Serious Fraud Office lays charges regarding New Zealand First Foundation

Yesterday it was announced by the Serious Fraud Office that they had charged two individuals in relation to ongoing concerns around New Zealand First Foundation.

It is possible that this will be the long awaited evidence that behind all of the smoke emanating from the N.Z.F.F. there really is a fire. For months claims have been circling of improper financial management by the party and/or the N.Z.F.F. I take you through the media version of events as they are alleged to have unfolded.

On 03 October 2019 former N.Z.F. Party President Lester Gray left his role. It came amid concerns about financial impropriety in the party.

In February 2020, two Radio New Zealand journalists, Guyon Espiner and Kate Newton, discovered that Talleys Fisheries had made a host of donations to politicians from New Zealand First, National and Labour. The donations themselves were not the problem, rather it was how they were handled – or not handled.

In March 2020 former N.Z.F. Member of Parliament Ross Meurant explored his time in the party and the influence of the deep sea fishing industry in an article for Sunday Star Times.

In July 2020 rumours of an impending Serious Fraud Office announcement were made. They followed revelations that Talleys organized two New Zealand First fundraisers and that New Zealand First M.P.’s Shane Jones, Clayton Mitchell and leader Winston Peters were there.

Perhaps though, the most telling concern was that it has emerged that Mr Peters is alleged to have tried to stop the announcement of charges against individuals. This lead reporter Luke Malpass to write about how the announcement of the charges, particularly in this light might be the torpedo that finally finishes off N.Z. First. Too many fishy allegations and donations to be ignored.

With a bit less than three weeks to go and voting starting in less than a week, New Zealand First is running out of time to plug the leaks. It would take a mighty effort to win back the critical 4-5% of the voting public that has not been with the party for sometime now. That does not mean it is impossible, but given N.Z. First exited Parliament in 2008 with similarly poor poll ratings, I struggle to see how it will come back from this.

N.Z. in lock down: DAY 8

Yesterday was DAY 8 of New Zealand in lock down as we try to fight the COVID19 pandemic.

The biggest story in the last 24 hours has been the decision by Bauer Media Group New Zealand to close shop completely. Bauer Media Group – who I have to confess I had never heard of prior to today – had a near monopoly on the New Zealand magazine industry. The following are a list of the magazines that have been made to wind up:

  • New Zealand Women’s Weekly
  • New Zealand Women’s Day
  • Australian Women’s Weekly (N.Z. ed.)
  • North and South
  • The Listener
  • Next
  • Air New Zealand Kia Ora
  • Your Home and Garden
  • Home New Zealand

I have to admit that I never seriously read any of these magazines on a regular basis, but I know many who did. I also know that many of today’s crop of print journalists were inspired by the content and the people who put that content together for these magazines. The list above is not all the magazines that are going to stop, but are the major ones and it is also important to acknowledge that some websites are going to be seriously affected as a result of content change/loss.

Bauer said initially that they had sought Government assistance to help them see out the COVID19 lock down, which only permits essential businesses to operate. However Minister for Broadcasting Kris Faafoi came out yesterday and said that no such approach had been made. Further more Mr Faafoi is aware that prior to yesterday’s announcement, Bauer had been intoning that they were looking to exit the New Zealand market.

So, in effect a German owned media group has elected to destroy the entire magazine industry of New Zealand on their way out the door. Coming on the back of the very sudden shuttering of Radio Sport, which carried commentary for major sports fixtures in New Zealand, this has made for an exceptionally grim week for New Zealand media. And in a time when New Zealand needs media at the top of their game.

And to cap off a grim week – although it has since been rescinded – a decision not to permit weekly newspapers, serving small communities was made. A public outcry from rural, isolated communities, seems to have been heard. – See bullet point 4 of “Utilities and communications, including supply chains”

Scaremongering affecting the COVID 19 response

This week, the first full week in which New Zealand has been on the COVID19 map, was an interesting opportunity to view the reactions from a range of people across society to the virus. From Members of Parliament urging panic buying to people committing acts of racism, and doctors turning up to work sick, one could see instances of people defying all common sense.

When one has abject fools like David Bennett, a National Party Member of Parliament telling New Zealand to panic buy, the entire message that needs to be presented is systematically undermined. I will not speculate as to what his intentions were when the comments were made, but one might assume little thought as to the consequences had been given. The ridicule that followed was altogether justified.

Likewise the rampant hysteria being formulated and the rampant anti-Chinese xenophobia following the spread of COVID19 is a filthy sideshow. The Chinese population is most probably just as scared as we are about what is happening, and when one hears “go home to China”, “go back to ______________”, even if they have been here all along it must be a hugely unsettling thing to hear.

But I think the Ministry of Health could have done much better. They could have added information in Arabic, a couple of the Island languages and in Hindi on their website. The Government should have been faster in tackling this and made its own decisions, without following other countries.

For its part the Opposition is completely and utterly clueless. It seems to have completely escaped their minds that COVID19 was always going to have an impact on New Zealand’s economy. Because China is our biggest export market, obviously high tonnage goes there every year. Because a significant contributor to COVID 19 is hand hygiene and its relatively easy means of spreading it, and the often very poor sanitary regulations and services in China, moving to check people coming from the Peoples Republic was an obvious early move.

Most big airlines with New Zealand routes have cut the number of flights on offer, which should not be surprising. New Zealand is simply going to have to admit that in an economic sense 2020 will not be a brilliant year and that for the most part, there is not much we can do about it.

What we can do though is absolutely cut out the scaremongering that is going on. The racism, the dis/misinformation, the panic buying of essentials like toilet paper and sanitiser and going to work despite being sick is doing nothing to help anyone including the people silly enough to be indulging these daft ideas. Nor is the failure of many people to wash their hands, despite this being one of the key ways of spreading COVID19.

New Zealand is comparatively well placed to shut down COVID19. We have a good health system that is – compared to the third world countries where it is present like Egypt, – well resourced, fairly well staffed and trained. Our authorities are competent and transparent. They can do their job if we do ours and shut down the aforementioned silliness, but it will become a lot harder if more M.P.’s indulge in scaremongering; media posting clips of people fighting over things that supermarkets would have enough of if we did not hoard; doctors turning up to work sick completely contrary to all of their training.

All I am saying is it is not nuclear physics, or anything monumental. Common sense can go a long way towards beating COVID19.


The Murdochracy is damaging the West

His media empire stretches through out the English speaking part of the western hemisphere. Dominant in the U.S., U.K. and with significant operations in New Zealand and Australia, the increasingly divisive and toxic influence of Rupert Keith Murdoch is finally starting to face international push back. In light of the devastating bush fires caused by the very thing his media empire denies, individuals, companies and celebrities are coming alive with the hashtag #Murdochracy: climate change. The Urban Dictionary defines Murdochracy as:

The murder of democracy through misinformation via Rupert Murdoch’s “news websites

The influence of Mr Murdoch’s empire in journalism is perhaps best expressed through the fact that to varying extents every government in the west acknowledges climate change to some extent. The two that do not are the U.S. Government of Donald Trump and the Australian Government of Scott Morrison, both of which are supported by – in the case of the United States – Fox News, New York Post and in Australia news outlets such as The Age, The Australian and others. A third one, the United Kingdom, where Mr Murdoch resides, has several tabloid papers operating under News Corp which include The Daily Mail, The Telegraph.

In 2011, U.K.. tabloid News of the World suddenly went out of print after it was found that Mr Murdoch’s tabloid rag had hacked into various peoples phones and stolen personal information. Among them were a murdered British school girl named Millie Downer, former Prime Minister of Britain Gordon Brown and a range of celebrities. Mr Murdoch’s newspaper apologized, but few believed it was credible. It led to the trial of chief editor Rebekah Brooks who was accused of masterminding the hacking, and although she was found not guilty, many sincerely believe she at least knew about it.

Mr Murdoch’s tabloids have crashed multiple Governments. The most notable one was the Australian Labor-led Government of Julia Gillard and – following a leadership spill – Kevin Rudd. During the election campaigns, Australian conservative media, shock jocks and the Murdoch tabloids savaged her gender, her politics, her very being. Prior to that Gough Whitlam was toppled. But notably when Liberal Government’s have failed to show due “respect”, they have been toppled as well – as Malcolm Turnbull found out.

Mr Turnbull’s replacement Scott Morrison is a fully fledged climate denier, having once gone to Parliament with a lump of coal. Mr Morrison’s determination to ignore the fires has fuelled a backlash no other Australian government has seen from an environmental emergency. His failure to take a Commander-in-Chief moment and try to seize control of the situation has tarnished him and his Liberal party, normally favourites of Mr Murdoch.

In more recent years, Mr Murdoch’s sons have gained some responsibility in the empire. James who as recently as September 2019 might have deliberately put a bit of distance between himself and the rest of the Murdoch empire. Something that became a bit more obvious a few days ago when he attacked the other Murdoch’s stance on climate change, which could either be trying to save himself or a genuine realization that the Murdochracy has gone too far.

His other son Lachlan appears to be classic conservative, but possibly with principles. He does not appear to be a fan of politicians, but in taking over Fox was quickly given lessons by controversial hosts Jeanine Pirro (who went on an anti-Muslim tirade) and Sean Hannity (who was on stage with Mr Trump, when he should not have been)on their support for Mr Trump. Both were disciplined by Fox, but received support from the White House.

Situation Theatre reports that Journalists have at long last started speaking out. Some have said that the Murdoch empire used to require balance in reporting, which they freely acknowledged is long gone. Some have said the man himself, Mr Murdoch, despite having handed some control to his sons still wields the true power and that it needs to be checked.

The rebellion against the #Murdochracy is young and in its infancy, but it has some potentially powerful allies. The bush fires have awakened Australia in ways that no prior bush fire season has, to the environmental threats posed by the neoliberal agenda. The agenda that Mr Murdoch has trumpeted for so long is increasingly seen as a bad thing around the west.

Perhaps the best thing that can happen to the west is the downfall of the Murdochracy.

Challenges facing New Zealand broadcasting

Last week’s announcement that MediaWorks are going to sell their television business left New Zealand media reeling. Three, the station established in 1989 as a private entity to provide alternative viewing to TV1 and TV2, was rumoured to be at risk of being simply shut down if it did not get sold. And it left Minister of Broadcasting Kris Faafoi with a massive ministerial headache.

Whilst much of what New Zealanders view these days comes from Netflix, and various online sites such as Facebook and Google, maintaining local media and local content is essential. For all the many criticisms of Mediaworks over the years, News Hub, and the 3 News programme prior to it, personalities like Mike McRoberts and Samantha Hayes have become key parts of the “scene”.

However I doubt many people would be sorry if Married at First Sight was cancelled. A show that has earned ridicule and justifiable criticism alike from commentators across the board, it has an ethics problem that I believe makes it unfit for New Zealand television. I asked the Broadcasting Standards Authority if they believed M.A.F.S. to be unfit for television. The B.S.A. said it could not comment on that, but noted I was not the only one to have asked.

What I think Three needs in terms of decent programming is a current affairs programme along the lines of the very successful Sunday programme on TV One. It needs a high profile presenter to match Miriama Kamo and to work out how to attract correspondents of the calibre of Janet McIntyre. But how to attract such talent and under what business model should the content they deliver be created?

No one will deny that the operating environment of media is tough. It is challenging, expensive work to create top notch content week in week out, especially for a relatively small market where only one or two competitors really have a chance. But how does one transition away from dumbed down content to one where democracy is served by a healthy honest news stream; from content that is not simply about filling in gaps – though some of that is inevitable – to quality content that has people coming back because they have meaningfully gained from it.

MediaWorks which owns Three has been pushing the Government to make T.V.N.Z. a serious public broadcaster, a move about which I am in two minds. A public broadcaster is something New Zealand has been lacking, which spare us the commercials, but which would be propped up with government dollars that Mr Faafoi would find very hard to justify spending. Yet at the same time, the political right would be keen to sell T.V.N.Z. as well and force both to return to making a profit.

Mr Faafoi cannot really be blamed for having to think about this, as there are certainly much worse issues in New Zealand than the state of the media – most would agree housing, health, crime and so forth are bigger priorities. But a decision paper which is expected to be released in December will state Mr Faafoi’s decision.

The fourth estate of New Zealand might very well be entering the new decade in a level of uncertainty as the world around it.