One of first things I noticed when I came back to Aotearoa after more than a decade away was the standard of the media. When I first lived in England, I was shocked England still placed itself at the centre of the universe – I guess the sun never setting on your empire leaves you with a mighty big sense of self-importance.
There were other differences too – the reporting in the UK in the early 1990s of conflict in Northern Ireland for example – in which the British public should have been in no doubt that the IRA cause was immoral and murderous, left me searching public libraries for more information because it jarred so much with the noticeably more moderate line taken in the media here in NZ.
But coming home after being away, I have felt deeply disappointed in our media. Reading the DomPost is just not the experience reading the Guardian used to be. It’s not just size and meatiness of the paper – sure, there was far ‘more’ news in London – there are 15 million people there after all.
No, it’s more the quality of analysis. Much as this post-colonial girl hates to admit it, old Blighty newspapers don’t just report the issues in the news, they actually apply some analysis to claims from politicians and interest groups so those who want to assess evidence for and against have a chance.
Here in New Zealand this is largely missing. Instead of analysis, we have a multitude of opinion writers, who often seem to avoid actual evidence in favour of discussing whichever issue takes their fancy from firmly within their own ideological position.
This is not my wishing away ideological positions – but it is my wanting to examine issues based on data rather than rhetoric. I know what Michael Laws or Chris Trotter will say about most things before they write it – and, as with most readers I suspect, I tend to avoid opinion writers who clash too strongly with my own values, and read those who I feel some kind of connection with.
This is dangerous ground indeed. If we only ever stay in the comfort of our own opinions, how does anyone ever learn anything?
Take the National Party’s policy release last week on welfare benefits last week. No real surprises in terms of stance – an intent to encourage people into paid work and away from accepting benefits.
We’ve had a few opinion pieces on this, from Rosemary McLeod, Linley Boniface and the editorial team at the DomPost. What we haven’t had in our Wellington based paper, barring this in Ms Boniface’s article, is any statistical data or evidence-based analysis of the policy:
[O]f the 38,400 single parents with kids aged over six on the DPB, less than 4000 of them have been on the benefit for more than 10 years.
I wonder why Mr Key implied there were vast numbers of single parents screwing the system because of their sense of “permanent entitlement”, when the statistics clearly show this isn’t the case.
No figures about how many people are “long-term unemployed”; or exactly how much money National is proposing to save/spend in the welfare arena. No figures of how people come to be on the DPB, or how many of the “long-term unemployed” might have impediments to paid work such as illiteracy.
This leaves us mired in rhetoric, unable to weigh up this policy in anything but ideological terms. National’s ideas are bashing solo mums vs National’s ideas will allow work to lead more people into prosperity. I know the arguments both ways – I want to know how National’s proposals will change our world. I want some analysis based on evidence.
I want the Guardian. And if you’d told me I’d be saying that 15 years ago, I’d have laughed in your face.