I just finished reading Dirty Politics. What can you say?

Oh dear.

Regardless of the outcome of this situation, I personally feel somewhat relieved and grateful that Nicky Hagar has uncovered the answers to a few questions, even if while doing so he has shone a light on a lot more questions.

On p.119 of Dirty Politics Hagar writes:

Many ordinary people began to feel that something was not right, that a dirty kind of politics was at work.

He’s right.

My own growing concern over the oddly intimate relationship the Key National Government has had with much of New Zealand media was sparked several months ago. It is clear now that the driving force behind this was the manipulation by the Party via proxy attack-dogs Whale Oil and Kiwiblog, alongside other organisations. It also eventuates that their influence on the mainstream media was hotly contested in under-staffed newsrooms and based on a not insignificant amount of fear.

Dirty_Politics_Oh_dear

The media’s (then) strange complicity in selling the National message was clear even when covering Key’s blunders. In many instances, the framing of a story alone made it borderline propaganda. Other times, journalists failed to press the Prime Minister, and allowed him to repeat pre-written party-political broadcasts — failing to confront the issue that he doesn’t answer questions. (Although there have been a few noteworthy exceptions to that, which are somewhat illuminating if you are media-savvy.) Other times, the story is dropped altogether, worn-out by the Prime Minister’s tired repetitions.

Or instead — BANG! — a sudden scandal involving the left, seemingly out of no-where (not actually no-where though! From Slater&Collins&Farrar&Key): a misrepresented letter; an Official Information Act request of little relevance but ingenious timing; who visited Dotcom how many times when; whether someone has a copy of Mein Kampf … But never a story about anything that seems to matter, and never in any great depth — just more one-liners and tired, tired, oh-so-tired accusations of corruption that never quite add up to anything but providing ample ammunition for accusations of untrustworthiness for politicians and partisan political commentators alike. (And fun-time accusations that “the left doesn’t want to talk policy”, which the media reinforces by failing to report policy! )

And oh! the talking heads do talk, don’t they? Cameron Slater and David Farrar are one thing, but don’t forget Key’s other partners in the embarrassing politics-blogosphere-media three-way handshake! Our long-time friends, the World-Infamous-in-New-Zealand Paul Henry and our “impartial” upcoming moderator of the Leader’s debate, Mike Hosking — with his NewstalkZB radio show where he chums it up with the PM about anything but politics. (But the Left don’t want to talk politics!)

They talk a lot, don’t they? But do they ever say anything worth listening to? Do they ever listen to themselves talk? Do they listen to the answers to their questions or are they just waiting until it’s their turn to talk again?

Coverage of recent politics have made it hard to figure out what’s going on in New Zealand politics. There’s so much blame and accusation, you’re hardly to be blamed if you were put off.

Voter disengagement and political fatalism is exactly what they want:

‘There are a few basic propositions with negative campaigning that are worth knowing about. It lowers turnout, favours right more than left as the right continue to turn out, and drives away the independents.’ In short, many people simply stop participating in politics. If politicians cannot be trusted, if politics looks like a petty or ugly game and if no one seems to be talking about the things that matter, then what’s the point of bothering to participate? Just leave them to it. There are innovations in US Republican Party thinking on this point: election tactics do not have to be just about winning votes; they can be equally effective if groups of people in society just stop voting altogether. We should not assume that everyone thinks low voter turnout is a bad idea. (p.132, Dirty Politics)

Please don’t let them put you off. A healthy democracy is dependent upon participation from the people. That’s you. Our politicians need you. And not just every three years when an election’s on. All the time.

Politicians need you to question them.

Need you to critique them.

Need you to keep them honest.

Push them for the answers and don’t let them put you off with trivia or spin.

Make them talk about the things that matter. Like policy, which I’ll spend a little time on, because I’m not trying to avoid it.

All of the political parties are trying to get their message out right now, but you might not get at it yourself if you don’t do a little digging around. Check out political websites and social media. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how we communicated these things in the past, but in this pocket of time, the internet’s always going to be your best bet.

What’s their plan on child poverty? What do they plan to do about environmental issues? What about climate change? Do they even believe in climate change? What about public transport? Health? Education? Tax? What do they plan to do about NZ’s growing inequality? Welfare? Employment relations? International relations issues and agreements like the TPPA? Government transparency and accountability? Do they even mention some of these issues or brush them aside?

Think carefully about who you vote for in the upcoming election. This is our chance to evaluate our politicians, and for me at least, one section on John Key (Prime Minister)’s report card is headed “Ethics and conduct”.

You make your own evaluation of course. I’d recommend you take into account all the current available evidence, personally. I think you should know what kind of politics our government is engaged in.

The fallout from the book, and National and Key’s fates, are still undecided at present. This is worthy of note, because there are some in the media who are saying the decision is already made.

But unfortunately for National, I do not think these allegations are “dissolving”, “what ifs” or “a screaming left-wing conspiracy theory”. And I do not think people will be pleased with what they read in Dirty Politics.

And the decision about this is not made by talking heads in the media. It’s made by us.

The media will have some very different decisions to make.

 

Advertisements