This blog is from my column in the last Paekakriki Expressed. A local community run paper:

As such a recent addition to the village I feel humbled to add my piece to this final edition of Paekakariki Expressed.

This is the end of a unique and truly impressive exercise in local media and democracy by Don and Allie and so many other volunteers. I want to extend my congratulations and sincere appreciation to them for their contribution to the Paekakariki spirit.

It seems only fitting in this last column to write about participatory democracy, as this newspaper has played such an important role locally.

The Green Party policy on broadcasting notes that we have the lowest amount of local programming on television of any OECD country.

Four companies, all overseas owned dominate the New Zealand news media. There is a near duopoly of print and radio and a monopoly in pay TV and only three significant players in free to air television.

News-gathering and reporting has become more centralised , and the same stories are channeled into radio, television, the internet and print media. News reporting has become increasingly dramatic, emotive and sensationalized, as broadcasters compete for audience attention and advertising dollars.

As we are seeing with the inclusion of Takemore Trust and KCDC on the ‘Alliance’ which is overseeing the Sandhills Expressway the committee may have shifted from being the project management team to something more akin to an urban development corporation. In this model democratically elected officials are given an equal voice alongside the investment and building companies. This is also happening in Christchurch with CERA.

In Auckland and in discussions to create a Wellington Supercity we are hearing calls for larger more efficient councils with core services being put into business units, which is effectively a shift to representative democracy and urban development corporations.

At a national level this government has used urgency and side stepped the select committee process more than any previous government. Doing this they have again moved to a model of representative democracy and further away from participatory democracy.

In a recent media release the Human Rights Commission noted

“The lack of public participation in fundamental legal reforms is damaging parliamentary democracy, says the Human Rights Commission. In the past five years fundamental human rights issues such as the lack of public participation in submission processes, diminishing collective deliberation about fundamental changes, rushed legislation, the by-passing of select committees, and what appears to be less respect for submitters in select committee proceedings have been of concern, says Commissioner Dr Judy McGregor.”

There is a  trend in government at all levels towards models of corporate governance or representative democracy. In this trend though we lose our voices and any hope of nuanced decision-making and we are left only with the very blunt tool of general elections. With increasingly pressured and corporatised media we are left even without a watch dog.

Without community media we are in danger of not even noticing our democratic privileges have become a shadow of what we once knew. Thanks again Don and Allie for helping to protect our democracy.

 

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