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Liberty Belle: Recipe for Strength

Deborah Coddington's Liberty Belle

A Recipe for Strength

You know you're winning an argument when your opponents resort to personal abuse. The past six weeks I've copped plenty of personal flak, but this week two in particular were exceptional.

The first to attack me was Russell Brown, RNZ host of the MediaWatch programme. Just over 1000 words of my 10,000 word survey indicating bias at National Radio was concerned with Brown's programme. I prefaced my comments by saying they were subjective, then analysed the programme, without making any personal statements about the presenters.

Brown, however, in his "Hard News" Internet column, went ballistic, accusing me of being "pompous and lazy"; my report is "ditsy, sloppy, capricious and nasty", and my arguments are "confused and confusing".

It's difficult for me to defend my report against Brown's attack, because he's not engaging in mature debate about facts. He's just hurling abuse. However, he did criticise my data on Murray Weatherston, a regular guest on Morning Report and/or Nine to Noon. Brown accuses me of defining 'pro-market' too narrowly by not including people like Weatherston, who does claim to be pro-market (Joe Atkinson did this too in the 'Herald').

Well at no time did I say Weatherston was not pro-market. I merely listed him (coincidentally first on the list) as one of the regular guests then concluded that most of these guests were pro-interventionist - "Of local guests, the majority espouse a pro-interventionist philosophy, and have been appointed to a crown entity since the election of a pro-interventionist government." I did not include Weatherston in the description of pro-interventionist, but Labour has appointed him to a crown entity. "Guilty" is a word used by Russell Brown, not by me.

Ironically, after wading through Brown's bilious attack, he actually agrees with the fundamental point of my report when he states, "As it happens, I do think a greater diversity of views - the best of all arguments - would be good for Radio New Zealand."

You'd think Brown would intelligently join the debate about how to institute that diversity. Sadly, RNZ seems to have hunkered down into defence mode. I'm not going to hold my breath waiting to be invited on to one of the broadcaster's feature programmes to discuss my research.

But other feedback has been very interesting, especially from people who are not necessarily centre-right supporters but are bored by what they see as dull broadcasting. One district nurse emailed me to say it even puts her off her work when she has to go into homes to bath people, and they've got National Radio droning on with its normal predictability.

And one reader (I have no idea who it is) felt so strongly after reading my report that he/she has set up a blogsite - radionzbias.blogspot.com . You can also read good media coverage at mediacow.blogspot.com.

The second personal attack on me this week came from beleaguered Education Minister Trevor Mallard. The year just got steadily worse for Mallard, as parents around the country were overwhelmingly angry and upset at the way he's conducting his 'network reviews', aka, school closures.

He spat the dummy more than once as he applied his own form of 'consultation' - in effect, turning up at a meeting then shouting at people to 'siddown', as he did in Wairoa.

Every month I put in an Official Information Request to Ministers whose portfolios relate to my responsibilities, asking for cabinet papers. Maharey, Swain, Cullen, and others release these to me. Not Mallard. He came back to me last month with a bill for $855 to cover the cost to his officials of collating this information. So much for an open and transparent government.

I replied to the Minister, asking him where this money would be applied, and for evidence that other Members of Parliament were paying him for information.

Back came this charming response: "As you would be aware if you were in the habit of paying your bills, this money goes to the Ministry as an offset against the cost to the taxpayer of your ongoing stupidity."

Clearly a tired and emotional Cabinet Minister, who should be relieved of his duties and put out of his misery.

Finally, to all Liberty Belle readers, thank you for your support this year. To paraphrase the good scribe Dickens, 2003 has been the best of times and the worst of times, but the personal support I have received in the last six weeks has been tremendous.

As philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche said: "What does not destroy me, makes me stronger."

Merry Christmas and here's to a very strong 2004.

Yours in liberty,

Deborah Coddington

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


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