TV3's recent primetime documentary on child poverty in New Zealand had exactly the intended effect. Viewers were aghast at the evidence of sub-standard housing and preventable illnesses such as scabies and school sores.
Anguished writers of letters to the editor wondered how this state of affairs could have arisen in a country once considered the best in the world for raising children.
In one respect, the viewer reaction was encouraging. It was a reminder that we are still a decent, compassionate society. The problem is, the programme represented a very one-sided view. Its message was that the welfare state has failed our poor and so it has, but not in the way that documentary-maker Bryan Bruce wanted us to think.
The welfare state is now part of the problem. Originally designed to tide people over in hard times, it has created a culture of long-term dependency, helplessness and entitlement. There is ample evidence that dependence on benefits, more than any other factor, causes the poverty trap that Bruce professes to despise. Yet the solution he proposes is more welfare spending.
The documentary ignored the risk that more spending on benefits and state housing would serve to make a welfare-based lifestyle look more attractive and end up trapping even more people.
Neither did Bruce concern himself with the inconvenient fact that more welfare spending increases the burden on the diminishing productive sector of an already weak economy.
Socialists never bother to ask where the money comes from; they are interested only in spending it. But consider this: New Zealand in 1972 had 26 working people for every beneficiary. Today that ratio is down to 7 to 1 (in fact 3 to 1, if you include superannuitants).
This was a disgracefully simplistic, emotionally manipulative programme, but fortunately not everyone was fooled. This newspaper published letters from people who had grown up in state houses and pointed out that the mould Bruce was so appalled by in some of the homes he visited could be avoided simply by proper ventilation in other words, opening windows.
But, of course, it's far more dramatic to present state house tenants as the helpless victims of Dickensian indifference and heartless, Right-wing politicians.
I agree with Bruce on one thing: child poverty is deplorable. But the problem is far more complex than this slanted programme would have us believe. A film-maker could just as easily produce a documentary proving the exact reverse of Bruce's thesis namely, that the welfare state and the culture of dependency it encourages are the cause of, rather than the solution to, the poverty and deprivation that Bruce finds so intolerable.
We agree with both Bruce and du Fresne; child poverty, and poverty in general are deplorable. And when du Fresne describes the issue of poverty as "far more complex than this slanted programme would have us believe", he's right on the money.
Thank goodness that du Fresne has had the integrity to buck the trend, and call this blatant piece of socialist propoganda for what it was. For such a biased piece of television to go to air, funded by the taxpayer, just days before an election was as deplorable as the issue it purported to highlight.