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Sludge Report #9 - The Truth About INL

IN THIS EDITION: Fiji Crisis Resolution Imminent Again - Here's Hoping - C.D. Sludge Backs Jim's People's Bank - Helen Clark's Slow Down Shows Discipline - More BS From INL And Mike Robson

NOTE: Authors of this report will be anonymous and wide ranging. Indeed you are invited to contribute: The format is as a reporters notebook. It will be published as and when material is available. C.D. Sludge can be contacted at sludge@scoop.co.nz. The Sludge Report will shortly also be available as a free email service..WATCH THIS SPACE>>>>>

Fiji Crisis Resolution Imminent Again - Here's Hoping

Resolution of the Fiji Crisis is again imminent it seems. The news today is that George Speight has agreed to be bound by a meeting of the Great Council of Chiefs. He is even talking about a "good faith" release of the hostages over the weekend. Given that Ascension Sunday will be celebrated this weekend such a release would no doubt go down a treat among Fiji's Christians.

Sludge hopes the words will turn into action shortly, but is a little concerned - as no doubt everybody is - that Speight will again change his mind as he has so many times before. Sludge remembers that at the beginning of the crisis Speight said he would abide by the decisions of a meeting of the Great Council of Chiefs. He didn't when they didn't decide what he wanted.

Meanwhile the reaction of the NZ Government, Trade Unions and others - notably the Fijian Trade Unions - is appropriate. Waiting. Everybody it seems is waiting till the hostages are released. So is Sludge. Fingers crossed.

Why Sludge Approves Of Jim's People's Bank

C.D. Sludge, like two thirds of the population it seems, is a supporter of Jim Anderton's People's Bank proposal. The idea of providing competition to the foreign owned banks who are constantly putting up bank fees and closing branches seems more than reasonable. Sludge is a WestpacTrust customer and like many of their customers was less than impressed recently when told by the telephone banking computer that calls to the service would shortly cost 50 cents each. In the space of a couple of weeks they had changed their mind and decided to grant the first few calls free each month. From a consumers perspective one gets the impression the banks is experimenting to see just how much it can rack up its fees so as to extract the maximum pound of flesh.

Sludge objects strenuously. Computer based processing - electronic service - is inherently efficient. Computers are cheaper - much cheaper - to operate that bank tellers. Costs also tend to be fixed, that is the overall cost of maintaining a telephone banking system is pretty static no matter what the volume of transactions is. As the number of transactions increases the cost per transaction falls and the banks start to make ever larger returns on the funds employed in providing the service. In such an environment a flat fee for banking services would seem fairer - but this is not offered - by any of the banks. The same is true of Eftpos and ATM transaction processing. Both however are also subject to increasing - per transaction - fees. This is in Sludge's view encouraging economic inefficiency by providing an incentive not to use electronic payment methods. That is an incentive to the customer to minimise the number of transactions making them less economic for consumers and banks.

New Zealanders have taken to electronic banking in a big way. Logically they should be rewarded for this with lower transaction fees. Yet the banks - like the oil companies - rather than competing on fees are instead just racking up the charges in a uniform manner. Sludge like all NZers cannot avoid these fees, and is not happy about it.

Sludge also recalls a bit of the history of electronic banking in NZ that many have probably long forgotten. In the beginning it was in fact Trustbank - the community trust owned bank - that fostered the phenomenally successful and user friendly Eftpos electronic payment network. While initially the service was supported by other banks too, not long after it was launched they decided it wasn't economic, and pulled out. Trustbank customers then became the only ones who were able to use the service. Only after Trustbank's support led to the service being so widely used did the rest of the, foreign owned, banks come back to the party. The service remained a wonderfully cheap and convenient way to shop until - you guessed it - Trustbank was sold. Now both retailers and purchasers are charged relatively large "per-transaction" fees for every purchase. That is why the Dairy has a sign saying any purchase under $10 on Eftpos will incur a 25 cent fee.

And that is just part of why Sludge is an unabashed supporter of the People's Bank.

Helen Clark's Slow Down Shows Discipline

The PM's ability to speak and have her every wish followed is remarkable. And if there is any reason for business confidence to recover, it might be seen in clear and apparent display of discipline within the coalition government. Over the last couple of weeks Helen Clark clearly decided a slow down in the pace of reform was in order. It is called for, and it is delivered, in an instant. . And so far anyway the complaints from the inside have been muted, in fact are almost non-existent. The Property Relations Bill has been sent to a Select Committee, as it should be. And the ERB is no longer going to be passed by August 1 ensuring there will be time to make sure that when it finally does become law it does what it is intended to do. These things have of course been interpreted as weaknesses. On the contrary says Sludge. The ability to pause, reflect, and take the time to do things properly is a strength not a weakness. On the other hand pausing too long on paid parental leave, the People's Bank and modifications to youth rates will not make the government any more popular among its traditional voters.

More BS From INL And Mike Robson

INL's industrial relations are harmonious according to Mike Robson on Radio New Zealand. And foreign ownership of the media has no negative effects on NZ as all its papers have editorial independence Robson says on Backchat. "Ask my staff and that's what they'll tell you," he says.

Without an inkling of respect to Mr Robson, who is far more palatable in Sludge's view when he remains under his rock, this is complete and utter BS. Sludge knows lots of INL employees. And that is not what they say. Not that you are likely to read this in any of the numerous INL publications.

Sludge knows from long experience that INL's editors - all of them - know whose boots they are expected to lick, and when. Promotion within INL is predicated on an ability to say only the right things at the right time, and to show initiative only in a way that does not challenge the authority, or egos, of the companies middle-aged, myopic, and almost exclusively male management team. INL's editors and journalists know which areas of reporting are to be avoided. Stories on the influence of agglomeration of media ownership in foreign hands in NZ are one example. Stories suggesting TVNZ might be kept on as a state asset which should actively compete with Sky are another. Ditto, stories on attractive aspects of the Employment Relations Bill.

When the Copyright Bill was amended in the early 1990s "to correct an anomaly" and overturn the common law presumption that reporters owned their own copyright, not a single INL editorial was published in opposition or critical of the change. Many applauded it. Funny that.

As for Industrial Relations INL has over the last decade done its best to smash the once proud Journalists Union. Many workplaces no longer have union chapels and, with a few notable exceptions, it has been almost impossible - for some time - to be employed inside the INL group unless you agree to be on an individual contract. Meanwhile conditions, editorial standards and editorial independence have been steadily undermined throughout the group, through a deliberate policy of rooting out all trouble-makers and steadily cutting editorial budgets.

From a readers perspective open-mindedness, probity, courage, skepticism and independence are useful characteristics for journalists and editors to have. In INL these characteristics are seen as a nuisance.

The Sludge Report #8 - compiled by C.D. Sludge - Friday June 2, 2000

© Sludge 2000

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