John Gerritsen: War correspondent for the Times

John Gerritsen: War correspondent for the Times

Russell: New Zealand

July 1845

Confidential document on New Zealand Wars

Documents from the Colonial Office have come to hand detailing a battle fought recently between Lieutenant Colonel Despard leading the 58th and 99th Regiments (Royal Marines), and Maori allies (Tamati Waka Nene) – and a rebel Maori forced led by Te Ruki Kawiti.

The New Zealand Wars were occasioned by some Maori, notably the tempestuous Hone Heke who has cited a number of grievances as his motivation for transgressing the recent signing of a treaty with the Crown. The rebellion has been joined by the chiefs Te Ruki Kawiti and Pene Taui. The Crown has expressed its determination to return the colony to peace and the rule of law.

In regard to the latest development in the New Zealand Wars, Kawiti, it seems, agreed to fortify the Ohaeawai Pa.

The British troops arrived on 23 June, established a camp 600 paces away, and commenced musket firing and bombarding with a four-gun battery.

A 12-pounder was placed part way up Puketapu Hill to fire down on the Pa.

Colonel Despard walked up to this placement to assess the effect its firing would have on the Pa. Colonel Despard heard a commotion behind him and looked around to see British soldiers and Waka Nene’s men running down the hill, having been dislodged by Kawiti’s men.

The Union Jack captured from Waka Nene was taken back to the Pa and flown upside down at half-mast.

Colonel Despard had his men charge the Pa. The charge was unsuccessful with 33 killed and 66 injured.

Colonel Despard decided to abandon the siege.

Then, on the morning of 8 July Kawiti and his men were also to abandon the site.

The New Zealand Wars, the paper shows, were estimated to cost two-and-half million English pounds, but by reducing the pay to the soldiers, this has been brought back to less than two million pounds.


This posting is to complain about 25 years of abysmal media coverage of education matters.

The only reporter of any insight has been John Gerritsen, now with national radio – but relative to his ability and his freedom context, even he is something of a disappointment. Which is what this posting is specifically about.

A fair-minded consideration of education today would conclude that the political leadership, bureaucracies, and attendant bureaucracies (STA, NZCER) are best understood as combining to form an unrelenting propaganda machine. Nearly everything issued from these sources is, at best, only partly the truth, and intentionally so. Because nearly all academics are entangled with government contracts there is no untainted research. And the use of the concept of provider capture means that any individuals associated with the government must have indicated beforehand by silence, sign or action – acceptance of, conformity to, the government’s ideology.

One of the difficulties for reporters is the sheer scale and intensity of propaganda. Every government statement is a lie or a distortion meaning that to continually chase down those lies or distortions is a hugely wearying task. The reporter would also be branded as irredeemably anti-government and find him or herself out in the cold. But if you are a reporter, that is your vocational burden and responsibility. First of all though, the reporter has to be able to recognise propaganda as such, and John is the only reporter in the New Zealand media capable of doing that. But he is disappointingly languid and uninvolved in response.

The effect of this propaganda is that the government has rigged things so real education outcomes don’t come out, meaning the government can get away with failed policies. Why bother with spending real money and implementing real policies when you can get much the same result by doing very little but playing politics.

Which brings me back again to the relative disappointment that is John Gerritsen.

John’s presentation of education news is only lightly and fitfully analytical. In observing the shower of propaganda raining down upon us, he seems to be looking on as if ‘he is a camera’. His failure to be analytically involved has to be measured against the government’s outrageous behaviour.

If he wants a model, it is national radio’s political reporter Brent Edwards. With Brent there is always a sense of engagement, not with one side or other, but with the issues. One listens with interest because Brent burrows fearlessly wherever his analysis is takes him. One also listens with great interest to Lois Williams, gracing Northland as she has for decades. Who in education doesn’t love her, respond to her heart-warming humanity?

The above is how I see John reporting on the Anglo-Maori Wars. There are dramatic events but all we get are flat tones and a determination to stay mainly on the surface. You can sense that the Ohaeawai events have a wider significance, but the report is no help.

I heard John the other day responding to information about IES, released under the Official Information Act. He had waited a year and a half to receive the information but this occasioned only very mild exasperation. For goodness sake John, that is a major issue in itself. The item was introduced by Guyon Espiner with that infuriating practice of using a simplistic mantra to describe government policy but never coupling it with the main objections to it. (The Ohaeawai mantra equivalent is in the second paragraph of the report.) John then referred to what the information had to say about the government motivation for implementing IES; then to NZEI finding little overseas precedent for it; and, finally, to a whole lot on the reduction in costings. In other words, instead of going into a genuine analysis on the most pressing issue, about the lack of overseas precedent – it was a once over lightly. Overall, there was a feeling of going through the motions, when, with more engagement, the information promised a goldmine of insight.

There is a case to be made that the New Zealand education system is a failed one. Behind the propaganda of the bureaucracies and brilliant school-parent showman and woman-ship of principals, lies ailing primary school results and lack of intellectual challenge; the secondary school scandal of internal NCEA; and students being diverted from UE because of ill-preparation at all parts of the education system. I believe a Brent or Lois would have broken through the propaganda veil; John has not yet looked close to doing so.

Hence my little imaginary of John Gerritsen, New Zealand Wars reporter. He is the best reporter we have on education (so draw your wider media conclusions from that), but given the freedom he is allowed on national radio, he is an only average to OK when he should be consistently very good.

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1 Response to John Gerritsen: War correspondent for the Times

  1. Kelvin says:

    Dear Kelvin
    Thank you for this illuminating posting. I agree that educational reporting has been abysmal. I have also been greatly disappointed with Gerritsen since he moved to Radio NZ but could not quite work out why: your segment from New Zealand reveals it all: apparent objective comment with no analysis or fire in the belly. I find this so typical of those who currently want to comment on social matters.

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