The Dim-Post

November 25, 2015

Research as propaganda

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:25 am

Sociologist Jarrod Gilbert has a column in the Herald about police censorship of his research. It’s all very sinister on its own but it’s related to a deeper problem in the public service that got bad under Clark and is now so much worse under Key, and that is the transformation of the public service into a giant public relations machine for the government of the day. All sectors of the public service now have large communications departments and their primary role is to ‘manage risk’ for the Minister, Director/CEO and the rest of the organisation, in that order.

What if this risk mitigation conflicts with their obligations as a public servant to serve and inform the public? Well, ‘the public’ can’t fire them, or give them a bonus or a promotion, and the head of their organisation can. So all of the incentives are for them to censor research, fight OIAs and generally mislead the public. Identifying and ‘managing’ risk from academic researchers is just a natural progression of that culture.

20 Comments »

  1. Many government departments now compile ‘background information’ for comms managers on persons requesting information under the OIA, including their current and former jobs, past OIA requests and what they have used that information for, and whether it has ended up in the media. All of this is done to assess ‘risk’. None of this of course is relevant to reasons for refusal under the OIA.

    Comment by Mike — November 25, 2015 @ 9:07 am

  2. So the American style politicisation of the public service is complete, at least at senior management level? Politically, we need to grow up and have political parties start publishing lists of who they expect to resign and who they propose to replace them with once they win office. That won’t stop this sort of arse-clownery from the NZ Police, but at least the myth of a public service that serves the public would be finally consigned to the dustbin and with that we could start sensibly working what sort of legislation and powers are needed to extract the sort of information people need from a hostile, pro-government civil service.

    Comment by Sanctuary — November 25, 2015 @ 9:31 am

  3. Sure, but, you know, ISIS.

    Comment by jonothan8 — November 25, 2015 @ 9:34 am

  4. @2,

    Public servants have never served the public, they are governed by the 1988 Act that shows something quite different:

    http://www.cabinetmanual.cabinetoffice.govt.nz/3.5

    “3.5 Ministers decide both the direction and the priorities for their departments. They should not be involved in their departments’ day-to-day operations. In general terms, Ministers are responsible for determining and promoting policy, defending policy decisions, and answering in the House on both policy and operational matters. Officials are responsible for:

    supporting Ministers in carrying out their ministerial functions;
    serving the aims and objectives of Ministers by developing and implementing policy and strategy; and
    implementing the decisions of the government of the day.”

    Before 1988 young public servants were often told quite forcibly they had no role in governance and that they were responsible to their minister for good or ill and for all the evils of a difficult or incompetent minister its generally been found that an ungovernable bureaucracy is worse.

    JC

    Comment by JC — November 25, 2015 @ 9:49 am

  5. Danyl, you seem to think that the public service is there to serve the public rather than the Government. I don’t think it works like that. The public elects the Government and the public service is there to administer or execute the policies of the Government, as well as provide research and advice, etc. I think the word “public” in this sense really refers to the Government as the elected representatives of the public rather than the general public. The quid pro quo is that the Government is ultimately democratically accountable for the conduct of the public service.

    Obviously this does not allow the public service to flout the law, whether that is the Official Information Act or anything else. I don’t think there is an overriding duty to serve the public, rather the duty is to serve the Government and obey the law. There is nothing at all sinister or unusual about the notion that public servants should do what their managers and Ministers want. That’s how it is supposed to work.

    Bottom line: if you want the public service to implement policies you like, you have to win an election. Otherwise, don’t complain if the public service does the bidding of the party that won.

    Comment by Nick R — November 25, 2015 @ 9:54 am

  6. Maybe Danyl you could go and work for a Govt agency and experience it first hand rather than just making things up. Not as much fun I know.

    Comment by rsmsingers — November 25, 2015 @ 10:33 am

  7. “Politically, we need to grow up and have political parties start publishing lists of who they expect to resign and who they propose to replace them with once they win office” A

    Ah, Sanctuary as ever has his priorities fixed on the only fundamental policy question of interest to the hard left – who gets to run the firing squad after the revolution.

    And I second those challenging Danyl’s straw man argument about public sector comms departments. They have to be aware of risk for sure but it is a pretty small component of what they actually do. The greatest risk with the public sector under any government is over anticipating their Ministers’ wishes. The insecure and not very competent Ministers encourage it, the competent ones would prefer that they and their offices manage political risk.

    Comment by Tinakori — November 25, 2015 @ 10:42 am

  8. “…They have to be aware of risk for sure but it is a pretty small component of what they actually do…”

    And every day, Federal scientists are looking for new ways to kill bugs!!!!

    Would you like to know more?

    Comment by Sanctuary — November 25, 2015 @ 10:53 am

  9. “it’s related to a deeper problem in the public service that got bad under Clark and is now so much worse under Key, and that is the transformation of the public service into a giant public relations machine for the government of the day. All sectors of the public service now have large communications departments and their primary role is to ‘manage risk’ for the Minister, Director/CEO and the rest of the organisation, in that order.”

    Brent Edwards’ commentary on the subject, from August, seems relevant.

    Comment by izogi — November 25, 2015 @ 11:42 am

  10. The other thing I don’t see mentioned here is the role of the State Services Commissioner. If Gilbert has a beef with the police its really a beef with the police commissioner and if JG thinks that guy is wrong or biased he can go to the Minister or better still.. unless things have changed.. go to the SSC who is the employer and state his case.

    If he can reasonably suggest the police commissioner has failed in some part of his duty he’ll likely get a better longer term result.

    JC

    Comment by JC — November 25, 2015 @ 12:29 pm

  11. I watched Story on TV3 last night and it featured Heather du Plessis-Allan accosting Senior Police Investigator Malcolm Burgess up Molesworth St in Wellington. He told her he’d be happy to speak with her if she rang his office and booked an interview. Needless to say, he hasn’t made himself available for one.

    Since HDPA is currently under investigation by police, I wonder what impact pissing off a senior police officer, an officer who may be investigating her, will have on their decision to lay charges.

    Comment by Ross — November 25, 2015 @ 12:57 pm

  12. Firstly the NZ Police is a ‘non public service’ department. I think the police Commissioner is appointed by the Governor general ( like a few others) and is not a state service appointment like other CEOs

    Comment by dukeofurl — November 25, 2015 @ 2:32 pm

  13. @Ross “Since HDPA is currently under investigation by police, I wonder what impact pissing off a senior police officer, an officer who may be investigating her, will have on their decision to lay charges.”

    It should have no impact unless police prosecutions follow a corrupt process.

    Comment by RJL — November 25, 2015 @ 2:39 pm

  14. It should have no impact unless police prosecutions follow a corrupt process.

    Which of course is unthinkable, given the NZPs squeaky clean reputation in terms of aiding and abetting political objectives.

    Comment by Gregor W — November 25, 2015 @ 2:52 pm

  15. It should have no impact unless police prosecutions follow a corrupt process.

    The trouble is, if charges are laid it might not be at all clear whether that’s because HDPA has a genuine case to answer or because police are being vindictive.

    Comment by Ross — November 25, 2015 @ 3:13 pm

  16. @Gregor W.

    Exactly. It’s “unthinkable”, given past history, that the police prosecution process is corrupt.

    @Ross

    It presumably therefore behoves the police to be very careful and transparent about the decision process. Any irregularities, either way, will be gleefully discovered and publicised by HDPA et al.

    Comment by RJL — November 25, 2015 @ 4:18 pm

  17. “Firstly the NZ Police is a ‘non public service’ department. I think the police Commissioner is appointed by the Governor general”

    True, but the police still come under the SSC umbrella, including the Independent Police Complaints Authority which has to comply with SSC conduct and integrity provisions.

    JC

    Comment by JC — November 25, 2015 @ 5:36 pm

  18. JC That the IPCA has to follow SSC standards is not very useful, when the Police is excluded. Its no accident the Police are outside the normal supervisory organs of the State.

    So the primary premise of this blog about the public service functions or obligations of the Police is flawed. There are none. The other similar case would be the Office of the Ombudsman.

    Comment by dukeofurl — November 25, 2015 @ 8:10 pm

  19. If we had a media that did its damn job then the efforts of the “public relations” staff would be neutralised. Most of the staff working in PR (for govt) have a journalistic background. They’re all part of the same back slapping group of frauds. NZ dwells in an utterly corrupt and untrue political paradigm, where lies, distortions, lies by ommission from politicians are commonplace and the media does SFA to challenge them because they’re all buddies. Any journalist who did do his/her job would be ostracised by this group of trained monkeys.

    NZ badly needs a Breitbart news organisation. They’re about the only reporters doing their job in the US. What makes them so good? They know the MSM is as big a part of the problem as govt is, and they’re not afraid to say so.

    Here’s another example.

    What’s more the public know they’re being conned. Its why the non politician Trump is so popular, and why the news media are regarded as completely untrustworthy.

    Journalists and politicians. Sleazy bed mates lying to the NZ public in a corrupt liaison designed to keep both parties in work.

    Comment by Redbaiter — November 27, 2015 @ 12:22 am

  20. Trump isn’t popular, moron. He’s popular with a particular subspecies of bullying far-right conservative who like being lied to. Normal people disdain the guy.

    Comment by Judge Holden — November 28, 2015 @ 12:41 pm


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