The double-edged sword

00:21, Aug 28 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.

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.

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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"?