Clark Shoots Messenger

A tape of Helen Clark’s speech to a journalism conference in which she criticised the media has been released after an Official Information Act request by a member of the public and the intervention of the ombudsman.

On the tape, Clark is severely critical of journalists for their alleged lack of knowledge of world events, historical context, and “letting the facts get in the way of the story.”

Shouldn’t the criticism be for not  letting the facts get in the way of the story?

She claims TV3 political editor Duncan Garner had told a seminar that “politicians always lie”.

“I’m sorry, politicians don’t always lie. I’m quite appalled by that statement. I think it’s important that scrutiny is not confused with cynicism,” Clark said.

Of course politicians don’t always lie, but Garner says what he actually said was that the first instinct of politicians when cornered was to lie.

Clark says there are large gaps in journalists’ general knowledge, and in geography, sociology, and economic matters.

“Very few journalists have any comprehension of the range of relations New Zealand has, the range of issues New Zealand is involved in.”

Most journalists were too young to remember seminal events in the country’s history, she says.

“Today’s political editors of the two main TV channels were barely in their infancy, if born, when Norman Kirk brought the troops back from Vietnam, the Springbok tour, sent the frigate to Mururoa – events that to many of our age group were seminal events,” Clark said.

“Muldoon and David Lange are basically ancient history too and world war one and two are antedivulian.”

Lack of institutional knowledge in newsrooms is a concern but she’s got to remember that it’s not only young people who don’t share her memories of what she considers important. It’s 27 years since I started journalism and I don’t remember Kirk bringing the troops back from Vietnam – I would have been at high school at the time.  The Springbok tour happened a few months after I started work and I remember reporting on it, but it isn’t nearly as important to me as it obviously is to her.

Clark said trends in journalism included “making the story all about them”, a “rush to judgment” on blogging, a refusal to send journalists on overseas trips, and competition that was leading to inaccuracies.

“There wouldn’t be a day go by when something isn’t just plain wrong,” she said.

There are journalists who blog but not all blogs are journalism and not all rush – some of us take a carefully considered path to judgement 😉

I’ll concede that mistakes happen too often and it must be frustrating – but sometimes it’s not the reporting that’s wrong when it doesn’t reflect your own view.

Clark said New Zealand was fortunate to have a free media, however, and politicians still needed journalists as much as the media needed political news.  

Clark courted journalists when she became Prime Minister, and she got a pretty gentle run for a time. Now they’re reporting a different view of the world from hers and she’s taking it personally.

[Update: Karl du Fresne has another view on the media here]

17 Responses to Clark Shoots Messenger

  1. hp: Sorry…I have to side with Clark on this one. I wanted to be a journalist and trained to be one 30 years ago. But the expeirence of training to be one put me off ever practicing. The need to sell newspapers overrides the need to report what people need to know. The views of the publishers and editors shape what people are allowed to hear about.

    Last week we saw the example of BOTH the Herald and the Fairfax newspapers making a nanny-state issue – *erroneously* – out of the danger to dimmer switches that CFLs were (wrongly) claimed to represent. In fact, there are high-efficiency altrnatives that work fin with existing switches. But even worse, they completely obscured the fact NZ will not have to build 3 Project Aquas thanks to the power thus saved AND we all collectively save $500 million.

    You bought into this, too…..just one more “swift boat” slur from a media collective aparently determined to make good into bad….and bury that good that can’t be made bad – like the fact that 17,456 people are now on the unemployment benefit – a 30 year low. But not worth reporting?

    Sorry….The media have done a resoundingly poor job and these are just two examples form the past week. There are others, but you probably lack time to read them I to write them.


  2. Tonight’s Campbell Live was about a woman with rats in her roof and a pair who lost 50 kgs…..pathetic waste of air time.


  3. homepaddock says:

    My opinion on the lightbulbs had nothing to do with the media – I don’t like compulsion.

    It’s not a reporter’s job to report what people need to know – it’s to report the news which may or may not be what people need to know.

    Never once has my journalism been influenced by a publisher or editor – except in a positive way when one of the latter pointed out a better way to write. One of the benefits of foreign ownership is that they’re too far away to influence content.

    The media isn’t perfect, journalists get things wrong, and TV in particular has a liking for banality; but generally they do a difficult job well and most of the time they get it right – i.e. correct, as opposed to not left:).

    I didn’t see Campbell Live but given the concern about obesity (and more nanny statism over food ads) I’d have thought a story of 50kg weight loss might be topical and may even be inspiring.

    Rats in the roof though – that’s not news here, it happens all the time.


  4. Ed Snack says:

    Steve, Steve, Steve, still running interference for Labour. Let’s face it, in that speech, Clark simply confirmed her(mis)quote. She singled out a comment by a reporter (Garner), flat out lied about what he said, while complaining that reporters think politicians lie ! Well, as far as she is concerned, they’re quite right. Clark lies, not all the time but often enough that she is quite untrustworthy in general terms.

    And HP has it quite right, Clark got a “dream run” with the media for years, mainly I suspect because of the strong tendency for most reporters to be of the left. There was little scrutiny and government press releases were accepted as gospel, something you still sometimes see. Whereas, as you should know, press releases from all politicians are exercises in spin and are aimed at obscuring rather than clarifying. The press is finally not acting like labour poodles, and somehow this represents a problem ? Sunlight is, IMHO, a great disinfectant.

    I see the “Swift Boat” meme is being used by many leftist commentators, almost like it was in the “official” memo that is distributed telling them what to say (and in case you don’t get it, /sarcasm). However this is simply a textbook case of a projection bias, as the tactic labour has settled on for this campaign is a personal and vitriolic attack on John Key, presumably for having the temerity to challenge the “popular and competent” encumbent.


  5. poneke says:

    Lack of institutional knowledge in newsrooms is a concern but she’s got to remember that it’s not only young people who don’t share her memories of what she considers important. It’s 27 years since I started journalism and I don’t remember Kirk bringing the troops back from Vietnam – I would have been at high school at the time. The Springbok tour happened a few months after I started work and I remember reporting on it, but it isn’t nearly as important to me as it obviously is to her.

    Vietnam and the 1981 Springbok Tour are seminal events of modern New Zealand history. Any journalist, even ones born after them, should be more than familiar with them; they helped to shape the New Zealand we are today, and they were massively controversial events at the time.


  6. truthseekernz says:

    hp: I want to consume media that DO make some attempt to prioritise the news stories of the day, the issues of the week, month, year and era. I have NO interest in rats in anyone’s roof or women who lose a lot of weight. These are trivial things that would be lest left to a news web site for trivia for people concened with trivia. They do not need to be on the main evening current affairs program watched by 500,000 or whatever people.
    I do not know what area of journalism you worked in. It doesn’t matter.

    The proprietors do not have to tell editors what to write if they hire the right editors. We see this most clearly at the Dominion Post. Lord Beaverbrook, Rupert Murdoch, Conrad Black and Robert Maxwell all explcitily employed this simple method of filtering political news and commentary. Book have been written on it and the evidence of our own eyes confirms it.

    You reject compulsion. What sort of compulsion? We have speed limits because excessive sped on the road kills people. Smoking is being discouraged and maringalised because it kills people and we all have to pay for the extra medical resources smokers consume over longer periods and their health fades. Incandescent bulbs are being phased out because it will save us three Project Aqua’s at $700M each….and also save us all a collective $500m in power charges. That is over $2.5 BILLION in savings.

    Sometimes, you can’t wait for the selfish people to “get it”. They never will. They don’t want to. See my post today on “unfounded belief”.


    ” She has close friends, she said, who still refuse to believe her when she swears Obama is Christian. Then she hands them the books, and they refuse to read them. “They just want to believe what they believe,” she said. “Nothing gets through to them.”


  7. JC says:

    Interesting that Clark offers Vietnam, the Springbok tour and Mururoa as her “seminal” events.

    All three, of course, were social events and had little to do with the running of the country, good governance, the economy and our position in the world. They are clear indications of the essentially frivolous nature of our politics and our approach to the material well being of citizens.

    That light headed and emotional approach is also why the Labour Coalition is in the crap now. The things it will be remembered for are pointless environmentalism, the EFA, anti-smacking law, spin doctoring, politicization of the Public Service and demonization of sectors of our society.. somewhere I hear a ghostly cackle from out of Clark’s seminal past.



  8. homepaddock says:

    Poneke: I studied NZ History at Otago and chose to do another paper while studying journalsim at Canterbury even though my previous study meant it wasn’t required.

    Of course I know about the Vietnam War and its significance and I remember being in Wanaka, taking down a tent when the news came over the radio that is was over. But Clark specifically mentioned Kirk bringing the troops home and I don’t remember that.

    I’m not denying the importance of the Springbok tour in our history either -just saying it didn’t make the personal impact on me that it did on Clark.


  9. JC says:

    HP. The reason you don’t remember Kirk bringing the troops home is that Australia and NZ removed their troops in 1971, two years before Kirk came to power. The US officially ceased operations in January 1973 and troop levels by then were down from a high of about 500,000 to 150,000 and dwindling rapidly.

    There may well have been troops that came home in the early Kirk years, but they were remnants exiting under an older established plan that he may have sped up.



  10. poneke says:

    Kirk’s main contribution to “the troops” was actually his abolition of conscription as soon as he took office at the end of 1972.

    Yes we had conscription in the Vietnam era, though conscripts were not sent to Vietnam, unlike the case with Australian and US conscripts.

    Holyoake did not have much enthusiasm for America’s war in Vietnam but felt obliged to join in because of American pressure, so he ensured we contributed the smallest possible contingent.


  11. homepaddock says:

    JC & Poneke: I referred to Kirk bringing the troops home because that’s what Clark was quoted as saying in the speech. Wasn’t she the one criticising Key for his grasp of history?


  12. Inventory2 says:

    Correct JC – the Holyoake/Marshall National government started the withdrawl of NZ troops from Vietnam, although Clark is half-right about Kirk. He came to power in November 1972, and one of the first things he did as PM was to bring the REMAINING troops (of whom my eldest brother was one) home. But when you’re half-right, you’re also half-wrong!


  13. JC says:


    Yeah, I had a bit of a giggle about that. However, that in part is what I meant about frivolous politics because we get tied down arguing about diversions. Vietnam, Mururoa and the Springbok tour are buzzwords from the past that are thrown up as cover and explanation for todays pacifism, environmentalism and cultural diversity. They are a nice counterpoint to 2nd WW heroes, motherhood and leaving the door unlocked when you left home.

    Dear God, we fight elections on such stuff! 🙂



  14. […] posted  on this yesterday and a couple of commenters said Kirk didn’t bring the troops home, that […]


  15. poneke says:

    JC & Poneke: I referred to Kirk bringing the troops home because that’s what Clark was quoted as saying in the speech. Wasn’t she the one criticising Key for his grasp of history?

    I am not sorry, I do not get into party politics and have no time for it.

    What is important to me, as a journalist for more than 20 years, is that journalists have a good grasp of our history, so they can give context to what is happening today. But most don’t. And that is deplorable.


  16. homepaddock says:

    Truthseeker: You think the media is biased, I don’t. That doesn’t mean they always get it right nor that they are always balanced – and I agree with you that TV in particular confuses news with pap. But on the whole they do a good job untroubled by influence from owners or anyone else.

    I accept that sometimes compulsion is necessary – but unless it’s a matter of life and death or public safety not usually as a first resort.

    It’s also bad politics. If they’d taken a little time to warm us to the idea of saving power so simply it would probably have sold itself as it is we resent it.


  17. homepaddock says:

    Poneke – I appreciate your comments on journalism and agree on the importance of journalists – and everyone else – understanding history.

    I happened to see a political angle in the history lesson but was not intending to link you with the politics.


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