Covert’s the problem not overt

Maori broadcaster Julian Wilcox has no plans to stand for the Labour Party.

Maori TV said in a statement titled “Response to Media Speculation” that Mr Wilcox remained committed to his job as general manager of news and current affairs.

Chief executive Paora Maxwell said: “MTS accepts Mr Wilcox’s written statement and we will continue to value our editorial independence in providing impartial and independent news coverage of significant regional and national stories from a Maori perspective.”

Mr Wilcox was one of several journalists whose political ambitions or connections were questioned last week. . .

And a questions till remains – does he have any affiliation to or bias towards the Labour Party?

In the wake of the Shane Taurima furore, TVNZ has banned political journalists from joining political parties.

But as Karl du Fresne points out, the rules won’t eliminate the most troubling bias.

I struggle to accept that being a political journalist necessarily requires you to neuter yourself as a citizen. The crucial issue, surely, is how you do the job. Journalists should be judged on the fairness and impartiality of their reporting and commentary. It’s possible to be a party member and still be even-handed as a journalist.

I can think of relatively high-profile journalists who hold strong left-wing views in private but still manage to do their work with integrity, as the journalists’ code of ethics requires. There are also journalists and commentators (Paul Henry and John Campbell, for example) who quite openly lean one way or the other – but since their politics are no secret, viewers can decide for themselves how much weight to place on whatever they might say.

These are not the people who worry me. The ones we should really be concerned about are the journalists who hold pronounced political views that are not declared, but which permeate their reportage. There are a lot of them about, probably more than ever before, and they will never be controlled by arbitrary rules – such as TVNZ is now imposing – about declarations of political interest.

Last week news broke that lawyer and broadcaster Linda Clark, who is a political commentator for TV3 and occasional panelist on RadioNZ’s Afternoons, had been giving media training to David Cunliffe.

This wasn’t confirmed but du Fresne says she’s probably not the only one.

. . . If what I hear is correct, quite a few high-profile media figures have nice little undisclosed earners providing advice to politicians. In fact it’s an odd quirk of New Zealand politics that many of the commentators provided with media platforms for their supposedly objective views are hopelessly compromised.

If it’s fair to unmask Clark for grazing on both sides of the fence, then let’s complete the job by exposing all the others who are on the take. This could get very interesting.

It’s not the overt political leanings which are a threat to fair and balanced reporting, it’s the covert ones.

If we know the biases of journalists and commentators we can make an informed judgement on their work.

Without that knowledge we can only wonder.

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