To see ourselves as others see us

02/12/2020

When I read reports on Peter Goodfellow’s speech to the National party conference I wondered if the journalists and I had been at the same event.

All took the same extract where he spoke about the impact of Covid-19 on the political landscape. He gave credit where it was due but also spoke of the grandstand it gave the government and especially the Prime Minister, and he mentioned media bias.

The reports gave credence to the last point. From where I was sitting the whole speech, of which the extract was a small part, was well received by the audience. But all reports were negative, and many commentators said the listeners didn’t like it, which was definitely not the impression I got. Most were surprised, even critical, that Goodfellow retained the presidency given the election result.

None appeared to understand that the president wasn’t responsible for the self-inflicted damage by some MPs  nor that while party members elect the board it is the board members who elect the president.

They might have known that he had called for a review of the rules after the last election. They were not privy to the report on that by former leader Jim McClay which was delivered in committee,  greeted with applause and well received by everyone I spoke to afterwards.

But why would they let the positive get in the way of the negative if it fitted their bias?

Bias, what bias?

The non-partisan website Media Bias paints the New Zealand media landscape decidedly red.

The almost universal lack of criticism has been noticed by Nick Cater who said media ‘diversity’ is alive but not at all well in New Zealand:

. . . The media paradise Rudd craves looks somewhat like New Zealand, where inoffensive newspapers compete for drabness and commentators are all but united in adoration of Jacinda Ardern.

You’ll struggle to read a word of dissent in the four daily newspapers. Mike Hosking and some of his fellow presenters are prepared to break from the pack at Newstalk ZB, but that’s it. Retired ZB host Leighton Smith remains in the fray as a podcaster and columnist but, when it comes to broadcast media, Hosking is Alan Jones, Chris Kenny, Andrew Bolt, Peta Credlin and Paul Murray rolled into one.

If the columnist listened to Magic Talk he might add Peter Williams and Sean Plunket to those who challenge the pro-PM narrative. But these are few against the many whose reporting and commentary are rarely anything but positive about Ardern.

The only hint of irritation at the Prime Minister’s weekly press conference is that she isn’t running fast enough with her agenda of “transformational change”, the umbrella term for the righting of social injustices, including those yet to be invented.

Ardern’s decision to hold a referendum on the legalisation of cannabis was widely praised as another step on the path to sainthood. The proposal was rejected by 51.6 per cent of voters, prompting this exchange.

Media: “In terms of governing for all New Zealanders, you do have 48.4 per cent of New Zealanders who did vote for legalised cannabis.”

PM: “And the majority who didn’t, and so we have to be mindful of that, too.”

Media: “But you’ve promised to govern for all of those New Zealanders, including the 48.4 per cent who did … there is an appetite among an enormous section of the population for something. And obviously the referendum did fail, but it doesn’t mean … ”

Can we assume that because 48.9 per cent of Americans didn’t vote for Joe Biden, Donald Trump can stay in the White House? Or does the ballot only count when the left is winning?

Those with a more sophisticated understanding of liberal democracy than “Media” (the generic name ascribed to journalists in the transcript, presumably because they are all of one mind) may be feeling a little queasy.

A Prime Minister who tells voters she chose politics because it was a profession that “would make me feel I was making a difference”, and holds an absolute majority in the parliament’s only chamber, is an accident waiting to happen. An independent media should be the first responders in such circumstances, ready to erect barriers in the path of the Prime Minister, should she swerve across the line.

Yet the press pack are not merely on the bus, they are telling her how to drive it.

New Zealand’s small population and splendid isolation are part of the explanation for the enfeeblement of its media. Ardern’s sledgehammer response to the COVID-19 pandemic hastened the decline.

In May, Nine Entertainment let go of the newspapers it inherited from Fairfax, The Dominion Post, The Press and The Sunday Star-Times, for $1 to a company that goes by the name of Stuff. It seems like a bargain given the copy of the Post at the newsstand will set you back $2.90, hardly a vote of confidence in the future of NZ media.

Yet market size is only part of the explanation. It doesn’t explain why, for example, in a country split politically down the middle, 100 per cent of daily newspapers and virtually every TV and radio station stand proudly with Ardern.

We can only conclude that commercial logic no longer applies. Media companies are no longer driven by the pursuit of unserved segments in the market. It’s not the product that is faulty but the customer. When commercially minded proprietors leave the building, the journalists take charge. They are university-educated professionals cut from the same narcissistic cloth as Ardern. They, too, want to feel like they are making a difference.

With the collapse of NZ’s Fourth Estate it is difficult to see what might stop Ardernism becoming the country’s official religion. The National Party is in no position to offer effective political opposition. The party that reinvented credible government in NZ is bruised from two defeats, uncertain who should lead or in what direction it should head.

Intellectual opposition is all but extinguished in the universities, but still flickers on in alternative media, blogs, websites and YouTube channels, which serve as a faint beacon of dissent.

Is this what Rudd seeks? The last thing a country needs is a prime minister basking in applause who switches on the news and finds herself staring at the mirror.

Would today’s journalists and commentators be familiar with Robbie Burns who wrote:

O, wad some Power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as others see us!

It wad frae monie a blunder free us,

An’ foolish notion.

If they are familiar with these words, would they attempt to see themselves as others see them and accept that not only are most biased but that it shows in their work?


Question of the day

31/10/2011

A caller to Newstalk ZB this morning said he didn’t own shares and never would because they were too risky.

Leighton Smith responded by asking why, if shares in a company are so risky anyone would want the government to own the whole lot?


What’s happend to the gatekeepers?

18/04/2009

The media used to have gatekeepers.

They were the experienced people who used their intelligence and judgement to decide what was news and what wasn’t.

They knew the difference between what was in the public interest and what the public was interested in.

They knew the fact someone wanted to speak didn’t mean that others had to hear.

They saved people from themselves when a mistaken belief that telling their story would help might have done more harm than good.

It wasn’t censorship, it was discretion and events over the last few days have shown it’s a quality sadly lacking in our media.

What would a visitor to New Zealand have thought had they turned on television for the news on Thursday?

One of our neighbours is having a constitutional crisis, the OECD released a report on our economy, the Prime Minister was in China . . . and the lead item on both channels was a tabloid item about someone who used to work on television who’d admitted assaulting a woman.

 

Trying to find something to listen to while driving to Dunedin yesterday morning I found the issue leading Nine to Noon, and being discussed on NewsTalk ZB & Radio Live.

 

It’s also been given prominent coverage in newspapers and their websites.

 

We’ve got past the mistaken view that some violence can be dismissed as “only” a domestic and is best ignored, but turning the aftermath into a circus is almost as bad.

 

A report on the plea and sentence might have been news, saturation coverage of he-said-she-said isn’t. It’s merely prurience.


NZ 7th in world for press freedom

24/10/2008

New Zealand has moved up from 15th to 7th place in an international ranking of media freedom  by Reporters without Borders.

It’s hard to say exactly what that means because while being better than the absolutely awful doesn’t make you good, nor does being worse than the absolutely perfect make you bad.

However, by and large the media is pretty free in New Zealand which is something to be grateful for, and also something we should guard jealously.

Parliament’s move to stop TV filming anyone who was not speaking is hardly worth mentioning in the same breath as imprisonment of journalists who fall foul of the powers that be, but it’s still a restriction of media freedom.

The Electoral Finance Act largely left reporting and comment in the media alone, but Newstalk ZB may have breached the Act because of something said on a talkback. Again this is minor in comparison with restrictions in some other countries, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t justified in being concerned about it.

So while we can take some pride in our ranking, we should see it as an achieved or perhaps even a merit but there’s still work to be done if we want to get an excellent.

Update: Poneke reckons the ranking makes us a bastion of free press.


Another conference conversation leaked

09/10/2008

Barry Soper told Larry Williams on Newstalk ZB  that TV3 is going to play another tape of Bill English speaking at the National Party conference.

Barry said Bill was recorded saying something to the effect that elections are all about winning regardless of principles.

I find it difficult to believe that because Bill is a man of very strong principle.

It is possible to docotor tapes. And it’s not a coincidence that this was released the day after national released its tax policy.

The question is what else is on tape and when will it be released?

UPDATE: I’ve just listened to the tape on TV3 news, and it sounds like one of those statements which when taken out of context sounds bad, but as part of a conversation about the importance of winning is harmless.


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