Hard News by Russell Brown


It's emerging as the paradox of the United Future party that it will profit by invoking "common sense", even as its official communications increasingly veer toward the loopy. There was that short-lived and really bizarre PowerPoint presentation on the party website. And yesterday, Peter Dunne issued this press release, warning of the perils of a Labour-Green coalition.

In it, Dunne invents a whole new drug - "pseudo methamphetamine" (presumably the methamphetamine you have when you're not having a methamphetamine) - and claims that under such a coalition: "no new roads will be built" in Auckland or Wellington; and "Nandor Tanczos will sit in Cabinet as Attorney-General." Um, really? It's hard to tell where the satire ends. Assuming, of course, satire is actually the intention.

And then (hat tip to Craig Young) there was yesterday's Stuff story headlined Adams family quits United Future. No, you can't make this stuff up …

Meanwhile, the Beatles + Yoko respond to criticism from across the political spectrum about this video posted on KeepLeft and pick a fight with Molesworth and Featherston over the wanton theft of M&F's "rolling poll of polls" concept. ("This week we’re introducing the ‘Poll of Poll of Polls’ - a rolling average of the rolling polls. We’re plugging the poll gap,” Paul said.)

Also, KeepLeft offers a replay of the privatisation moment in the TV3 leaders' debate rolls out its first round of political blog awards. It's funny. I'm for keeping the Beatles around. Any show of a couple of new tunes, you reckon?

Meanwhile, Blogging It Real promises to stage its own survey on, um morality and stuff, to be "conducted in the flawless, classy style of the SST …"

My column in this week's Listener contains the following brief:

TWO QUESTIONS: Given Holmes's demise, does Alison Mau regret leaving the TVNZ mothership, especially as husband Simon Dallow is being talked about to replace Judy Bailey? And how secure is the future of Metro after the resignation of editor Nicola Legat?

Well and good. Except I didn't actually write it. My apologies to people at Metro and Simon and Ally. If I'm going to pass comment on you I'll do so in my own words.

Synthetic Thoughts looks at Promise.tv; a fridge-sized box that dispenses with the need to even plan your TV recording schedule by simply recording everything. Unfortunately, it doesn't keep your beer cold.

This thread on Kiwiblog yesterday discussed this story about a speech by Business Roundtable guest Tyler Cowen, generating the usual reflexive tosh about arts funding being theft from the taxpayer etc.

The story said Cowen held that "Better art is produced when artists generate their own income and take risks in the marketplace rather than rely on taxpayer-funded grants," which, once again, demonstrated his alarming lack of knowledge of the sector on which he was imported to pronounce. Local artists do take risks in the marketplace, and they largely do generate their own income. Most of the local hit albums of recent years have benefited from NZ On Air's Phase 4 scheme, which makes recoupable grants, matched dollar for dollar with private investment. Even the much-pilloried NZSO derives a third of its income from the private sector.

Cowen was also glib and poorly informed in his Linda Clark interview last week. He cited the German investment in Lord of the Rings as evidence of what private capital could do in the globalised world. Sure, it's great to get foreign investment (although whether that would have been forthcoming without the tax break is a matter of conjecture), but who helped fund Jackson's first three or four films? The taxpayer, via the Film Commission.

Why was Jackson able to call on relatively skilled and experienced local crews and cast, willing to work for scale? Because those people had largely learned their trade making NZ On Air-funded TV. Same deal with the Pacific Renaissance productions in Auckland (ie Herc and Xena), which ran for years. This stuff doesn't come out of a vacuum, you know.

Cowen also played the hip card with Clark by noting that he'd bought a Scribe album in Sydney. Jolly good. But Scribe (on a local indie label with a long-term distribution deal with a company owned by Rupert Murdoch) probably wouldn't have happened without the development work that has gone into the industry. In recent years some of the major labels here have had to fight for the right to keep on signing and developing artists, and not be reduced to mere distributors. The fact that there are NZ On Air video grants and recoupable recording funds has helped keep them in it, and now New Zealand music has a steadily rising share of a declining overall market. And of course, because it was still in the signing business, one of them signed Hayley Westenra. She's done quite well.

Commercial radio music repertoire is now 20% local, up from two per cent 10 years ago. That means a living to the artists, through their rights revenues. You can put that down to NZ On Air plugging and distributing samplers to radio, and, most of all, to the voluntary music targets scheme the RBA agreed with the government.

I had my doubts about the scheme when it launched, but it really has worked. Muriel Newman et al shrieked that radio would go out of business if it had to play inferior local music. Actually, the broadcasters seem to rather like it.

Anyway ... I interviewed Gil Simpson once and he talked about the "cultural infrastructure" that made it possible for him to get skilled people to work at the end of the earth in Christchurch: a working theatre, opera, a symphony orchestra, a great art gallery. All of them to some extent funded through local and national taxation.

This is the thing: If you don't take care to nurture and where necessary support a cultural sector, you're just a shitty little trading post at the bottom of the Pacific.