In July 2009 I was approached by Colenso BBDO in regard to an advertisement they were doing for DB involving the 1958 ‘Black Budget’. They explained they wanted to promote the contributions of Morton Coutts, the man who – among other things – sometime earlier invented the continuous fermentation method of brewing beer. (He deserves to be in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography; he is not there, having died in 2004 at the age of 100 too late to be included.) Apparently he created DB Export as a response to the higher excise duties of the Budget, although the details of what exactly happened are murky.
They asked me to talk on the impact of the budget on domestic sales. Many years ago I had looked at this issue in my Consumption in New Zealand, and come back to it over the years. Later they asked me to comment on Arnold Nordmeyer the Minister of Finance who delivered the budget. I explained that although I may not be the country’s top expert on him although I had written about him in The Nationbuilders, and just read the recent biography by Mary Logan. We decided to go ahead with him too, to reduce the number of interviews.
Treating it as a standard request from a journalist I prepared for the interview by checking some of my earlier writings and refreshing my memory on others’ writings about Nordmeyer. I cannot remember for sure, but almost certainly I reread the 1958 Budget, and possibly some other material on it. I do remember I prepared some graphs and data on the impact of the higher excises on alcohol consumption.
The video interview was held in the family room in the house, and was pretty straight forward as I recall – or rather I dont recall, so it must have been straight forward.
Later I received an email from Colenso BBDO thanking me for the contribution, saying they put two minutes of an edited section of the interview on the web, and offering me a fee which I declined, saying ‘I am happy to leave my contribution in the common domain, as if it were a news interview’. What I was avoiding, was some notion I was a paid performer for an advert.
When the advertising campaign came out, I paid it so little attention I dont recall it, nor what it was saying. Some people approached me about my contribution. I checked the video (http://dbexportbeer.co.nz/The-Untold-True-Story/video-gallery.aspx). Obviously it is edited and does not cover everything I discussed. For instance, one person complained that I said the tax hikes were ‘severe’; perhaps it is not clear in the video that I am talking about a far wider range of taxes than those on beer. The main omission from the interview is that all references to the excise duty hike contracting volume consumption of beer (and tobacco) are omitted. (Perhaps it is relevant to mention here that I have long argued for excise taxation to regulate the social costs of alcohol misuse and tobacco use, probably more than any other economist – at least in public, for who knows what goes on in Treasury.)
Apparently there were some problems with the advertisements. I am unable to judge them because I have not seen them. Some complaints were made to the Advertising Standards Authority who on 11 February, 2011 announced their decisions, upholding some and rejecting others. (See http://www.asa.co.nz/decisions_to_media.php#top, decisions 10/677, /695, /696, /697, /707, /726, /746 and /765.)
On occasions somebody who does as much public comment as I do will end up in productions which are subject of complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, the Broadcasting Standards Authority or the Press Council. That is a risk one takes. Making a contribution does not mean one agrees with the editorial approach or conclusion, nor with the content from any other contributor. To require that would severely limit the open debate which New Zealand so desperately needs.
Whether the production is complained about or not, my responsibility is confined to what I say and the accuracy with which my contribution is reported. I need also to be careful that the producer and production platform are of appropriate standard, although making that judgement is much harder.