Hager’s revelations have the authoritarians worried

The Sunday Star-Times is reporting interesting things coming out tomorrow:

You can always spot the stories which have the supporters-of-the-status-quo worried:

https://twitter.com/MatthewHootonNZ/status/573949709938634752

https://twitter.com/MatthewHootonNZ/status/574007328468377600

I hate to break it to Matthew Hooton, but in a world where Cameron Slater argues for the right to be called a journalist, you’re not going to get far saying that Nicky Hager isn’t one.

Of course, Hooton has a longstanding beef with Hager:

https://twitter.com/matthewhootonnz/status/370009843781734401

Ladies and gentlemen, one of the foremost rightwing commentators of our nation.

They hear everything you say

The Herald reports: #snowdenNZ : The price of the Five Eyes club: Mass spying on friendly nations

More from mickysavage at The Standard: NZ spies on its Pacific neighbours and The Intercept: New Zealand spies on neighbours in secret “Five Eyes” global surveillance.

Meanwhile, Shihad had this to say …

 

The Herald poll on their article asks How do you feel about revelations the GCSB is spying on Pacific neighbours? At the time of writing, the responses were:

  • 42% “Incensed. This is unacceptable”
  • 51% “I’m fine with it”
  • 7% “I don’t believe the revelations are true”

I suspect that the 51% are people who won’t really give a damn about our government’s spying until they find out Hayley Westenra’s phone got tapped, or that the GCSB has known the identity of Suzie the waitress since 1995.

But that 7% should worry John Key. It looks like people just aren’t buying the “Nicky Hager’s just a lying liar person who lies” line.

Connecting the dots on satire, Parliament, and dirty politics

Danyl McLauchlan has a great suggestion for NZ politicians who really want to show their dedication to freedom of speech and the press in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack:

People might be surprised to learn that in New Zealand satirists are not actually protected by the law at all, …while it is illegal to use images or footage from Parliament that subjects the House to satire or ridicule. So if some of the New Zealand politicians or newspapers standing on their soapboxes … wanted to actually promote those values and campaign to update our laws protecting satire so that they’re in line with that of most other western democracies (a simple members bill should do the trick) that’d be lovely thanks.

Sorry for quoting such a huge chunk, Danyl, but it was a very concise post!

In 2007 the use of parliamentary footage for satire was banned, in a move so utterly ridiculous it made The Daily Show. (I apologise for the abysmal streaming which Comedy Central persists in inflicting on us.) Unsurprisingly, the two parties which stated the loudest objections to this were Act (back when they had 2 whole MPs) and the Greens. Michael Cullen decided to declare the media were “taking themselves too seriously” and Peter Dunne – Peter Dunne – got very snooty about mockery “going a bit far.”

(As a side note, at the time Gerry Brownlee said the rules were an “interim” thing and could be reviewed, so Labour supporters may finally have the “you’ve had EIGHT LONG YEARS” rallying cry we’ve been waiting for.)

This all seems like ancient history, but it gets particularly interesting in the light of John Key’s very strong, high-minded statements about the freedom of the press:

“The targeting of journalists going about their daily work is an attack on the fourth estate and the democratic principles of freedom of speech and expression, which must be strongly condemned,” he said.

Two immediate contradictions which were immediately pointed out by folk across the left were:

1. Um, what about that possibly-unlawful raid on Nicky Hager’s house? (Directly connected to the Dirty Politics scandal, and put a pin in that for a moment.)

2. Um, what about the police raiding four separate media organisations over the “tea-pot tapes” – a recording of this totally private conversation – then going “oh whoops, there’s no public interest in pursuing this case”?

But there’s yet another Dirty Politics aspect to this issue. And that’s the fact that since 2007 it has been illegal for you or me or even Patrick Gower to use images from parliament for the purposes of “satire, ridicule or denigration” …

Yet no action was ever taken over the fact that a government MP was taking nasty photos of other parties’ leaders, in the House, and sending them straight to WhaleOil.

So John Key can make all the bold, principled statements about press freedom he likes; the fact remains that his government has kept in place unnecessary restrictions on that freedom. He, personally, has derided one of our leading investigative journalists as a conspiracy theorist – and all the while his MPs are feeding vicious attack stories to their pet blogger – exactly what Nicky Hager documented.

The meaning of dirty politics

One of the strategies of the right in NZ politics has been to take any complaint levelled against them – of corruption, of malpractice, of conspiracy – and reduce it down until it’s meaningless.

An excellent recent example of this took place on the Open Mike post at the Standard, where political hacking, and thus Dirty Politics, was being discussed. Dirty Politics, to most people in the NZ political sphere, has a pretty specific, well-known meaning. It refers to the actions documented by Nicky Hager by a cast of unethical players on the right, who use smear, innuendo, ghostwritten blog posts and allegedly even blackmail to shut down political opponents and promote a far-right, conservative ideology.

The book didn’t have the killing-blow impact on the general election which many people thought it would. It hasn’t stopped people like Matthew Hooton and David Farrar being used as political commentators in the mainstream media – sometimes even being asked to comment on Dirty Politics as though they have no stake in the game. It didn’t even claim the scalp of Judith Collins – that was another terribly revealing email – though it set the stage for it.

It’s still a powerful weapon for the left. As much as the right have tried to say “but the left do it too” – with their only example being one post which briefly appeared on The Standard in 2008 and was pulled precisely because it was an unethical move – their political machine has been damaged by the exposure. Cameron Slater is no longer a good conduit to get dirt into the mainstream. John Key cannot replace Jason Ede with another “blog liaison officer”. And they’ve relied on that two-track strategy for so long, into their third term (which is when the wheels start to fall off the masterplan anyway), that it could be impossible to build a completely new framework to control the political narrative.

What they can do is co-opt the idea of dirty politics and divorce it from any real meaning at all.

Thus you get Pete George – the derailing mastertroll ofNZ political blogging – leaving 20 comments on one post at The Standard which include contradictory assertions: that dirty politics isn’t serious because it’s what everyone does; that dirty politics is serious because it involves hacking, ergo Cameron Slater isn’t involved in dirty politics because he’s not a hacker; but also that people who tell Pete George to shut up and stop trolling are playing dirty politics.

When called on his behaviour, he complains that Nicky Hager “doesn’t get to control” how the phrase “dirty politics” is used.

I don’t think Pete George himself is a part of the Slater/Ede/Collins/Odgers dirty politics machine, but he’s a useful weathervane of how effective their strategy is: defining dirty politics as everything and nothing to render it powerless.

From being a significant piece of investigative journalism which shone a spotlight on the forces which are trying to turn NZ politics into a nasty, back-stabbing, big-money game, the aim is that “dirty politics” will enter our lexicon as just another way to say “people in a political debate calling each other names.” In the long run, it’s part of the strategy of turning people off politics so they don’t agitate, don’t organise, don’t vote.

How do we stop it? It’s a big project, turning around a well-resourced, widely-heard narrative. But we can be very clear in our meaning when we talk about dirty politics. We can keep pointing out when it happens and naming it for what it is. And with online platforms it’s much easier to get those messages out to a wider, less political audience.

And we don’t let the right de=fang Dirty Politics.