How the insidious smears infect public broadcasting, even in New Zealand

Everybody is still writing about the UK election. Didn’t he do well, that Boris. When he wasn’t hiding in a fridge, running down the clock, like the ice sculpture at the TV debate that the Conservatives didn’t see as a priority. Seriously, given the opinion poll lead they had, were all the evasions and dirty tricks campaigns necessary? Obviously the attention span of the electorate is now so low, that all they had to do was repeat that 3 word slogan (GBD). True, it was a bit more effective that ‘Strong & Stable’, or ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

What does Brexit mean? Nobody knows, but they will know when it’s over, and the Tories’ new friends in the North of England go back to being forgotten. What a very British farce, when is the next referendum? Of course, when Scotland leaves the UK and joins the EU, and that’s when the English finally get to go it alone, with some northern Welshmen. It’s all about the people now: and the problem for Labour is that it only represents the metropolitan areas; despite the millions residing there, you have to win in the provincial towns.

I was going to write about media bias, and the hapless BBC, who have had to come out with their heavy hitters to assure the readers of the quality press that they weren’t played by the Conservative Party. In fact, they were played, perhaps willingly, by the tabloid press. In the previous post I described how the BBC have a tendency to invite a so-called journalist from the Tory press on for commentary. They must realise that the tabloid person is going to smear Corbyn, usually for links to terrorists, and sometimes to ellide any nuance at all, and just call him a terrorist. This does have an effect, as we saw from John McDonnell’s speech on election night, in his electorate. The camera feed that was broadcast on CNN fixed on a heckler, who called his new MP a terrorist, alternating with calling him a liar, until the inevitable brawl broke out. The BBC never mentioned it.

In the election aftermath the BBC’s Emily Maitlis, fresh from snookering Prince Andrew, had some fun berating Labour spokespeople for their humiliating loss. Not getting the required humble apology she moved on to the triumphant Tories. When no more Labour people opened themselves up for a slagging she had to have two Tories on. For example, she had one man from a Conservative friendly think tank, and one woman from the tabloid press: the Tory man went into some convoluted technical reason why the Labour manifesto was naive and unworkable; while the tabloid woman called it ‘communism’. If Maitlis had felt witty she might have called the 2019 Communist Manifesto. I decided to make a formal complaint anyway, after navigating the BBC website that seemed to make it impossible to make a complaint from overseas, even though BBC World TV was broadcasting the domestic news channel. I might post the reply if I get one.
Public broadcasting is free in New Zealand, but only exists in radio form, a station known as RNZ. And RNZ National has a very popular programme called Nine to Noon, which is hosted by Kathryn Ryan. Ryan is a former political editor for RNZ, and they have traditionally been right-leaning, establishment types. But when she took over Nine to Noon it became clear just how right wing she is. Not only does she admire Sky News Australia, but, in the longstanding weekly segment on British politics she has ensured that there is never anyone from the Guardian. The usual commentators include Kate Adie, formerly BBC of course; Mr Dathan from The Sun; and former Conservative MP, Matthew Parris. In the past it was Dame Ann Leslie who initiated the Corbyn-bashing.

A few years ago Ryan was made international radio personality of the year, probably by the BBC, but I stopped listening to the British segment because of the Corbyn-bashing and Tory worship. It’s such a colonial thing, this underlying allegiance to the British Conservative Party. But last Thursday I did listen, knowing that Mr Parris would be on. He seems to have gone all Liberal Democrat on us, because he doesn’t like Boris, but he obviously still loathes Jeremy Corbyn. He made it clear to the New Zealand audience that Corbyn was a Marxist with terrorist tendencies, without a shred of evidence. He was probably frothing like Mark Francois, way over there in chilly High Peak, a place known for a good smear or two. But there are also locals who enjoy the old terrorist trope.

RNZ have the local politics discussion slot on Monday mornings, but this week it was all about the effect of the British election. The slot is dominated by Matthew Hooton, a P.R. consultant from Auckland, and former ministerial staffer for the National Party. Hooton is the bullying type of right winger, and the National Party are not right enough for him. He also likes to be contrary, so when Ms Ryan asked him about the implications of the British election he said there was no direct comparison, because no local politician had “terrorist connections” like Corbyn has. The other man in the discussion, a Labour Party hack, said nothing about Corbyn at all, certainly not in his defence. Meanwhile, Hooton comes from the Auckland milieu that created Prime Minister John Key’s dirty politics squad, formed around a Cameron Slater. Slater has recently been mired in defamation suits, but the more recent Auckland alumni include Messrs Topham and Guerin, who have been the key additions to the Conservative Party’s dirty tricks social media team.

Postscript: 19/12/19

It was reported yesterday that a High Court judge has found Matthew Hooton guilty of defamation. Hooton was writing for the National Business Review, not RNZ. The complainant was none other than Steven Joyce, the former cabinet minister in the last National Party government; Joyce is also known for setting up commercial radio stations, and is another wealthy man in the National Party. Although the NBR only has to pay costs it is still significant, despite being a case of friendly fire. Or perhaps Mr Hooton is an equal opportunities slanderer, but only someone wealthy can afford to stand up to him.

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