Gordon Campbell on John Banks, and blogging’s merits

It is hard to feel sorry for John Banks. Sorry, I’ll start that again. It would be easy to feel sorry for John Banks in his current sorry plight…unless and until one re-reads the passage in David Fisher’s excellent book The Secret Life of Kim Dotcom about his abandonment of a friend in need. There was Kim Dotcom, languishing sick in prison in need of help and/or even just a hand of friendship – but at that very point we find that Banks, who had taken Dotcom’s money and happily availed himself of Dotcom’s hospitality during the good times, has chosen to take his phone off the hook, and has left Dotcom in the lurch. Because that seems to be just the kind of guy he is. Everything we’ve learned about Banks confirms that impression – of a man willing to throw his grandmother under a bus if it would save his own political skin.

Something more than John Banks’ worthless hide is now at stake though, in the wake of this week’s court ruling that he should stand trial for electoral fraud, allegedly committed during his 2010 mayoral campaign. Any honourable person would have resigned from Parliament – or at least stepped aside from casting any votes in Parliament in the interim – once the privately launched legal action began to get traction in the courts. Moreover, any honourable government would have refused to rely on Banks’ discredited vote to pass its legislative agenda, and especially the SkyCity casino legislation at the heart of the court action, where a clear conflict of interest existed with regard to Banks. Instead, the Key government has been willing to rely on Banks’ vote in Parliament, and will continue to do so in 2014 for as long as it conceivably can.

For that reason…. the Act Party is hardly in its death throes right now, as some have suggested. Banks may be a political zombie and the Act Party may be the Walking Dead, but they can still bite democracy in the neck, and leave nasty flesh wounds. Supposedly, the court action against Banks is being expedited and could be heard towards the end of the first quarter of 2014. In the meantime and belatedly, John Key should be refusing to accept Banks’ vote on any government legislation. If convicted, Banks would probably not go to jail. A conviction for knowingly filing a false local government expenses return carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison or a fine of $10,000. Even so, maybe we should all sign a citizens initiated prison pledge right now, promising that – unlike what he did to Dotcom – we will all go and visit him in jail, if things should turn out that way. Its the least we can do for John. If and when he’s in prison stripes with a ball around his ankle, he needs to know that we’ll be there for him, with a basket of cookies.

Blogging, Slater Etc
Talking of legal action, the libel case against Cameron Slater has shone the spotlight this week on the professional merits of the mainstream media vs the blogosphere. In his ruling on the case, Judge Charles Blackie has famously chosen to depict bloggers in a pretty poor light, versus the traditional media. That invidious comparison came to mind again on Tuesday, when RNBZ media commentator Gavin Ellis spoke glowingly about prize-winning sports columnist Paul Lewis.

Can I very quickly give a bouquet to the Sports Journalist of the Year, Paul Lewis ? Very perceptive column in the Herald on Sunday about why so many cricketers battle depression. This follows of course, Jonathan Trott’s recall from the Ashes. He says cricket is not a team sport, and tells us why. I thought that was a very good column. Its good to see this, isn’t it ? Its good to see this [being] drawn out. …Yeah.
Indeed. Great to have the issue aired again. Except the blogosphere in New Zealand ran a far more extensive account of the same issue (i.e. about the causal links between cricket and depression) over two years ago. This was in a Werewolf story that kicked off with an interview with New Zealand players representative Heath Mills about the adequacy of the official response by our cricket authorities to the onset and treatment of depression among top players. It cited at length (with links) the views and experiences of English players Marcus Trescothick, Michael Yardy and Geoff Boycott and of New Zealand pace bowler Iain O’Brien, and quoted from an eloquent piece written for Cricinfo by Australian opening bat Ed Cowan. It also cited an analysis written decades ago by the great Caribbean writer C.L.R. James about the nature of cricket and the upsides of the peculiar stresses it imposes on players. This isn’t (merely) a case of blowing one’s own trumpet. It has been a bad week for bloggers, some of it self-inflicted. Even blogs like The Standard for instance, have been all too willing to depict their relationship as being one of dependence on the mainstream media. This is not true of the wider blogosphere, which is at times ahead of traditional media in reportage, as well as in its editorial analysis of issues. The relationship is a symbiotic one, not parasitic.

Evidently, the media industry is proving slow to catch on. Here is someone – apart from the team on Mediawatch, Ellis is our leading media commentator – citing a two years behind the story example from the mainstream media as illustrative of prize-winning calibre work deserving of special mention. At the very least, it suggests that Gavin Ellis needs to read a bit more widely.