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Liberty-Belle, April 2 2004


By Deborah Coddington

Plebs,Romans and Countrymen

I have a good friend who's suffered more than his share of personal tragedy. A tough cop who's captured some of the worst crims in this country, he's been recently reduced to agony by family deaths. Yet in my own times of stress, he will phone with messages of comfort.

When I went into Parliament I got a call with Andy's gruff voice on the end of the phone: "Never forget where you came from," he barked at me.

And when I feel myself getting impatient and arrogant, I think of Andy's advice. Pity a few more politicians and bureaucrats couldn't hear his words.

This week - in urgency - we passed such vitally important legislation as the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra Bill. Its purpose was ostensibly to turn the orchestra from a limited liability company into a Crown Owned Entity. But the Minister of Arts and Culture, Helen Clark, managed to insert all sorts of other commands into it. The orchestra must play to an international standard; it must promote artistic imagination; New Zealand composers and musicians.

Does anyone seriously believe our Symphony Orchestra doesn't already do this? Has the PM become so patronising she honestly thinks the violinists, flautists - all the other musicians and conductors - go to performances thinking, "Oh, let's just play to crap standards today. Let's ignore all this music by Jack Body, Gareth Farr, the Finn Brothers, and play obscure Swahili compositions."?

So why the legislation? So the PM can control the orchestra. Clark's own orchestra. She refused to allow the Players' Committee to have a representative on the board. A musician, the PM obviously believes, can't think. Can't run a company. Can't be trusted to be in a position of responsibility. No, their job is down in the pit, sticking to the music.

And shame on the National Party for supporting Labour on this. The Greens, United Future, NZ First and ACT all supported amendments which could have seen a musician on the board - a board which is, after all, now required to have an orchestra play to international standards - but National would not support the opposition.

Thus a chance to gang up on the Government was lost.

And speaking of those who know better than the rest of us, I was approached by a constituent several weeks back who was disappointed one weekend when the programme he'd been looking forward to hearing on National Radio was not what had been promoted.

I wrote to the new CEO of Radio New Zealand, Peter Cavanagh (who also calls himself the Editor in Chief) and asked what had happened to a special Insight programme on race relations/treaty issues, which promised to air random views from New Zealanders about Treaty issues. Instead, my constituent tuned in to hear a panel discussion from "experts".

The reply from Peter Cavanagh was a classic:

"The Executive Producer of Insight set up the panel discussion with the intention that it should consist of knowledgeable contributors who could comment on whether or not the perceptions of middle New Zealanders about Maori privileges are accurate.

"To illustrate some of the views held by middle New Zealanders, some audio excerpts were taken from Talkback radio and played both in the introduction to the panel discussion and in the promotional clips. They were meant as illustration only and were not intended to suggest that National Radio would be airing random views of New Zealanders.

"We consider that using a panel of people with expertise relating to Treaty issues generated a high level of insight into the debate. The risk with taking random views from New Zealanders is that it might have provided more heat than light on the issue."

So now you know. The views of ordinary people don't count when it comes to the broadcaster they pay for with their hard-earned money. Only the experts provide a high level of insight.

Get back to your chores, Plebs.

Yours in liberty,
Deborah Coddington

Liberty Belle is a column from Deborah Coddington, Member of Parliament for ACT New Zealand.
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