Political historian Michael Bassett CNZM is the author of 15 books, was a regular columnist for the Fairfax newspapers and a former Minister in the 1984-1990 governments
Have you been wondering why there is so little debate about co-governance in the daily papers, on television and on Radio New Zealand? I’m talking about the schemes that are being hatched by Maori radicals in the Beehive with support elsewhere for giving Maori extra votes in local government, a controlling power in the new public health structure and in Nanaia Mahuta’s radical restructuring of fresh water, drainage and sewerage. In effect, an end to the principle of one person-one vote enshrined in our central and local government structure since women got the vote in 1893.
Why are articles and press releases being sent by distinguished New Zealanders, ordinary individuals and members of Parliament to the mainstream media (MSM) questioning co-governance, going straight into the waste-paper buckets in editorial rooms? And while this happens, Mahuta and her Cabinet colleagues, Willie Jackson and Health Minister Andrew Little, push ahead with legislation destroying democracy as we have known it? What is happening to the media that were once the bulwarks of fair debate?
The core of the problem stems from the fact that these days people get their news and participate in debates in such a myriad of ways that advertising revenue sustaining newspapers and TV has followed readers to those new mediums, affecting the bottom lines for the MSM. Newspapers in particular have shed journalists because revenue from advertising subsided. The New Zealand Herald’s company, NZME’s share price on the stock exchange nearly went out the back door until a scheme was devised with the Labour government to rescue it.
The Public Interest Journalism Fund was established early last year to pay out grants to the MSM to keep them afloat.
Labour ministers realized that if they were going to pay out taxpayers’ money to the MSM then they could extract a price from those in charge of producing the news that would benefit them and their schemes.
Ministers insisted that recipients of grants had to respect “Te Tiriti”. This is not the version of the Treaty that you and I knew about, the Maori version of which was translated so well by Sir Hugh Kawharu in 1986. It guaranteed all of Queen Victoria’s subjects “the same rights and duties of citizenship as the people of England”. Oh no! “Te Tiriti” is a Johnny-come-lately version, full of bullswool notions about partnership and special privileges for those with any scintilla of Maori ancestry that weren’t even dreamt about in 1840. We are forbidden to mention the fact that today there are no full Maori left, and that the bulk of those most vocal on the hunt for advantage are almost entirely European in their DNA.
In order to get access to the money, editors at the Herald, the Press and others, and at TV broke the age-old golden rule that all the news fit to print would be printed.
Letters columns, news stories, op-eds are all being censored these days because not to do so might expose the recipient to an obligation to repay the government grants already received.
The initial $55 million in the fund is running down and the MSM is starting to wonder whether the Public Interest Journalism Fund will continue to exist after the next election. In the meantime, editors are being extremely cautious.
Did you know, for instance, that Nanaia Mahuta was attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting taking place this weekend in Africa? Pretty extraordinary to have Jacinda Ardern’s Rasputin attending that meeting while Jacinda herself is engaged in Europe on a foreign policy trip? Why the reversal of roles? Is Nanaia at CHOGM an exercise in co-governance? Is she our head of government when it suits her?
I’ve seen no mention of this odd reversal of roles in any MSM. What is going to happen as Labour continues to slide in the polls and an election gets closer? Is the MSM just going to become Jacinda’s cheerleader? To date this hasn’t happened entirely; several journalists still earn their keep by holding the government to account. But how long will it stay that way? Till the Fund runs out, at which point the boss will be back wanting more?
In the end, this sinister drift towards authoritarianism in the name of fairness to Maori has to be sheeted home to the feeble quality of Labour’s current caucus. Did none of that slew of low-level lawyers raise questions about “Te Tiriti” let alone its use in a nationwide move to undermine our constitution by way of co-governance? And about the semi take-over of the MSM that comes with strings attached to the Public Interest Journalism Fund? Co-governance is contrary to the real Treaty that was signed in 1840, contrary to our Bill of Rights, and to international conventions among those countries that believe in democracy. The Fund is contrary to customary democratic standards that govern the relationship between governments and the MSM outside of authoritarian regimes.
Do we need any further evidence that it’s high time Jacinda and her sneaky bunch of third-raters were put out to pasture? And surely the MSM should be big enough and ugly enough to fend for themselves without rushing to the government?