The Left Estate has been inactive for a while now. Don’t worry – we’re not going forming a party like the Civilian, we’ve both just been incredibly busy with life, exams, and taking on various positions in various campaigns.
However, there are some worrying things going on in New Zealand at the moment, and taking the time to write about them is thoroughly worth it.
Over these previous weeks and months in the lead up to the election, Labour has been the target of a systematic smear campaign launched by the National Party. That’s nothing special – parties will always try to discredit the opposition. What’s special about this time though, is that National appear to be being aided by New Zealand media.
It’s more than the usual latching on to Labour’s misfortune and getting wildly hysterical about it. In situations like David Cunliffe’s trust fund fiasco it was obvious and understandable that he had made a big mistake. Reporting of the matter stepped over the line into sensationalism, but there was a story to report.
Now, that’s changed. The wild hysteria has turned into something else, and it seems as if an agenda is emerging in the bulk of New Zealand’s mainstream media. Their priorities are not to report the news, but rather a version of it that directly benefits the National Party. Take the recent revelations about Donghua Liu and David Cunliffe, for instance. Yes – Cunliffe wrote a letter advocating for him. Was it special treatment? No. It was a stock letter, one of thousands that MPs send out every year. Was it reported like this? No. There were screaming accusations and speculation, as journalists wildly accused David Cunliffe of corruption and predicted his resignation. Even I was banging my head on the table, convinced that Labour were about to have to elect another leader. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and I think that those who saw the truth of the matter managed to get through the media frenzy and show everyone how much of a non-issue it really was. This situation demonstrated that there isn’t any interest in fair reporting – the media are out for Labour’s blood and David Cunliffe’s head. Seriously, the Herald only stopped spouting speculation and conjecture when Labour threatened legal action, and offered a very short, exceptionally insincere apology that read more like a tantrum.
Skipping over many similar cases, we come to David Cunliffe’s apology for being a man. I think that not only is this an example of media bias stretched to the limits, it is also highly insulting of an extremely sensitive subject, and disrespectful of David Cunliffe’s message and intentions. When Cunliffe stood up and accepted that men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of sexual violence, and apologised for that to Women’s Refuge, he did a very brave thing. It’s hard enough to get people to even recognise that there is a rape culture, and a domestic violence epidemic in New Zealand, let alone accept it. When an important, high profile politician stands up and not only acknowledges the presence of the problem but apologises for it, and commits to fighting it, we should be celebrating him. However, instead of headlines reading something along the lines of ‘LABOUR COMMITS TO STOPPING SEXUAL VIOLENCE’, we got ‘DAVID CUNLIFFE IS SORRY FOR BEING A MAN’. John Key got loads of airtime talking about how stupid the comments were, and oozing populist rhetoric about ‘not all men blah blah blah’. There was also absolutely no context provided for Cunliffe’s remarks in the reporting of the event. This blatant agenda undermines the intentions of Labour, and anyone who wants to work to stop what is an enormous problem in New Zealand, and is downright disrespectful to people who are victims of the rape culture in this country who received Cunliffe’s speech very well. But, they needed something to drown out the amazing education policy announced by Labour at its Congress, so there you go.
The most recent example in a string of media stitch ups is the reporting around Claudette Hauiti. For those of you who don’t know, and that might be a lot of you given that the story vanished from websites in a matter of hours, National MP Claudette Hauiti has had to hand in her parliamentary credit card, having used it on a personal holiday to Australia. You can read the story by Andrea Vance here.
One thing you might notice is that the story doesn’t actually detail which party Claudette Hauiti is in. She’s in National, and she’s their newest MP, having replaced Aaron Gilmore last year. I find it almost impossible to believe that a seasoned journalist could accidentally neglect to detail what party an MP involved in a spending scandal was in.
Next – this story should be huge. An MP has been caught out using parliamentary funds to take a private holiday. This is something that has destroyed careers before, and has remained in the news for days and days. Instead, it was in the headlines for a few hours and has almost vanished. You can bet that if this was a Labour MP then there would be a media uproar. It is worryingly hypocritical for media to throw accusations at David Cunliffe about forgetting to declare a trust fund for days, but then completely neglecting a story about a National MP who has abused their parliamentary privileges.
We need to call the growing examples of blatant pro-National bias in media out. It’s been really encouraging to see comments in the Herald that go something along the lines of ‘I’m no Cunliffe fan, but your bias is so obvious that even a child could see it.’ Keep doing that. It shouldn’t be a hard ask for media to just do their job fairly, you know, like they’re supposed to. No one is asking for them to cut Labour some slack, just to stop the rampant favouritism to the National Party.
A sign of a good democracy is an independent media who report the news fairly, with no bias or agenda. I’d say that the situation in New Zealand is close to untenable.