What the media silly season taught us

by Graham Adams / 19 January, 2018
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Illustration: Getty Images...and tips for the coming year.

The summer holiday is over for most people and most certainly for the presenters on TV3’s The AM Show and The Project, who are already on deck. Meanwhile, TVNZ waits nervously to see how Hilary Barry will perform on Seven Sharp and Hayley Holt on Breakfast.

Jacinda Ardern is back on the media circuit, and the stories that dominate the holiday cycle — the capricious weather, deaths by drowning, the traffic jams as holidaymakers clog the highways — are being leavened by more serious fare.

To the eternal gratitude of media chiefs, each holiday period seems to throw up at least one minor scandal that runs and runs in the absence of anything more pressing to think about.

In January last year, it was the vexed questions of whether Waiheke Island is indeed a “white man’s island” as the Mad Butcher, Sir Peter Leitch, allegedly told a young Maori woman, and exactly how racist his comments were. This year, the dominant holiday scandal was the video footage of a man dashing up to a topless woman at a music concert and grabbing her breast before she furiously slapped him around the head.

The debate was kept alive by media outlets so grateful for the furore they even resorted to quoting the opinions of Eric Thomas (the carpet-laying playboy formerly known as Gable Tostee), who was acquitted of charges relating to the death of a New Zealand woman who fell from the balcony of his Gold Coast apartment in 2014.

The response on social media to the Rhythm & Vines assault highlighted the unfortunate fact that the #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment has not penetrated as much of society as the liberal and feminist media would have us believe. The vitriol launched at Madeline Anello-Kitzmiller after the video clip went viral shows that many people — both male and female — still believe women are “asking for it” if they dress in a revealing way. Or, in this case, go half-naked.

However, every now and again over the summer break, we get a glimpse of what might blow up into a major story in the coming year.

One little nugget of information that went largely unremarked was the release of house-sale figures that showed a buyers’ market has been recognised in Auckland property for the first time since February 2011. Unsold inventory and days to sell are rising, while new listings are down.

This last fact has been interpreted as a sign that many vendors are hoping to sit out what they imagine is a mere blip in a long bull market. However, the market has been sluggish for the past year and it looks as if the standoff between sellers and would-be buyers may be about to break. At some point, Auckland vendors will be forced to acknowledge buyers aren’t going to pay their ludicrous asking prices and start lowering them to meet the market.

Other significant items were Stuff’s pundits and David Farrar’s Kiwiblog both tipping David Seymour’s assisted dying bill to pass into law (albeit with Stuff adding that changes may be made after select committee hearings). Their predictions echoed the sentiments behind an editorial published in the Dominion Post in December headlined: “Parliament can't keep dodging the issue of euthanasia”. The article argued it was time for politicians to reach a “humane conclusion”.

A few stories over the break also predicted Bill English will leave politics this year as ambitious colleagues jostle for advancement. English is a conservative Catholic (as are several others in his inner circle) and it’s possible that the prospect of his departure may embolden some of his MPs to side with the majority of public opinion on socially progressive issues — including assisted dying and marijuana law reform — rather than being cowed by the old guard.

The question of how long Bill English has left to lead the National Party will undoubtedly be a recurring theme of media commentary. Predictably, Cameron Slater has been pushing for his old mate Judith Collins to succeed English, with some commenters on his Whaleoil site enthusiastic about the prospect of Collins leading the opposition and going up against Jacinda Ardern in the House. They seem to find the prospect of the wily war-horse pitting herself against the woman she once belittled as “My Little Pony” extremely exciting.

Unfortunately, Collins’ reputation has never recovered from the fallout from Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics and the scandal over her visit to Oravida's HQ in Shanghai in 2013. Furthermore, after John Key’s resignation in late 2016, Hager suggested he has more damaging information to come and that electing Collins as leader would be risky.

While some National Party policies may appear sadistic to those on the Left, no one can accuse the party of being masochistic in the way Labour has been over the past decade with its repeated lurches from one hapless leader to another. The National Party is notoriously dedicated to winning elections and it’s obvious that “Punchin’ Judy” as leader would be as much a liability as an asset. If she does end up as leader, it will be as much testament to the lack of viable contenders as to her own political talents.

In early January, the appearance of an animation — dubbed the “poo tracker” — that showed raw sewage polluting Auckland’s beaches for days after heavy rain was a stark reminder that not all environmental pollution occurs down on the farm. Astonishingly, not even the Greens have linked the city’s overflows to the huge number of immigrants over the past few years and how increased population is helping overwhelm the city’s antiquated and overburdened sewers and stormwater systems. It’s a simple equation: humans produce approximately 125-250 grams of faeces per day, so every 100,000 more of us crammed into Auckland are going to produce at least an extra 12,500kg a day. Or more than 4500 tonnes a year. It has to go somewhere.

Although it is rarely reported in the media, one of the holiday season’s most dramatic effects is on the minds of Aucklanders who stay behind in the city. They are inescapably reminded of just how pleasant and beautiful the city is to live and travel in when a large chunk of its population disappears — and how mass immigration and a bulging population have ruined its prospects of becoming one of the world’s most liveable cities.

Just as holidays often bring dissatisfactions to the surface for couples, they can also remind people of what needs to be changed in public life to improve their existence. It’s my guess that the immigration debate will roar back into prominence — sooner rather than later. Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters will have to make good on their campaign promises to cut immigration dramatically as grumpy workers once again have to negotiate clogged city roads and deal with stretched resources in schools and hospitals.

As divorce lawyers will tell you, holidays can bring problems to a head very abruptly. Politics is no different.

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