There’s been a big debate on twitter about Judith Collins’ Sunday Star Times column. The column itself is here, and it is about concrete fiber board. It is possibly the most boring thing there has ever been a twitter debate about.
Some people are upset about the column because they feel Judith Collins is disgraced: Oravida, her role in Dirty Politics, etc. I don’t have a problem with disgraced political columnists per se. After all, Rodney Hide has a column. (And I note there’s no left-wing columnist at the Herald on Sunday to balance out Hide’s weekly screed about how wonderful John Key is). But Collins was disgraced partly because of her alleged role in manipulating the media, so giving her a national newspaper column seems ethically perverse. Maybe the huge consumer demand for copy about fiber board will make up for the revenue shortfall from readers who care about ethics?
Anyway, the SST has promised that they’re hiring a new left-wing columnist to balance things out. Their identity is a surprise, presumably because the editor also doesn’t know who his new columnist will be yet, only conceiving of his need for one when left-wing readers of his newspaper went nuts at him on Twitter when they heard about Collins. (I have this ominous suspicion it will be Laila Harre, who will be keen to paint herself as the voice of the left after winning less than 10,000 votes for her Internet Party in the election, and will be also be eager to continue her grudge against Labour and the Green Party in print.)
I do have a few problems with the SST appointing Collins. One is that – as Finlay Macdonald said on Twitter – the media is supposed to be holding MPs – especially government MPs – to account, not giving them jobs. Also, the government already has a huge platform to communicate to the public. They get tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to tell us what they think, and what they’re doing, and why. Is it really the role of the media to give these very privileged, very powerful people even more of a platform to disseminate government propaganda? And then there’s the way the SST went about this. Collins’ column isn’t on the opinion page. It’s on the news page next to a story about the same subject, running the same lines as Collins. That’s a hell of a way to blur the lines and contaminate the SST’s entire product.
So various people on Twitter are calling for boycotts and canceling their subscriptions. I’m not quite there yet. Not over a column about concrete fiber board. But I’m thinking about it, and encourage anyone else troubled by all this to do the same. Various journalists on twitter are up in arms over this suggestion: ‘What about all the good content in Fairfax papers? What if good people lose their jobs, etc?’
Here’s my question to them. The Dirty Politics saga was a media scandal as much as a political scandal. What are people who are offended by it supposed to do, exactly, when they’re confronted by an editor like the SST’s Jonathan Milne, who is cheerfully demonstrating that not only has he learned nothing, but that he’s determined to keep pushing the barrow out, get dirtier, make his little corner of the media more sleazy, more compromised, more biased? Canceling your subscription is pretty much the only power we have.