Russell Marshall’s Column

Time to stop dumbing down and get informed debate

By Russell Marshall

It can be taken for granted that the vast majority of people in this country and around the world are strongly in favour of democracy, government of the people by the people.

It took us a while to get there. Women in New Zealand won the right to vote 120 years ago, but in most other western countries they had to wait considerably longer.

The 18-year-old entitlement has been much more recent and many of those in prison do not have the vote, in my view a mistake.

However, I am not as sure as I once was that governments always govern for the good of their countries and their people, now and in generations to come. We elect governments to take power, but on what basis do we vote them in?Sources of information

A couple of generations ago the major sources of information about politics and pretty well everything else were local newspaper/s and publicly owned radio.

The newspapers were privately owned and tended to be conservative in their politics but generally gave good and reasonably balanced coverage. The front pages of many were taken up totally by small advertisements in many papers.

By contrast, led by Rupert Murdoch, most newspapers are now owned by conglomerates whose major intent is to maximize profit. To that end, there has been a major shift towards populism, especially on front pages, with a corresponding decline in balanced consideration of anything much.
NZ television ‘dumbed down’

A similar trend has taken over television.  Neither of our major political parties were committed to quality state television while in office, a surprising stance for the Labour Party in particular. Anyone who visits Australia and watches the ABC will realise how our TV coverage has been dumbed down. Populism prevails.

‘NZ has one of the the widest gaps’

In the meantime, the OECD reports that New Zealand these days has one of the widest gaps between rich and poor; the self management arrangement for schools brought in by the government of which I was a minister two decades ago has never done justice to lower income communities and their children; social welfare payments are being tightened up while as employment opportunities for young people in particular are diminishing.

Meanwhile my bank recently announced a profit of $1 billion while protests continued around the world against the power, influence and wealth of the banking system.

 It would be good to see the incoming government and Parliament talking about what our country really needs, whether or not it is popular, and engaging us all in informed debate.