by Dave Witherow (first published on the BFD, also sent to us directly)

About three times a week I turn on Radio New Zealand – no, sorry, I turn on RNZ, as it must now be known, since the dreaded colonialist words “New Zealand” are no longer officially acceptable.

I listen from a sense of duty, usually in the morning, enduring the competing wokesters’ efforts to outdo each other in annoying their listeners with ever-lengthening wodges of Te Reo.

The experience is far from enjoyable, but it does allow me a glimpse of a kind of alternative universe – a parallel domain where all contentious questions have already been answered and no fresh queries are required.

This morning, for example, there was palaver about Three Waters, in which two boringly inarticulate stooges batted the breeze for ten minutes or so with Kathryn Ryan (a once-competent middleweight performer now sadly in decline).

Nothing useful was said. No problems were identified concerning this blatantly racist initiative. There was, instead, a sense of bewilderment, encouraged by Kathryn, as to why the citizenry at large were so reluctant to embrace “reforms” approved by all right-thinking people. 

Could it all be a matter of messaging? Yes, said Kathryn. Yes, said her guests. The government had fluffed it – had failed to adequately explain the magnanimity and democratic wisdom of what it intended to do. And that was the nub of the issue. Just get the word out, properly packaged, competently crafted, and the folks will go along.

Radio New Zealand is in serious trouble. It resembles nothing so much as a coven of ostriches, a last refuge of the terminally myopic. And the interviewees, with rare exceptions, are carefully selected so as not to piss in the punch.

 Thus Kathryn and her accomplices could manage to ignore the fact that the disquiet about Three Waters has nothing to do with messaging. That the government’s evasions and lies have fooled very few of the public, and that the motivations for this opportunistic heist are mysterious only to the brain-dead. 

 Similar examples abound. A year ago, or more, in the halcyon days of the Great Pandemic, the country was in lockdown. The borders were closed, the pubs were shut, and a visit to the beach could get you a visit from the cops. A single case of Covid, anywhere between Bluff and Cape Reinga, and the screws would be screwed even tighter. We were leading the world, as Radio New Zealand lost no opportunity to remind us. We were flattening the curve, we were eliminating the virus, and self-congratulation was in order. This went on for a year or more, until, inexplicably, the virus made a come-back.

Attention then shifted to the “vaccines”, which, the Prime Minister promised, would be available to all who wanted to enroll in this interesting pharmaceutical experiment. No pressure, of course — New Zealanders being freedom-loving people, the idea of coercion could never be remotely considered.

Yet beyond the duplicity of this false assurance the truth was hard to disguise. The curve had not been flattened and elimination was no longer being mentioned, and people were soon dying “with Covid”, in numbers contrary to the notion that the world-beating strategies were working. 

Two years of isolation, hibernation, denial of freedom and stubborn delusion had in the end achieved nothing more than a mountain of communal debt. The touted experts had all been wrong, the virus was back, and the Prime Ministers panaceas had been worthless.

There was, of course, no admission of failure. A temporary setback, that was all. But gradually, as new “cases” piled up in their thousands, it was becoming more and more evident that all the previous directives were quietly being abandoned. The draconian rules, so rigidly enforced, were now increasingly optional, if not completely rescinded. The borders were opening, the tourists coming back, and only the more rabid of the medical troglodytes were clinging to their original prescriptions.

This turnaround, one might have thought, would be worth the odd comment in the Media. Why such an amazing reversal? Why the apparent insignificance of hundreds of deaths and thousands of “cases”, when a mere half-dozen, a year ago, had locked us in a virtual prison? 

Total silence from the usual suspects. No comment on Radio New Zealand. The Great Pandemic, it seems, was no longer prime News, and the daily tally of fresh casualties and “cases” and “locations of interest” – until recently of vital significance – were becoming no more than a footnote. 

 Which was inevitable from the very beginning. When a narrative becomes too incoherent – too internally conflicted and at odds with reality – we shift our attention to something else. Or, as the psychologists would describe it, we indulge in displacement activity. It happens occasionally to everyone, but more often to those in the journalistic trade, whose opinions are public property.

 With the relegation of the virus came a pressing need for alternative excitements. And the war in Ukraine, arriving when it did, could hardly have been more timely. Here, tailor-made, was a black and white canvas – a classic confrontation, a Manichean struggle, and a glorious opportunity for every half-literate hack to indulge in risk-free heroics. No need to get bogged down in details – in history, or complexity, or the possibility of more than one side to the story. No need to ask where the money goes, or which interests, as always, come out on top. Just the same old simplistic two-step – Zelensky good, Putin bad – plus the certainty that the suckers will buy it.

 It gets boring, I admit, after a while, and I think I’ll quit checking on Radio New Zealand, which seems to be in its death-throes, sinking in a sea of platitudes. There are so many better options. Drink more wine, perhaps, read a book or two, and keep a weather-eye North for those mushroom clouds that are no longer so entirely unthinkable.


Dave Witherow was a long time columnist with the Otago Daily Times. He migrated to New Zealand from Northern Ireland in 1971. He’s also an author and script writer, and worked as a scientist for Fish and Game.