Historian Michael Bassett  finds himself being purged by NZME for a newspaper column described as 'racist' by his political opponents.

THE FRENCH philosopher Francois-Marie Voltaire is popularly remembered for his defence of free speech, encapsulated in his well know view that he might disagree with what you say, but he would always defend your right to say it. He also put it another way: 'The right to free speech is more important than the content of the speech.'

In recent times this principle has been widely disregarded by a liberal 'cancel culture' that continues to rumble on. Apparently there are 'limits' to free speech and freedom is not as revolutionary socialist Rosa Luxemburg argued 'always, and exclusively, freedom for the one who thinks differently'. These days, if people don't like the way you think you might find yourself the subject of a 'pile on' in the social media.

Historian and former National Party politician Dr Michael Bassett has found himself being cancelled after a column he wrote for the Northland Age and published on the New Zealand Herald website was withdrawn and condemned as 'racist'. Publisher NZME now says that it will no longer publish any of Bassett's work. He is now regarded as an un-person by the publisher.

I haven't seen the original article but I think this is the same article that can be found on Bassett's website and titled 'New Zealand's Modern Cultural Cringe'. In it he takes aim at what he considers to be 'the bizarre craze' of embracing all things Maori at the expense of European culture. His complaints are many and varied.

As an historian, Bassett attacks the proposal for a revised school history curriculum which he thinks is being driven by those 'who want to downplay the huge significance of the arrival of European culture in New Zealand'. He's also not a fan of the appearance of more Te Reo in public life including what he claims is RNZ's aversion to broadcast plain English: 'Some Radio New Zealand reporters fall over themselves trying to conform to a ruling from on high that they should introduce themselves in Te Reo.'

Interestingly RNZ itself has made its position clear. An article on the RNZ website by the liberal Colin Peacock of Mediawatch is headlined 'NZME pulls racist article and bans Bassett'. So, without so much as a debate on 'The Panel' or a discussion with afternoon presenter Jesse Mulligan, RNZ has also judged the article to be racist. End of story. Peacock ends his report with  a quote from Kelly Jensen who took Bassett to task in her reply, also published by the Northland Age and the NZ Herald. Obviously Peacock thinks that she has got to the crux of the matter. Writes Jensen:

'Dismissing the revitalisation of Te Reo Maori and the inclusion of Maori culture as woke is an attempt at maintaining the status quo and one's own position of power'.

That Bassett may just be wrong in his views rather than just crudely racist doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone but, nevertheless, I don't think one column is going to change things, one way or the other .

And what Kelly Jensen has either not noticed or simply chosen to ignore, is that the status quo that she speaks of is busy embracing the revitalisation of the Te Reo and Maori culture that she is defending.
But under this new consensus, which seems to be the job of media organisations like NZME and RNZ to police, it is possible to embrace Maori culture and yet support an economic system that adversely impacts on working class Maori. As long as an issue like the revitalisation of Maori language and culture is arbitrarily separated from the reality of our capitalist political economy, organisations like NZME and RNZ - and individuals like Jensen -  remain as much a part of the economic and political status quo as Michael Bassett. Theirs is just a dispute about how that status quo should be run and what it should look like. It would be a mistake to think that the commitment to Maori culture represents a form of resistance to the free market and neoliberalism. It isn't.

Another observation by Voltaire is worth reflecting on: 'If you want to know who controls you, look at who you are not allowed to criticise.'


  1. Now that Bassett has been shown the door does that mean that the Herald will also stop publishing Mike Hosking's stuff? Or do different rules apply in his case?

  2. I wish you would do your research more carefully. Michael Bassett was a prominent Labour member of Parliament and Minister under the Lange Government. He was well know for his support of Rogernomics. He did advise Don Brash many years later but he was never a National politician.

    1. My mistake. But Labour and National politicians often all seem the same to me, probably because they are.


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