When it gets too terrible to joke...
Just a quick note after a rather rabid twitter exchange today that started with me somewhat rashly taking political reporter Patrick Gower to task for a particularly silly tweet. Suffice to say I've been told to 'lighten up.'
Here's the thing: I like to laugh as much as the next person but, actually, there is just too much that really isn't funny going on at the moment to let this pass. Patrick Gower and his colleagues are political journalists - it is their job to tell us what is happening, to dig beneath the surface, to probe and push and make sure that our politicians don't get away with spinning lies (sadly in NZ's case, only in an ideal world.) Our politics and democracy are in a precarious state, not at all funny, and though you might think a bit of blokey banter is harmless, it serves to distract and dilute the extremely important investigations and discussions that we, as a nation, need to be having right now.
When 'Dirty Politics' came out, journalists fell over themselves trying to differentiate themselves from the Slaters and Farrars of the world. Trouble is, they all seem to have caught John Key's brain-fade disease, and the moment the election is over have gone back to reporting tabloid-style. At what point are they going to either declare their secret love affair with the National Party or actually start to do some decent investigative journalism and stop just regurgitating PR-prepared press releases. At what point are they going to take the concerns of a considerable number of people seriously enough to produce some high quality journalism, not knee jerk headlines more suited to 'Women's Day' or 'News of the World'?
Now, perhaps the baying answer from some is that 'The majority of NZers don't give a rat's arse about Dirty Politics.' Sadly, that's true. But it doesn't mean they shouldn't - it just means that the people who are currently tasked with presenting these issues in a way digestible to all have so far failed (both in will and execution.) If my frustration overflows occasionally and my sense of humour takes a weary hike, then this is why. How I long for our front-line journalists to finally understand the privileged and vitally important position they hold and actually use it for the cause of good. Our decaying democracy and civil rights are not a laughing matter.
For your information...
Statement by Nicky Hager on police
6 October 2014
On Thursday, 2 October, five police
arrived at my home with a warrant to search and seize property. I was in
Auckland at the time for two days of lectures at the University of Auckland.
The police spent over ten hours searching the house and removing property in an
attempt to discover the identity of the person who provided information used in
my book Dirty Politics.
Soon after the police arrived, the
lead detective stated that I was not a suspect in their case, merely a witness.
I spoke to him by phone and informed him that he would find no information in
the house about my source. Nonetheless, he and his four colleagues seized a
large collection of papers and electronic equipment belonging to my family,
including computers, drives, phones, CDs, an IPOD and a camera.
I am confident that the police took
nothing that will help them with their investigation. Their actions were a
fishing expedition, presumably because they have no idea who the source is and
hoped they might stumble across information about them.
I believe the police actions are
dangerous for journalism in New Zealand. It matters to all people working in
the media who could similarly have their property searched and seized to look
for sources. People are less likely to help the media if the police act in this
way. The police want people to respect their role in society; they should in
turn respect other people's roles in society.
My investigative journalism work
means I have an unnegotiable obligation to protect all my sources and the confidences
of other people who approach me. I will not cooperate in any way with the
police in trying to discover this or other sources. I am in discussion with my
lawyers about what I can do to challenge the police actions.
An open letter to mainstream media....
Dear Mainstream Media,
I haven't been listening/reading/watching you much since the election. In part it's because it's just too damn depressing watching the scramble to put the boot into Labour, who are already lying bleeding on the floor. Nor can I bear the fact that you have bought so completely into the National Party's secret agenda that you no longer have any self-awareness that you're being played. It's not only sad (most of you are decent people who think you're doing a good job*) but it is extremely worrying and dangerous for us all.
Since the election you have focused solely on Labour's woes - exactly what National would wish for you to be doing. While you are poisoning Labour's chances of ever recovering even further, you seem to have forgotten we have had SERIOUS issues surrounding breaches of democracy, privacy and blatant corruption raised. WHY AREN'T YOU CHASING THIS? For goodness sake, that is what a free and fair media is supposed to do. Stop letting Nat's drive your thinking. Start showing some backbone and ask a few hard questions. This is NOT yesterday's story. John Key did not fix it by sacking Judith Collins. You are letting the whole country down if you don't take this more seriously. By letting the Nat's drive the agenda you are burying your head in the sand while we are all irretrievably shafted.
Take the RMA, for instance. Are you going to give safe passage to a National Party desire to gut it of all environmental safeguards and community input at a time when climate change is starting to bite and our beautiful country is awash with cow shit and chemicals? After having just spent the last 5 months in France I can tell you our farming practices look shoddy and totally unsustainable in comparison. Surely you heard the PM whisper pre-election that a win was a mandate to gut this Act (a cunning move first devised for selling our state assets)? Please, for all our sakes, don't let them get away with this. You are leaving it unreported and undiscussed, when it needs to be debated by ALL sides.
Dirty Politics still needs to be fully addressed as well. As do the revelations from Edward Snowdon. You may say that the vast majority of NZers aren't interested in this stuff - well, for fuck's sake, guys, IT'S YOUR JOB TO MAKE THEM INTERESTED! If you don't take some risks (yes, I know you're under pressure to hold the party line from the Govt too - this in itself should be enough to make you dig your toes in and fight) the next generations will grow up in a country stripped of all democracy except in name alone. And YOU, dear journalists, will deserve to take a good deal of the blame for this. Please grow some balls. You'll feel a lot better about yourselves in the long run if you actually stand up for something honest and worthwhile. Get some self esteem.
In (idealistic) hope,
* though, let's be honest, some, like Henry, Hoskings, Farrar and Slater, are vile toadies and have no moral compass whatsoever
Call to action: what happens next in the world of Dirty Politics? MAKE A FUSS!
It’s incredibly frustrating sitting on the other side of the world, watching the NZ election campaign unfold half a day later than real time (NZ.) From here it seems two distinct narratives are going on simultaneously:
a) uncovering the enormity of the corruption and ugliness within the National Party (and people’s disgust and outrage at this) alongside,
b) the avoidance/obscuring/disinterest/misinformation/annoyance (pick whichever one you feel best fits!) of the perpetrators, certain media outlets (and their celebrity show ponies) and the right-leaning in our community, who say that we need to move on to the policies, that this is just obscuring the real issues, that it is a left-wing conspiracy and no one cares, or that it is just how things are.
I’m pleased to see that the book is still selling, as I can’t see how anyone who reads it can possibly not be sickened and disturbed by what has been uncovered. But it is clear that John Key and his supporters are now doing their best to shut down further debate by walkouts and refusing to answer questions, despite the fact that there are still so many questions that need addressing. Therefore I think it’s time to look at what those of us who really are appalled by the inroads into our democracy have to do in the days ahead.
1 TALK – it doesn’t matter if people say this is a dead issue, or that they are sick of hearing about it, it’s up to those of us who care to keep this alive. Talk to everyone you interact with, and tell them why it matters and why the erosion of our democracy over-rides ANY other issue at this time. If we can’t clean this up and inject some ethical behaviour back into our elected representatives, then it doesn’t matter how many houses are built (or not) in Auckland, or who is getting free doctor visits – we will have allowed our country to be handed on a platter to dishonest, self-serving neo-liberal operatives whose sole objective is to wrestle hold of all the power and control, at the expense of everybody else.
2. QUESTION – go along to your local ‘meet the candidate’ events and ask hard questions of your National candidates. For some excellent questions take a look at: pic.twitter.com/A5nqtrOl1s via @LostArcNZ Ask if they have read the book and, if not, why they aren’t concerned at the alleged erosion of democracy? Ask them why John Key is not prepared to answer the allegations point by point, in detail, given the serious nature of the charges? Ask them why John Key will not grant decent interviews with our two major TV news broadcasters? Ask them if they support the actions of Judith Collins or think she should be dumped? Ask why they haven’t shown concern over the interference in candidate selection? Why they have allowed lobbyists to drive the narrative? What they plan to do to rebuild the lost trust as a result of the evidence in the book? Grill them over the SIS OIA debacle… Okay, you get the idea… pick the issues that outrage you most and don’t let them off the hook. Explain why answering the questions is important. Argue when they give you the standard deflection lines as above. In other words, don’t be typically Kiwi by not wanting to MAKE A FUSS! The future of our country is at stake here. If we don’t actively make a stand RIGHT NOW, then we can kiss goodbye to any return to more ethical government.
3. COMPLAIN – email, write, call, text, tweet to our radio, newspaper and television broadcasters every time you hear something that reeks of bias. Don’t let the Paul Henry’s and Mike Hoskings’ of the world get away with their blatant right-wing spin. Bombard the broadcasters. Put pressure on them. Threaten to boycott. Pressure their advertisers. MAKE A FUSS! Demand RadioNZ stop using people like David Farrar and Matthew Hooton, who practice dog-whistle ‘lines.’ Demand they make their commentators disclose their allegiances. Suggest they actually seek out real experts rather than these covert spin doctors. Same with newspapers. The Dominion Post has been so partisan in its coverage it is almost laughable (except that it’s deeply serious). Cancel your subscription. Write letters to the editor. MAKE A FUSS!
4. CONNECT WITH YOUNG PEOPLE – go out of your way to talk to the young voters in your life. Explain the issues. Explain why not voting is a victory for the 1%. Explain why democracy matters. Remind them of the millions of people in the world who have risked or lost their lives for the luxury of voting for democratic leadership. Empower them. Make them feel that they have a vital role to play in deciding the future direction of our country – and that we NEED them to vote – and to be as informed and activated as they possibly can. Of course, it never hurts to LISTEN too! Allow young people some agency in their world. And, by the way, encourage them to MAKE A FUSS!
5. Finally, in the event of a National Party victory on Sept 20th (stomach lurch!) don’t let the issue die. Keep asking the hard questions. Keep demanding accountability – from both our politicians and our media. Keep pushing and refusing to accept that this kind of dirty politicking has any place in our country. Keep the pressure up. Continue to MAKE A FUSS! We do not have to blindly follow whoever is elected. We have the right to question, expose and MAKE A FUSS. That’s what a democracy is all about. That’s why it’s so important to protect it.
On Nicky Hager's book 'Dirty Politics"
In the past I have withheld my desire to comment on, or defend my brother Nicky Hager's work, on the basis that he doesn't need a sister to back him up as his work speaks for itself. And I've also (to some extent!) kept my strong and passionately held political views aside from this website, which is fundamentally about my writing. But I have now come to two new conclusions: 1) that it is impossible for me to separate out my politics from the rest of my writing life - it is too intertwined, and 2) I am incredibly proud of Nicky's work and the debate that is currently raging is too important not to participate in myself.
Therefore I'd like to say a few words about Nicky, in response to the scripted 'lines' (aka slander) the current government and the 'repeaters' of the world keep re-propagating about him, and then a few comments about the book (and situation) as well.
A bit of background: we were raised in a household where issues of social justice and human rights were openly discussed and supported. Our father was a refugee from Austria, escaping from Hitler with his parents (Jewish father, Catholic mother) in the nick of time. Our mother was born in Zanzibar at the time of British Colonialism, and her first love was for the African people. They were both outsiders, who had a great love for NZs natural environment and for a country that supported and enabled people from every facet of society. We were encouraged to think for ourselves, to support those in need, to respect people's race, creed, gender, points of view. And we were encouraged to stand up for these values and to participate in trying to make change for good. It was in this environment that Nicky first started exploring his activism. And it was encouraged, because he always fought for causes that protected the rights of people or the environment, and because (even very young) he had a strong ethical core and a sharp, penetrating mind.
I don't know anyone who is more ethical than Nicky (god knows, I wish I was!) He is a deep thinker, with an incredibly sharp mind, and always practices what he preaches. And he is a compulsively thorough researcher and a bloody good writer (a fact it grieves me to see so often overlooked by the writing establishment). And, here's the most important thing, folks, nothing of importance that he has written has ever ultimately been discredited or disproved. The ignorant spin that he 'makes things up' and is a 'left-wing conspiracy theorist' could not be further from the truth. People wonder why he gets such extraordinary information leaked to him. The answer is really simple: he's easy to talk to, honest, respects those he deals with, and he is totally ethical, therefore they can feel confident in him and assured he will protect their confidences. It's as simple as that. No conspiracy - more likely a relief that there is at least one journalist out there who will take the time to explore issues of national significance and be prepared to put himself on the line to disclose them. Why else would such experts as Stephen Price work with him and Craig Potton be prepared to publish him? Why else would he have such a huge group of loyal and loving friends and supporters? Why else would the world's journalists (bar NZ) think so highly of him that they invite him to speak at conferences all over the world and award him prizes?
The slur that he is left wing is hardly a king hit. If left wing means valuing people and the environment more than the god of money, then damn right he is. But he is not a member of any political party and if he goes after the Right more than the Left, then this is because he is a staunch defender of an open and transparent democracy - and the Right need to look into their own hearts to join the dots on that. It didn't stop him exposing Labour's GE games in The Seeds of Distrust and derailing their election campaign.
And while we're on that subject, I'd like to respond to one of the most stupid things I've heard spouted this week: that he shouldn't have released the book prior to the election. What? He discovers a major covert campaign of dirty politics that implicates top level National MPs and he should keep it quiet until after people have made up their minds? That is totally ridiculous. Surely we all want to go to the polls as informed as humanly possible? His book reveals systematic abuse of power and corruption of democracy. This is exactly what elections should address.
What truly disturbs me is the part so-called 'mainstream' media have played in this. The abusive and partisan coverage by people such as Mike Hosking, Paul Henry and co., when dealing with such vitally important national issues, is a disgrace to journalism - and any decent journalist should be up in arms (and vocally so.) They should stop asking patsy questions and start digging down deep. They should be exposing PR 'lines' for what they are, and refusing to let our Prime Minister and his 'team' get away with their obfuscation and blocking techniques.
That said, it has been refreshing to see a little movement on this. It was great to hear Guyon Espiner holding the line on RNZ's Morning Report this morning (18.8.14) (please, RNZ don't let Susie near this again!) and The Nation's excellent Lisa Owen. But too often I hear reporters allowing the agenda to be set by the spin, and not pushing past it. Or else focussing on only some of the issues, and not getting out to the public some of the more insidious and terrifying revelations.
Where has been the discussion on the truly ghastly chapter about rigging candidate selection in order to bring in chosen far-right candidates? This has HUGE implications for our future - and people have a right to know who they are voting for and how they got to be there.
Why is it acceptable for our Prime Minister and his colleagues not to READ THE BOOK, in order that they could then answer each accusation point by point? I don't understand why people allow this bullshit response. If you are an honest PM and someone accuses those closest to you of corruption, wouldn't the first thing you'd want to do be to read the accusations so you can then investigate them? More needs to be made of the fact that Key refuses to do so. In my book that's an admission of guilt in itself - and this needs to be slammed home. (Also, I doubt very much he hasn't read it - I imagine they've all gone over it word by word.)
Given the importance of this information, I think it behoves the media to get as much of it out there as possible - so that 'ordinary' NZers can see what the fuss is about. And this should be on prime news shows, at prime time. And people need to hear WHY it's so important - to understand how it undermines the very concept of democracy. This is not preferential reporting, this is making important points that people need to know.
It's deeply depressing how many people don't actually give a shit about the robustness of our democracy, or the issues Nicky has raised. In this the PR and behind-the-scenes campaigns to turn people off politics (while agendas quietly go on working) has been horribly successful. I used to work for a tremendous organisation whose primary task was to keep people informed on global issues and to promote social justice and human rights. One of the first things National did on winning the election and defeating Clark was to shut us down. Informed debate is dangerous to their plans - that's why it's so important that we go out of our ways to champion it.
Each of us should do whatever we can to voice the issues, in whatever mediums we can. I try to do it through fiction, and by choosing to write for a wide age range, including young people, so they know what is going on in their world and are activated to find out more. I entreat them to ask questions. To stand up for justice of all kinds. Just like my parents did me ... and Nicky.
One last point. Ask: who has what to gain here? I have heard the ludicrous claim that this is all so Nicky can make some money from the book. Anyone who has anything to do with book publishing in NZ will tell you what a joke that is! It'll be lucky to buy him a few months' groceries. Compare that to what the players in his book have to gain from their illicit behaviour. And note who the losers will ultimately be in their dirty little games. Yep, you and me, folks, and this beautiful democratic country of ours. Isn't that worth making a fuss about?
If you want to know more about these issues go to the book's website here, which also has links through to the news items and other commentaries about it.