Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ron Smith: Public service and public propaganda

There is a renewed campaign for more financial support for Radio New Zealand on the basis of a supposed public service it performs. In part, at least, this latter claim is based on a fundamental obligation to deal fairly with different interests in society, and, particularly with political interests as we run up to a general election.

The reality is rather different. National Radio offerings are frequently slanted to a particular point of view, either through the choice of topic, through the clear prejudices of the presenters, or through the choice of guests. For New Zealanders who want to see the full range of interests and views reflected in the broadcast medium, this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs and it does raise a question about the continuing support of such organisations, from the public purse.

The phenomenon was splendidly illustrated by Jim Mora’s ‘panel’ discussion of the release of the ACT Party’s List, last Monday (29 August). For the purpose, the panel was joined by a certain Scott York (described as an Auckland lawyer, or comedian, or perhaps both). Commenting on the ‘unconfirmed’ place at number 3 on the list (widely thought to be for former Act President, Catherine Isaac), Mr York suggested Ayn Rand, because of her Libertarian credentials but ‘they they wouldn’t want her because she is a women’. He also noted that she was dead. At this point, panellist Matt Nippert observed that Roger Douglas had been on earlier lists but ‘he had been dead for years’. In a topical reference, York also suggested ‘Hurricane Irene for the place on the ACT list, ‘because she is destructive, unpleasant and hated by all who encounter her’. At this point, the host, Jim Mora, weighed in. Maybe (he said) the place is being held for Colonel Gaddaffi, ‘an eccentric despot, trying desperately to prop up a failed regime’. Someone else added, ‘What about Pontius Pilate, he nailed up Jesus?’. In fact, the only thing missing from this mini-torrent of invective, was the suggestion that the unnamed place on the ACT list might be filled by ‘Hitler’.

Can we imagine that the party-list for the Green Party, or the Maori Party, would have been treated in this way? That there would have been no one, amongst the four on the panel, who would have had anything positive to say about either party? As it was, we were equally without anyone with the courage, or knowledge, to challenge the repeated assertion that ACT is anti-woman in its selection of candidates. A glance at the party lists for the new parliament in 2008 seems to show that the respective proportions of women in the three small parties were Green 33%, Maori 25%, Act 40%. On this basis, how is ACT anti-women? Of course, as Dr Goebbels would have assured us, truth plays no part in propaganda.

But this event was only the insidious tip of an iceberg of prejudice, which is destructive of our democracy, and about which the National Radio administration is in denial. On the day after the Mora panel discussion, National Radio’s ‘media commentator’ was interviewed late morning. He made no mention of this extraordinary (even by the standards of Radio New Zealand) discussion. There is also a ‘media watchdog’ programme on Sunday mornings. Perhaps they will discuss it? I’m not holding my breath! They are, after all, all on the same team and really the problem is institutional.

Of course, National Radio has a lot of virtues but it does need to clean up its ‘act’. It needs to insist on standards of balance and fairness in its treatment of politics and public affairs. If it can’t do this, it should lose its government support. Citizens will then need to support their own news and current affairs services, where they are able to insist on open debate. This wouldn’t be as good as a properly-functioning public broadcaster but it might be as good as it gets.

12 comments:

R Cressy said...

ACT was treated that way because they are a joke no offense intended. The data from 2008 is on a party that no longer exists. Some times it pays to step back and view things from a distance the truth can be revealed.

Sarah said...

Sorry to disappoint you, R Cressy, but yes, ACT is very much alive and kicking. And, yes, I am a woman.

Anonymous said...

What else does one expect from a leftie organisation?

R Cressy said...

Be careful as involuntary spasms can be mistaken for life.

ACT has changed so much it's name should be changed to at least differentiate the old from the new. It is more like monteiths beer it gives the impression that it's independent but it's head office is with DB. The new ACT is just a subsidiary of National even to the extent that most of the top candidates are national.

ACT's purpose is to use the MMP system in a way that gives National a few more seats and to provide a refuge for the more bitter national supporters.

Brash will have as much influence over John Key as the Greens had over Helen Clarke.

Now if Brash could work with Labour that would be power!

Brian said...

Most of the comments on Dr Smith's seem to have missed the point of his blog, that the BIAS in the New Zealand Media is widespread. Especially so, when one listens on radio or views these shows on Television on the prejudices of the presenters.
In panel discussions it seems that those from the left of the political spectrum clearly outnumber those from the right. In many cases having the last say!
Or, we get those one on one interviews; whereby the interviewer wishes and gets, his or her viewpoint over at the expense of those being interviewed.
This was clearly evident in the interview with Alastair Thompson when the female interviewer "selected" pieces from the whole interview thus distorting the public presentation. Probably in her or her programmer's estimation this would enhance the popularity of their program.
There is a fine old saying from the county I was born in which goes:-

"Where's there's MUCK lad, there's MONEY"
Brian

Anonymous said...

It would seem to me that we are all living a superficial life in a non democratic existence where all forms of media are subject to corruption and distortions.
Newspapers are now nothing more than "feel good" inoffensive and benign magazine gossip reporting and not really worth buying if one is searching for the truth, or answers to some hard political questions.
I recall an interview recently between Sean Plunket and John Key which could only be described as a mutual admiration societal gathering, with such blandiloquence that the salivation glistened under the studio lights.
Propaganda and lack of truth and substance is severely lacking in our society and John Key's admiration for Lee Kuan Yew's style can only increase the lack of transparency we are already experiencing.

jh said...

I wasn't going to agree with you untill your Act Party examples. Compare Act to the Greens: as Chris Trotter says if an Act member had said "I am very excited that we are moving into a more sophisticated era under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and we are moving beyond the limited concept of conservative Pākehā that one man, one vote is the only manifestation of democracy possible in Aotearoa.’
http://www.greens.org.nz/speeches/more-sophisticated-era-under-te-tiriti-o-waitangi

the media would have been all over them.

On the other hand commercial radio is dominated by commercial interests and while it would be a good idea if people got on their bikes you wont see bicycle advertisements for a long time yet.

R C said...

OK back to the subject.

Aside from the national radio the media we have is obviously the media we want as we get what we pay for. If we want we can remove national radio as they only cater to a select audience, being white left leaning.

This leaves us with the rest of the media as few listen to national radio I can only assume the rest listen to private radio and read news papers and watch TV all of these operate in a free market.

If no one reports comments like the greens about their wish to remove one man one vote it is most likely because it doesn't pay. If it doesn't pay then it doesn't exist.

Anonymous said...

I am more right wing than left and I cannot stand some of the aggressive interview styles never the less having radio new Zealand national is a necessary concession to democracy.
Commercial radio and television is a homogenised mix of blandness. Equating to nothing short of infotainment.
A realistic level of funding is I believe required

R. Young said...

This comment is rich coming from a university who failed to adapt to an invention of radio in 1922 and each university could have its radio and television station streaming live over the internet with archives on demand. It is the university that has let socity down badly. A place with the brightest and best but with a mute voice and deaf both ways to the public. Natioanl radio should be some thing to emulate and improve upon by the universities. New Zealand is uninformed not becuase of national radio best efforts but be cause university has a dunces hat on in the corner with an F grade. Shame on university for not learning how to read and write with technology and being unable to broad cast with radio, television and DVDs from video shops. University in New Zealand have failed the public and failed themselves. Perhaps university could be on ACT list at number three on the list. university is less than one percent on the party vote also. shame shame shame the university.

Gerard said...

The very nature of panel discussions is to give voice to a range of different personalities with differing political views. Which is why Mora's show frequently gives broadcast minutes to people such as Stephen Franks and Michelle Boag (if only you listened). In additional to other people with opinions you see no need to broadcast. This post is so biased I'd encourage to please not post again unless you have something insight to say.

Gerard.

Gerard said...

Hahaha and how funny it is to get the 'your comment will be visible after approval' and submitting a post.