Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ron Smith: On fruit-loops

One of the weaknesses in the New Zealand democracy is the extent to which the crucial media outlets are dominated by the political prejudices of the individuals who determine policy and conduct the interviews. Nowhere is that better illustrated than in the general fare on National Radio on a Sunday morning, and, specifically, nowhere was it better illustrated than in the cosy discussion of American politics between Chris Laidlaw and Victoria University academic, Jon Johansson, which occurred last Sunday.

As is all too familiar in many of these ‘discussion’ programmes the interviewer and the interviewee agreed on everything and, in particular on this occasion they agreed that the base reality of American politics is that one of the two main political parties (the Democrats) is led by persons of outstanding intellect and integrity and the other (the Republicans) is led by ‘fruit-loops’. They also agreed that the so-called ‘Tea-Party’ movement is largely composed of ignorant right-wingers, who may well be closet members of the Klu-Klux-Klan.

Of course, I understand that this is precisely the sort of propaganda that a President and party that is haemorrhaging popular support with mid-term elections looming, might engage in but it really does no service to New Zealand listeners, who might be wishing to understand contemporary American politics, to offer it as serious commentary. One also wonders what passes for education in the Political Science of Victoria University if Dr Johansson is at all representative of attitudes there.

It has been well-observed that the principle of ‘balance’ in public broadcasting is more often honoured in the breach than in the observance and this is another such example. It is not being suggested here that Jon Johansson should not have been interviewed at all but rather that, given he was interviewed, he ought to have been challenged in respect of his various assertions, rather than being treated with fawning reverence. Better still, knowing what he was going to say, there ought to have been some effort to find a commentator, here or abroad, who might have had something positive to say about the character and public service record of contemporary leaders of the United States Republican party and realistically appraise the party’s prospects in the November elections and in 2012. NZBC might even be able to find someone to assess the successes and failures of the Obama administration.

In a similar way, the education and political associations (past and present) of persons who are currently active in the ‘Tea-Party’ movement have been the subject of extensive investigation by pollsters. These studies seem to show that they are, by affiliation, Democrats, Republican and Independents and that, on average, they are better educated than the generality of American voters. At present they also seem to be a significant political force. Someone who could speak knowledgeably about this would also be worth hearing.

The actions and policies of the United States continue to be of enormous importance to New Zealand. It is important to understand what drives them and how they might change. This isn’t helped by the sort of self-indulgent parade of prejudice we were treated to last Sunday morning.


Mike Butler said...

Couldn't agree more. Gullible members of the public take the slanted views as gospel, pollsters question the public and record those views, politicians read the polls and enact policy. That is how we have got to where we are at today.

Anonymous said...

One doesn't need to look offshore nor confine listening to national radio to hear political bias. Popular talk back radio is rife with it.
Regrettably it seems that so called educated people are unable to conduct interviews while maintaining neutrality.

Brian Arrandale said...

A lack of balance in both Television and Radio interviews has been evident for a long while in New Zealand.
Apart from Sport, subjects from overseas are dominated by disasters and crime. One really has to wonder at the so called intelligence of the Fourth Estate.
Political Bias has become acceptable in New Zealand, when many "Interviewers" are more intend in promoting their views/image than anything relevant to the subject of the debate.