Labour leaves much to be desired in terms of how it keeps its internal affairs internal. Recently, the party has been beset by many inside issues that have made their way into the public arena. From the women’s quota proposal to leadership issues, Labour is unable to stay discreet – and is still taking hits from polls, public and parties alike because of it. When compared with National, who under John Key have mastered the art of maintaining privacy, Labour seems even more like a leaky boat. There are many reasons for this, one of which could be the openness of Labour, which encourages discussion and debate from its members, which obviously creates some kind of dissent, while National maintain a more rigid hierarchical internal structure that does not allow for potentially embarrassing issues.
It’s embarrassing for Labour. Most of what spills out is misinterpreted by non- Labour members, who aren’t familiar with the internal workings of the party. For instance: the women’s only quotas of earlier this year. The general attitude of the public was that the ‘manban’, as they called it, was becoming or already was Labour Party policy, which was untrue. The idea was just a proposal that was going to be debated at the Party conference and democratically voted on, as any good party should do. Ultimately though, this misinterpretation was even worse for Labour as David Shearer, who should have known better panicked and backtracked on the proposal, stomping all over his membership and making his party look even worse in the process.
However, while Labour certainly do need to work on not letting their internal issues spill into the public domain quite so much, I feel as though a lot of what the party has suffered has been amplified by a media bent on ratings, big headlines and lots of public attention, and that will not hesitate to stoop to spin, sensationalism and untruths to achieve them.
The Labour Party serves as their primary target, and that is because of their initial problem with controlling their internal issues. However, much of the reporting that is conducted around Labour seems to be spun in ways that make Labour’s situation, or their policies seem far worse than it actually is. Take the example of the conferences of both Labour and National. The main coverage of National’s conference was effectively a puff piece about who could be John Key’s successor.
Tova O’Brien knows just as well as anyone else that there is going to be no leadership coup while John Key is around. This story does not cover policy, or any of the events of the conference, and is effectively about nothing but meaningless speculation.
Look at the Labour Party conference however, and you get the exact opposite. At the conference, a remit was passed that would force the party to ensure that their caucus would consist of 45% women, with a view to increase this to 50% by 2017. Regardless of personal opinion – the media reporting on the conference was shocking. Patrick Gower tweeted that Labour had introduced a system that would ‘see men demoted down the party list at expense of females’. While I’m fairly sure this is grammatically incorrect, this coverage is rampant with spin. The new KiwiAssure policy was also subject to the derogation of media attendees, while the National Party coverage had little or no policy discussion in it. This effectively showcases how Labour’s woes over furore about its policy are in part due to New Zealand’s media. Where they see an opportunity to spin, exaggerate or distort reality to extract as large a public reaction as possible, they will. The same is true for David Shearer’s doomed leadership. In reality, the evidence of infighting is just the cost of having a democratic party. National don’t have much because John Key keeps them happy and the members conform to the party views. However, at several points rumours of a coup were manufactured by journalists in the hope that they would prompt a real one. Duncan Garner claimed that he’d seen a letter of no confidence, while other reporters constantly probed and speculated on Shearer’s leadership, creating an atmosphere which may have done more to unseat him than anything else.
This should not be the role of the media. I’m sick of constantly seeing puff pieces about National, or completely pointless public interest stories, while Labour is being attacked. Labour need to shore up some of the holes in its walls, true – but those holes should not be being widened by the media. The role of a journalist is to present the facts as they are and let the public decide for themselves what to believe, not to distort the facts to create the opinion that they want circulated.
Do your jobs properly, and you’ll find that the Labour Party is an organisation rich with innovative policy and openness for its members that makes it a true broad church. You will find stories of better calibre and integrity than the vicious, sensationalist angle that is being pursued now. Media savagery around Labour needs to end.