Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Steve Baron: The Media - Watchdogs or Lapdogs?
Over-the-top sensationalism is another concern and now appears to be becoming the cornerstone of journalism in an attempt to maintain their ratings. Take TV3 News for example. In my opinion this programme persistently blows stories right out of proportion and often tries to make something out of nothing in order to grab the publics attention to out-do their opposition, TV One News. This is a shame because the reason I started watching TV3 News quite some years ago was the youthfulness and enthusiasm their reporters showed, compared to the boring and mundane style of TV One News at the time. This all adds to a loss in the media's credibility.
Economic reality is also attacking and weakening the Fourth Estate. Any newspaper Editor who is totally honest will tell you that bottom-line profits are the main priority for any modern media company. Without profits media companies cannot stay in business and therefore cannot report the truth and the important issues the public needs to know about. However, media critics will argue that profits have now become more important than the public interest. Media ownership has also become very concentrated and media conglomerates have started to dominate. Journalists are now experiencing immense pressure to change what they write. A survey in the 2007 edition of the Pacific Journalism Review found that more than half of those interviewed felt that newsrooms had been pressured to do a story because it related to an advertiser, owner, or sponsor. More than two thirds of all journalists thought commercial pressures were hurting the way news organisations do things. American political activist, Professor Noam Chomsky, sees the media as one big propaganda machine. He argues that the media does not like to rock the boat any more, because taking 'flak' from subscribers and advertisers is too expensive.
Cost cutting is the religious cry in media companies today and this is also having an effect on investigative journalism. It is simply too expensive to have a reporter focusing on one story for any great length of time, when a number of different stories could be produced. This makes the media more and more reliant on official sources for content and many news stories are little more than slightly reworded official press releases. Most political parties, government departments and other organisations now employ the services of media 'spin doctors' and public relations consultants. This has made the job of journalists far more difficult because these people can have control over access to high profile people and information.
Most newspaper Editors will tell you they would love to double their reporting staff to allow them to produce more comprehensive and informed articles, but this is not possible when newspaper subscriptions are dropping and the media have been forced to spend extra money promoting and developing online newspapers which seriously undermine their subscription base. This is a catch 22 situation for newspapers. If they do not embrace online media this will leave a gap in the market for entrepreneurs to exploit, so therefore newspapers cannot afford to ignore this area, even though the cost is horrendous and reporting staff are cut to help reduce costs.
Perhaps there is no real need for concern as New Zealanders have now become far more educated and far more informed on important issues than ever before, through other channels. Although the media may tell us what to think about—they do not tell us how to think. To believe the media has that power, is to have a lack of faith in the collective wisdom of your fellow New Zealander. While there will always be those who are highly influenced by what they see and hear on the TV News and in their newspapers—your average New Zealander is far more intelligent than many give them credit for, in my opinion. All of the concerns raised above are sad for journalism and sad for democracy, but regrettably, a fact of modern life. It has however led to suggestions that the media have become lapdogs of special interests and the wealthy—rather than the watchdogs of society.
at 2:20 PM