Four articles in last week's New Zealand Listener which provided no information of substance never-the-less combined to show what is wrong with the Listener, what is wrong with the APN media empire, and, from a broader perspective, what is wrong with New Zealand.
The Listener's cover story was about a young man with dual New Zealand citizenship who died fighting for the armed forces of a foreign state. He was portrayed as a hero. The second story concerned a New Zealand state servant who was alleged, but never proven, to have supplied information of some kind to the diplomatic service of a foreign state. He was portrayed as a villain.
Neither article was in any way objective The first was written by the young man's mother, the sister of New Zealand Minister of Defence Phil Goff, a woman who was incapable of even addressing the moral implications of collaborating in the foreign occupation of Afghanistan. The second, by Graeme Hunt, was no less partisan. Hunt chose to revisit what is known as the "Sutch case", bringing no new evidence while emphatically repeating the unproven allegations of thirty years ago.
What both articles have in common, apart from their obvious want of objectivity, is that they implicitly assert New Zealand's role as a client state of Anglo-American imperialism, through a century and a half of imperial wars, hot and cold. While the present regime in New Zealand will occasionally talk of "nationhood" and "independence", it has no conception of the real meaning of those words. When New Zealand citizens join in the invasion and occupation of other nations on behalf of the United States and Britain, they are portrayed as heroes by the regime's media. When they attempt to obstruct US or British military activities within New Zealand territory (the Ploughshares activists at Waihopai) they are portrayed as villains.
Two other articles by regular Listener columnists Jane Clifton and Bill Ralston deal with relatively trivial matters, but give insight into the way that the APN uses its columnists to advance a consistent political line. The articles by Clifton and Ralston were not just consistent. They were virtually identical in their subject matter and their treatment of it. Clifton's was titled "What a turn-off", Ralston's "Shed some light". Both writers employ the argument that the Clark government's regulations phasing out the use of incandescent light bulbs are "trivial" (Clifton) and "an easy act" (Ralston). Neither writer apparently felt it necessary to research the issue, or to produce facts to support their assertion that the environmental impact of incandescent light bulbs is inconsequential. Neither gave so much as a hint that there might be a serious political issue underlying the "trivial" question of incandescent lighting. But while the serious side may be ignored, it cannot be denied. As resources become more scarce, and incomes become more unequal New Zealand faces the prospect of a social cataclysm. Unequal societies can survive times of scarcity only if their rulers are willing to practise restraint. There is nothing better calculated to provoke social conflict than the determination of the privileged classes to carry on their merry way without any kind of personal sacrifice. Clifton and Ralston think that their right to incandescent light bulbs is trivial, and therefore not to be denied. The rest of us might accept the premise, but not the conclusion. We cannot help but ask "If they will not give up their most frivolous pleasures, then what will they give up?". The answer can only be "Nothing at all". The regime which Ralston and Clifton serve expects lesser mortals to bear the burden of sacrifice. Like Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette before them, they want the right to go on eating cake even when the people are without bread. They complain incessantly about "nanny state", but the uncomfortable truth is that they are so unaware of the need to exercise self-restraint that, for them, a nanny state is the only reasonable option.
Both Ralston and Clifton then segue into the issue of crime in South Auckland. Both insist that reducing the number of liquor outlets in Manurewa would have no effect on the incidence of crime. Again, they feel no obligation to support their claim with factual argument. They insist that the liquor business is "perfectly legitimate and respectable" (Clifton) when all that anyone can seriously claim is that it is legal - that is, as legal as the opium trade was in the nineteenth century, and as legal as the slave trade was in the eighteenth century.
The advantage to APN of having regular columnists who trot out opinions
on subjects which they have not felt the need to research is two-fold.
First, it is a cheap way of filling a magazine. And second,
it delivers politically predictable outcomes. When it
counts, Clifton and Ralston will come up with pretty much the same
opinions, even to the point of appearing to plagiarise each other's work.
By doing no serious research they avoid the danger of reaching
inconvenient conclusions. The prejudiced and superficial opinions
of an incestuous group of mutually hosted "columnists", "presenters" and
"personalities" have usurped serious analysis in all forms of mass media
in New Zealand.