The double-edged sword

Last updated 14:12 28/07/2009

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett just taught Jennifer Johnston and Natasha Fuller a valuable lesson. The media is a double-edged sword.

Johnson and Fuller launched into the debate in the media over cutbacks to the Training Incentive Allowance they had been getting because they were sole parents on a benefit and were wanting to do further study courses next year.

Bennett, unimpressed by their arguments that she considered selectively left out some valuable financial facts, published figures showing their full income from the state including benefits and allowances.

Cue roars of outrage. Ms Fuller was "astonished". Ms Johnston was "flabbergasted". Green MP Sue Bradford called it "beneficiary bashing". How dare Minister Bennett make public their financial information without getting their permission?

Hang on.

Johnston and Fuller had already taken some of their financial information public when they talked to the media, established a website and blogged about it.

They put themselves in this position by making public pronouncements, which were picked up and used by Labour in the House to attack Bennett and the Government.

Bennett believed they had not made full disclosure of what they had received from the state and brought this information to the public's attention.

The rules are simple and Ms Johnston and Ms Fuller need to understand them.

* (1) If you stand up in public and make a statement, be prepared to have someone contradict you. That's democracy.

* (2) If you stick your nose into a political fight, someone is likely to bloody it.

* (3) The public, to which you have just appealed, has the right to hear all the facts, not just the ones you chose to reveal.

What is more, the mainstream media have a responsibility to print those facts, as distasteful as you may feel that may be, because they have a duty to run balanced stories.

Sue Bradford is just being silly when she calls Bennett's actions an "outrage" and demands the minister apologise to the women.

What does Bradford propose? That any time a minister is attacked by a vocal member of the public, the minister has to fight with one hand tied behind their back? Even if they believe the allegations being presented are wrong, are ministers not entitled to tell the public what they believe is the truth?

I've always admired Sue Bradford but on this one she is being ridiculous saying, "The Green Party believes that in a democracy individuals should feel free to criticise Government actions which affect them without having the full force of the state and the media working together to criticise and demean them."

That statement is just nuts.

* (a) Bennett arguing her case that the women were receiving more than they claimed is hardly "the full force of the state" being exerted.

* (b) The state and the media are not "working together to criticise and demean them". The media has a job to present all the facts.

These two women chose to exercise their democratic right and criticise the Government. Good on them. But to expect the Government not to criticise them back is just plain stupid.

If someone starts a debate they should expect there to be facts and arguments produced that may be detrimental to their position. Once again, that's what happens in a democracy.

No one is trying to demean the women. I applaud their feisty response to the Government's cuts but they can hardly expect to be treated with kid gloves by the media if they deliberately enter a partisan political argument.

Can everyone take a big cup of "toughen up"?

57 comments
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Ahem   #1   02:27 pm Jul 28 2009

I welcome you applying the same logic when the next Labour government decides to release all of the personal information held about you. The details from your TVNZ days will make particularly good reading I think...

JK   #2   02:31 pm Jul 28 2009

Gosh, how far the once proud civil libertarian has fallen. They must be paying you well Bill.

Nathan   #3   02:38 pm Jul 28 2009

Thanks Bill, all I've been hearing about this is the poor little womans abused rights. Needed a voice like yours to even things up a bit - keep up the good work!

iainh   #4   03:21 pm Jul 28 2009

Good one! Thanks Bill.

Mark   #5   03:23 pm Jul 28 2009

Amen.. someone who is speaking sense in amongst all the nonsense circulating out there. These ladies have gone public, therefore it is not a breach of their privacy to be correcting misinformation they have spread making it out that they are struggling

Ben   #6   03:44 pm Jul 28 2009

So if you complain about the treatment received from a health provider, the Minister of Health can reveal all your other embarrasing ailments that may have contributed to your medical condition?

If you complain about the police the Minister can go public with all the information held about you on the police computer?

Next time you complain about the IRD perhaps we could be entertained by your financial circumstances.

Had a Labour Minister splashed confidential financial information about a prominent businessman who happened to complain about Labour's policies, you and the National Party would have been frothing at the mouth with indignation? Come to think of it I think there was a similar case.

There is no justification of the Minister's action in this case. All she needed to say was that the complainants were being economical with the truth, challenge them to disclose everything and let the public draw its own conclusions.

The power balance between the Minister and an individual membeer of the public is unequal and one should feel able to air grievances about government policy without the fear that the Minister will use his/her power to dredge up additional information. I shall be careful now about writing to the local paer about goverment policy for fear of what might be revealed.

dave   #7   04:04 pm Jul 28 2009

You say the rules are simple - which ones are those? The Privacy Act? The Cabinet Manual? Or do those not count as long as the Minister makes an educated decision simply by reading a privacy website and not consulting anybody else? Let's hear it for freedom to speak your mind on an issue without the government smearing you...

mike   #8   04:20 pm Jul 28 2009

Another media plant that's blown up in labours face. Very refreshing and good on you Paula you have nothing to apologise for.

Nathan   #9   04:30 pm Jul 28 2009

My father supported my mother, sister and I on much less (even accounting for inflation). Even now hard workers up and down this country struggle week in week out and dont bring in anywhere near what these 2 are getting in handouts. Yet they are the same people paying taxes to support loafers like these 2. They then go and moan and complain about losing $28 from their BENEFITS, leave out the fact that they are receiving more than the average weekly wage, and then are surprised when this little bit of information is brought to light? Personally I and a lot of my collegues had to take a pay cut this year - it was that or lose some positions - and it was a lot more than $28 a week I might add. but do you see us complaining and running down the company we work for? Of course not, we have better attitudes than that and believe that only we can make our situation better.

Chris Ford   #10   04:31 pm Jul 28 2009

Using your logic, then let's have a look at Paula Bennett's beneficiary file. That seems fair, but fairness is hardly the point here is it?


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