Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Chris Trotter: The Political Economy Of Shock-Jockery.

Last week, Sean Plunket was awarded the DCM. Mere days after John Banks, standing-in for his fellow right-wing broadcaster, Peter Williams, was driven from Magic Talk Radio’s microphones, Plunket was abruptly advised that his services as the station’s “Magic Afternoons” host were no longer required. 

Magic Talk’s decision was made amidst the furore created by Banks’ failure to fight on-air racism with sufficient zeal, and the subsequent threats from its major advertisers to withdraw their support. Did the prospect of the right-wing contrarian’s imminent return prompt at least one of those major advertisers to issue Magic Talk’s proprietor, MediaWorks, with an ultimatum? Something along the lines of: “If Plunket stays, we go”?

Plunket’s position at Magic Talk was already somewhat precarious. In December of last year, the Broadcasting Standards Authority found against the veteran broadcaster for what it deemed to be his “offensive and harmful” comments to a spokesperson from Te Whānau ā Apanui – the Maori iwi manning Covid-19 check-points in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. Magic Talk was reprimanded and fined $3,000 for Plunket’s breach of broadcasting standards. Already acutely sensitive to accusations of racism, their top shock-jock’s outspokenness was, almost certainly, top-of-mind among the station’s bosses – and advertisers.

MediaWorks’ decision to take Plunket off the air, if it stands, raises some very disturbing questions.

On the face of it, his fate appears to have been determined by the opinions he holds, which, if established, would constitute a clear case of discrimination on the grounds of political belief. If upheld by the Human Rights Commission, such a violation of a New Zealand citizen’s rights and freedoms, as set out in the Bill of Rights Act 1990, could end up costing his employer a great deal more than $3,000.

Presumably, a broadcaster in Plunket’s position, would argue that he was hired because of, not in spite of, his right-wing political beliefs. Having failed to enlarge its listenership by delivering a programme-mix tailored to the prejudices of centrist and left-leaning New Zealanders, MediaWorks (via Magic Talk) would be accused of re-orienting itself towards a much more conservative demographic. In this regard, Plunket’s right-wing contrarian style would have been exactly what they were looking for: a feature, not a bug. To take a person off-air for doing exactly what his employers’ business-plan required of him, seems just a tad unfair.

In its current form, however, it is difficult to imagine the Human Rights Commission wanting anything less than the responsibility for determining whether or not the rights and freedoms of a citizen in Plunket’s situation have been violated. Indeed, it is hard to avoid forming the impression that the NZ Bill of Rights Act 1990 has become a source of considerable embarrassment to the Human Rights Commissioners responsible for its enforcement. In the current “woke” climate, the key sections of the Act are inconveniently uncompromising.

Section 13 of the Bill of Rights Act 1990, for example, guarantees to all New Zealanders freedom of thought: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief, including the right to adopt and to hold opinions without interference.” Even more inconveniently, Section 14 grants them the freedom to express those opinions: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.”

In the past, radio stations and television networks have guarded these rights and freedoms jealously. Indeed, there was a very strong tradition in both public and private broadcasting that “news and current-affairs” and “advertising” – like matter and anti-matter – should never be allowed to meet.

This tradition was about more than the broadcasters’ attachment to liberal-democratic principles. Radio and television, no less than newspapers and magazines, pitch their product at different socio-economic segments of the media market. Among the many factors contributing to the profile of these “demographics” is ideological predisposition. Newstalk-ZB, for example, makes its profits out of an older, whiter, less credentialled, and generally more conservative demographic of listeners. Advertisers buy air-time for products and services tailored to fit this demographic profile. They want Mike Hosking’s audience: and, until very recently, that required them to, at the very least, tolerate Mike Hosking’s listeners’ less-than-woke political views.

It is very hard to believe that MediaWorks’ advertisers were unaware that Magic Talk Radio had pivoted right, away from RNZ National’s demographic and towards Newstalk-ZB’s. It is equally hard to credit that Sean Plunket and Peter Williams were not presented to them as powerful magnets for the folk who were missing Newstalk’s arch-conservative host, Leighton Smith. Surely, they would have understood what sort of political discussions their ad-breaks would be interrupting?

What are we looking at, then, when we see corporations threatening to pull their ads from programmes whose listeners come from the very demographics they are targeting? Are we witnessing an intra-corporate triumph of woke PR mavens over hard-working marketing grunts?

The answer is, almost certainly, “Yes”. Overwhelmingly, the graduates pouring out of this country’s “communications studies” courses and into corporate PR are young women who, for years, have been schooled in the uncompromising dogma of social radicalism – especially feminism and anti-racism. When they learn (via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) the awful truth about the latest shock-jock’s racist outrage, their first instinct is the get their employers’ brand as far away from the perpetrators’ “toxicity” as possible. Failure to “get ahead of the problem”, their bosses are cautioned, will lead directly to consumer boycotts. The “Roastbusters” precedent will be cited. To date, their bosses have demonstrated little need for further persuasion.

This is politics – albeit of a particularly bizarre kind. Attempting to homogenise ideologically an irreducibly diverse market makes as little sense for capitalists as it does for political parties. Imagine what would happen to the National Party if it produced a policy programme that matched Labour’s in every respect. How would conservative voters respond? Either, they would pressure National MPs to force the abandonment of their party’s new centre-left orientation, or, if that proved impossible, they would begin casting about for a new party to champion their values and beliefs.

At some point in the near future, it will occur to senior corporate executives that what’s sauce for the woke goose might also be sauce for the aggressively right-wing gander. Take too many conservative voices off the air and eventually their fans will band together and announce a boycott of their own. At that point, corporate CEOs are going to have to do what politicians have always done: learn to count: “What is the volume of sales that we are likely to lose if the woke boycott us? Is it larger or smaller than the volume we will lose if conservative Kiwis stop buying our products?”

Similarly, how long will it be before one or more local (or overseas) capitalists grasp the possibilities of establishing a Fox News-type media entity right here in New Zealand, and using it to seize more-or-less the entire conservative demographic? How biddable will corporate leaders be if the size of its right-wing audience turns out to represent a clear plurality of the New Zealand population? Whose threats of boycott will count for more then: the Woke’s or the Right’s?

If the New Zealand news media persists in the folly of “cancelling” all those listeners, viewers and readers who fail to pass ideological muster, then we will see the emergence of our own version of Fox News – with all that entails for the health of our country and its democratic institutions. Who would lead it? Do we have a Hannity, or a Tucker Carlson, waiting out there in the wings? Where to start looking for a talented right-wing contrarian, boasting years of professional broadcasting experience, who is currently between jobs?

Chris Trotter is a political commentator who blogs at essay was originally published on the website on 8 February 2021.


DeeM said...

The current woke socialist movement is supposed to strive for greater equality, fairness and freedom of speech. Nothing wrong with that but, as is so often the case, the devil is in the detail. The perverse actions and reasoning to achieve these lofty goals has resulted in the government accomplishing just the opposite.
Instead of everyone being equal regardless of race, sex or gender we have positive discrimination and favouritism for a raft of racial and sexual minorities and persecution and denigration of anything white or in the majority. Instead of protecting free speech, laws to tell you what you can or can't say and what is offensive or not will be enacted to police public discussion making it easy to accuse anyone arguing against the establishment of a whole host of "isms".
NZ is becoming a bi-racial society with 15% of the population striving for "partnership" benefits equivalent to everyone else. This is not how democracy is supposed to work. We're going backwards to a time when race defined society instead of going forward by basing a society on merit.
Getting rid of non-conformers and dissenters, aka anybody not on the left, is classic Soviet-style policy. Hence the removal of Sean Plunkett - he won't be the last.
It's hard to understand how the plan to achieve such laudable goals can become so warped and yet be seen to be perfectly acceptable by those in government. It's a naked grab for power and control by the Left - Stalin would be proud!

Anonymous said...

Plunkett wasn't a favourite of mine even though we were often on the same page.

I would like to know however, which advertisers put pressure on to remove him so that I have the opportunity to reciprocate and avoid their products and services.

Im sure there would be thousands like me who would do the same.

Im tired of the left trying to bully me into submission. Time for fight back I think.

KP said...

""Do we have a Hannity, or a Tucker Carlson, waiting out there in the wings? "... pffft! Another Leighton Smith would be worth more than all the rest put together!

Rosemary said...

Sean Plunkett wasn't a favourite of mine either but I'm disgusted to see that he's been sacked.Just a matter of time I'd say before Peter Williams meets the same fate and then Magic Talk will go the way of the programme that went before it.It will lose listeners and have to close down eventually. One day the NZ media might wake up and realise that there are many conservative Kiwis out there. And not all of them are elderly either.I'd love to know how many listen to Leighton Smith's weekly podcast.I am one who does and I recommend it all the time to like-minded people.We could be in the process of getting in NZ a kind of underground media if you like. One day the current media will wake up and find their audience has deserted them as they are sick of hearing such biased, one-sided news that currently is the daily diet from their newspapers and radio and TV.

Anonymous said...

Below is my essay on the lack of actual support for ethnocentric identity politics.

Since birds of a feather flock together, I suggest similar community support levels for any of the other prescriptions of the political and lifestyle Left.

Radical [part-] Maori “brown necks” and post-colonial-guilt-tripping white liberals claim most New Zealanders see nothing wrong with [part-] Maori privilege; and that only a handful of benighted “racists” object to it.


Some poll results:

-91% No to making Matariki a public holiday (BFD poll 9 September 2020)
-82% No to compulsory Maori language in schools (Yahoo Xtra poll).
-96% of non-Maori students of Year 9 and above do NOT learn Maori despite it being an available option in many schools (NZ Herald, 23 July 2014).
-85% No to special Maori housing (Bay of Plenty Times, 20 April 2013).
-81% No to “Maori are special” (Close Up poll, July 2011).
-81% No to Maori names for North Island and South Island (Stuff poll, 2 April 2013).
-82% No to “h” in Wanganui (Referendum conducted by Wanganui District Council, 2006).
-79% No to a special Maori voice on the committees of Rotorua Council (Rotorua Daily Post, 9 May 2014).
-82% No to special Maori wards on New Plymouth Council (Taranaki Daily News, 15 May 2015).
- 79% No to Maori wards, Waikato District Council, April 2012.
-80% No to Maori wards, Hauraki District Council, May 2013.
-79% No to Maori wards, Nelson District Council, May 2012.
-52% No to Maori wards, Wairoa District Council, March 2012 (high proportion of [part-] Maori voters).
-68% No to Maori wards, Far North District Council, March 2015 (high proportion of [part-] Maori voters).
-70% want Maori wards in local government abolished (Consumerlink, Colmar Brunton poll, March 2012).
-68% want the Waitangi Tribunal abolished.

On average, around 20% of New Zealanders think [part-] Maori should have special privileges. Around 80% do not. This, of course, includes many New Zealanders of Maori descent.

But it is the 20% that have captured the public debate, with their false narrative of “victimhood” and “oppression,” their lying revisionist version of “history,” and their mob shouting down all opposition, no matter how reasoned and principled, as “racist” and “bigoted.”

Anonymous said...

Most of the 80% who privately disagree with Maori privilege won’t say so publicly, since all the noise in the public square leads them to believe a majority agrees with Maori privilege. They’re cowed into silence by fear of social marginalisation for not holding group-approved attitudes.

But they’re not alone. They’re a substantial majority, though they have yet to realise it. Some of us have been doing this a long time. We will help the silent majority to see that people are prepared to stand up and be counted. We will not be silenced, and we will eventually win the day.

As Edmund Burke reminds us: “Because half-a-dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that of course they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little shriveled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour.”

In social psychology, “pluralistic ignorance” describes a situation where a majority of group members privately reject a received norm, but wrongly assume it is widely held, and pretend conformity so as not to appear out of step with everyone else.

Most people, whatever their level of intelligence, want to hold “correct” beliefs and attitudes. Their overriding drive is to belong and conform. To do so, many will internalise received dogma without applying intellectual scrutiny to it.

Hans Christian Andersen’s story of The Emperor’s New Clothes warns us against buying into group-think for social approval.

A vain Emperor who cares only for appearances hires two swindlers who promise to make him the world’s finest suit of clothes cut from a cloth invisible to anyone who is stupid or unfit for his position.

The fraudsters pretend to weave the fabric to make the suit. Invited to admire the cloth as it is being woven, the Emperor’s ministers can see nothing, but pretend to see looms full of beautiful fabric taking shape for fear of appearing unfit for their positions. On his own inspection visit, the Emperor does the same.

Finally, the swindlers announce that the suit is finished. They pretend to dress the Emperor in it and he marches before his subjects at the head of a grand procession. Behind him, his courtiers pretend to be holding up the train of a non-existent cloak, so as not to be seen by others as unfit for their positions.

Not wanting to appear stupid, the townsfolk also play along with the pretence. Then a child in the crowd, too young to understand the need for the charade, loudly blurts out the Emperor has nothing on.

Others take up the cry, until everyone is saying the same thing. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the crowd is right, but continues to pretend otherwise because backing down would be to own up to his own stupidity.

Our day will come, and those who would marginalise the majority will be bashed back to the mediocrity and opprobrium they deserve. These ethnocentric haters and wreckers (and their West-hating Socialist traitor enablers) are filth on the face of our country.