Friday, July 16, 2021

Karl du Fresne: In New Zealand this week

In New Zealand this week:

■ The online news service BusinessDesk reported the result of the first round of funding handouts under the $55 million Pravda Project, officially known as the Public Interest Journalism Fund. They include:

More than $2.4 million to NZME, Maori Television, Newshub, Pacific Media Network and 11 “support partners” to train and develop 25 cadet Maori, Pasifika and “diverse” journalists. The latter category will presumably include those who identify as transgender or non-binary and other aggrieved minorities that we haven’t got names for yet.

$300,000 to Stuff to produce a “cultural competency” course (could there be a more ideologically loaded phrase?) for journalists which will later be shared across the industry “to fundamentally shift representation in NZ media”.

$207,000 to woke-friendly digital platform The Spinoff for a podcast series “to explore Maori issues".

$433,000 for Paakiwaha, a bilingual current affairs show to be produced by UMA Broadcasting for UMA, which was established in 1999 by Manukau Urban Maori Authority and Te Whanau a Waipareira Charitable Trust, operates Auckland Maori station Radio Waatea.

$440,000 to NZME, which owns the New Zealand Herald and NewstalkZB, to produce a weekly bilingual section in the Rotorua Weekender newspaper on local iwi issues.

The allocations were announced by Raewyn Rasch, head of journalism for state funding agency NZ on Air, which is administering the Pravda Project for the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. Rasch, who identifies as Ngai Tahu, is a former general manager of Maori and Pacific programmes at TVNZ and more recently was involved in promoting higher education for Maori@Massey.

BusinessDesk reports that NZ on Air received 123 applications for the first funding round and recommended 34 for approval. Forty percent of the money will go to Maori journalism projects.

The biggest single allocation is to RNZ, which already receives roughly $48 million a year from taxpayers and will get an extra $806,000 for its podcast The Detail.

As for those other allocations, I predict most of our money will end up being spent on advocacy journalism. As with the $3.5 million Three Waters propaganda campaign, taxpayers will be paying for their own indoctrination.

The line that once separated journalism from activism is being erased, and it’s happening with the eager co-operation of the mainstream journalism organisations that are lining up to take the state’s tainted money. We are witnessing the slow death of neutral, independent and credible journalism.

Last month, The Dominion Post published a letter from me in which I challenged an article by Stuff editor-in-chief Patrick Crewdson headlined Why government money won’t corrupt our journalism, in which Crewdson insisted Stuff’s editorial integrity wouldn’t be compromised by accepting government funding.

I wrote: “ … what he doesn’t mention is that before applying for money from the fund, media organisations must commit to a set of requirements that include, among other things, actively promoting the Maori language and ‘the principles of Partnership, Participation and Protection under Te Tiriti o Waitangi’.

“In other words, media organisations that seek money from the fund are signing up to a politicised project whose rules are fundamentally incompatible with free and independent journalism.

“Despite what Crewdson says, sceptics will take some convincing that the fund isn’t an expensive, taxpayer-funded indoctrination exercise.”

I’d be happy to be proved wrong, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

■ New Zealand is experiencing an epidemic of gun crime. Yesterday, a man was shot and wounded by police in Auckland as he held a gun to the head of a motorist in what appeared to be an attempted car hijacking following a chase. This followed the fatal shooting on Wednesday night of a man who confronted police with a firearm in Hamilton during a standoff in which at least 10 shots were reportedly heard.

Last weekend, also in Hamilton, a police officer was shot in the arm and shoulder during a routine traffic stop. An accomplice stole the officer’s car.

Meanwhile, the country has heard some of the chilling detail surrounding the fatal shooting of Constable Matthew Hunt in Auckland last June. Eli Epiha has admitted murdering Constable Hunt with a military-style semi-automatic rifle but bizarrely insists he didn’t intend to kill Hunt’s partner, Constable David Goldfinch, despite shooting him four times. A witness said Epiha, who fired 14 shots, looked so calm that he might have been window-shopping at a mall.

But perhaps the most brazen shooting incident of all occurred in April at Auckland’s 5-star Sofitel Hotel at 9am, when a gun was fired in what police described as an escalation of a dispute between the Head Hunters and Mongols gangs. Days earlier, the Head Hunters’ pad in Mt Wellington had been peppered with an estimated 30 bullets.

Two points stand out here. One is the rising power of criminal gangs, boosted by the arrival of Section 501 deportees from Australia. Small wonder that Phil Goff, following the Hotel Sofitel incident, warned that Auckland couldn’t risk becoming like “gangland America”.

Personally, I would have thought Mexico was a more appropriate analogy. When people start shooting at each other in a plush hotel frequented by wealthy business people and high-end tourists, Auckland starts to look like Tijuana or Juarez.

The other striking thing about the increasingly routine use of guns by criminals is that it’s happening despite changes to gun laws in 2020 that the then Police Minister, Stuart Nash, assured us would prevent firearms falling into the wrong hands.

This should surprise no one. The supposed tightening of the gun laws following the 2019 Christchurch mosque massacres was a piece of pure political theatre. While law-abiding gun-owners who never represented a threat to anyone dutifully handed over previously legal guns that were now deemed high-risk, criminal gangs continued to do what they’ve always done – ignored the law.

All this was entirely predictable. The new gun laws no more reduced the circulation of illegal weapons than the so-called anti-smacking law of 2007 magically eliminated the violent abuse of children. Matthew Hunt, if he were still alive, could testify to that.

The Hotel Sofitel shooting points to another alarming trend: an attitude among gang members that they can get away with just about anything. The same sense of impunity is evident in the way gangs use the excuse of a funeral to take over public highways in a show of strength, effectively defying the police to stop them.

When people are allowed to behave with obvious contempt for the law (as Hone Harawira and his supporters also did with their illegal, opportunistic road blocks during the Covid-19 lockdown), the legal mechanisms that ensure a civilised society start to break down.

But don’t expect the police hierarchy to stand its ground – not under a commissioner who appears to have been appointed for his willingness to fall into line with the agenda of an increasingly radical left-wing government.

Police Headquarters has signalled its favourable disposition toward criminal gangs by supporting the allocation of $2.75 million to a supposed drug rehab programme run by the Mongrel Mob – the same outfit that profits from the ruinous methamphetamine racket.

But there’s hope. To its credit, the Police Association has condemned the handout. Association president Chris Cahill said one of his members had described it as the most successful money-laundering scheme he’d ever heard of. “Police take $2 million of dirty money – as they recently did from the Notorious Chapter of the Mongrel Mob in Operation Dusk in Hawke’s Bay – and the government returns $2.75 million in clean money to people so closely linked with the same gang.”

Cahill didn’t bother to disguise his disgust. Rank-and-file cops – the people putting their lives on the line at the front end – can hardly be blamed for feeling betrayed when their bosses undermine them.

■ Farmers and tradies are turning out today for the “Howl of a Protest” against a government that seems, at best, indifferent to the people who keep the economy functioning and, at worst, is perversely hostile to them.

Nationwide protest rallies are a sign of mounting resistance to policies and ideological projects, some of them kept safely under wraps until after last year’s election, that attack productive sectors of the economy and seek to centralise power at the expense of local democracy and accountability.

As the sheer scale of Labour’s transformational agenda becomes more apparent, so a counter-revolution is slowly gathering momentum. This is nowhere more apparent than in the provinces.

The government might yet get away with its extreme hate-speech proposals and its brazen bid for control over the media. As alarming as they are, these are not necessarily issues that excite fervent popular opposition. But punitive taxes on utes, imperious land grabs under the pretext of environmental protection and grandiose cycling bridges for the privileged urban middle class are something everyone can understand. Meanwhile, the government is encountering unexpectedly stiff resistance over its planned seizure of local water assets, which may yet prove to have been a step too far.

All that’s missing from the picture is an opposition capable of exploiting public unease over Labour’s radicalism. At some stage, Judith Collins and David Seymour will have to start talking to each other.

■ The leaked draft script of the planned Hollywood movie They Are Us has provoked uproar. Objections centre on the likelihood of the March 19 Christchurch massacres being graphically depicted with little regard for the feelings of survivors and those bereaved by the killings, none of whom appear to have been consulted.

Again, no one should be surprised. Hollywood is doing what Hollywood does: taking a real-life event and fictionalising aspects of it for maximum dramatic impact, and to hell with irrelevant niceties such as the truth.

Remember Argo, the Oscar-winning 2012 movie starring (and directed by) Ben Affleck, which purported to tell the true story of how several fugitive American diplomats were smuggled out of Tehran following the 1979 Iranian Revolution? It wilfully misrepresented events by claiming the New Zealand embassy in Tehran refused to help the Americans when the reverse was true.

So if you’re na├»ve enough to expect They Are Us to be faithful to actual events, you probably also believe Titanic was a documentary. We shouldn’t try to stop Hollywood making the film, because it’s a free world; but if the movie goes ahead we can show our disapproval by boycotting it.

Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at

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