upton-on-line scolded by Sir William
Two days ago in this column upton-on-line modestly suggested that Labour in Britain is a modern party of lower taxes. The comment was made to draw a sharp distinction with Labour in New Zealand, which is widely regarded as a party committed to old fashioned 'tax and spend'.
The reference to Labour in Britain has brought upton-on-line a swift rebuke from the Right Honourable Sir William Birch, Minister of Finance.
Sir William, although in the twilight of a redoubtable political career, keeps himself informed by reading both upton-on-line and the Times of London. While reading the former he was reminded powerfully of a recent article in the latter.
On 4 November 1999 The Times reported that 'Britain has the fastest rising tax burden in Europe, and now pays more tax than Germany for the first time in a generation.' The OECD had published fresh statistics the previous day. The Times continued, 'while the international trend is toward is toward lower taxes, the first full year of a Labour Government saw the biggest annual rise in taxation for 16 years'.
One commentator said, 'It took nearly 20 years to build a dynamic and competitive economy in this country. In just two years, Labour's tax and regulation policies are chipping away at the very foundations of that competitive advantage'.
Upton-on-line accepts this lesson from a wise old politician. Despite all promises on tax, a Labour party anywhere will revert to type. Even if income tax rates don't move much, they will always find new and ingenious ways to increase the overall tax burden. Can a leopard change its spots?
The frightening thing is that Labour in Britain genuinely seems more Centre-Right than Centre-Left and was committed to lowering taxes, and yet it now has the fastest rising tax burden in Europe. Labour in New Zealand is unashamedly Centre-Left and is committed to raising taxes. What hope do we have?
And just in case they lose their nerve and suffer a fit of moderation, the Alliance is there to keep them staunch.
Upton-on-line has been deservedly chastised and both withdraws and apologises for its comments about British Labour on 10 November.
What TVNZ said last night about Labour's political party broadcast.
"Your complaint is split into two parts, and the Complaints committee considered each in turn.
1. Case One – that of a working mother with three young children (Ms Lee Brash)
The Committee noted that in introducing Ms Brash, Ms Clark stated baldly that:
"…the rent on her state flat used to be $73 a week. Now it's risen to $270"
The Committee recognised that, while this statement may be strictly accurate, its unqualified nature leaves it open to accusations of inaccuracy by omission. There is no reference to the available accommodation supplement, a benefit available to Ms Brash which would mean that she would not be out of pocket by as much as the increase in rent might suggest. In considering whether this omission amounted to a breach of standards, the Committee referred to a decision by the Broadcasting Standards Authority (1999-007) where a current affairs programme had similarly omitted to mention available benefits. The authority wrote:
"…it finds that the item's failure to apprise viewers of additional information available at the time, and which would have been likely to give the viewer a different perspective, resulted in the programme being unfair and unbalanced."
"The Authority finds that some matters which were omitted, such as the availability of income supplements and the offer of alternative housing, created an impression which was unfair and inaccurate".
While it recognised that an election broadcast is very different from a current affairs programme, the Complaints Committee noted that E1 requires that election broadcasts comply with the Codes of Broadcasting Practice in all respects other than the requirement for balance. In this circumstance, the Committee believed that the unqualified assertion that Ms Brash's rent went up by $197 was a breach of G1 of the Codes of Broadcasting Practice, and of Rule 2 of the Advertising Code of Ethics. Your complaint concerning this aspect of the broadcast was accordingly upheld.
In the second part of your reference to Ms Brash, you have produced for TVNZ figures which appear to show that Ms Brash is entitled to more than she claims to be receiving. The Committee accepted your calculation that by her own words Ms Brash is claiming to receive $450 a week and that this figure is lower than that calculated according to the benefits available to her.
The Committee believes that either viewers were left with an inaccurate impression of Ms Brash's circumstances, or that Ms Brash has not made full use of the additional benefits available to her and that that would have been known to the programme makers.
In either case, the Committee accepted that as makers of the programme, the producers representing the Labour Party, were duty bound to ensure that an accurate picture of Ms Brash's circumstances was presented. The Broadcasting Standards Authority (decision 153/95) made the following observation in a case where a failure to point to available benefits had been detected:
"In the Authority's view, a broadcaster must select interviewees for such items with care, as the substance of their remarks might give a false impression for which the broadcaster must accept responsibility. Failure to do so in this case led to a distorted and inaccurate report."
While the Committee was reluctant to accept that TVNZ must take responsibility for material which was produced outside its control, it recognised that the law as it stands requires that it does so. Accordingly this part of your complaint was also upheld as a breach of standard G1 and Rule 2.
2. Case 2 – that of a mother of seven children (Ms Katherine Holloway)
The Committee noted your point that in fact Ms Holloway has only five dependent children but observed that the programme at no point claimed that all seven of her offspring were dependent.
However the Committee was concerned that Ms Holloway's claim to have "maybe forty, fifty dollars" left after paying her rent appears to be inaccurate. Ms Holloway's rent was described by Ms Clark as $310 but WINZ has confirmed that she receives $495 a week – a margin of $185, considerably larger than the forty or fifty dollars claimed.
The Committee believed it likely that the "forty or fifty dollars" referred to what was left after rent and other expenses were paid, but noted that the question put by Ms Clark limited the answer to what was left after rent. The question reads:
"And how much did you have left after paying $310 in rent to live on?"
It was the Committee's conclusion that the impression left of Ms Holloway's circumstances was inaccurate because the difference between the figure for rent and that paid to Ms Holloway is much larger than the amount claimed by her. A breach of G1 and Rule 2 was therefore established."