Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on Dotcom, and recent events at Scoop

January 16th, 2014

The apparent resignation of Alastair Thompson from Scoop – there seems to be some dissent as to whether he has resigned or gone on sabbatical – was triggered by the release of information about his involvement with Kim Dotcom’s Internet Party. If his exit does prove to be permanent, this would be a sad way for Al to end his leadership role at this site. Scoop has been the flagship for alternative journalism in New Zealand for nearly 15 years.

I’ve personally known Al for over 20 years, since he walked in off the street while I was acting features editor at the Listener, and handed over a piece of well-researched journalism into the noise problem at Wellington Airport. Then as now, Al seemed to be a born journalist: curious, idealistic, and impulsive enough not to second guess whether something could really be done. Al just went ahead and did it, somehow. That impulsiveness has now come with a cost. Some of the fallout from his involvement with Dotcom has been at a personal cost for Al, some of it damages Scoop’s reputation. Obviously, this incident has not been helpful to the role envisioned for Scoop by its new investors.

Scoop has always struggled, financially. For much of its existence, it has had to rely on the willingness of the extended Thompson family to keep it afloat. Just before Christmas, Al informed me of his intention to get involved with Dotcom, and added that – understandably – strong misgivings were being voiced within his family about the wisdom of him doing so. At his request, I wrote an outline of the pros and cons for Scoop of his decision, which I did knowing that his decision was a fait accompli, and that the rationale would be used only to try and ease family tension. Ironically, many of the family’s initial misgivings have proven to be well founded.

For those of us connected with Scoop who watched the debacle unfold yesterday – and like everyone else, we did so by reading about it online – the details were alarming. It is painful to draw attention to them because Al’s entrepreneurial drive has been essential to sustaining Scoop as a forum of ideas ; but equally, it is impossible to condone a media outlet signing up the domain name of a political party, while reporting on political events. Al was an associate member of the press gallery. He also had an administrative role with Scoop that required him to generate new business for the site. Some hats that would be shared around in a traditional news organisation were worn by Al alone: such are the economic realities of Web publishing. These multiple roles always had the potential for conflicts of interest in both the political and business coverage.

For a news outlet however, a political client is not just another business client. Especially in an election year, any potential conflicts had to be identified and dealt with beforehand in a way that maintained the necessary distance. Instead, the boundaries in this case were actively blurred.

The domain name registration was indefensible. Left unaddressed, it would have been the sort of thing Scoop would normally seek to investigate and critically expose, if it were being done by anyone else. When that same political party also took out substantial advertising on the news site that has just registered its domain name – preparatory to launch – then the proximity became intolerable. One of the worst things about the situation is that Al’s resignation – assuming that it stands – was almost redundant. It was agreed that he would have been stepping aside anyway, if (a) he went through with his plans to become involved with Dotcom’s party and (b) if Dotcom’s own plans to launch a political party hadn’t fallen apart before then. As things stand though, it is now a moot point whether the unacceptable blurring of boundaries could have been addressed by bringing forward (by a few days or weeks) Al’s stand-down from his role as Scoop editor. The belated emergence of the news about the domain name registration made yesterday’s instant action necessary, and inevitable.

And what of Dotcom’s political party ? Assuming that it does eventuate – and this column will report on it fully once it becomes certain that the Internet Party does not disintegrate before launch – such a party has made a change of government its declared aim. To that extent, Dotcom has the potential to split the existing anti-Key, centre left vote – in much the same way that Ralph Nader did in the 2000 US election – without either winning an electorate or crossing the 5% barrier, nationwide. If so, a significant share of the centre left vote would be wasted. No doubt, Dotcom has foreseen that risk. One can only assume that he believes he can attract large numbers of new voters – most of them young, some of them in south Auckland.

To that extent, Dotcom’s efforts could arguably run in parallel with Labour’s announced plans to mobilise that pool of 800,000 non-voters nationwide, many of them resident in south Auckland. Dotcom certainly has the resources and contacts to wheel in hip hop /EDM artists who would get the attention of young voters way beyond the capacity of Labour and the Greens. Whether he can transform a dance party into a political party still seems a big call however, especially given the need to reach a 5% threshold. Much rests on pure faith that new high calibre political activists would somehow magically emerge out of the woodwork.

Moreover, the party name and scant details released to date suggest that Dotcom intends to focus almost exclusively upon Internet freedoms. In doing so, he seems willing to outsource the boring old political stuff – you know, like having a credible health policy or economic policy – to Labour and the Greens. If so, he cannot hope to have much pull with the libertarian, National leaning voters who might share his zeal for Internet freedom.

Because so much of the Internet Party looks like a toy and vanity project for Dotcom, the likelihood is that such a party will function – at best – as only a voter recruitment vehicle that by mid year, will have lost its ability to amuse Dotcom. Especially if and when the polls are indicating by then that the Internet Party hasn’t a hope of (a) winning a seat or (b) reaching the 5% mark that would make its “kingmaker” role anything more than delusionary. At which point, Dotcom may think that he can throw his imagined legions behind Labour or the Greens. If that’s Plan B, he’s dreaming. The likelihood is that the only lesson that Dotcom will have given to the kids of south Auckland is the one that they’ve already sussed out : never trust a politician. It is distressing to think that Al Thompson may have thrown away so much, for so little.


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    1. 21 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on Dotcom, and recent events at Scoop”

    2. By Andrew R on Jan 16, 2014 | Reply

      Where is the evidence that Kim dot com and the internet party would align with labour and the greens. There might equally be an alignment withthe original ACT ideology.

    3. By clairbear on Jan 16, 2014 | Reply

      I think the wealth gap in NZ and elsewhere in the world is increasingly becoming a Technology Capability gap and that these young internet savvy people have more attributes of a right leaning government than a left leaning one.

      They want smaller government, less regulation, the freedoms to do what they want, they want to cross international boundaries.

      Sure the spying legislation is something they don’t like, and they may lobby to do something about that.

      But a LabGren government will not follow their ideals, of smaller, less regulated government, giving them the freedoms to go and make money, they will not want to give up their elite position in the fastest growing area of wealth creation, they are the group that will inherit the position of the baby boomers over the next 10 to 20 years, they are the new right.

      The question is – when will they realise they are the new right and move from being young and rebellious to taking their earned position in the world.

      These are the people that aspire to Facebook, Google, Amazon, netflix, and gaming, not the group that aspire to Whitcouls, Woolworths, scheduled TV broadcast and board games.

      But it will certainly be an interesting political journey this year.

    4. By Kat on Jan 16, 2014 | Reply

      “They want smaller government, less regulation, the freedoms to do what they want, they want to cross international boundaries”

      Well guess what Clairbear, that sure ain’t the attraction with the Nat/Act party.

    5. By Port Hills Pete on Jan 16, 2014 | Reply

      Why would any intelligent and self-respecting left wing activist join a political venture with this obese poser, with his net worth of $200million gained from dubious sources, his outrageously ostentatious lifestyle including palatial property complete with pet giraffes, the pink Cadillacs, Lamborghinis etc and for when he’s really in a hurry the helicopter (which is also handy when he blows half a million on a fireworks display), and his convictions back home for 11 counts of computer fraud, 10 counts of data espionage, insider trading and embezzlement among other offences, and whose first political action in this country was to donate $50,000 to John Banks???

    6. By Chris on Jan 16, 2014 | Reply

      Aside from the obvious fact that this article was written by a sore bear, I’m saddened to see that these two men can’t see each other’s ideologies. The last line of the article says it all. “It is distressing to see that Al may have thrown away so much, for so little”
      I see it the other way around. Merely spending time talking about the ruck doesn’t particularly solve anything. If there is a figurehead that stands for something fundamentally different, doesn’t that provide a scaffolding for new ideologies to be built that represents the average person. What happened to “for the people.” I’m not usually attracted to New Zealand politics myself. (Seems that John Key isn’t either… After his recent shortened conference on e new Gcsb paradigm but seeing someone with radically different ideologies really really really excites me. My generation realise hopefully that there’s a small group running the show for themselves even here in little young New Zealand, and that something positive can be done to change that. You don’t have to wear a tie to have good ideas. Like the article, that should be taken the other way by Gordon. Change the periscope. Listen to younger people. You won’t hear anything. But perhaps this time next year, you might. I think Al Thompson has taken a calculated hedge knowing that he may well be onto something that really could change the way the world works. Fun duh mentally. Neo-classical ism has eaten itself from the inside. The next generation can see the opaque light as the worms start turning on each other. We want to plant a new tree to save this earth, each other, and our own. Kim Dotcom, we salute you! For no matter how many refugees you may be hiding in your black beret, you and all your shonky millions can breal open the hive like a dart. So people with proper ideas get attracted to the light of change. Like all the modern empires before, plutocracy in all it’s form is to be slowly reformed through combinations of people ready and willing to make change. Gordon Campbell, I know that this Kim Dot techno party boy is larger than life, but that’s what we really need right now so people can see behind his messiah fetish to see people who are not the messiah but really are. Even if he’s not allowed his party, we all know why. When he’s in parliament, he’ll be able to though.

    7. By mpledger on Jan 17, 2014 | Reply

      The “Internet Party looks like a toy and vanity project for Dotcom”

      But other toy and vanity parties have created havoc so why not this one. It would be the biggest laugh if Dotcom can screw over John Key and Banks after they’ve tried to screw him over.

    8. By Morrissey Breen on Jan 17, 2014 | Reply

      “Dotcom has the potential to split the existing anti-Key, centre left vote – in much the same way that Ralph Nader did in the 2000 US election….”

      That statement concerns me very much. You seem to be buying into the Democratic Party line of blaming Nader for “spoiling” Al Gore’s chances in 2000. Of course, it was not Ralph Nader who told Gore to pointedly stay away from union meetings, to continue the anti-Cuban rhetoric and to express his endorsement of the regimes in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Israel (amongst others). As Nader himself pointed out, he gave Al Gore a program, and Gore and his ingenious “strategy” team were free to take as much of it into their own campaign as they liked.

      Similarly, the Labour Party could take up Dotcom’s entirely mainstream views–free and open internet, freedom from government and corporate snooping and censorship—and get all those Dotcom supporters voting Labour. It’s up to Labour, of course—but if they choose to ignore what Dotcom’s saying, they have only themselves to blame.

    9. By gunther on Jan 17, 2014 | Reply

      Gordon, what is Al’s motivation for doing this? What does he hope to achieve?

    10. By Laurence Boomert on Jan 17, 2014 | Reply

      NZ has a history of seeing new smaller parties hit 20% – Social Credit, Bob Jones’s party, NZ First
      The Pirate Party in Germany was hitting 15%. The Italian comedians’ party was No 2 for a while. All power to Alastair in this new endeavour which could fly high. Hope the change process inevitably works out all good for Scoop. Dont get too serious Gordon – at this time on the planet only the long shots are going to save our asses if at all and Dotcom has already done more to ruffle JK & his nefarious corporate cohorts than most.

    11. By Thomas on Jan 17, 2014 | Reply

      One thing is sure, Dot Com is a dangerous man. Anyone working with him will know that, thanks to John banks & his selective memory. Consider it in reverse as a strategy: $50k is nothing to someone with millions, and yet thats all it cost to get Banks out of politics. Maybe the same (with a few extra zeroes) could work with Key…

    12. By Laurence Boomert on Jan 17, 2014 | Reply

      I say go Alastair – go Dotcom, anything to save us from tired last century left right drivel and dour greenisms. This has balls – this has potential – this is 21st Century. This is worth a shot. so tired of all the poltical depression in new zealand Right equals sell everything to big biz – Labour equals spending middle classes tax dollars on lefty causes while selling out to big biz. Greens sanctimony and hairy rses. Go Team Dotcom

    13. By John Wellington on Jan 17, 2014 | Reply

      Dot Com may be anti-Key, and not without good reason, but to welcome him as some sort of ally or armament to oust John Key at the next election would be naive in the extreme. What this country needs, as does every other, is principled and ethical politics to guide us through the revolutionary issues of global warming, environmental degradation, the degradation too of citizenship and society’s damaging increase in inequality and relative poverty. This will include bolstering socially responsible and visionary sovereignty and a determined undermining and dismantling of the present neoliberal ascendancy. If anyone thinks Kim Dotcom could do this, that he possesses the necessary ethics and principles we desperately need, then they must be living in the same virtual world that Kim Dotcom seems to live his life in.

      I know almost nothing about Alastair Thompson, but what has happened is very sad, and must be so disappointing for all those others that work for and contribute to Scoop. Truly independent journalism hasn’t existed the mainstream media for a very long time – we can’t afford to lose the few lights of alternative thought available to us.

    14. By Joe Blow on Jan 18, 2014 | Reply

      I’m surprised Joyce hasn’t approached Dotcom about becoming the new Act party leader…

    15. By Joe Blow on Jan 18, 2014 | Reply

      This country really has just become another play thing for the stinking rich…

    16. By Fern on Jan 19, 2014 | Reply

      Until the method of casting our vote changes, I can’t see many of the 800,000 ‘missing’ voters getting involved. Having been a dutiful voter for decades, I am used to our archaic voting system, but even I find it bizarre that in the 21st century I still have to trudge down to the scout hall to make my mark on a piece of paper, just as my parents and grandparents did.

    17. By Laurence Boomert on Jan 19, 2014 | Reply

      Were my two upbeat posts censored out bcoz they were in support of Alastair & the Internet Party – Scoop thats sad

    18. By Cass on Jan 21, 2014 | Reply

      Libertarianism all the way! No good has come of authoritarianism and it’s time to let people be, to set people free … (wait, there’s a rap in here)

    19. By Morrissey Breen on Jan 21, 2014 | Reply

      Fern, that way of voting is still the best, as the thousands of disenfranchised would-be voters in Florida would tell you.

    20. By ScoopEditor on Jan 21, 2014 | Reply

      apologies, we are a bit behind in keeping up with approving comments

    21. By Danyl Strype on Feb 4, 2014 | Reply

      >> Fern, that way of voting is still the best, as the thousands of disenfranchised would-be voters in Florida would tell you. <<

      That's right Fern, thousands of people in Florida were denied the right to punch themselves in the head. How could you question the importance of ritually punching yourself in the head every 3 years when told to by the government?

      After all, we wouldn't want actual democracy to break out, where people gather in assemblies and make decisions about their communities? Now would we? Or some kind of crazy internet platform where country-scale policy was stress-tested and gradually improved like a piece of open source software? Wait…

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