The Dim-Post

April 9, 2015

Hooton’s Law

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 11:06 am

There’s been a debate on twitter over the last couple of days about the issue of political commentators and conflicts of interest, and Bryce Edward’s asked me to articulate my thoughts on the matter so here they are.

I’ve said before that I think Matthew Hooton is currently our best political commentator, even though our ideologies are very different. That’s partly because Hooton is articulate and very smart, but mostly because of his unique position in the New Zealand political landscape. He’s a long-time National Party insider, which means he understands how the governing party works, but he’s also engaged in a very bitter feud – driven partly by ideology, partly personality and partly commercial interest – with several powerful people in the National hierarchy, which means he uses his insight and acumen to openly critique his own team.

Which is awesome. But doesn’t that create a massive conflict of interest? I don’t think so. No more than someone like Michelle Boag, undyingly loyal National cheerleader, who is motivated to comment to promote National rather than critique it because it advances her interests and those of her allies. All of these people have agendas, and I think Hooton’s law would go something like:

The more insight an insider has into the political process, the more calculated their agenda in disseminating those insights

I’m more concerned about commercial conflicts of interest among commentators and other media figures. There’s a wildly lucrative and very shadowy marketplace out there where journalists and commentators provide ‘media training’ or ‘communications consulting’ for politicians and their parties, and then pop up on TV or radio speaking as advocates for them without disclosing that. This would be very easy for media outlets to fix. All it takes is a disclosure statement, and if the commentator can’t make one because their relationship with their political clients is ‘commercial in confidence’ then they shouldn’t be given a platform. Hooton quite often discloses a conflict of interest when he’s talking on Nine To Noon, but it’s not something you hear very often from any other pundits. And there are big, big conflicts-of-interest out there.

22 Comments »

  1. But, Right to make a living! / Freedom of expression! / Sacred role of the 4th estate as societies conscience! / Can’t reveal sources! / You’re just a blogger not a real journalist so you how dare you judge!

    Comment by Gregor W — April 9, 2015 @ 12:36 pm

  2. re: hooten, boag edwards or any other commentor – as long as your connections are clearly stated and dont rely on your audience knowing ahead of time then theres no conflict – you say stuff, but all and sundry can see why you might be saying that and what agenda you might be holding.

    Its the hidden ones that are tricksie

    Comment by framu — April 9, 2015 @ 12:39 pm

  3. Does Hooton really disclose all his relevant conflicts before talking about those subjects on Radio New Zealand?

    Comment by George — April 9, 2015 @ 1:10 pm

  4. Does Hooton really disclose all his relevant conflicts before talking about those subjects on Radio New Zealand?

    Yes. Yes he does.

    That was easy!

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — April 9, 2015 @ 1:17 pm

  5. This would be very easy for media outlets to fix.

    Yes it would, if they cared. But as long as commentators are getting paid – and not by the media outlets – then why would they bother to fix it?

    Because “professional ethics”? “Self-respect”? ha ha ha ha ha ha …

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — April 9, 2015 @ 1:30 pm

  6. David Farrar’s connections to the National Party are not mentioned (for example) by Jim Mora because he is on the panel as an individual, who is of course quite capable of the professional task of separating his work and social life as a slavish lick spittle for the government from his role on the panel.

    Now, if you believe that load of garbage then I’ve got a nice bridge in Auckland I’d like to sell you – but that is exactly the sort of puffed up reasoning that the media elites use to obfusticate the bias of their selected commentators.

    Comment by Sanctuary — April 9, 2015 @ 1:46 pm

  7. Yep, it’s perfectly normal for reporters and pundits to openly nail their colours to a mast. But there’s a huge problem when reporters and pundits with partisan agendas pass off their views as impartial.

    Comment by Kumara Republic (@kumararepublic) — April 9, 2015 @ 2:07 pm

  8. All very true but on nine to noon we now have two people kicking the sh.t out of National which is a bit tiresome and doesn’t really make for interesting radio as everyone is anti National, the fabulous Kathryn Ryan is the most neutral !

    Comment by David — April 9, 2015 @ 4:39 pm

  9. David: Maybe Newstalk ZB or Fox News has a spare seat waiting for you if you’re keen to ‘address the imbalance’.

    Comment by Kumara Republic — April 9, 2015 @ 6:59 pm

  10. I think the issue of how commercial considerations influence some blogging is an interesting one.

    Comment by NeilM — April 9, 2015 @ 7:49 pm

  11. Matthew often gets rather cruel criticism even before he starts. He is worth listening to because he is articulate and concise even though his political positioning is so different (from mine.) Actually just now I can’t think of another commentator who can express him/herself so eloquently. Good to know what the other “side” is thinking, though these days it is a bit harder to guess Matthew’s loyalties?

    Comment by xianmac — April 9, 2015 @ 10:02 pm

  12. I welcome open and straightforward statements of conflicting interests at the start of any broadcasts or stories. Not heard or seen one yet.

    Comment by Sacha — April 9, 2015 @ 10:25 pm

  13. If you cannot say ‘these are the people or organisations whose interests I am currently serving’ then no media outlet should give you a platform.

    Comment by Sacha — April 9, 2015 @ 11:18 pm

  14. @David
    Nine to Noon does not promote the segment as commentators from National and Labour but as ‘from the left and from the right’. Hooten criticises those who claim to hold the same views as himself. Mike Williams isn’t quite as scathing of Labour but he criticises his side too.

    Comment by Josh — April 10, 2015 @ 2:08 pm

  15. How sad for NZ if the best political commentator it can produce is a man whose agenda is not the promotion of public interests, but the pursuit of his own self-interest. NZ is not short of smart and articulate people but it is short of people like Chomsky whose calm and rational prolific political writings and commentary have been undeniably directed at the promotion of justice and public good. We deserve better than Hooton.

    Comment by Donna Mojab (Miles) — April 11, 2015 @ 12:57 pm

  16. Donna Mojab: Bruce Jesson fit the bill, but he only started becoming well-known later in his cut-short-by-cancer life.

    Comment by Kumara Republic — April 11, 2015 @ 4:01 pm

  17. Kumara Republic: Thank you for introducing me to Bruce Jesson who passed away way before my time in NZ. I love everything I’ve read of his so far. What a great loss to NZ!

    Comment by Donna Mojab (Miles) — April 12, 2015 @ 11:32 am

  18. I have always tried to base my political commentary on Bruce Jesson (and Chris Trotter and Bob Jones). Used to read the former in Metro each month in the 1980s (and the other two in the Dom when I lived in Wellington in the 1990s). Biased (whatever that means), well-written and staunch. I can’t understand how a political commentator can write without a point of view – which is why I have always regarded Colin James as perhaps the most boring columnist in NZ. It would be like a NZ Herald writer not being able to choose between All Blacks and Wallabies – which is not the same as saying the rugby writer should be a cheerleader for the All Blacks – just that it would suggest they weren’t even interested in rugby if they wrote a preview for a match without supporting one team or the other.

    Comment by Matthew Hooton — April 12, 2015 @ 11:42 am

  19. “I have always tried to base my political commentary on Bruce Jesson…”

    Seriously? Epic fail then.

    Comment by Judge Holden — April 12, 2015 @ 1:33 pm

  20. Speaking of the undisclsed-but-interested, has anyone else noticed that David Farrar has not been on “The Panel” for some months now?

    Comment by Mr February — April 13, 2015 @ 8:59 pm

  21. “It would be like a NZ Herald writer not being able to choose between All Blacks and Wallabies”

    More like between the Wallabies and Springboks.

    Comment by Sacha — April 14, 2015 @ 12:00 am

  22. On Hooton’s comment: I am not a rugby expert but I do know that most people pick their home team to support; not because that’s the best team, but because that’s where their loyalties lie. It should be possible to read a great rugby commentator’s writings without guessing his/her home team. Until recently, Hooton’s political commentary left us with no doubt about his home team.
    Clever, articulate and influential? Yes. Great political spin doctor? Yes. Great political commentator? Um..maybe. Hooton’s changing course but it is not clear what he’s up to. He should have been an obvious spin doctor for Simon Bridges or Paula Bennett who are in line for the top job at the National Party but Hooton, like Slater, comes with a “dirty politics” label which makes it difficult for him to operate at the front line where he likes to be. So Hooton has gone on damage control, giving us his analysis of Sky City and other gems….it’s possible that he wants to position himself as an independent political commentator. If so, he needs to unblock people like me on Twitter so he can hear from all sides.

    Comment by Donna Mojab (Miles) — April 14, 2015 @ 10:43 am


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