Wednesday, 18 January 2012

NZOA: He who has the gold makes the rules [update 2]


After TV3 screened the documentary ‘Inside Child Poverty’ just three days before the last election, causing screams of horror from the ruling party*, NZ on Air** is now considering*** banning broadcasters from screening such documentaries ever again so close to election day.

The problem, they say, is that the documentary was too “politically charged” to be screened just days away from when folk would be electing their favourite politicians.

What the hell?

I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing the documentary myself, so I can’t judge whether or not it made its case****. But it would not be possible to tell the story of poverty in New Zealand without involving politics. And frankly, if a documentary about poverty is not “politically charged” then it’s not telling the whole story.

And while I know many would like to see elections being just a saccharine show of politicians with polished teeth and shiny-suited spin doctors telling you what to think*****, but if organisations are banned from telling stories like this in election week then I guess we’re well down the road to making elections just a dumbed-down ritual of bluster and box ticking; A political popularity contest with uncomfortable issues banned from the feast like pariahs, for fear of upsetting the ruling classes.

So documentaries that frighten the horse will be banned, doing to free speech what the Japanese like to do to whales.

Yes, this is censorship pure and simple. But, quite seriously, that’s what you get when the money to pay for your documentaries is doled out by government flunkies. That’s the Faustian pact agreed to by documentary makers—take this here money doled out by the flunkies, but don’t be surprised if the flunkies (and their political masters) tell you what to do with it, and when. In simpler terms, it’s the old time-honoured rule, he who has the gold makes the rules. 

When the money comes from the political process, its use is unavoidably politicised.  That means either censorship, control, or the establishing of an establishment—which is a different and even more insidious kind of censorship than the one to which most folk are already aware; one establishing a sort of “welfare state of the intellect,” doing to the denizens of culture what the welfare state does to its recipients.

So here’s the take-home message I’d invite you to contemplate: Don’t like production of your documentaries coming under political control? Then take their funding out of the political trough.

* * * * *

* NZ on Air was “spooked by political interference” reckons Tom Frewen at Scoop.

** Who, back in the day we used to call by the richly-deserved name of NaZis On Air, for what we thought were fairly obvious reasons.

*** Apparently the announcement was made by “NZ On Air board member Stephen McElrea (who, in Tom Frewen’s marvellously dry turn of phrase, ‘also happens to be John Key’s electorate chairman and the National Party’s northern region deputy chairman’) [who] has used his dual position of authority to demand answers from the funding body and, simultaneously, make implicit but forceful statements about what constitutes ‘appropriate’ policy material for such a funding body to support.” [ref: Kiwipolitico]

**** Karl du Fresne called it "a disgracefully simplistic, emotionally manipulative programme." But that’s the sort of thing the DomPost pays him to say. Meanwhile, Lindsay Mitchell corrected some of the doco’s “sensationalist” figures. And Martin Bradbury’s Tumeke! blog wrote a press release for the doco’s makers.

***** Which was the frank intent of both the Red Team’s Electoral Finance Act, and The Blue Teams’s subsequent Electoral Finance Act Lite—about which respective opponents were either incensed or disinterested, depending on which team at the time was proposing the saccharinisation .

UPDATE 1: New links added. Picture, courtesy Scoop.

UPDATE 2: New related thread at Twitter (#NZOnAirSongs) has thrown up a few new song titles, including:

  • Don't fight political corruption, Marsha, its bigger than both of us
  • Beige Frost
  • There Is No Election In New Zealand


  1. Income "inequality" and poverty is the media's current darling.

    Just like the NZ Herald's thankfully failed "Lower the breath alcohol limit" garbage.

  2. Oh, sure.

    But the specific issue on which the doco focussed is not the issue here really,is it--except to the extent it appears to make the govt uncomfortable.

  3. Yes, strange that we are not allowed to view and discuss politics during an election period. I would have thought that would be the perfect time.


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