Heather du Plessis-Allan: Unfashionable government criticism must continue

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Mon, 24 Aug 2020, 4:34PM

Heather du Plessis-Allan: Unfashionable government criticism must continue

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Mon, 24 Aug 2020, 4:34PM

In the last few weeks it’s become fashionable to criticise the media and commentators for questioning or critiquing government actions and decisions. 

Seems to me this has ramped up the closer we get to the election.  And at the weekend, Newshub’s investigative reporter Michael Morrah spoke about the backlash he’s copping, especially after he broke the story a couple of weeks ago that only a third of border workers had been tested, despite the government assuring us they would be routinely tested.

Since then, he’s been accused of all kinds of things: propaganda, slurs, clickbait and conspiracy. 

He’s not alone.  I’ve seen this vitriol directed at a number of working journalists for asking tough questions of Ashley Bloomfield, the Prime Minister and the various ministers fronting the 1pm briefing. 

There is, also, a certain kind of vitriol levelled at commentators, and that includes myself I don’t mind admitting. 

I’ve even seen it said that criticising government decisions is not a “team approach” which is clearly another way of suggesting critics are not part of the so-called team of five million. 

This is not a plea to go easy on the media or commentators.  Quite frankly, we should all welcome criticism in the same way that we ourselves want to be able to criticise authority.  That is how a healthy democracy works, so bring on.   

But, I want to defend the right of media and commentators to criticise government decisions and question authority.  We are in the middle of one of the biggest challenges to face the world the world in a long time.  I mean that both economically and health-wise. 

This is arguably a time when we need a contest of ideas more than ever.  And we cannot allow ourselves to fall into a trap of thinking that there is only one way to approach this pandemic, or that our authorities are being completely straight up with us at all times. 

We have a string of occasions where they haven’t been straight up, or have said they’re doing something that they’re not: 

We were told day three and day 12 testing in MIQ facilities was happening when it wasn’t 

We were told routine testing of border workers was happening when it wasn’t 

We were told there was no flu vaccine shortage when there was 

Questioning or disagreeing is not a sign that people aren’t on the team.  If anything, caring enough to question is an indication that people are very much committed to the country’s effort, to forcing the government to stay on its toes, and to constantly improving our response. 

I can promise you this: on this show we are not going to shut down debate because debate is currently unfashionable.  We are going to bring you opposing views from all sides. 

You don’t have to agree with what I say.  My opinion is no more important than yours.  I won’t always get it right, so hold me to account in the same way I want to hold the government to account. 

But shutting down debate because someone thinks what’s being said is not the “team approach” is not going to happen here.