Posts tagged ‘media’


Podcast for tonight: behind the scenes on The Panel

28.08.2020

For your listening pleasure, here’s tonight’s podcast, with a bit behind the scenes on my first appearance on RNZ’s The Panel as a panellist, and ‘I’ve Been Thinking’ delivered at a more appropriate pace, without me staring at the clock rushing to finish it before the pips for the 4 p.m. news.

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Posted in China, culture, Hong Kong, media, New Zealand, TV, Wellington | No Comments »


You can’t bank on the Wales (or, why I closed our Westpac account)

31.07.2020

At some point as a young man, my Dad worked at a bank. He had a formal understanding of finance—despite his schooling being interrupted by the Sino–Japanese War and then by the communist revolution, he managed to get himself a qualification in economics, and had some time working for a bank.
   I was taught all about promissory notes, bills of exchange, cheques, honourable accounts, balance of payments and foreign exchange as a teenager. He impressed on me why certain things were sacrosanct in banking, the correct way to draw a cheque, and why the Cheques Act 1993 in this country was a blight on how bills of exchange were supposed to work. Essentially, I grew up with what might have been a 1950s or 1960s idea of what banking is, things that were still mostly observed by New Zealand banks into the 1980s and the 1990s.
   Today [Wednesday, July 29] I opened a new business account at TSB, with whom I had banked personally since 2007, as had Jack Yan & Associates. I will be closing the account at Westpac, because it’s clear to me that they don’t believe in the fair dinkum banking values that my father taught me. By the time you read this, the closure should be a fait accompli, as I don’t wish them to put up more obstacles than they have already.
   Westpac held my mortgage on the old house, of which I had paid off 88 per cent before I sold it. I began my banking relationship with them in 2006, for reasons I won’t go into here. My parents had banked ‘on the Wales’ when they were new immigrants in 1976, and stayed with them for some time.
   Very early on, I noticed how confusing their statements were. You can contrast theirs to everyone else’s in Aotearoa, and believe me, I know: I’ve banked with a lot of people. Trust Bank, Countrywide, POSB, National, ANZ—all the usual suspects that a Kiwi growing up in the 1970s through to the 1990s will have encountered. No, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank, but they seem to exist in their own bubble.
   I got caught out once or twice on not getting a mortgage payment sorted because of the confusing statements. And there was one time that Westpac decided to be relentless about it, by setting a bot on me. The bot would call at various hours hounding me to sort this out, with a pre-recorded message, and if you hung up, it would call again. And again. And again. Never mind that you haven’t had a chance to enquire with the bank as to what was going on. This amounted to a breach of the Telecommunications Act, and I put this to them before the activity ceased. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   You are stuck with the buggers, and over the years I’d make the payments. As many of you know, some of our companies’ income comes from abroad, which I always regarded to be a good thing, since it helps with foreign exchange and this country’s balance of payments. Twice, I think, I needed a top-up because a client was slow to pay, and I would clear that within 30 days. As interest rates changed (the mortgage was floating), the bank would, from time to time, send a letter saying I could reduce my mortgage payments and still keep to the payment schedule, and in 2010 I took them up on it.
   As some of you know, in 2015 Dad was diagnosed formally with Alzheimer’s disease and eventually I became his full-time carer as his condition worsened, with predictable results on my work. But hey, Westpac has all these posters around their branches with Dementia New Zealand logos telling us how great they are, and how they can help. Since Dementia New Zealand won’t acknowledge or respond to my complaint about this (Dementia Wellington, on the other hand, had), let me publicly say that this is bollocks. My experience tells me that it appears to be a feel-good exercise that counts for nowt for a bunch of arrogant twats in Australia.
   My branch was great. They were decent, hard-working and friendly people, and many of them stayed for years—always a good sign. But outside of the branch is where you’ll find the rot.
   In 2019, my partner and I found a home we wanted to purchase. After Dad went into a home in July 2018 I had begun renovating the old place anyway. The new house was a step up, and by the time we factored in all the costs, we would need to borrow under 20 per cent of the total purchase price.
   Westpac wanted to see the balance sheets, as was their right to, and I’ll say now that they weren’t rosy. Of course not, not when you’ve been a caregiver. However, by this point I had got back in the saddle, and I could show them contracts that we had secured.
   Apparently this wasn’t good enough for that 20 per cent. The fact I had been a caregiver and had an account at a bank which had a Dementia New Zealand endorsement carried absolutely no weight.
   The mortgage officer said that according to the balance sheet, I couldn’t even afford the mortgage. Turns out he didn’t know how to read a balance sheet and the ‘Mortgage repayments’ line therein. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   Apparently, the fact my income was coming from abroad was a concern. Yet it was never a concern for Westpac in 13 years when I was paying the mortgage with that foreign income. Earning foreign exchange for your country and helping with its balance of payments are, seemingly for Westpac, a bad thing. I suppose it would be to greedy Australian bankers, who love to see a weakened New Zealand subservient to other nations. If you adopt this viewpoint when examining how Australian-owned publications here behaved (I’m looking at The Dominion Post from that era), then it actually all fits neatly, given their editorial bias. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   I know some of you in banking will be going, ‘But there are the anti-money-laundering requirements,’ which I get, but what about the idea of an honourable account? Other than what I outlined above, I was a good customer, and every other bank will tell you the same: I kept honourable accounts. But maybe honour isn’t a thing for Westpac.
   Never mind. We approached two mortgage experts who worked tirelessly for us, and whom I heartily endorse here. Lynne Russell, an old friend of mine, was the first I approached. And Stephanie Murray was referred to me by a good friend from school. Both ladies went to second-tier lenders, told us that the foreign income was the problem, and proceeded to get us the best deal possible. Stephanie won out because of the interest rate, and she noted that the lender, Avanti Finance, was quite happy because I had a good credit rating. But while most Kiwis were enjoying home loans at around the 4 per cent mark, ours was nearer 11 per cent (and this was the lower one). Stephanie, and later my own solicitor, noted that my problem was not unique, and they had clients who were also earning money from abroad who the banks shut out. This is a grand mistake in my book, because these are the very people we should be rewarding and encouraging. You’ve heard of export earners, right, banks? We usually talk about them in positive, glowing terms. Turn on the news. Get schooled.
   We still had renovations to do. At least Westpac would give me a top-up to get that sorted, surely. After all, we had already engaged a builder and he needed money for materials.
   Um, no. Westpac shut off that avenue completely. From memory they could give me a couple of grand, and that was it. This was despite my having a six-figure mortgage that I had whittled down to around a fifth, a relatively small five-figure sum. At all other times, it was fine, even when I enquired about purchasing a car. But not any more. And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   Harmoney came to the rescue there and we were approved within 24 hours. Interest rate: 14·55 per cent.
   I had set up the direct debits with Avanti using my honourable (or so I thought) Westpac account.
   Except Westpac had one more trick up its sleeve. They seemed intent on making sure we would never move, so, without notice, they doubled my mortgage payments. They kept going on about how I was falling behind. No one at the branch could explain why, not even one of their most senior staff. If I hadn’t caught one of the debits, I would have defaulted on an early payment to Harmoney. Fortunately, I spotted it in time, and pulled some money from a TSB account to plug the gap.
   And no, in itself that’s not a reason to leave a bank.
   But all together, they were reasons.
   We sold the house, discharged that mortgage, and thanks to my very talented partner and her skills in money management and property investment, we managed to get our finances in order. I won’t elaborate on this since I regard this part as private, but let’s say Westpac should have had faith in us since we carried out what we proposed we do.
   It was only when the Westpac mortgage was discharged that the bank apologized for doubling my mortgage payments and gave a reason for doing so.
   Remember that letter in 2010 which said I could reduce my payments without affecting things? Turns out that affected things, and they wanted to grab what they could to make up for lost time. Not that they thought it was important to tell me any time between 2010 and 2019. They only played this at a customer’s most stressful point, and buying a house is one of the most stressful things you can do as an adult.
   So much for me being such a massive risk to Westpac. We told them our game plan to get to where we are today, and we carried it out to the letter. Two well educated, well qualified and intelligent people. Yet we were viewed with suspicion from the first moment we said we wanted a new home. So how do they treat people with less education or with a shorter history? If they are the Dementia New Zealand-friendly bank how do they treat those who haven’t had to deal with dementia? The branch was awesome and did right by us but as they’re not the ones approving things, then I can only expect that others are treated far, far worse.
   I felt they only apologized because they had thrown everything at us and realized we had a greater resolve.
   This experience teaches me that if you’ve kept up a decent history with Westpac, earned foreign exchange, and helped with your country’s balance of payments, then they will shit on you. Since sharing parts of this story on Twitter, I’ve heard of similar unreasonable treatment by Westpac toward hard-working New Zealanders. The moment they learn you need them, you’re on their radar, and they will block every avenue you normally would have—avenues that you exercised literally just months before, like the top-up. Because why have a customer who is freed of their grasp? That’s just not good for business. Better to keep them impoverished and not let them move to a nicer home. Better to let them know who’s really in charge. And, ladies and gentlemen, that explains a great deal about why foreign ownership can be troublesome in so many quarters—and why I’m happy to take this account to TSB. Thanks to Kerry Gribben and Panith Ear at TSB’s Wellington branch for sorting me out and making it totally painless. And Kerry was a total pro in not slagging off a competitor, especially given where he once worked (he didn’t tell me, but he knew a lot about Westpac’s processes!).

I had to choose a New Zealand bank on principle. The Cooperative Bank was on the radar, and they were really friendly, though I thought their charges were a little high and TSB looked better capitalized on the figures I could find. However, my respect goes to Brian Batchelor at the Wellington branch for being thoroughly professional. It would have been nice to have gone there, since Medinge Group banks with Coop in the UK, and a mate of mine who did some contract work for them says that our Cooperative (a different and unrelated entity) are genuine about their promises to customers.
   Kiwibank didn’t even reply to emails when we were trying to get a mortgage, and rejected all PDFs and ZIP files I sent their despite them saying their email systems could accept them. They just gave up all contact, so I figured they didn’t need the business. And I hear they don’t do foreign exchange anyway, which is just bizarre for a state-owned bank that should be encouraging foreign exchange in these economically tricky times. SBS had no nearby branches (technically, Blenheim isn’t that far but you can’t drive there without an amphibious car). Sometimes, you just go back to what you know.

Today (Friday), the day I am posting this. Westpac accounts shut (despite a massive queue at Lambton Quay). Really nice young chap behind the counter. Except I have 35 cheques on which I want the duty refunded. He didn’t know how to do that and wrote down the helpline number. I called that. Eighteen minutes later, the rep there didn’t know how to do that and referred it to my branch. I really need them to pay me back the NZ$1·75 on principle and then I will consider the matter closed.

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Posted in business, globalization, New Zealand, Wellington | No Comments »


Back on RNZ’s The Panel: on Hong Kong’s new national security legislation

08.07.2020


Public domain/Pxhere

What a pleasure it was to be back on The Panel on Radio New Zealand National today, my first appearance in a decade. That last time was about the Wellywood sign and how I had involved the Hollywood Sign Trust. I’ve done a couple of interviews since then on RNZ (thank you to my interviewers Lynda Chanwai-Earle and Finlay Macdonald, and producer Mark Cubey), but it has been 10 years and a few months since I was a phone-in guest on The Panel, which I listen to very frequently.
   This time, it was about Hong Kong, and the new national security legislation that was passed last week. You can listen here, or click below for the embedded audio. While we begin with the latest development of social media and other companies refusing to hand over personal data to the Hong Kong government (or, rather, they are ‘pausing’ till they get a better look at the legislation), we move pretty quickly to the other aspects of the law (the juicy stuff and its extraterritorial aims) and what it means for Hong Kong. Massive thanks to Wallace Chapman who thought of me for the segment.

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Posted in business, China, culture, Hong Kong, media, New Zealand | 1 Comment »


Nissan’s own documents show Carlos Ghosn’s arrest was a boardroom coup

22.06.2020

I said it a long time ago: that the Carlos Ghosn arrest was part of a boardroom coup, and that the media were used by Hiroto Saikawa and co. (which I said on Twitter at the time). It was pretty evident to me given how quickly the press conferences were set up, how rapidly there was “evidence” of wrongdoing, and, most of all, the body language and demeanour of Mr Saikawa.
   Last week emerged evidence that would give me—and, more importantly, Carlos Ghosn, who has since had the freedom to make the same allegation that he was set up—cause to utter ‘I told you so.’
   I read about it in The National, but I believe Bloomberg was the source. The headline is accurate: ‘Nissan emails reveal plot to dethrone Carlos Ghosn’; summed up by ‘The plan to take down the former chairman stemmed from opposition to deeper ties between the Japanese company and France’s Renault’.
   One highlight:

the documents and recollections of people familiar with what transpired show that a powerful group of insiders viewed his detention and prosecution as an opportunity to revamp the global automaker’s relationship with top shareholder Renault on terms more favourable to Nissan.
   A chain of email correspondence dating back to February 2018, corroborated by people who asked not to be identified discussing sensitive information, paints a picture of a methodical campaign to remove a powerful executive.

   Another:

Days before Mr Ghosn’s arrest, Mr Nada sought to broaden the allegations against Mr Ghosn, telling Mr Saikawa that Nissan should push for more serious breach-of-trust charges, according to correspondence at the time and people familiar with the discussions. There was concern that the initial allegations of underreporting compensation would be harder to explain to the public, the people said.
   The effort should be “supported by media campaign for insurance of destroying CG reputation hard enough,” Mr Nada wrote, using Mr Ghosn’s initials, as he had done several times in internal communications stretching back years.

   Finally:

The correspondence also for the first time gives more detail into how Nissan may have orchestrated [board member] Mr Kelly’s arrest by bringing him to Japan from the US for a board meeting.

   Nissan’s continuing official position, that Ghosn and Kelly are guilty until proved innocent, has never rang correctly. Unless you’re backed by plenty of people, that isn’t the typical statement you should be making, especially if it’s about your own alleged dirty laundry. You talk instead about cooperating with authorities. In this atmosphere, with Nissan, the Japanese media duped into reporting it based on powerful Nissan executives, and the hostage justice system doing its regular thing, Ghosn probably had every right to believe he would not get a fair trial. If only one of those things were in play, and not all three, he might not have reached the same conclusion.

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Posted in business, cars, culture, France, globalization, leadership, media | No Comments »


Cautiously optimistic about Boucher

26.05.2020

When I ran for office, there was often a noticeable difference between how I was treated by locally owned media and foreign- owned media. There are exceptions to that rule—The New Zealand Herald and Sky TV gave me a good run while Radio New Zealand opted to do a candidates’ round-up in two separate campaigns interviewing the (white) people who were first-, second- and fourth-polling—but overall, TVNZ, Radio New Zealand with those two exceptions, and the local community papers were decent. Many others seemed to have either ventured into fake news territory (one Australian-owned tabloid had a “poll”, source unknown, that said I would get 2 per cent in 2010) or simply had a belief that New Zealanders were incapable and that the globalist agenda knew best. As someone who ran on the belief that New Zealand had superior intellectual capital and innovative capability, and talked about how we should grow champions that do the acquiring, not become acquisition targets, then those media who were once acquisition targets of foreign corporations didn’t like what they heard.
   And that, in a nutshell, is why my attitude toward Stuff has changed overnight thanks to Sinéad Boucher taking ownership of what I once called, as part of a collective with its Australian owner, the Fairfax Press.
   The irony was always that the Fairfax Press in Australia—The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald—were positive about my work in the 2000s but their New Zealand outpost was quite happy to suggest I was hard to understand because of my accent. (Given that I sound more like an urban Kiwi than, say, the former leader of the opposition, and arguably have a better command of the English language than a number of their journalists, then that’s a lie you sell to dinosaurs of the Yellow Peril era.) A Twitter apology from The Dominion Post’s editor-in-chief isn’t really enough without an erratum in print, but there you go. In two campaigns, the Fairfax Press’s coverage was notably poor when compared with the others’.
   But I am upbeat about Boucher, about what she intends to do with the business back in local ownership, and about the potential of Kiwis finally getting media that aren’t subject to overseas whims or corporate agenda; certainly Stuff and its print counterparts won’t be regarded as some line on a balance sheet in Sydney any more, but a real business in Aotearoa serving Kiwis. Welcome back to the real world, we look forward to supporting you.

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Posted in business, globalization, media, New Zealand, politics, publishing, Wellington | No Comments »


Facebook exploits COVID-19 for profit, and viral thoughts

01.05.2020

A lot of the world’s population has come together in the fight against COVID-19. Except Facebook, of course, who is exploiting the virus for profit. Facebook has done well in the first quarter of 2020 with positive earnings. Freedom From Facebook & Google co-chairs Sarah Miller and David Segal note (the links are theirs): ‘Facebook has exploited a global pandemic to grow their monopoly and bottom line. They’ve profited from ads boasting fake cures and harmful information, allowed ad targeting to “pseudoscience” audiences, permitted anti-stay-at-home protests to organize on the platform, and are now launching a COVID “Data for Good” endeavour to harvest even more of our personal information.
   ‘Make no mistake, Facebook having more of your data is never “good”, nor will they just relinquish the collected data when the pandemic’s curve has been flattened. Rather, they’ll bank it and continue to profit from hyper-targeted ads for years to come.’

It’s been a few weeks (April 19 was my last post on this subject) since I last crunched these numbers but it does appear that overall, COVID-19 infections as a percentage of tests done are dropping, several countries excepting. Here is the source.

France 167,178 of 724,574 = 23·07%
UK 171,253 of 901,905 = 18·99%
Sweden 21,092 of 119,500 = 17·65%
USA 1,095,304 of 6,391,887 = 17·14%
Spain 239,639 of 1,455,306 = 16·47%
Singapore 17,101 of 143,919 = 11·88%
KSA 22,753 of 200,000 = 11·38%
Switzerland 29,586 of 266,200 = 11·11%
Italy 205,463 of 1,979,217 = 10·38%
Germany 163,009 of 2,547,052 = 6·40%
South Korea 10,774 of 623,069 = 1·73%
Australia 6,766 of 581,941 = 1·16%
New Zealand 1,479 of 139,898 = 1·06%
Taiwan 429 of 63,340 = 0·68%
Hong Kong 1,038 of 154,989 = 0·67%

Emmerdale fans will never forgive me. I’ve not been one to watch British soaps, finding them uninteresting. However, in this household, we have had Emmerdale on since it’s scheduled between TV1’s midday bulletin and the 1 p.m. government press conference on COVID-19, or, as some of us call it, The Ashley Bloomfield Show, named for our director-general of health who not only has to put up with all of this, but took a hit to one-fifth of his pay cheque. Naturally, one sings along to the Emmerdale theme, except I have no clue about its lyrics. Are there lyrics?

Not a single like on Twitter or Mastodon. I’ve offended a heck of a lot of people.

We are supposedly at Level 3, which someone said was Level 4 (the full lockdown) with takeaways. However, we’ve gone from the 1960s-style near-empty motorways to this almost immediately.

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Posted in business, culture, humour, internet, media, New Zealand, TV, Wellington | No Comments »


Even the web is forgetting our history

26.04.2020


Hernán Piñera/Creative Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

My friend Richard MacManus wrote a great blog post in February on the passing of Clive James, and made this poignant observation: ‘Because far from preserving our culture, the Web is at best forgetting it and at worst erasing it. As it turns out, a website is much more vulnerable than an Egyptian pyramid.’
   The problem: search engines are biased to show us the latest stuff, so older items are being forgotten.
   There are dead domains, of course—each time I pop by to our links’ pages, I find I’m deleting more than I’m adding. I mean, who maintains links’ pages these days, anyway? (Ours look mega-dated.) But the items we added in the 1990s and 2000s are vanishing and other than the Internet Archive, Richard notes its Wayback Machine is ‘increasingly the only method of accessing past websites that have otherwise disappeared into the ether. Many old websites are now either 404 errors, or the domains have been snapped up by spammers searching for Google juice.’
   His fear is that sites like Clive James’s will be forgotten rather than preserved, and he has a point. As a collective, humanity seems to desire novelty: the newest car, the newest cellphone, and the newest news. Searching for a topic tends to bring up the newest references, since the modern web operates on the basis that history is bunk.
   That’s a real shame as it means we don’t get to understand our history as well as we should. Take this pandemic, for instance: are there lessons we could learn from MERS and SARS, or even the Great Plague of London in the 1660s? But a search is more likely to reveal stuff we already know or have recently come across in the media, like a sort of comfort blanket to assure us of our smartness. It’s not just political views and personal biases that are getting bubbled, it seems human knowledge is, too.
   Even Duck Duck Go, my preferred search engine, can be guilty of this, though a search I just made of the word pandemic shows it is better in providing relevance over novelty.
   Showing results founded on their novelty actually makes the web less interesting because search engines fail to make it a place of discovery. If page after page reveals the latest, and the latest is often commodified news, then there is no point going to the second or third pages to find out more. Google takes great pride in detailing the date in the description, or ‘2 days ago’ or ‘1 day ago’. But if search engines remained focused on relevance, then we may stumble on something we didn’t know, and be better educated in the process.
   Therefore, it’s possibly another area that Big Tech is getting wrong: it’s not just endangering democracy, but human intelligence. The biases I accused Google News and Facebook of—viz. their preference for corporate media—build on the dumbing-down of the masses.
   I may well be wrong: maybe people don’t want to get smarter: Facebook tells us that folks just want a dopamine hit from approval, and maybe confirmation of our own limited knowledge gives us the same. ‘Look at how smart I am!’ Or how about this collection?
   Any expert will tell you that the best way to keep your traffic up is to generate more and more new content, and it’s easy to understand why: like a physical library, the old stuff is getting forgotten, buried, or even—if they can’t sell or give it away—pulped.
   Again, there’s a massive opportunity here. A hypothetical new news aggregator can outdo Google News by spidering and rewarding independent media that break news, by giving them the best placement—as Google News used to do. That encourages independent media to do their job and opens the public up to new voices and viewpoints. And now a hypothetical new search engine could outdo Google by providing relevance over novelty, or at least getting the balance of the two right.

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Posted in culture, interests, internet, media, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington | No Comments »


An update on yesterday’s COVID-19 table

09.04.2020

Another late-night calculation of COVID-19 cases as a proportion of total tests done, so the figures will be out of date again, and I’ve also discovered that the total testing numbers some countries are giving are out of date. The ones with asterisks below are those that haven’t cited increased testing numbers (at least none that I can find; a search actually yielded lower and older figures in some cases), so I imagine the real percentages might be lower. The order of countries hasn’t changed.

France 109,069 of 224,254 = 48·64%*
Spain 146,690 of 355,000 = 41·32%*
UK 55,242 of 266,694 = 20·71%
USA 400,549 of 2,082,443 = 19·23%
Italy 135,586 of 755,445 = 17·95%
Sweden 8,419 of 54,700 = 15·39%*
Switzerland 22,789 of 171,938 = 13·25%
Germany 109,178 of 918,460 = 11·88%
New Zealand 1,210 of 46,875 = 2·58%
Singapore 1,623 of 65,000 = 2·50%*
South Korea 10,384 of 477,304 = 2·18%
Australia 6,013 of 319,368 = 1·88%
Hong Kong 961 of 96,709 = 1·38%*
Taiwan 379 of 40,702 = 0·93%

   I was buoyed by news on what some of us have cheekily dubbed The Ashley Bloomfield Show (the Ministry of Health director-general’s press conference) that we had only 29 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours here. As a sporting nation I think we understand that you can’t shirk when you’re playing the second half of the match. If anything, you need to go harder. By now I suspect many of us are finding the hand-washing and other advice second nature.

Hasn’t it been revealing to hear which journalists ask crappy questions at the Bloomfield press conference? Since the pressers are watched by a huge number of New Zealanders during lockdown, I think the scales have fallen from many eyes lately to see how the stories get edited and even editorialized. And which members of the media don’t seem to want to work with the good advice being given by our government, yet have nothing solid (e.g. other experts) to counter it with. In my opinion, it’s put TV1 in a good light, and shown its reasonable balance. It also reinforces that many of our talking heads are irrelevant (see below, from The Press in Christchurch). Science is saving the day and showing loud-mouthed opinions for what they are.

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Posted in media, New Zealand, politics, TV, Wellington | 1 Comment »


Saddened to see colleagues lose their jobs as we bid, ‘Auf wiedersehen, Heinrich Bauer Verlag’

03.04.2020

I am privy to some of the inner workings at Bauer Media through friends and colleagues, but I didn’t expect them to shut up shop in New Zealand, effective April 2.
   Depending on your politics, you’re in one of two camps.
   TV3, itself part of a foreign company who has made serious cutbacks during the lockdown, said Bauer had approached the government and offered to sell the business to them at a rock-bottom price in the hope of saving the 200-plus jobs there. The government declined. I believe that’s the angle foreign-owned media are adopting here.
   Both the PM and the minister responsible for media, Kris Faafoi, have said that Bauer never applied for the wage subsidy, and never approached the government to see if it could be classified as an essential service to keep operating. Indeed, in the words of the PM, ‘Bauer contacted the minister and told him they weren’t interested in subsidies.’
   It’s murkier today as there is evidence that Bauer had, through the Magazine Publishers’ Association, lobbied for reclassification for it to be turned down, though the minister continues to say that it had never been raised with him and that Bauer had already committed to shutting up shop.
   Outside of “we said, they said”, my takes are, first, it was never likely that the government would want to be a magazine publisher. Various New Zealand governments have been pondering how to deal with state-owned media here, and there was little chance the latest inhabitants of the Beehive would add to this.
   We also know that Bauer had shut titles over the years due to poor performance, and Faafoi’s original statement expressly states that the Hamburg-based multinational had been ‘facing challenges around viability of their operations here in New Zealand.’
   With these two facts in mind, the government would not have taken on the business to turn it around, especially while knowing the owner of Bauer Media (well, 85 per cent of it) has a personal worth of US$3,000 million and the company generated milliards in revenue per annum.
   I also have to point to its own harsh decisions over the years in shutting titles. In 2018, Bauer’s own Australian CEO told Ad News: ‘There’s a really interesting view that somehow we are here to provide a social service. The reality is we’re here to make money and if we can’t make money out of our magazines, we’ll sell them or we’ll close them.
   ‘We have an obligation, whether that’s a public company or private company, to make money for shareholders. If it doesn’t make money, why would we do it?’
   That, to me, sounds like the corporate position here as well, and no doubt Bauer’s bean counters will have crunched the numbers before yesterday’s announcement.
   I’ve had my own ideas how the stable could have evolved but it’s easy to talk about this with hindsight, so I won’t. Enough people are hurting.
   But I’d have applied for whatever the government offered to see if I could keep things going for a little while longer. Even if the writing was on the wall, it would have been nice to see my colleagues have a lifeline. Get one more issue of each title out after June. Maybe I’m just not as brutal. I mean, I’ve never defamed Rebel Wilson as Bauer’s Australian publications have. Maybe it’s different for a small independent.
   If I may use a sporting analogy, Bauer hasn’t let their players on to the field and kept them in the changing room, and more’s the pity.
   One comment I received yesterday was that Bauer wouldn’t have been in a position to pay its staff even with the government subsidy, with no advertising sales being generated. I’m not so sure, with annual global revenues of over €2,000 million. New Zealand was probably too unimportant to be saved by Bauer’s bosses in Hamburg. I guess we’ll never know.

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Rather locked down than living within a controlled experiment

01.04.2020

As a dual national, I hope there’s some exaggeration or selective quoting in the Bristol Post about its report of former police officer Mike Rowland, who’s stuck in Auckland with his wife Yvonne. Apparently, New Zealand is in ‘pandemonium’ and he feels like he’s in ‘Alcatraz’.
   As we are most certainly not in pandemonium, the British Crown may have to ponder if it needs to reopen some of the cases Mr Rowland was once involved in due to unreliable witness testimony. Then again, if it can keep a foreign national like Julian Assange indefinitely and subject him to psychological torture as well as the risk of COVID-19 infection, perhaps it won’t need to ponder a thing.
   Mr Rowland’s not a fan of our breakfast television, either, saying that it makes Piers Morgan a ‘god’. There actually is some truth to the quality of our breakfast telly depending on which channel he has come across (I won’t name names), and I recommend that he switch to another. Go a bit further up the dial, and Aljazeera English has a whole variety of ex-BBC presenters speaking in RP that might make him feel less at home.

   And I’ve my own stories about the inability to get answers from the British High Commission, so I sympathize on this note.
   But given the choice between being stuck in Aotearoa and being amongst the control group that is Great Britain and Northern Ireland, where the government’s sense of British exceptionalism meant that it delayed locking things down, so much so that the PM himself has COVID-19, I would be quite happy to be in the land Down Under.
   Mr Rowland may have missed the (disputed) Murdoch Press (which usually leans right) report that suggested that Boris Johnson’s senior adviser said it was ‘too bad’ if ‘some pensioners die’, consistent with Mr Johnson’s own position that Britain would pursue a strategy of herd immunity—and consistent with what the British government initially announced, with sycophants in full agreement.
   I admit I’ve called our government ‘a bunch of Blairites’ but I’d take them over their lot, including their Mr Johnson who does less convincing prime ministerial impressions than Neville Chamberlain. Their mass U-turn had to happen as it appeared the British people figured out their lives were being put in danger and forced the government’s hand.
   I realize he misses the comforts of home and I would, too, in his shoes, though equally I’d be grateful to be alive, in a country where even he acknowledges that food is readily available and we haven’t suffered the extent of panic buying that the UK has seen. If only Alcatraz were this pleasant.

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