23 Mar 2024

A week’s-worth of headlines for media critic Winston Peters

From Mediawatch, 5:57 pm on 23 March 2024

Controversial comments on co-governance and confusing criticism of the media earned NZ First’s leader a week’s-worth of headlines and airtime - as well as the apparently unauthourised use of an English punk band’s old pop hit. But it also dragged the focus away from stuff of substance. 

Winston Peters delivers his State of the Nation address in Palmerston North.

Photo: RNZ/Katie Scotcher

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa was in Parliament last Tuesday to be honoured on her 80th birthday. She even sang for the first time in public anywhere for years. 

But that same day, the press gallery reporters and news programmes were more interested in music of different kind - Chumbawamba’s unlikely pop hit Tubthumping.  

The band had told local media - and the BBC in the UK - they weren’t happy New Zealand First used it last weekend to hype the crowd at Winston Peters State of the Nation speech and at earlier political campaign events. 

In most circumstances the media can't use copyright music without paying for it - and political organsations need permission to use it as part of a performance too. 

National found this out to their cost using an Eminem soundalike soundtrack in election ads in 2014.   

On Wednesday the New Zealand Herald said the use of Tubthumping in Palmerston North has been referred to Australasian music licencing bodies by Sony Music Publishing. Watch this space.  

But how was it that in 2024 a politician who entered Parliament in 1979 ended up in hot water with an anarcho-punk band formed in the UK in 1982 for a hit song from 1997? 

Because journalists here asked them for an opinion - prompting a statement from Peters claiming "a leftie shill reporter” acting “proactively to concoct a story.”  

It turned out The Spinoff and Stuff’s Tova O’Brien had both approached the band for comment on Tuesday.  

The next day Peters told TVNZ’s Breakfast he was the victim of “24 hours of lies” and he repeated the insult ‘shill' so often TVNZ published an online explainer on the term soon after.    

But the co-opting of Tubthumping  - while entertaining - was not the main angle of media interest in Peters’ controversial speech last Sunday.  

Straight after criticism of the co-governance concept, Peters said the Labour government had allowed race-based theories to emerge, based on Māori DNA making them "somehow better than others".

"I've seen that sort of philosophy before. I saw it in Nazi Germany. We all did. We've seen it elsewhere around the world in the horrors of history. But here right in our country and tolerated, by people whose job was to keep the system honest, this happened."

Mr Peters complained he never mentioned the holocaust or genocide in his speech - but several media reports used both words.  

He later told the media the reason he referred to Nazi Germany was because of comments briefly posted on te Pati Māori’s website recently, which had been defended by co-leader Rawiri Waititi in a TVNZ interview.    

But that connection wasn’t explicit in Peters' speech. 

As Newshub political editor Jenna Lynch pointed out on Tuesday, Peters himself made the link when asked to clarify his comments in media conference afterwards. 

“The Nazi comments came just after you compared Labour's approach to co-governance to Nazi Germany. Is that appropriate? Lynch asked. 

Peters replied that it was because “it's based on racial preference based on somebody being superior.” 

A substantial part of Peter’s speech was devoted to his opinions on the media - and mostly non-specific condemnations that went down well with the crowd.

For months, NZ First has had a petition calling for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into media bias and manipulation in New Zealand- with 1327 signatures so far. But it was not part of the coalition Government's agreement.  

But these were barely reported alongside the ‘Nazi’ comment controversy and the Chumbawamba affair.  

More important issues under the radar  


“Forget the ‘Nazi Germany’ furore,” veteran Herald political correspondent Audrey Young said in her weekly politics newsletter

Peters had opened his speech saying there was a $5.6 billion fiscal hole in the Government’s plans, and she said undermining the work of the finance minister “at a pretty delicate time in the Budget cycle” is “unheard of.”

“The fact that Peters claimed that his was the only party to have alerted the public before the election to how bad things could get is laughable. The entire election campaign was centred on the economy and the credibility of National’s fiscal plan. It dominated media coverage throughout the campaign,” Young wrote.

And the media was doing heavy lifting on that this week too. 

The $5.6b figure came from a Sunday Star Times column by Vernon Small, a former Post political editor and Labour government press secretary. 

When the Herald’s deputy political editor Thomas Coughlan crunched the numbers he came up with a $3.3b gap over the four-year forecast period. And he said this did not include the Government’s roading plan is estimated to cost billions more more than National budgeted forever a longer period.   

A Newsroom analysis by Marc Daalder concluded the Government tax package needs an extra $1.5 billion to break even - and would require more public service cuts.

But this - as well as sudden changes of rules for disability support allowances on Tuesday and the a rapid partial u-turn on Wednesday also received less coverage than Chumbawamba and the ‘Nazi comment.’ 

Likewise the u-turn on RUCs for EVs on Monday - and the public sector layoffs reported later in the week.