The Press 'incapable of intelligent journalism'

DENIS O'ROURKE
Last updated 09:02 12/10/2012
Denis O'Rourke, left, NZ First leader Winston Peters, and MP Richard Prosser
John Kirk-Anderson

AT WORK: Denis O'Rourke, left, NZ First leader Winston Peters, and MP Richard Prosser on a visit to the city's red zone.

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OPINION: NZ First MP DENIS O'ROURKE takes issue with an article, quoting the Right-wing Kiwiblog website, which suggested the two Christchurch MPs from his party were among the country's most anonymous politicians.

Reporter Sam Sachdeva must have got the short end of the straw when he was tasked to write the recent article Chch NZ First MPs score low, so that he could rank "the country's most anonymous politicians".

The article reported on the Right-wing website Kiwiblog's assessment of opposition MPs (apparently a report on Government MPs is not worth doing) based - for some inexplicable reason - only on the number of press releases done, the number of written questions asked, and how many news stories were written about them, as though somehow these are the important things for MPs' profiles.

It is surprising that a newspaper with the once high standing of The Press would print a report based on an assessment by the low quality, Right-wing, no-account source that Kiwiblog is.

Apparently The Press is incapable of producing an intelligent piece of genuine journalism making a substantive attempt at ranking MPs, if it really thought it worth the space.

Take written questions. MPs can send questions for written answer or questions for oral answer to ministers. The written ones might be useful to obtain information, but this is usually obtainable much sooner from elsewhere, and my research assistant in Wellington does just that for me all the time. It is not a public process and is irrelevant to an MP's profile. More important are questions for oral answer (not taken into account by Kiwiblog) which ministers must answer publicly in Parliament. I asked two of these in the last quarter and had submitted many more, but NZ First is allocated only three questions per week for each of the three weeks per month Parliament sits, and most of these are needed by the party leader.

So the other seven of us in New Zealand First usually miss out.

Most Government MPs ask none at all, except for a few patsy questions written for them by their ministerial overlords.

MPs are similarly constrained concerning press releases, because they can only issue them in respect of matters falling within their own spokesperson portfolios, otherwise confusion about who speaks about what within a party would reign.

And while the news media may think that MPs exist only to provide stories and information for them, it is really only an incidental part of an MP's job.

There are much more important things to do; and seeing my name in print has long ago lost its shine for me. When I have something of substance to say I am well known for doing so.

I have no intention of asking unnecessary written questions or issuing screeds of light-weight media releases just to make the statistics look good in some boring blog-site, which nobody with a mind would bother looking at - sorry for Sam, whose job it seems to be to do so.

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A genuine ranking of MPs would use much more meaningful statistics. Most important is the number of times they speak in the House and whether they use their speeches well.

Many Government MPs give absurdly short and half- baked speeches because they know that they have the numbers to get what they want without having to justify it, whereas opposition MPs have to fight for whatever they can get through the power of argument; and that of course means properly researching the subject and studying the legislation before the House.

I would be very happy to be assessed on that basis.

Another important consideration is the number and quality of the private member' bills submitted.

An MP can have only one of these in the ballot at a time, and then must be lucky enough to have it drawn. I submitted a bill to insert criteria for council CEOs' salaries into the Local Government Act almost as soon as I was elected; and I am ready to go when possible, after months of research and 10 drafts and redrafts, with a bill to propose pro-rata entitlement for New Zealand Superannuation.

But all of this would be apparently too much trouble for Kiwiblog or The Press to take into account.

There are many other things which MPs do which are far more important than those used for the nonsensical assessment posted by Kiwiblog: how many select committees attended, how many public meetings to give speeches, how many briefings by ministers and officials attended - in short doing the things of substance which MPs are elected to do.

In addition there is all the work with constituents to attend to, and local offices to man.

Richard Prosser and I have taken the trouble to open offices in Christchurch, Dunedin and Invercargill, because we are the only New Zealand First MPs in the South Island and we are committed to being accessible as far and wide as we can.

But of course Kiwiblog and The Press would not be interested in that either: after all it may upset the superficial and irrelevant statistics they prefer to use for their dubious purposes; that is what passes for journalism these days.

- The Press

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