An open letter to the news media and political commentators
Dear political reporters, commentators and other news media types,
I’m a big consumer of your work. I read all the columns, and you’re on my telly or radio most of the time.
Some days I’m convinced your content has been belched out after an all-night bender involving half a dozen Wellington bars and a late-night petrol-station pie. But on other days you do magnificent work.
You’re part of my life, so much that I feel close to you, as if I know you. You’re like a friend to me. Some of you, anyway. Those of you I don’t fantasise about dunking in a pool of molten lava.
So I’m writing this as a friend. We’re friends, aren’t we? Don’t good friends have to be honest with each other? Good friends tell each other what they’re thinking, how they’re feeling. That’s why I’m writing this letter. Because right now I’m feeling hurt. Dearest friends, we need to have a conversation. We need to talk about some of your coverage of this government’s good work.
We’re only a few months into a new administration, and for the most part the mood has been positive. Jacinda Ardern has drawn widespread praise for her leadership, and the popularity of her party appears to be in the rise.
But not everyone has been so positive. Some of you have dared to question certain decisions made by our new government.
So I am writing to urge you to stick to the script. Stay positive, keep focusing on the good work Jacinda and her team are doing, and don’t for God’s sake criticise anything.
I understand that many of you have columns to write and deadlines to meet. But that doesn’t mean you have to be so negative. It should be perfectly possible for you to be glowing in praise of this Labour-led government.
I also understand that the news media plays an important role in a modern functioning democracy. It is the job of the media to hold the government of the day to account. They say that sunlight is the best disinfectant, although personally I prefer Harpic White and Shine, at least when it comes to my toilet. But this government is different. They’re wonderful. You can trust them. So why not get off their backs for a while?
The new government won’t be perfect. They’ll make mistakes. There will be flip-flops, policy failures, and probably more than one ministerial scandal. Sooner or later a government MP will say or do something stupid or offensive or possibly even unlawful, and there will be calls for their resignation.
These things are normal for any government. They are the day to day mundane realities of power. They ought to be barely newsworthy, so all I’m asking is that you don’t give these things your attention. Please don’t report any of this negative stuff. Be positive! People love a feel-good story, so report instead on ribbon-cuttings, republish verbatim government press releases crowing over the latest good economic news, and continue to comment on how cool and hip our new PM is.
The last lot in power were awful, and yet we still gave them three terms in office. Before that we gave Labour nine years, and the Nats had nine before that. It’s a cycle embedded in our modern political history, where we give National nine years to ruin everything, and then Labour spends the same amount of time fixing everything and making the world a brighter and better place full of joy and happiness. It’s a natural cycle of chaos followed by order, darkness then light, evil then good, love following hate. These opposing forces must be in perfect balance for this cycle to continue.
So why would any responsible media organisation publish anything remotely critical of the government before the end of the current nine-year cycle? Do they want to break democracy in this country?
All I’m asking is that you give the Labour-led government a free pass. Stop reporting on what National are saying, and start interviewing more happy people. Find a positive take on every political story. It’s really easy. Let me give you some examples. If a minister is fired for lying to the public, report that the Prime Minister holds her ministers to an incredibly high standard. If a minister lies to the public but manages to keep their job, tell the public that this shows the Prime Minister is pragmatic and level-headed and isn’t about to let her government’s important agenda be derailed by some beltway beatup.
If unemployment goes up it’s great news for the country because small businesses, the very life-blood of our economy, now have a large pool of talented people to recruit from. High interest rates are a boon to struggling savers, while low interest rates make things so much easier for first-home buyers. A stockmarket crash followed by two years of negative economic growth can be blamed on the last government’s damaging economic policies, which the current government is working so hard to undo.
You could choose to go negative in the event we experienced at some point in the next few years a sharp jump in the rate of murders, assaults, robberies and home-invasions. You could interview some of the traumatised survivors of these horrific events, report on the plague of drug addiction and poverty fuelling these crimes, and question whether the government have given police all the resources they need to do the job. You could interview social workers, addiction counsellers, experts involved in the criminal justice system, and paint a bleak picture of a hopelessly dysfunctional system that is rotten to the core. You could write stinging editorials questioning whether the government have the courage to do what needs to be done to protect the public against serious crime. You could demand that someone in government be held to account for these failures. But you would only end up scaring or depressing your audience, and for what purpose? Do you really think anything will ever really change? Wouldn’t you be better off instead reporting on some of the exciting developments and innovations in the home security industry that would naturally flow from such a crime wave? Better still, why not turn these crime stories into advertorials touting the benefits of monitored alarm systems, CCTV camera systems and self-defence courses? You could be relentlessly positive and make a few bucks at the same time.
We need to give this government time to do what it was elected to do. So try to keep things positive and remember: always heap praise, even if you think praise isn’t deserved. People want this to work, so we all need to play our part. They’ll probably screw some things up badly, but that’s normal. The next government can always fix things up in 2026.
I value the great work you do, each and every one of you, with the exception of one or two I would gladly render down for soap or throw into the sea with heavy weights tied to their ankles. So it hurts when I see the way some of you are less than fully effusive in your attitudes towards Jacinda and her stellar team. It hurts to even have to bring this subject up.
I really hope we don’t have to have this discussion again.