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.

Utopia is a dream – or is it?

Imagine a world where there is no war, nuclear/chemical/biological weapons are history and . A world where environmental problems are sustainable and the ecosystem is a healthy happy place. A world where crime is low, men and women of all skin colours and backgrounds get on without fear of discrimination. A world where politicians answer to their constituents.

It sounds great doesn’t it? The utopia envisaged by the Green Party and social justice campaigners is an admirable goal and one we should be striving to get as near as we can to.

The reality is rather more grim. One might have thought with all of the technology and know how in the Western world we might have been entering some sort of age where we are reaching an understanding with the world around us, even if it is rather lopsided. One might have thought after two harrowing World Wars that the international legal framework that began to be developed with the foundation of the United Nations would serve as a template for nations across the world to look up to. One may have hoped with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of Communism over the following two years that international rivalries might start to be put aside for a common good.

Sadly that does not seem to have materialized. And indeed after a period of a few years in which fleeting glimpses of progress were few and far apart, progress started rolling backwards. It is possible in the 20 years since 1999 to see how far the world has gone backwards, environmentally, socially, politically, and in the last few years also economically. Several interlinked causes can be identified for this massive failing:

  1. A few very rich people control the media, and are able to influence the narratives – divide and conquer; certain groups in society are the devil you know; fear of a brave new world where peace and reconciliation have a chance
  2. Dollars talk louder than laws and the lobbyist with the fattest bank account is more important to elected officials than the ordinary man who might not be aware of what is happening
  3. Those lobbyists are paying politicians to sabotage social progress by giving them substantial donations for their election expenses
  4. International law, which was something to strive for and uphold during the Cold War and early 1990’s is now some sort of bogeyman – a hindrance to the lobbyist and fearmonger

Environmentally the future is grim. If climate change does not induce massive social breakdown, the complete and utter destruction of the global ecosystem will. The rate of resource consumption has seen half of the known biosphere disappear before human eyes – if geologic time is compressed into a day, humans have been around for one (1) minute, and it is highly improbable we will be around for another.

Socially, the few very rich people in the world are looking for bolt holes. They are looking for places they can go when the socio-economic/environmental collapse that the anthropocene is, becomes reality. The progress on same sex marriage, the feel good banning of plastic bags and attempts to are just fluffy wool stuff being pulled down over our eyes, yet at the same time things that need to happen. Only the demise of neoliberal market economics will change this for the better.

Politically, the Putins, the Trumps and Jinping’s of the world all crave one drug above all else. Power. Cashed up with the huge resources of their individual governments propaganda machines at their disposal, a crumpled opposition that in the case of the first two is arrested, harassed and jailed on trumped up charges, beating them is an almost insurmountable task. And although the United States has not sunk to that level yet, its dysfunctional Electoral College system, the rampant availability of corporate dollars in return for doing as their lobbyists demand, mean their system is far from the free and fair thing it is portrayed as.

New Zealand might be grateful for its isolation at times. But as we are strongly integrated into the neoliberal system, and have been a champion of free trade agreements despite none of them having more than mediocre improvements in terms of our socio-economic well being, we will not be immune. As we have had a conservative Parliament rarely able to see the bigger picture and look beyond three year election cycles, opportunities to break out of the mould have gone by.

We will never be able to undo the damage that has been done to the environment on our own. Nor will ending the failed neoliberal experiment necessarily stop all of the economic impacts likely to happen. But if New Zealand embarks on a bold and brave adventure that I am going to try to describe over the next few days, maybe we can show the world a different way.

The Hikurangi Trench: New Zealand’s biggest tsunami hazard

Last night on the Seven Sharp programme, the hosts had a flat of young people in Napier City conduct and earthquake and tsunami evacuation drill. The earthquake, a fictional magnitude 8.9 on the Hikurangi Trench has triggered a tsunami and the occupants have 20 minutes to reach ground, with 60 seconds to get what they need and get out of the house. The objective immediately post earthquake was to get to Hospital Hill in a set period of time before a tsunami arrived.

The participants in the Seven Sharp drill did not quite make it. 2 young ladies and a young man had 60 seconds to decide what to take and get out of the house. They had to reach Hospital Hill about 2 kilometres away in the estimated 20 minutes they would have. They were out the door in a minute and were pretty sensible about what they took with them – something to stay warm, water and so forth and they had to carry it. Speed was of the essence, and at times despite the foot wear they were wearing, the ladies were running where they could.

One day there will be a substantial earthquake on the Hikurangi subduction zone. It will be anywhere between magnitude 8.5 and 8.9. It will last between 4-5 minutes and be felt the length and breadth of New Zealand. The above drill was aimed at Hawkes Bay, which will feel the full effect of the earthquake and be one of the first places to be hit by the tsunami – Gisborne and Wairarapa being next.

The biggest problem will not necessarily be the earthquake, although that will in itself be a massive event. Rather it is the tsunami risk that should cause people the most concern. From the subduction zone boundary to coastal Hawkes Bay is 110 kilometres. In the travel time of a tsunami that is about 20 minutes, possibly less.

One should not rely on the authorities to issue a warning in time. The warning system might well have been damaged in the earthquake. The people manning it might have injuries or other more immediate concerns such as making sure their headquarters is safe to occupy and getting the Emergency Operations Centre established in accordance with the Civil Defence and Emergency Management Act, 2002. During that time a tsunami heading for nearby coast lines would have a significant head start.

In a real event though, things will be about 10x tougher. We will assume that it is indeed at night time. When the shaking stops different people will react differently to the situation. A lot will be in shock and not thinking coherently. Before one can leave the house or building they are in to go inland they need to be able to safely clear a route and make sure all of their fellow occupants are safe. 1 minute would easily pass in that time – 4-5 minutes to get out might be more realistic. The power will most certainly be out in large parts of the city if not across the region so there will not be any working street lights, traffic lights or other lighting to guide them. There will be constant aftershocks and some might be substantial events in themselves. In a city built on marine sediments, liquefaction will have flooded many roads, which will also be cracked. Downed power lines, foot paths blocked with debris from buildings and trees pointing in crazy directions will also hinder progress. And if all that is not enough, there will most certainly be people who are – semi-understandably – panicking even though that is the worst thing one can do and trying to drive out despite the obstacles and potentially blocking others.

The tsunami will behave differently depending on several physical factors. For example the sea floor topography will help to determine the size and shape of the waves as they approach. Will they slow down gradually as they run up a fairly open and gently grading beach, where the classic waves that most associate with tsunami’s will form? Will they be coming up a narrowing bay that forces the waves to converge and become closely packed with short distances between them?

So, there you have it. Could those of you in a tsunami inundation zone find your way to high ground following a big earthquake?

Is Shane Jones fit to be a Minister of the Crown?

Shane Geoffrey Jones is a 59 year two time Member of Parliament and Minister of the Crown.

Mr Jones entered Parliament in 2005 in 27th place on the Labour Party list. For the next nine years until his 2014 departure Mr Jones built up a reputation as a colourful M.P.

Combative on one hand, charismatic on the other, some may well see Mr Jones as the successor intended for when Mr Peters decides to end his political career. Divisive, yet well known and liked in key electorates it hardly seems like a logical choice for New Zealand First to be led by someone who only joined the party in the year of the election.

Mr Jones has courted significant controversy during his time as a Labour Member of Parliament and Minister of Immigration, as well as his current tenure as a New Zealand First Member of Parliament and Minister of Regional Development.  During the latter he approved the citizenship application of a Chinese man who it was understood was at risk of execution if he stayed in China. Mr Jones ignored official advice to decline the application because of false representations on it. The man was charged with false representations. The charges were later dropped, but not before Mr Jones was asked for the case to be referred to the Auditor General, which he agreed to.

Between 2014 and 2017, Mr Jones was out of Parliament, having chose to retire and become a Pacific Economic Ambassador. He re-entered Parliament in September 2017 as a Member of New Zealand First, just a few months after joining a party in which he had had little or no involvement with up to that point.

Since re-entering politics, Mr Jones’ reputation for controversy has continued. In March 2018, he and Air New Zealand engaged in a spat over the company’s decision to cut flights into Kapiti, with Mr Jones assailing the Chief Executive. A few months later he attacked Air New Zealand over their flight safety videos.

But his most recent spat is the most serious. Mr Jones took issue with a journalist for trying to hold him to account on reassurances he had made to colleagues over a meeting about a project where he declared a conflict of interest. Hamish Rutherford published a report regarding this. Mr Jones threatened to malign him in Parliament under Parliamentary privilege. Whilst this enables politicians to exercise freedom of speech to say whatever they want as long as it is done within the House, this is a serious issue because whomever is maligned has no legal comeback whatsoever.

A Minister of the Crown Mr Jones should know better – and I suspect Mr Jones does – than to make such threats and to think that he is somehow above scrutiny would be a contradiction of media freedom in New Zealand. It is after the entire purpose as far as I am concerned of the fifth estate to hold politicians and other officials to account.