Mike Hosking's article in last Friday's Herald attacking the Labour Party and supporting the National Party raises some interesting issues in the light of some other relatively recent events.
In this context it is Mr Hosking's role as co-host of public broadcaster TVNZ's 7pm weekday programme that is relevant.
It is certainly not my intention to suggest that his role as a public broadcaster precludes him from holding strong political views and expressing them.
Rather the reverse. Mr Hosking has every right to the exercise of his opinions, providing he allows space for the actual news to get through (something not a few television reporters and others find hard to do).
But it does raise the issue of whether some of the moral panic and waves of media self-righteousness surrounding the outing earlier this year of Shane Taurima as a member of the Labour Party was fully justified.
True, Mr Taurima acted unwisely in allowing his office to be used for Labour Party meetings. His handling of the issue left TVNZ with little choice but to part company with him.
What followed though was a very different matter indeed. First there was the rather extraordinary trawl through his previous reporting to ascertain whether there was any evidence of bias, systematic or otherwise.
The report concluded that there was none, which was just as well. It is hard to imagine how far the board and management of TVNZ might have gone to undermine their political independence had it been otherwise. Had matters stopped at that point all might have been well, with far fewer long-term repercussions than a Judith Collins dinner or Rick Barker boat trip (to name but two of the great issues of our time).
But then the report's recommendation that media staff should not be allowed to belong to political parties was accepted by TVNZ amidst a veritable orgy of media self-congratulation that they already followed such a rule, thus demonstrating their impeccable impartiality.
Mr Hosking's article makes it clear how silly such a rule is. There are any number of people in the media who clearly hold strong political views (if one includes private radio, overwhelmingly of a right-wing variety). They may be as biased and impartial as they like as long as they do not belong to a political party.
Whereas if someone belongs to a party, but nevertheless maintains the capacity to take a reasoned and impartial position, then the latter virtues are overwhelmed by the taint of party membership.
There are a number of things wrong with such a position.
The first is that a vital, broadly based, strong democracy is aided by encouraging party membership. All our political parties, as in most democracies, rest upon too narrow a base of active membership. This disengagement only intensifies the prevalent cynicism about the political process which tends to become a self-fulfilling attitude, to the detriment of the general good.
The second, to repeat my earlier observation, is that all that is required to circumvent such a rule is to not to belong to a party. Then one may support its policies and views via the media with as much energy, skill, and venom as one can muster.
The third is that the rule assumes that because someone belongs to a political party they have become a mindless supporter and agent of all it says and does and equally mindless critic of whatever its opponents say or do. Yet anybody of reasonable intelligence who does belong to at least one of the larger parties knows how silly that is.
Of course there may arise conflicts of interest if a media person belongs to a party, but, as in business and elsewhere, this is best resolved by the fresh air and honesty of full disclosure rather than by the undercover bias and dishonesty encouraged by the current norms.
After all, given his clearly expressed views, will Mr Hosking now be seen as appropriate to moderate political debates during the election campaign or to undertake interviews of the party leaders? My answer is yes: he has in effect declared his bias and so, in my view, his performance in such roles can be judged by a public armed with the necessary knowledge.
Yet, were Mr Hosking to follow his apparent inclinations and join the National Party, he would be debarred from such roles. This is, in a sense, a sign of an immature democracy which cannot cope with legitimate political differences and allegiances. If such a rule comes under re-examination as a result of Mr Hosking's article he will have done us all a much bigger service than he intended.
Michael Cullen was the deputy leader of the Labour Party from 1996 until November 2008.