Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Ron Smith: Public service and public propaganda
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.
at 12:58 PM