Communicating truth in a post-truth world

An address to the Australasian Catholic Press Association annual conference in Auckland 24 August 2017

President Donald Trump may be blamed for many things but you can’t hold him responsible for creating the post-truth environment. It existed, in one form or another, even before Julius Caesar justified the annexation of Gaul by bad-mouthing the neighbouring Germanic tribes. Perhaps it existed even before Pericles, to borrow from the Tony Blair songbook, sexed-up the need for the Peloponnesian Wars.

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Fake News and the 2017 General Election

This commentary appeared in the New Zealand Herald on 1 June 2017

The question is not whether New Zealand will be confronted by fake news in September’s general election but what form it will take.

The recent track record of falsehood is too seductive for it to be ignored here. Brexit, the U.S. and French presidential elections (and no doubt the forthcoming German federal election campaign that coincides with our own) shows fake news has a ready audience among those who would like it to be true. Continue reading

Public Broadcasting and Media

Early in 2017 a People’s Commission toured New Zealand seeking views on the future of public broadcasting and media. It visited six cities seeking the views of the public and media experts in a series of workshops. The project’s website is Below is my submission to the Auckland workshop, in which I answer the five questions posed by the commission…and suggest a sixth. Continue reading

Constitutional small print

The following is a contribution to the debate on a written constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand, proposed by Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Andrew Butler. In it I argue that we cannot take justifiable limitations on constitutional rights at face value because there is are weaknesses in high-minded words. It originally appeared on 

Every constitution must have its guardians and the proposed Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand vests that responsibility in the court.  Legislation that breaches its Bill of Rights provisions, for example, may be struck down by the court and reinstated only if three-quarters of Parliament give their approval.

Placing guardianship outside the realm of the legislators is a wise move – even if one might argue whether the court should have strike-down or review-and-referral powers – but should that replace the vetting role currently performed by the Executive through the Attorney-General? Continue reading

Impending threats

An opinion piece that appeared in the Dominion-Post newspaper today based on my new book, “Complacent Nation”:

Picture the scenario: An act of terrorism like those that have blighted Europe and North America is repeated on New Zealand soil. Now consider how we would react.

There would be a well-practiced operational response that would end the immediate danger but it would be followed by measures that could have lingering consequences.

On one hand there would be considered measures that are the result of rigorous plans, strategies and organisational responses overseen by the Security & Intelligence Group led by Howard Broad, deputy chief executive in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and former Police Commissioner. This group coordinates the work of a hierarchy of committees and agencies charged with ensuring domestic and external security. We might call this the cool, calm and collected end of the anti-terrorism spectrum.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, are the emotional responses that will inevitably sweep through the population and, to some degree or another, through the political ranks. They will range from fear and alarm to anger and, perhaps, xenophobia or bigotry. Why should we expect our reactions to be any different to those witnessed in France, England or the United States? Continue reading