a fair assessment to say that’s another vote!
Opinion polls are generated to make news.
They fail to take into account the big shift to mobile phones in some sections of the community.
They fail to take into account the lack of response.
And the reporting of these polls is misleading.
For example New Zealand First was lumped in with Labour and the Greens as the alternative government and written off by the media.
At no stage did even one reporter contact us to ask our position.
Early in 2011 the New Zealand First Board had decided not to go into government but to occupy the cross benches and vote on each issue as it came along.
On the 6th of November we decided that we had to break free from this coalition that we had never entered.
At a public meeting at Kelston we carefully explained that we would be going into Opposition.
We said we would hold the government to account, support good ideas and come up with policies of our own.
This took most of the media by surprise. They were guilty of generating and believing their own propaganda.
One notable exception was John Armstrong from the New Zealand Herald who pointed out that we had to shake loose from the others.
From March 2011 until the election, the trend for New Zealand First was upwards.
We knew this and so did the National Party.
That is why Mr Key met Mr Banks for a cuppa.
And that’s how the National Party completed its takeover of the Act Party.
The National Party hierarchy must now be wondering if it was worth it.
It’s a big hassle for just one vote and the worst case of political amnesia in living memory!
The media are now more involved in political movements than ever before.
Often they try to stay ahead of the democratic process.
Recently a private members bill – from Labour MP Sue Moroney - was drawn from the ballot.
It extended the amount of paid parental leave to 26 weeks.
This was a fact – it was reported – good, no problem.
But then this appeared.
The Hamilton MP's Parental Leave and Employment Protection Bill …..may have the numbers to be passed without National!
Now no one had asked New Zealand First about supporting this legislation.
The story developed to the point that the Deputy Prime Minister said National would veto the bill.
So in a few short days the bill had been drawn from a ballot and vetoed and not one MP had ever discussed it in Parliament.
So we issued a press statement pointing out that Ms Moroney had never discussed her bill with us.
We suggested that it was actually the job of parliament to decide the fate of the legislation.
In New Zealand First we look at legislation and discuss it as a caucus to decide our position.
Recently, during the John Banks saga, the government floated legislation to deal with the unlikely event of boat people making it to the shores of New Zealand.
This was simply a ruse to divert the media.
A member of my staff was contacted by the minister’s office and it was suggested that we should be constructive and support this legislation.
But when we looked at the proposed law at caucus we found it was deeply flawed because there are no facilities on the ground to handle a boat load of intrepid migrants, nor are any proposed.
The bill was waffle dressed up as contingency for a national emergency.
So we opposed it and suggested the government go back to the drawing board.
The point I am making is that it is the job of parliament to discuss laws and to amend or reject them.
We are always willing to take advice and legislation gets referred to a select committee where members of the public can present their views against the cacophony of sound from bloggers, talkback hosts and other commentators.
In 2008 Barack Obama credited social media with getting both grass root activists and the normally apathetic people involved in his campaign.
In New Zealand politicians have been trying to play catch up.
We, in New Zealand First are learning.
There is no doubt social media provided a way for New Zealand First supporters and candidates to stay in touch and organise for the 2011 election.
We are using it in Parliament.
You may be aware that the Speaker and I had a disagreement at the end of February.
It stemmed from some insulting remarks made by one of the National Party’s bovver boys and I had to slap him down.
The Speaker awarded a penalty and handed out a red card.
(That’s 32 by the way).
On my return to the office, my media advisor (who manages my Facebook and Twitter among other things) suggested that I “tweet” my side of the story.
So I did just that. The resulting 96 character statement was this "After the events today, I intend to talk to other parties about the way the House is run. WP "
We had calls from TV, radio and national newspapers but we just referred them to the tweet as that's all I had to say on the subject.
That evening we gathered in my office to watch the TV news and naturally Winston Peters being kicked out of the House (again) made the news – complete with the twitter page and my comment.
Most members of the press gallery monitor Twitter and Facebook.
News breaks on these social media sites and politicians get themselves into trouble on them!
The technology is amazing.
With the advent of smartphones and iPads, MPs are tweeting from the House to their constituents, providing an instant information service.
It’s interesting to look at the demographics of people of those that like my page on Facebook.
The highest percentage of people who like my page are males aged 18-24.
There is no doubt that social media provides an unprecedented way for people to connect with politicians.
We’ve recently instigated live chats via my Facebook page - where for half an hour or so, people get the chance to ask questions and we reply in what is known as “real time”.
Is social media taking over from mainstream media? No.
Can it be used in conjunction with mainstream media, and be used to reach a different demographic and to get a message across? Yes.
With the changing technology comes new opportunities for newsgathering and some bring out the very worst in the media.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Great Britain where the Rupert Murdoch media empire is embroiled in a giant hacking scandal.
The fallout is reaching the heart of government.
It appears that nothing is sacred when it comes to making a profit for Murdoch.
The victims of the scandal range from the Royal Family to the bereaved family of a murder victim.
What sort of society spawned this scandal?
What sort of people hack into the mobile phone of a dead girl?
There is only one way to describe them.
They are monsters.
No laws can be adequately written to deal with the media mindset that exploits misery and destroys innocence.
Media moguls and their minions and the politicians they influenced need their comeuppance.
It is to be hoped that some form of social “cleansing” and closure takes place in Britain as a result of the Leveson inquiry.
This is why New Zealand needs to own its media.
New Zealand First has always believed that media should be responsible to the society they report on and gain their profits from.
The media have had their share of characters, of villains and heroes.
One of those larger than life was the late, great, “queen of the muckrakers”, Jessica Mitford.
She exposed the scandal of high priced funerals in the United States, “The American Way of Death”, which received great acclaim.
Over the more than three decades that she wrote nonfiction, Miss Mitford railed against those who tried to suppress dissent over the Vietnam War, against a prison system she found to be corrupt and brutalizing, and against a medical profession she thought was greedy and given to unnecessary procedures.
She even exposed the odd doings of her sisters.
“You may not be able to change the world,” Jessica Mitford once quipped, “but at least you can embarrass the guilty.”
“I figured that the only thing that requires no education and no skills is writing."
Ladies and gentlemen – that is my point.
We need more Mitfords and fewer Murdochs.
My story about the Pitbull and the Pom was fictitious – but it was a good yarn and why let the facts get in the way!