A neighbour last week asked me did I think TV One news was biased against the new government? I replied, “absolutely”.
One can take a typical news bulletin such as last Sunday. The 6 o’clock news led with a Pharmacy Guild’s poll that said we like free medicine. This was not news. TV One news on 13 November had already run a Guild funded survey supporting free prescriptions. Chemists would rather bill the taxpayer than their customers.
What would have been news to most viewers was despite Labour making prescriptions free the extra funding for Pharmac was not permanent. It is timed to run out, another fiscal cliff.
I do not believe TV One news set out not to give the new government a honeymoon.
The honeymoon new governments receive after an election is an important part of democracy. The honeymoon is an acknowledgement that the election is over, and the winner has a mandate to govern.
America demonstrates that when election results are not accepted there is a perpetual campaign. The country becomes ungovernable.
Leading the news with lobbyist propaganda is TV One news denying that the coalition has a democratic mandate to implement its policies.
This has come about because of the six-week delay in forming the government. For 44 days Labour and the Greens were bound by the caretaker conventions and the three negotiating parties imposed on themselves a media gag.
With no news TVNZ still had to put out daily an hour-long news bulletin. TV One’s solution was to fill the news hour with those who were willing to talk, lobbyists. Without a conscious decision to do so TV One news has become a platform for lobbyists.
When Winston Peters negotiated with Helen Clark and Jim Bolger there was also a six-week media blackout. The difference is that in 1996 no one knew who would be government. This year everyone knew it would be a National lead government. Lobbyists opposed to the new government’s policies have been very willing to express their views.
In 1996 Act was not part of the negotiations. Only Act, with just 7% of the vote, had MPs willing to talk to the press. From struggling to be reported Act found itself all over the media. The press did not set out to promote Act but by the time the Bolger government was formed Act had gone from being a fringe party to being mainstream.
Te Pati Maori lost the party vote in every Maori electorate. The party received a party vote of just 3.08%. A significant proportion was from general electorates. The home of the civil service, Wellington Central, gave Te Pati Maori 1,160 party votes. For 44 days Te Pati Maori has been widely and uncritically reported claiming the party speaks for all Maori in rejecting that the coalition has a mandate.
According to the 2020 Democracy Index there are only 23 countries that are full democracies. New Zealand will not remain a full democracy if we pander to those who participate in elections but refuse to accept the result.
Democracy is damaged when the state media does not acknowledge that the coalition has a democratic mandate for their policies. The only justification for the state owning a broadcasting license is to be a source of unbiased news. My neigbours will stop watching the TV news if they believe it to be biased.
Sedition is infectious. Elements in the civil service are refusing to accept the result of the election. When a minister, I do not recall a cabinet paper being leaked even before ministers had considered it. The leaking of the paper opposing the repeal of Fair Pay Agreements is sabotage. The same department in 2021 recommended against Fair Pay Agreements saying the costs weighted any benefit. Now a treasury paper has been leaked.
The Human Rights Commission is another that does not recognize the new government’s mandate to end co-governance. This month the Commission as part of its commitment to the treaty has appointed a new commissioner to a shared leadership role. To uphold government by the people ministers should demand the resignation of all the Commissioners.
Ministers must set the narrative or others will do it for them. The government has an advantage. What ministers do is news, what critics say, even dressed up as a survey, is commentary. Reporters are news junkies. The media will always report news rather than views.
The government will win the 6 o’clock news when it is making the news.
Police Minister, Mark Mitchell, set the narrative with his letter to the Police Commissioner setting out the new government’s expectations. Every minister should follow his example.
Leadership, vision, courage, and bold action is the way for the coalition to lead the news and re-claim their democratic mandate.
The Honourable Richard Prebble CBE is a former member of the New Zealand Parliament. Initially a member of the Labour Party, he joined the newly formed ACT New Zealand party under Roger Douglas in 1996, becoming its leader from 1996 to 2004.