IT’S GETTING HARD TO make a joke these days without some humourless bastard taking it seriously – and it’s getting hard to satirise the statists without giving them new ideas.
Some years ago, back before Al Gore invented the internet, a pale physics student from Otago called Bernard Darnton penned a piece of rollicking satire called ‘Achtung Fatso!’ in which he satirised the food fascists by exaggerating their programmes. Fat taxes. Guidelines on healthy eating issued by a Ministry for Nutritional Responsibility. The commissioning of a Body Mass Index Safety Authority. These were all satire back in 1997 – or they were, until the likes of Sue Kedgeley started getting ideas.
Bernard has a lot to answer for.
And so does Lindsay Perigo. Years ago when we Libz were opposing the broadcasting fee he satirised NZ On Air with suggestions for a new organisation called NZ in Print.
“We have a thing in NZ, a government body called NZ on Air. It shells out taxpayer money to local outfits to produce television programmes it deems worthy. It used to collect a dedicated fee from anyone who owned a television set before we freedom-fighters got that abolished.
“One day, as part of an ongoing campaign against this monstrosity … I went on my radio show and announced that a new statutory body was being set up called NZ in Print, which would collect a levy from every New Zealander and use it to set up a govt-run daily newspaper. "This'll point up how ridiculous and indefensible NaZis on Air is," I thought. Problem was, listeners believed me till I told them I was pulling their tits. "NZ in Print" just didn't seem that unlikely in our Nanny State environment!”
I guess he didn’t realise that people like Fran O’Sullivan was listening.
This week in Wellington, you see, while purporting to talk about political blogging O’Sullivan was shamefully shilling for her employers. “Increasing commercial pressures on newspapers and diminishing resources to do investigative journalism,” was the bleat. Taxpayers stumping up for electronic media but not for paper-based was her whinge. Bailouts for newspapers! was her solution. What she advocated was that “NZ on Air should become NZ on Media, and all media should be able to apply for worthy ‘local content’ projects whether they be TV, radio, print or Internet.”
Oh. My. Word. What chutzpah! To confess that your employers’ Victorian-era business model is failing, and then to stand there demanding the taxpayer picks up the slack. To take a bad idea – govt funding of the arts and culture industry – and to use that to justify an ongoing bailout for your newspaper industry. Talk about a dirty business, and this from a supposed business journalist.
And has she been smacked down for it? Not a bit of it. For her trial balloon suggested journalists like her be given a tilt at the trough she’s earned herself a round of applause!
This is the sort of thing David Farrar considers “a really good idea.”
This is what Janet Wilson & Bill Ralston (the man who did to TVNZ News what he’d previously done to Metro magazine) call “an interesting idea.” “Fran has a good point,” they say. Lead me to the trough! they smirk.
What a bunch of disgusting, grasping low-lifes.
At times like this you can only wish that satirists would stay silent, and self-interest take a higher road.
It’s not just more welfare for Ponsonby late-lunchers that such a “solution” would deliver. It would also deliver a further kick in the guts to free speech – and make your daily newspaper effectively an arm of the state.
We already know what “worthy ‘local content’” looks like from the dross delivered by the NZ On Air dole-outs. Can you imagine what sort of worthy “investigative” journalism would be funded by such a body? It certainly wouldn’t be funding investigations into abuse by government, or of troughing in high places – that much is for sure – just the sort of softcock-Cameron-Bennett handwringing that contaminates your TV screen on a Sunday evening . Because as Nigel Kearney asked at Farrar’s place,
“Can Sullivan’s plan for a permanent bailout be done without the government deciding what investigative journalism does and does not get funded?”
No, of course it couldn’t. This would be chilling to free speech – it would be what I’ve called once before “a different kind of censorship,” and Ayn Rand called “the establishing of an establishment."
So what the hell does that mean? Sit back while I explain.
LET ME START MY answer to that by mentioning a story run a few years back by the UK Daily Pundit about every liberal's favourite UK newspaper:
“The Guardian [it said] is effectively being subsidised by the government and could go bust if a Tory government introduced a ban on public sector recruitment through newspaper ads. At present, government recruiting is costing the taxpayer in excess of 800 million pounds per year. Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, is promising to change the system to allows jobs to be advertised for free on a new official website. The cost of running the website would be approximately 5 million pounds per year.”
The Media Bulletin noted that "The Guardian currently dominates this market and, according to research by Reed Personnel Services, advertises two-thirds of public sector jobs." Now, I don't want to talk about that proposed ban or about the cost of employment websites. What I do want to talk about is that advertising. If Reeds are right, and there's no reason they wouldn't be, that's 600 million pounds of government money going to The Guardian every year by this means alone -- and I'm sure no-one would suggest The Guardian and its employees are not so stupid that they don't know which side their bread is being buttered on, and who it is who is doing the buttering.
You see what I mean by another kind of censorship? As they often say, he who pays the piper calls the tune. Do you really want the tune the newspaper’s whistling over your morning brekkie to have been composed in a government office?
Do you really want hard stories soft-soaped by journalists with one eye on their investigation and the other on their tender into the government for further work?
It’s as easy for a government to buy a compliant media by doling out taxpayers’ cash as it was for Helen to buy a compliant “creative sector” by doling out grants and dole payments.
SO LIKE I SAY, there is more than one kind of censorship. The first and most straightforward method of censorship is for a government to ban speech that they don't like -- that's just what Labour & National like to do with their Electoral Finance Act & Electoral Finance Act Lite respectively, and I hope you lot feel disgusted enough about that to do something about it.
It’s the second form of censorship that Ayn Rand called "the establishing of an establishment," and it’s surely no less chilling. As she says so succinctly:
“Governmental repression is [not] the only way a government can destroy the intellectual life of a country... There is another way: governmental encouragement.”As a form of censorship this one is much more subtle,and much more appealing to trough-snuffling self-interest.
“Governmental encouragement does not order men to believe that the false is true: it merely makes them indifferent to the issue of truth or falsehood.”
That’s worse than flat-out censorship, isn’t it. It makes folk indifferent to truth and falsehood (and to the immorality of becoming another bailout bludger) and sensitive instead to what is deemed to be acceptable, and thereby lucrative -- and it encourages and makes lucrative that very form of sensitivity.
This is what Rand called "the welfare state of the intellect," and the result is always as destructive as that other, more visible welfare state. You see the establishment of politicians, bureaucrats and their minions as arbiters of thinking and taste and ideology; you see the freezing of the status quo; you observe a creeping staleness and conformity, an insidious unwillingness to speak out. What you see, in short, is "the establishing of an establishment" to which new entrants in a field realise very quickly they will have to either conform or go under. As Rand observed of the behaviour this kind of censorship encourages:
“If you talk to a typical business executive or college dean or magazine editor [or spin doctor or opposition leader], you can observe his special, modern quality: a kind of flowing or skipping evasiveness that drips or bounces automatically off any fundamental issue, a gently non-committal blandness, an ingrained cautiousness toward everything, as if an inner tape recorder were whispering: Play it safe, don't antagonize--whom?—anybody’."
Is that what you want your taxes to encourage? If you do then you can count me out.
The American Constitution effected a separation of church and state for a reason – one that is observed at least de facto down here at the bottom of the South Pacific. As Ayn Rand observed, the constitutional separation prevents a formal governmental establishment of religion because such a thing is properly regarded as a violation of individual rights. By extension, then,
“Since a man's beliefs [about religion] are protected from the intrusion of force, the same principle should protect his reasoned convictions and forbid governmental establishments in the field of thought.”
Think about it. And then send your thoughts on to people like David Farrar and Fran O’Sullivan and Bill Ralston, who should really know better. Remind them perhaps of that line I quoted above:
“Governmental repression is [not] the only way a government can destroy the intellectual life of a country… There is another way: governmental encouragement. . . .”
UPDATE: How quickly they all turn once they’re offered a trough to lie in. Whale Oil puts his hand up for a piece of the funding pie.