There were many stories and angles to events that simply were not covered by the mainstream media in 2015, these were 10 of them.

 

10: Role of the Media in the Ponytail incident + Examination of Key’s bullying

Two of the parts of the ponytail bullying incident that simply wasn’t covered well enough in 2015 was how the NZ Herald covered the story and how Key did this bullying on 10 separate occasions. The Press Council’s handing down of their most damning finding against the Herald and Rachel Glucina was merely a slap over the wrist with a wet bus ticket and Mike Hosking attack on the waitress while attracting a BSA growling faced no actual real punishment for abusing his position of power.

The Herald KNEW that the interview had been taken under false pretences and still ran with it. Glucina inserted a spin that Amanda Bailey was politically motivated into complaining and Hosking  attacked Bailey for not going to the mainstream media with her story (despite the NZ Herald playing such a spiteful role in spiking Amanda’s story).

The focus quickly became one of Key over stepping his position, and minimised as that when the reality is that this occurred on 10 separate occasions. Once would have been bad enough – but on 10 separate occasions? That part of the story demanded far more scrutiny than it was given.

 

9: America’s wars, expansion into South Pacific and 5 Eyes

Before the election Key said he would’t send troops into Iraq, after winning the election he promptly u-turned and agreed to send troops. Key said it was the price of being in the ‘club’, it was a line he would live to regret because what we saw in 2015 was Key’s total acquiescence to American Empire. Consider

The fact that most NZers still think the TPPA is a trade deal shows how poorly the media have explained what it’s actually about. In 2016 Key wants to give the SIS, GCSB and Police even more powers and is considering allowing a US warship to visit NZ despite them refusing to tell us if their ship has nuclear weapons on board. Why is the GCSB and SIS trying to manipulate our opinions on their vast new unchecked powers? Why do most NZers still have no idea what the Kim Dotcom case is actually about? How do our secret intelligence agencies keep breaking the law and still get away with it time and time again?

Once upon a time NZ proudly stood against American Empire, 30 years of neoliberalism and cultural domination by America has bred a nation of quislings who don’t blink at the atrocities America commits for corporate greed.

 

8: Rape Culture

You would have thought after the horror of roast busters that Police would have learned – they didn’t. This year another case of privileged boys managed to get away with sexual assaults. The truth about our appalling sexual assault and rape culture has been ignored once again. Tens of thousands of victims of sexual assault and rape have gone without any justice and the response is total silence. If we were serious about combating rape we would have proper sexual education programs in all schools that included consent lessons and would run mass media social advertising campaigns telling men that this is not acceptable. None of these solutions were considered and the issue swept under the carpet again. We do ourselves and our country a terrible disservice by not confronting our rape culture.

7: Abuse of power

The full extent of how much abuse of power the Police embarked upon when raiding Nicky Hager’s home should have been the only story the media were running for at least a month. It was left up to the ever brilliant Gordon Campbell to spell it out to NZers...

In the case of the Hager investigation there are several disturbing aspects. Beforehand, the Police knew they were unlikely to find any evidence relevant to the identity of the hacker they were trying to find. Hager was officially not a suspect. Justice Clifford’s decision says that this was a mission motivated by little more than hope. Secondly, what the judge called the Police’s “fundamental error” was that they failed to reveal to the District Court judge issuing the search warrant that the target of their warrant was a journalist – and therefore someone likely to enjoy the protections afforded to journalists under the Evidence Act.

This looks particularly suspicious when – at 8.30am in a search that went on to 6pm– the Police actually asked Hager whether he wanted to invoke his journalistic privilege. Which Hager immediately did. As a result, this prevented the Police from examining the material they were gathering. It became evidence that had to be bagged and sealed, and could be opened subsequently only at the order of (another) judge. Therefore, if this was a raid designed to get evidence that would quickly uncover the hacker’s identity, it had become pointless almost as soon as the Police gained entry to Hager’s house.

The more important point being : if the Police knew about the probability of journalistic privilege being invoked, why didn’t they tell the District Court judge beforehand – in which case, the judge might have asked them some awkward questions. With hindsight, it looks like a willful lack of disclosure by the Police officers concerned. (Lets leave aside for now the issue of how the Police managed to find a judge who must be the only person in New Zealand unaware that this Nicholas Alfred Hager bloke named on the warrant was, in fact, a journalist. Did it not occur to the judge to ask any questions at all? Given that the scrutiny of the judge is supposed to be a check and balance on Police getting search warrants willy nilly, this part of the story isn’t very re-assuring, either.)

So, where are we now? Hager has had his belongings (some of them the basic tools of his trade) held in Police custody for well over a year. Hopefully – if the Police don’t appeal the decision – those belongings will now be returned, and lets hope that the inconvenience gets added to the compensation and damages payment Hager is now surely liable to receive, after being on the receiving end of an unlawful Police warrant and search.

Already there has been a lot of talk about how Justice Clifford’s decision has set a precedent and raised the bar on journalistic privilege. I don’t really think so. The rules were already there in black and white in the Evidence Act, and the Police broke them at will. If sufficiently motivated, they will do so again. The next time someone royally pisses off the political Establishment, it’s a safe bet that the Police will come knocking on their door.

In this case, the Police were hoping to find something that might criminalise Hager, and shut him up for good. If that didn’t happen, they could at least harass him, inconvenience him and disrupt his ability to do his work for months and months on end. That goal has been achieved. Ultimately, you can bet no Police officer will be sanctioned over this affair. And as always, the taxpayers will pick up the compensation tab for the Police incompetence (and/or malice) that has marked their behavior on this occasion.

…the manner in which all of this was simply routine for the cops is the truly terrifying part. This follows a pattern of the Police illegally spying, deliberately deceiving the court, bullying people into suicide and lying to the public about how many people had actually complained about the Roast buster case. 

6: The privatisation of social services

NZers became furious when they heard that prisoners were running rampant in the private prison run by SERCO, not because SERCO are a private prison experiment and that a private corporation shouldn’t ever imprison citizens, not because SERCO have a terrible human rights record overseas, not because SERCO have been caught deceiving other Governments they work for – oh no. NZers were furious because they expected prisoners to be suffering in prison, not running fight clubs, boasting about drug use or booze making. NZers didn’t mind that SERCO represented the beginning of a massive privatisation agenda in social services because NZers don’t really care about prisoners or beneficiaries or state house tenants. The media should have challenged the stereotypes and prejudices of NZers towards those facing the hardest edges of National’s right wing agenda, but that would mean a media not frightened of challenging middle NZs bigotry and courage is in rare supply in the mainstream media these days.

5: The Keydasian effect

The cult of celebrity and depoliticised media have created a Keydasian effect.

Key loves commercial radio. It’s a cultural and political wasteland for NZers who have about as much intellectual curiosity as a coma patient. Commercial Radio is a colourblind medium judging a rainbow.

Key can appear on commercial radio and laugh it up with the bloke BBQ mentality that passes as public debate because Key has  depoliticised the role of Prime Minister.

National can’t win the economic argument for their free market dogma because the reality is all it does is enrich those already wealthy. Rather than explain what his Government will do to actually lift 1 in 5 children out of poverty, Key will tell Maori cannibal jokes, gay red shirt jokes, marry a rock DJ in a mock Gay wedding, camp mincing down run way walks, discuss how often he uses the c word,  dance Gangnam styles on radio, laugh at David Cunliffe for criticising domestic violence, talk about stealing, peeing in the shower, masturbation and prison rape jokes.

Key’s ability to appeal to the anti-intellectualism of his supporters by dismantling the responsibilities of the Prime Ministership down to a pop culture youtube clip could come unstuck if we had a Jon Stewart type who could highlight this, sadly satire in this country is as dead as investigative journalism and all we have is John Oliver.

When we consider the depoliticization of the role of PM with this Government’s mass surveillance powers and attacks on journalists who challenge them, we have a creeping casual fascism hellbent on focusing on the trivial and stupid while crushing the important.

4: Suicide

The horror of our suicide rate gives us a glimpse behind the ‘she’ll be right’ veneer of our culture and the dark torment of an alpha male macho mental landscape that is terribly fragile. Beyond the gated communities and success of booming property, there is a black splinter that pierces the soul of the NZ psyche that we refuse to raise for fear of what it will reveal.

Our under funded social infrastructure, our ‘me first’ consumerism, our 30 years of neoliberal mythology, our disconnection from one another, our untreated pain, our lack of hope from grinding poverty in a first world country, our toxic masculinity, our unspoken rape culture, our inability to express emotion beyond anger – all of this demands questions we don’t want to hear as a society and the shame of suicide continues to hide and smother any healing.

297 people died on NZ roads in 2014, 564 people took their own lives in that time.

We spend millions on road safety based on the premise that the road toll is a public health issue yet we don’t put any of that effort or political will into a suicide rate that dwarfs our road toll. Why? Because politicians don’t want the answer as to why so many of our fellow citizens decide to end their life in this supposed ‘gods own’.

We are is in denial about our depression, pain and suicide as we are about climate change and poverty.

Look at the mentality of the National Government who at one stage in 2010 tried to not allow funeral costs for the families of suicide victims because, as Nick Smith put it, ‘suicide is not an accident’. That cruelty mirrored Nick Smith trying to deny rape victims any counselling by defining rape as an ‘acute event’ rather than a mental illness.

We have a right wing Government who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

We huddle frightened on these lonely grey crags at the end of a jagged world and slowly one by one slip off into the swallowing dark. Until we are prepared to confront many of the individualism-over-all myths and rebuild our tattered communities, our suicide rate will continue to eclipse the sun, bleakly reminding us of our whispered deceptions.

3: The killing off of critical media

3D, Native Affairs, Dita De Boni from the NZ Herald and Campbell Live were all silenced this year while Mike Hosking, Paul Henry and Patrick Gower got louder.Why critical media was killed off in 2015 was a question the media refused point blank to truly engage with. After the revelations of how connected the mainstream media were with Cameron Slater in 2014, their lack of self scrutiny was as damning as the decisions to axe some of our finest journalists.

2: The next great Maori land confiscation

The Government and Maori Party are desperate to unlock what they calculate is $8 Billion in Maori Land that is currently not being used as economically as the Government wants.

Currently collective land owned by Maori needs a long consultation process with all Maori connected to that land. What the Government wants to do is lower that threshold to just some who need to be consulted.

The Government claims such changes will allow Maori land not currently being used to its economic maximum to become more profitable. The reality however is that the land will simply be opened up to those wishing to exploit the new lax regulations.

If Government want Maori to use their land more economically – then the Government should open up loans and funding for Maori to develop and use that land as they see fit. All these changes will do is make it easier to sell that Maori land, not grow it.

There’s another issue at stake here though, who are the Government to decide for Maori that they aren’t using their land properly?

No Government would ever tell Pakeha that they aren’t using their land properly.

The Auckland property bubble and speculators are denying the poor and young from ever owning a house. If the Government are concerned about land use, perhaps they should look to change laws on Pakeha land use, not Maori.

1: Poverty denial

Despite all the deeply divisive crap this Government have managed to do, despite the appalling abuse of political power, the failed ideological experiments, the economy set for their rich mates – despite all that – they are polling higher now than they were on election day. Yes we can claim the polls are rigged, yes we can argue about methodology,  but the cold simple fact is that out there amongst the masses, they love John Key as much as a shark loves blood.

Perhaps the ease with which NZers are manipulated is the blame of a vacant and subservient mainstream media or perhaps the property speculating middle class are prepared to tolerate anything for untaxed capital gains, but today there are 4 classic examples  of issues that NZers should be deeply concerned about but aren’t. New data this year showed a terrible increase in Child Poverty…

…15% in 1984, 29% now. Once upon a time 305 000 kids in poverty would have horrified egalitarian NZ – 30 years of neoliberalism and we blame the parents for not being able to feed kids from the pittance they are paid in welfare and inequality soars... 

The elite and high-income earners of New Zealand have increased their wealth by almost $200 billion while debt among the poorest has climbed to $7b, a new study of inequality says.

Since the 1980s, inequality has drawn closer to levels seen in more unequal countries such as the United States.

Researchers Max Rashbrooke, Geoff Rashbrooke and Wilma Molano set out to update the the data used to inform the picture of wealth here, burrowing into official statistics.

30 years of neoliberalism has robbed us of the political awareness to understand what is occurring around us. The vacant aspiration of success that National sell has become an immovable cultural force in NZ and a mainstream media that simply regurgitates the myths means we can’t progress.

It will only be when the property bubble pops that all our baby boomer and middle class friends who think they are millionaires will suddenly remember Key rules for the 1% – not them.

The higher National’s poll ratings go up – the longer the lines outside City Mission & food banks grow.

Let’s hope 2016 brings us a media that stands up to the powerful rather than protects them.

An assertion of judicial power to protect rights in Australia would not go amiss after a decade of onslaught by the legislature and executive against ordinary liberal-democratic principles.

An analysis by constitutional lawyer George Williams tallies 350 Australian laws that now infringe those basic democratic standards. The laws cover not just anti-terror and defence, but also general crime, discrimination, consumer law, migration, industrial relations, intellectual property, evidence, shipping, environment, education and health.

One of these laws is the Border Force Act which has wide secrecy provisions that prevent "entrusted persons" – virtually anyone who has anything to do with immigration detention – revealing any of a broad spectrum of "protected information" on pain of two years' imprisonment.

As a result, lawyers in a class action of asylum seekers are finding gathering evidence very difficult.

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The Border Force Act has little or nothing to do with national security. It is there to conceal the government's morally repugnant policy on imprisonment of refugees.

It was waved through the Parliament last February by a spineless Opposition too scared of being painted soft on national security.

Hitherto, much concern has been expressed about the executive having too much power over the individual. Now, we should be concerned that the legislative branch is abusing its powers. The only hope against abuse by the legislative and executive arms is the judicial arm.

One case might bring this to a head. A class action in the Victorian Supreme Court claiming lack of medical care on Christmas Island seeks damages from the Commonwealth and the contractors who are paid to imprison the asylum seekers and look after their health.

But with the spectre of the Border Force Act, some potential witnesses fear coming forward. Other potential witnesses are using the act as an excuse for not giving interviews to lawyers.

Fortunately, Justice Jack Forrest has worked a way through this. He has applied an exemption in the act in cases where a court or tribunal "requires" a witness to answer. Essentially, Justice Forrest will accept sworn evidence by a lawyer that the material is essential to the case to then "require" the person be subjected to an interview by the lawyers.

But it is an awkward process.

It is just one example of the 350 laws identified by Williams that trample on ordinary legal processes and rights that have hitherto been regarded as basic and obvious.

Maybe we need another legal-constitutional approach here – along the lines of the constitutional defence for political communication.

Recall that before 1994, state defamation laws made a mockery of any idea that there was free speech in Australia. Politicians sued media outlets for the slightest slight, often obtaining richly undeserved damages and chilling media investigation into political malfeasance.

Then the High Court held that the constitution envisaged a system of representative democracy which, to work properly, required freedom of political communication so that the voters could be properly informed before voting.

It meant that media organisations were protected if they behaved reasonably, even if they ultimately could not prove the truth of their allegations.

Now let us take the Williams expose of a raft of laws that offend basic democratic rights. Surely, the system of government envisaged by the constitution should restrict any legislative attempt to take away those rights.

Williams has argued for a Bill of Rights to ensure they are not taken away. I agree. But the referendum process to create a Bill of Rights is a long and difficult one. So, what follows is another approach.

Just as the constitution provides for representative democracy and therefore does not permit undue restriction on political communication, it also provides for a system of government in which the powers are separated into the legislative, executive and judicial.

The legislative power is vested in the Parliament (Section 1). The judicial power is vested in the High Court, and if Parliament provides (as it has) other federal courts and State Supreme Courts (Section 71).

But the constitution is silent as to precisely what is meant by "legislative power" and "judicial power". However, there have been a few cases about how the legislative power cannot impinge on the judicial power.

Justice Toohey in the majority in Kable v NSW said that the constitution "vests the judicial power of the Commonwealth exclusively in the courts which it identifies and in clear terms recognises the separation of the judicial power of the Commonwealth from legislative and executive powers. It is a consequence of that division that the Parliament of the Commonwealth may not interfere with the judicial process itself."

So when the legislature purports to silence people in such a broad way that it impinges on due process, it is in fact unconstitutionally exercising judicial power, or at least unconstitutionally interfering with the judicial process itself.

We might find that a lot of the 50 laws that Williams has found to offend liberal-democratic principles also offend constitutional principle – precisely because our constitution is the founding bedrock of our liberal democracy.

Many black-letter lawyers will be quick to pooh-pooh this as idealistic twaddle – just as they did before the constitutional free-speech cases. And they will be equally quick to condemn any new jurisprudence along these lines as undemocratic judicial activism. But our democracy would be the better if the judges got active in that way.

Clarifications:

Sustainable Population Australia, which commissioned the survey on population mentioned last week, is a non-aligned community organisation and not related to Sustainable Population Party, which is a political party and is about to change its name to Sustainable Australia.

Also, I failed to recognise that two of the survey questions in the survey had multiple answers. It means that Australians are not hugely worse than random guesses, but only about on par with random selection - still showing that there is a lot of misinformation about, but not as much as I had suggested.