Hard News by Russell Brown


Not doing justice

It's probably no surprise to you that I know a few people in the Labour Party. Not the sort who get their names in the news generally, but party members who participate in good faith in the grassroots political process. Some of them are part of the discussion community here, but others are people I respect who have started talking about their active membership as the election campaign has begun.

They're decent, intelligent people with a clear idea of why they're doing it. They give lie to doomy prognositications about the party's wellbeing. And I  feel sympathy for them whenever the Parliamentary party -- Labour's public face -- fails to do their efforts justice. I felt a particularly acute form of that sympathy when Labour's Rangitata candidate, Steve Gibson, hit the headlines yesterday.

As you probably know by now, Gibson made a comment in a Facebook discussion in which he compared John Key to Shylock, the Jewish moneylender in The Merchant of Venice. The comment, which also declared that "many here have no idea what [Key's] connection to the GFC is", was the kind of thing you'd expect from some nameless idiot on the internet, not a major party candidate. But the Shylock comparison, with its anti-semitic undertone, was something else.

Gibson insists he was unaware of that undertone, so the best-case scenario is that he's simply a fool. But how does such a fool get selected as a major party candidate? Quite simply because no one else applied. When the former candidate, Julian Blanchard, tired of competing in an unwinable seat (which has become even less winnable with recent boundary changes), the Rangitata LEC seems to have collapsed and Gibson, who had only recently even joined the party, became the new candidate.

It's not like the signs weren't there. When Andrea Vance travelled to Pleasant Point, where Labour leader David Cunliffe grew up, last month, she got this quote:

David Cunliffe just can't catch a break. Even his oldest childhood friend doesn't fancy his chances in September's general election.

''The local candidate [Steve Gibson] for the Labour party is a complete and utter idiot,'' Pleasant Point sheep farmer Andrew Steven tells the Labour leader. ''I'd like to support David but I can't support the local candidate,'' he says.

With hindsight, it's clear that if Labour couldn't find a better candidate than Gibson, it should not have stood a candidate. Cunliffe could have visited a few times as local-boy-made-good and drummed up the party vote. That's a tough call for a major political party, but it would have avaoided undermining the real vitality of the party in the places where it is strong and smart. Maybe the thinking needs to change.


Media Take and Godwin's Election

Sean Plunket and I have a bit of a barney on tonight's Media Take. There's no ill-will -- we enjoy butting heads -- but having got him on to talk about his new, serious Friday night show Prime Time with Sean Plunket, I did feel bound to suggest that it was a bit rich of of him to open last week's debut programme by declaring it an "FJK and sugar-daddy-free zone" when he'd spent the preceding days wallowing in all that in his Radio Live day job.

Sean's Newstalk ZB counterpart Leighton Smith -- who has spent years creating his own reality -- seemed convinced last week that the Party Party video had unleashed a nationwide Nazi threat (and I really only slightly exaggerate there) and Sean certainly didn't go that far. But he had strongly endorsed his listeners' right to compare a bunch of boisterous students with, ahem, "the Hitler Youth".

He also claimed to me, days after that baseless claim was debunked, that Kim Dotcom had filled the Party Party punters full of free booze to whip them into a frenzy.

I was surprised by that, but not as surprised as I was this morning when Rawdon Christie put the same claim to Laila Harre. Given that Harre had been invited on Breakfast to respond to John Key's equally baseless claim that her party was responsible for (and had "promoted") the daft burning-in-effigy video, you'd think someone would have done some basic fact-checking. Christie's defence was effectively that it seemed like it might be true and it was up to Harre to "clarify" it.

Don't these experienced journalists get that they're being fed this stuff in a deliberate fashion? More to the point, don't they read my blog? At any rate, Harre tore strips off Christie, who, as someone observed on Twitter, looked like he might cry.

Anyway, Prime Time With Sean Plunket has an interesting format (opposing experts alongside opposing politicians) and it's worth watching, even if it is rather high in fibre for a Friday night.

As is, of course, our show tonight, which also includes Jon Stephenson discussing Gaza's media war and Toi's interview with Frank Stark, CEO of the new merged media archive Nga Taonga Sound & Vision. That's 10.20pm on Maori Television, right after the Wasteland documentary. Go on, have a look.


Friday Music: Grey Fucking Area

"That was for my favourite politician, John Key," says Jon Toogood after 'Grey Area', the first song on the Sundae Sessions video in which Shihad say goodbye to York Street, the now-closed studio where they made their first three albums, and premiere their blazing new one, FVEY.

The song opens with the lines "I am a reflection/I'm what you want to hear," and at one point Toogood barks "The leader is a traitor!"

At the other end of the show, the crunching riff of 'You Think You're So Free' pauses and restarts over a chant of "G .... C .... S .... B!" 

FVEY -- the title is a contraction of "Five Eyes" -- is frequently political, often angry. Dissatisfaction with the state of the state isn't exactly rare in the musical community, but most artists don't have the tools to express such a sentiment the way Shihad do. On the evidence of this brilliant live session  FVEY really fucking rocks.

I saw Shihad play a set drawn largely from their first two albums, Churn and Killjoy, when they supported Black Sabbath last year and it sounded lean and fresh. That's the mode they've taken into their reunion with Jaz Coleman, who produed Churn 22 years ago.

The full hour-long (including interviews) Sundae Sessions video itself looks great (eight cameras!) and sounds like thunder, and Hugh Sundae and his team deserve a pat on the back. Props to sponsor Barkers too. It's out today because the album is out today, but by chance both come along at a good time to make a point about political expression.

You may have seen on the news this excerpt from the Internet Party's 'Party Party' gig at Canterbury University, which was posted to YouTube by the party a week ago:

It is, according to alleged "political marketing specialist" Jennifer Lees-Marshment in the Herald today reminiscent of "propaganda, chanting-type campaigning more reminiscent of Hitler and fascism [in Nazi Germany] than New Zealand in the 21st century." She has not been alone in this sort of stupidity. Godwin's Law really is getting quite a workout.

That so many people felt compelled to compare it to a Nazi rally was down variously to political cynicism, lazy ethnic bigotry (would anyone have summoned the Nazis had Dotcom not been, y'know, German?) and, apparently, never having been to a hip hop show before. Some NBR readers didn't seem to realise that when people thrust one hand in the air at a hip hop show, it's not a Nazi salute.

Is it rude and unsophisticated to chant "Fuck John Key!"? Of course it is. It also quite within the bounds of the kind of protest marches long attended by the kind of students at the Party Party. And according to people there, it was going on before Kim Dotcom even arrived. Here's a short video shot by one of the musicians who played, more than an hour before Dotcom took the stage. You can guess what the kids are chanting in the background.

That a crowd would spontaneously begin such a chant is not as unlikely as it might seem -- because it is not new. Tom Scott of @Peace and Home Brew has been leading hip hop crowds in the same chant for about three years.

Amid the sea of conservative fainting fits Massey University's "political marketing specialist" Claire Robinson, declared Dotcom guilty of "inciting hate speech" (she should perhaps have googled the meaning of hate speech before she ventured her learned opinion) and said that in "sinking to such a low" the video "cut down" Internet Party leader Laila Harre. Robinson may not be in touch with the party's target market.

There were also claims (come on down, Matthew Hooton) that the evil Dotcom had plied students with free booze (wholly untrue) and that "paid Internet Party staff members" had instigated the chanting (no evidence it's the case and strongly denied).

Both network news shows pretty left out the fact that this was a tour of musical events: gigs that cost $30 on the door. One News' report blandly described it as a political rally, and the sight of a bunch of young people going nuts might have looked pretty bizarre without that context. 

But they weren't all wrong. These were originally pitched as get-out-the-vote events, but played out as campaign rallies. And in doing to they've taken taken oxygen (and some acts) from RockEnrol, which actually is a youth GOTV push, and doesn't have a lot of money. (This is actually why Home Brew's Tom Scott, the author of the shocking three-syllable chant, is no fan of Dotcom.)

But a while ago, when I described RockEnrol as independent group and tweeted their crowdfunding site, I got a clatter of responses back on Twitter to the effect that they weren't really independent, because they had, well, views. Which they do: views shared principally with the youth climate change lobby group Generation Zero.

But is that where we've got to? That it's impolite to go believing in things? Well, perhaps we're seeing the ultimate example of the campaign some people would prefer in the strange meeting in the Prime Minister's electorate, where the crowd will be forbidden to give voice and candidates will be expelled if they so much as mention each other's names. We couldn't have a fucking argument breaking out, could we?

People are entitled to their political enthusiasms and their  political anger and if there is a time to express those, it is surely in an election campaign. For some people, the campaign will be about selfies with the Prime Minister and that's fine. We should also be able to tolerate less decorous forms of expression.


Also fresh this week: Mavis Staples belting it out with Chuck D. It is righteous:


The bedroom producers keep flowing. Twenty one year-old Tim McGiven, aka Boy Wulf, comes almost fully formed with this:

There's a free download if you click through on the player and more to be had on his Soundcloud.

TheAudience also has a profile of Valere (aka music student Shana Llorand) and the delicatde, multi-threaded pop of 'IKTIL' from her EP Weary Eyes:

Again, more on Soundcloud.


A couple of label ventures: Papaiti Records, who have ben around a little while and have a nice website and a stable of young, dreamy indie outfits. Also also a bootleg page that captures recent shows from their scene.

And Wellington's Early Morning Records, who, paradoxically, are launching their big thing in the early evening. (6pm today, for global reasons) but have a few things for visitor to look at before that.

And I'm delighted to see that Range's Henry Rivers album has made it to the curated retail space at Flying Out. One of a variety of projects involving my friend Blair Parkes, it's a warm, tuneful, wisftful work of guitars and vocals. And you'd want to consider getting the vinyl album version just to own the cover art, which is another instance of Blair building art from the detritus of earthquake-damaged New Brighton. It reminds me of brushstrokes:

And awesomely enough, Flying Out is also selling, as of today, the digital version of another Parkes project, the L.E.D.s' classic debut album We Are the L.E.D.s. I think I once described it as "Kraftwerk meets the B-52s". That's ten bucks you could spend well right there.


Aussie-born Auckland-resident DJ Dan Aux has a new album out, it's called The Playlist and it includes this blazing cut with Hamilton rapper Raiza Biza:

Auckland's Dub Terminator is giving this track this week. It sounds like the title says:

The excellent New York DJ duo Golden Pony have got on to Australia's Chet Faker and whipped up this remix. It really works -- and you can click through for the free download:

And finally, another freebie: a lovely smooth remix from Tall Black Guy, who plays the Ponsonby Social Club soon:


The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by:



The silence of the public square

Most commentary on the Internet-Mana deal has focused on what the former can bring the latter -- that being money and the fizz of celebrity. But it's also worth noting what Mana brings the Internet Party -- that being some old-fashioned campaign experience.

The parties' joint national roadshow seems to have benefited from a blend of both, and I suspect that the Internet Party wouldn't have been turning up to loudly campaign at places like Avondale Markets without Mana footsoldiers alongside.

Laila Harre announced her intention to stand in the Prime Minister's Helensville electorate for basically the same reason that Christine Rankin is standing in Epsom -- not to win (although Rankin stands to be more disruptive than Harre), but for the attention. If Key was to consent to a campaign meeting in his electorate, where he could be challenged by Harre, so much the better.

Well, scratch that. There will be a meeting, but no one will be challenging anyone.

'It's not a debate. Please don't call it a debate," meeting organiser Holly Ryan said, describing the event as a ''cross-party candidates' meeting'' to give the public a chance to have questions answered.

Those questions must be submitted, in writing, before the event starts.

''There is to be no debate at all. Candidates have been warned they will be thrown out if they mention other candidates or attack any other parties, or anything else like that, at all,'' Ryan said.

Silence would be demanded from everyone but the speaker, with one warning before those disrupting the meeting would be removed.

''It's on that basis that the prime minister agreed to be there.''

The Prime Minister's office insists, in the same story, that it has played "no role in the shaping of the rules for the event". Someone should probably check on that, but it appears that Ryan, who is active in the local community, drew up the rules in the hope that a lockdown might encourage her local MP to attend.

From the original notice for the meeting:

Parties will have opportunity to set up stands in the church hall, with public welcome to attend from 6pm to chat casually.

The main meeting will commence in the church at 7pm. Seating for 230, with sound system. Each candidate will have 5 minutes to present themselves, followed by written questions from the public, drawn for order. At 9pm the meeting will end, with opportunity for everyone to return to the hall for informal discussion and refreshments.

The meeting will be tightly managed, with any interjectors removed after one warning. Questions may be answered by the party policy supporters, seated behind the candidates.

Let's not scorn the value of an actual discussion about policy, or of voters being able to ask questions and be heard. But it's not hard to envisage the policing of voters' responses on pain of ejection going horribly wrong. Who, pray tell, will be identifying and ejecting offenders? Will a giggle be permitted but a guffaw disallowed? Will there be a buzzer to sound when candidates accidentally mention their opponents?

The irony is that the Helensville lockdown is at odds with what is shaping up as a surprisingly interactive campaign. By his own account, Colin Craig chose his scary hoarding portrait with the intention of provoking a response, and that response has been quite creative. It's a form of engagement.

At any rate, the unusual rules for Monday night's meeting have done nothing so much as draw lines to be crossed. The TV cameras will be there in the hope that they will be. That's now the main event. The only thing missing is David Carter in the Speaker's chair.

PS: I'm interested in hearing from you about the vibe of meetings in your 'hood. Feel free to report.


New Mana

For 22 years, Mana magazine has told Māori stories and celebrated Maori heroes. But when Mana celebrated its 100th issue in 2011, there was a hint in the note from founding editor Derek Fox that he wasn't sure where where it could go or how long it could sustain itself in an increasingly difficult print market. In April of this year, Fox called time: it was "no longer prudent" to continue publishing and time for a rethink. It might have been the end.

But last week, Mana came back: redesigned, revived, renewed. Fox, who isn't getting any younger, has licensed the title to Kowhai Media, publishers of New Zealand Geographic, with Leonie Hayden in the editor's chair.

People in the music business will know Leonie as the bright, hard-working editor of Rip It Up (where she brought new life to another venerable title) and Groove Guide in recent years, and she brings quite a bit of her music heritage to her role at Mana.

It's hard to imagine Fox going with Aaron Moffitt's great pic of American rapper ScHoolboy Q playing in Auckland in June, or with Jessica Hansell's profile of Maori punk rocker and zine publisher Sarsha-Leigh Douglas, but they both work in the context of the magazine. 

One of the challenges for Māori media ventures is the need to serve demographically diverse audiences, united only their Māoriness, and it will be interesting to see whether Mana can bring in younger readers without alienating the older long-term readership.

I'll be talking to Leonie on Media Take this week. In the meantime, you can check out the new Mana website and mobile apps.


There was another media unveiling last week: Telecom lifted the covers a little on its Lightbox subscriber-video-on-demand venture, which will open for business at the end of the month, charging $15 a month. That news prompted Sky -- which has a good deal of the kind of content Lightbox offers locked up in its premium Soho channel -- to reiterate its own SVOD plans. Quickflix, which probably doesn't have the budget for the kind of TV drama Lightbox and Sky will offer, is already in the market. And rumours persist that Netflix itself will eventually open up in New Zealand.

But only a minority of viewers even know how connect their TVs to the internet. How big is the market these services are chasing? I'm joined on this week's show by Rod Snodgrass, head of Telecom Digital Ventures, the unit that is launching Telecom into television with Lightbox and has various other ideas in the pipeline.

I've also been having a play with the Lightbox beta, via its iPad-only iOS app (Lightbox will also be available on Windows and Mac OS, more devices to come by the end of the year). The app is is well-designed and notably snappy and the content is being delivered by Akamai, but I've been having some trouble watching videos via AirPlay to my Apple TV. I'll have to see if I can fix that.

Also on this week's show, Toi looks at the three-yearly crop of election hoardings, what they signify and what's being done to them.

That's all on Media Take on Maori Television at 10.10pm tomorrow night (right after Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer). But you're most welcome to join us for this evening's recording. Just come to the Victoria Street entrance of TVNZ at 5.45pm today.