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Peters Speech: Managing the Manipulators

An address by the Rt Hon Winston Peters to Opus Consultants in Tauranga 4pm, 5 December 2002

"MANAGING THE MANIPULATORS"

Debate has been raging throughout Australasia and South East Asia for the past few days about reported comments by the Australian Prime Minister John Howard.


Some of Australia’s neighbours have expressed alarm and concern about this.

Australian Opposition politicians have been widely reported condemning Mr Howard and there has been endless academic and media analysis of his reported statement.

However, let’s look for a minute at what Mr Howard actually said in response to a hypothetical question about a terrorist attack. He was asked on the Nine Network if he was prepared to act if terrorists were planning an attack on Australia from a neighbouring country. Mr Howard said (and I quote) : "Oh yes. I think any Australian prime minister would. “It stands to reason that if you believe that somebody was going to launch an attack on your country, either of a conventional kind or a terrorist kind, and you had a capacity to stop it, and there was no alternative other than to use that capacity, then of course you would have to use it." That seems clear enough. What possible other answer could he have given? What would have happened if he had said “No, we are going to wait until we are actually attacked and hundreds, or possibly thousands of Australian are killed!”

Remember nearly 100 Australians were killed in the Bali bombings. Many more were injured.

Australia is on alert for terrorist activity and Mr Howard’s response has to be seen in the context of the prevailing atmosphere in the region.

Somehow, the media have twisted Howard’s words into statements that he has threatened pre-emptive strikes against other countries in the region.

It is a fair bet that the media reports of this interview sent the Australian diplomatic service into overdrive throughout Asia the next day providing transcripts of what was actually said.

You see this is a favourite media tactic.

They misreport an issue, then get other parties to comment on it.

Except in the Australian case, the media went to other countries and asked them what they thought about John Howard’s pre-emptive strikes.

There is no doubt that we should be aware of the manipulation of the information that we are entitled to as a free and democratic society.

The media – or the fourth estate as they are called – are an integral part of a free society.

The great English politician and historian of Victorian times, Lord Macauley once stood in the British Houses of Parliament and observed that: “The gallery in which the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm”.

He was drawing attention to what was the immense power of the press in a Parliamentary democracy.

It was a power that he saw had the potential to both enlighten and, more ominously, mislead, deceive and distort.

If Lord Macauley looked at the New Zealand media he would have reached the inescapable conclusion that we are a country trying to live in the First World, but with a media more suited to the Third World.

Let me give you a recent example of this.

Just over a week ago I gave a speech to a public meeting in Tauranga about immigration. During that speech I mentioned that one sixth – I repeat one sixth of New Zealand’s HIV cases are Black African immigrants.

The next day the Bay of Plenty Times reported widespread condemnation of me saying that ONE THIRD of our AIDS cases are Black African immigrants.

Let me quote ….”New Zealand First leader Winston brought his war on the Government’s immigration policies back to the home front yesterday, making one of his boldest claims yet – that one third of New Zealand Aids cases are black African migrants.

But the claims have been dismissed by NZ Aids Foundation chief executive Kevin Hague who said Mr Peters’ assertion would certainly not be true.”

Of course it was not true – I did not say it!

So not only had the reporter got the basic fact of the story wrong - he had perpetuated the error by going to other people and getting them to comment on this wrong non-fact.

When I called to remonstrate with the reporter he suggested that I write a letter to the editor.

Now, have you ever noticed a media outlet that has run a correction that takes up the same space or time as a wrong article? ( ARTICLES ATTACHED)

Funny that.

And let me ask another question. Has anyone in this room ever read New Zealand First’s immigration policy?

Have you ever seen it reported anywhere?

For the record – here it is:

It was one of New Zealand First’s founding principles that this country, with a small population, will continue to require an infusion of overseas skills and expertise, but immigration will cease to be used as an excuse for our failure to train, skill, and employ our own people We believe that the number of our bright young people overseas continues to be a drain on our society, and a dampener on our future hopes and aspirations. We make no apology for wanting our people back, or for placing strict limits on immigration into New Zealand. We want clear obligations and responsibilities placed upon new migrants before they are able to gain New Zealand citizenship. And we intend to concentrate upon uplifting the living standards of those New Zealanders here now...rather than adding new pressures through unrestricted immigration. Our immigration policy has one clear aim and that is to ensure that immigration is in New Zealand's interests. We would: 1. Drastically reduce the inflow of migrants and review ‘family reunification’ policies which have rapidly become an open door for large numbers of unqualified migrants; 2. Introduce a probationary period for new immigrants. All new immigrants will need to keep an unblemished record for three years before becoming eligible for citizenship (serious breaches of the law will see residency approvals cancelled and deportation ordered); 3. Ensure, where appropriate, health screening of overseas visitors to stop the current abuse of our public health system and to protect our citizens; 4. Ensure that failure to disclose all relevant information in applications for residency results in deportation; 5. Offer approved immigrants citizenship (with full rights) or permanent residence (and be subject to foreign ownership restrictions). Those who attain the status of citizenship will obtain the same rights as if born here; 6. Give greater priority to immigrants who have the skills and qualifications necessary to further regional economic and social goals; 7. Require registration of immigration consultants, such registration to ensure consultants are people of repute who operate to a defined standard; 8. Ensure the appropriate induction of immigrants into New Zealand society with due weight given to an understanding of New Zealand customs and an acceptance of New Zealand culture and values; 9. Require professional bodies to accept overseas qualifications that have been recognised by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority; 10. Accept refugees on a case by case basis in liaison with local government and in accordance with the current UN quota (750 per annum, and only once high quality settlement programmes have been implemented; 11. Ensure that asylum seekers will not gain priority entry to New Zealand; and, 12. Develop a population policy that integrates immigration policy and economic policy.

In short New Zealand First would only do what just about every other First World country does now. For some reason our policy has never been fully reported. It is far easier to shout racist! At present the New Zealand Herald is carrying a series of articles on the immigration debate. It is interesting to note that this debate is taking place AFTER the election. Whereas the Herald gave four paragraphs to what I have said on this matter, whole forests have fallen to provide coverage of what others THINK I said. Granny Herald obviously felt the election was too important to be cluttered up with issues that would decide the future shape and size of our population. Compared to other Western democracies, New Zealand is badly served by the media.

In the larger democracies such as Australia, the USA and the UK there is a diversity and depth of outlets in both print and electronic media in which political dialogue and discourse can take place.

We suffer from the disadvantage of being a small country with few independent media outlets.

Most shy away from in depth coverage and analysis of social issues and concentrate more on info-tainment.

As you know questioning the role of the media is one of the great no-go zones of New Zealand politics.

The media are united in a common belief that they alone are the sole purveyors of the truth and as such are beyond reproach.

Those who dare criticize are immediately labeled “media bashers” and risk antagonising one of the most powerful forces in the land.

However, surely it is reasonable for New Zealanders to have some expectations of the media – and of their role as a key institution of our society

Those expectations centre on the qualities an effective media provide in a free society. They can probably be summed up in words like impartiality, political neutrality, fairness, proportion, objectivity; and detachment, accuracy, knowledge.

Budding reporters are taught at journalism school to get the facts. They are taught the simple principles of ‘who, what, when, where, why and how.’

The public has a right to expect the facts to be delivered, to hear both sides of the story so they can make up their own minds on a particular issue.

However, in recent years there seems to have been an increasing willingness for members of the media to “become part of the action”.

They take an active part in the news-making process.

More and more, when a political event occurs or an issue arises, rather than actually talking to a real politician, many in the media prefer to interview their own kind.

It was interesting to watch the news on TV One during New Zealand First’s annual convention.

A television journalist interviewed another journalist about the party.

This was quite astonishing because both journalists had spent the whole day at the convention, so why at the end of it was one interviewing the other?

In effect, some members of the media have become surrogate politicians – “the peoples’ representatives” who never actually have to win a vote.

There are inherent dangers in journalists becoming involved in making the news.

No one expects them to be media automatons, personally immune to tragic events but they should at least try to be fair, impartial and open-minded in their every day work. And they should keep their opinions to themselves or limit them to columns of comment.

The trouble starts when their opinions and the facts get mixed up in news columns.

In political reporting, it is fatal for a reporter to take a position. If they do, the reporter has to keep justifying the stand taken – and this means that every subsequent report has a spin towards the position originally taken.

We in politics do not wish to be excused from fair comment and criticism.

We believe firmly it is essential for New Zealand to have a robust media and we are prepared to face critical examination.

And it would be wrong for me to say that every branch of the media are incompetent or dishonest or both.

But there are too many cases where little or no attempt is made to provide balanced and fair coverage – or to correct obvious mistakes. Soon after the election there were a number of stories about the cost of building a new toilet for me in my office in Bowen House, which I inherited from Jim Anderton after the 1999 election. There were various estimates about the cost of this toilet – up to about $40,000! Other parties were invited to comment on this incredible waste of taxpayers’ money. They did so with considerable relish. Now we hate to ruin a good story but there never was a new toilet in my office. What actually transpired was that after the election we asked that New Zealand First remain in our existing space - even if cramped - and take some more of another floor. We said that if we had to shift we would expect to keep the same facilities. In the event we remained in our old offices. We have spent less than any other political party on office renovations or alterations – just enough to cope with our greatly increased number of MPs. But there is still the impression out there in heartland New Zealand that I have the most expensive toilet in the country. The new toilet does not exist, never did and never will, yet the Dominion Post has never printed a story saying that. From time to time the media also pick a target. It’s a bit like a group of bullies attacking a smaller kid in a playground. At the moment, the National leader Bill English is being bullied by the media. While he tries to gain media mileage he is being rubbished on almost a daily basis. In New Zealand First we simply go over the heads of the media when we have to. We hold meetings and go to the people – just like the good old days in politics – when you could see the whites of a politician’s eyes. We have decided to give National some advice over their so-called leadership problems – that the media report on at least twice a week. Our advice is to take a leaf out of the Greens’ book. Appoint some co-leaders! Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons get plenty of coverage as co-leaders of the Greens. Just image the coverage National would get if the party appointed 26 co-leaders and one deputy-leader! This is what you call a lateral solution to a political problem and we feel obliged to pass it on to the appropriate quarters. We hope that it will be accepted in the spirit it was given! On that charitable note we hope that you and your families have a good Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

ENDS


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