Gordon Campbell on a funeral in Asia and Northland

Column – Gordon Campbell

Supposedly, New Zealands destiny lies in Asia, and that was one of Foreign Minister Murray McCullys rationales for his bungled reforms at MFAT. OK. So, if thats the case why didnt Prime Minister John Key – who was already in South Korea – …

Gordon Campbell on a funeral in Asia, the Northland by-election, and news priorities

Supposedly, New Zealand’s destiny lies in Asia, and that was one of Foreign Minister Murray McCully’s rationales for his bungled reforms at MFAT. OK. So, if that’s the case why didn’t Prime Minister John Key – who was already in South Korea – stay in the region so that he could attend the state funeral on Sunday of Singapore’s founding leader Lee Kuan Yew? Instead, Key returned to New Zealand to campaign in the Northland by-election, and Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae will represent this country in his place. Bad call. Key has put the domestic interests of his party ahead of New Zealand’s wider interests on the world stage.

Its not as if Asia won’t notice that New Zealand will have no senior government figure present. The Singapore Straits Times has already begun totting up the heads of state set at attend.

The early list includes Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott, President Joko Widodo of Indonesia, Myanmar’s President Thein Sein, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, South Korea’s President Park Geun Hye and Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen. Yes, Lee Kuan Yew was a controversial figure – but in the circumstances, putting the Northland by election ahead of attendance at his funeral is a slight on Singapore, and will do nothing to advance New Zealand’s claim that it has a serious commitment to Asia. Of all people, Key should have realised that going to Lee Kuan Yew’s state funeral is the price of being in the club.

News Priorities

Talking of priorities… high fives to the police officer on Tuesday who reminded cricket fans headed to Eden Park that whatever the result of the ICC Cricket World Cup semi-final, it was just a game of cricket. This week, that cop has been a lone voice. Games of cricket have proceeded to hog the headlines and lead the news bulletins all week – even on state radio, which usually has a better sense of proportion.

Who’s to say what’s important, and what should lead the news bulletins? Well, that would be the news editors, in line with the priorities of the news organisations to which they belong. If the over-riding idea is to maximise the audience then by all means… put the most popular, highest social media trending news items at or near the head of the bulletin, regardless of all other reputational concerns. Yet even on purely commercial grounds, there’s a selection process involved. Arguably, there would be a segment of the public for whom the news that Zayn Malik is leaving One Direction would trump any other development this week, including the outcome of some dumb cricket tournament. So at least we know this: RNZ’s target audience are not judged to be big fans of One Direction.

Cricket news, though? Different story. On the available evidence, there is no other developed country where a game of cricket or a rugby game or a yachting race is regarded as being so important that it gets treated as consistently the most newsworthy issue in the nation, for days and days on end. (Even Superbowl fever in the US is only a 24 hour phenomenon.) A search of the Cape Times and Johannesburg Star sites this week confirmed that Tuesday’s loss suffered by the Proteas was treated as a minor news story and a major sports story in South Africa. Elsewhere it seems, sport is sport and news is news. Here in New Zealand however, the boundaries between news and sport seem even shorter than the ones at Eden Park.

What other news items got somewhat swamped by the cricket news tsunami? This morning on RNZ, a genuine news story, ie, the latest leaks of information about the Trans Pacific Partnership and the local political reaction to them, got relegated to the Business News ghetto.

The cricket however east her second to top item, behind the Germanwings pilot suicide/mass homicide story. On other issues…earlier this week, the Prime Minister alleged – despite there being clear evidence to the contrary – that Edward Snowden and Nicky Hager had deviously timed the release of their revelations about his own apparent misuse of the GCSB ( ie, to spy on other contenders for the WTO job that Trade Minister Tim Groser was campaigning for ) purely to embarrass Key while he was in South Korea to sign a trade pact with that country. In fact, as this story shows in detail, the Groser surveillance story had been launched well before anyone even knew Key was going to Seoul. Moreover, is such information supposed to be released in ways that won’t unduly embarrass the perpetrators in government – and is that really the main issue here? Of course not. On the face of it, this was a case of (a) Key’s abuse of the state’s surveillance powers for party political purposes, followed by (b) his attempt to blacken the motives of those providing the evidence and deflect attention from himself. He needn’t have worried. What about that six hit by Grant Elliott at Eden Park? Magic!

Oh, the government’s plan on social housing also fell apart this week. The Salvation Army – held up so long as the figleaf of the government’s plans to privatize the country’s special housing stock – finally said it had no capacity to play that role, thereby exposing the government’s plan as a sham, and as a plot to sell off social housing to its cronies in the real estate business etc etc. Hmmm. Will New Zealand be able to cope with the partisan crowd at the MCG? (To its credit, RNZ did lead with this social housing story once the hoopla over the semi-final victory had faded slightly.)

What else? It all comes back to the Northland by –election, where the government’s current version of its Parliamentary majority is at stake. Luckily, it will all be over on Saturday, before World Cup finals fever kicks in again. Winston Peters may currently enjoy a big lead in the polls – yet has New Zealand First got the ability to get out its vote, when compared to the National Party machine? Even Peters is saying that the result will depend on whether his supporters get out and vote. Yet on the brink of polling day, has there been any up to date assessment of Peters’ grassroots organization in Northland? No, but no worries. Hmmm. How will the Black Caps cope with those big, big boundaries at the MCG? That’s the real concern of our news outlets.

Peter Tosh, and Funeral

Don’t know if Lee Kuan Yew was a big reggae fan, but this rock steady classic by the Wailers – on which Peter Tosh takes the lead vocal – seems pretty apt. In the lyric, Tosh denounces a false leader: “ Now we know the truth/ We find you wearing the boot/ Takin’ peoples’ business on your head/Might as well you be dead..” So false, and so dead inside in fact, that he refuses to go and pay his respects. (“You waan me fi come-ah come-ah funeral/ But me nuh go to no one burial/Yet you waan me….”) Preferring instead to stay home and plunder the nation:

What a big disgrace, the way you rob up the place
Robbin’ everything you can find
You even rob the blind…..

Great single, and a sign of what the Wailers lost when the spotlight shifted exclusively to Bob Marley.

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