Saturday, May 23, 2020

Dr Steve Elers: News turns fake when facts give way to untruths, hyperbole

On Monday this week Newshub’s Tova O’Brien was quick to announce the results of the Newshub/Reid-Research poll of 1000 people with her statement: “It’s official: Jacinda Ardern is New Zealand’s most popular Prime Minister in a century and Simon Bridges is hurtling into political oblivion.”

OK, one out of two isn’t bad, but now I’m starting to realise why — according to a recent Stuff report — O’Brien has been copping a lot of abuse on social media.

I’ve already addressed in an earlier column how political journalists’ questioning of the prime minister during the daily briefings were disappointing, so let’s not revisit that.

Instead, let’s focus on this fake news that Ardern is the “most popular Prime Minister in a century”, which was also picked up by other news media in New Zealand and overseas.

Kudos to Stuff who obviously covered the poll but didn’t fall for the “most popular prime minister in a century” myth. Someone at Stuff is fact-checking the propaganda — give that person a raise.

Do not be fooled: Ardern is not the “most popular Prime Minister in a century”. Although on Monday evening and Tuesday, the NZ Herald had followed this “most popular Prime Minister in a century” line, by Wednesday it had started questioning it and came to the conclusion that “there were no opinion polls before 1974” and Newshub had carelessly compared its latest poll to a century worth of election results.

Well done NZ Herald — questioning the obvious two days late is better than not questioning it at all.

Although, the book Public Opinion and Polling Around the World: A Historical Encyclopedia points to 1971 – three years before the NZ Herald’s date.

Whether it’s 1971 or 1974 doesn’t matter because what matters is that political opinion polling was not around in 1920. Therefore, Ardern is not the “most popular prime minister in a century”.

According to NZ Herald, the Reid-Research poll has only been around since 2009. Perhaps we can say Ardern is the “most popular Prime Minister in the last decade”? Ah… not quite.

The NZ Herald went on to say that former prime minister Sir John Key had consistently polled around 60 per cent in its Digipolls and he had reached as high as 73.3 per cent back in 2014, which is significantly higher than Ardern’s current 59.5 per cent.

The definition of a century hasn’t changed. So, what has? The credibility of news media — that’s what. Reuters, Forbes, The Guardian, and many other news media outlets from around the world all ran reports of Ardern as the “most popular prime minister in a century”. That’s fake news, folks. Why? Because it isn’t true.

And if the news media are meant to hold the watchdog role of society by questioning and holding power to account, but instead fly the flag for power and spread fake news, who then holds the news media to account?

Full story

Steve Elers is a senior lecturer at Massey University’s School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing who writes a weekly column for Stuff on social and cultural issues. 

1 comment:

KP said...

Social media and non-mainstream media holds them to account. Any believers in the mainstream journos will have died off in a decade or so, and mainstream's abysmal trustworthyness will die with them.

Newspapers and TV are outright propaganda units, they only exist to give people a laugh and something to google to find the truth about an item.