Newly minted Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has elected to drag the issue of media bias firmly back into the limelight less than 24 hours after being sworn in as part of the country’s new coalition Government.
Firstly, let us not beat around any bushes – the contemporary media in this country detest Winston Peters. He represents to them a last symbol of the kind of vintage kiwi politician that this enlightened age of progressive reporters has largely hunted to extinction.
It may even be unreasonable to bemoan them for hating him. He ruthlessly and indiscriminately chastises them any chance he gets – to the dismay of some and the giddy delight of others.
The question is – who’s to blame for this relationship breakdown? Does the media have a point when it questions the integrity of a deputy Prime Minister that barks his personal disapproval of the nation’s state broadcasters in his first day on the job?
Or is it Mr Peters who is justified in his condemnation of the media for continuing to ignore a declining public trust that is underpinned by the PIJF and instances of biased reporting?
Either way, it’s clear from Peters’ most recent stand-up that the media will need to quickly adapt to Mr Peters’ newfound political prominence if it is to extract anything of value from their often-fiery interactions with him.
On Tuesday evening, media lingering outside the new Government’s swearing-in ceremony were greeted by Mr Peters with claims of biased reporting and faltering independence from the previous government.
The media did not take kindly to this at all. That evening, Newshub responded to these claims of biased reporting with perhaps the most biased report of a politician’s comments I have ever seen. Point to Winston.
The coverage consisted of Newshub’s Political Editor Jenna Lynch standing outside Parliament bleating about how ‘unbecoming’ she thinks it is for a Deputy PM to undermine public confidence in media.
Firstly, that Jenna Lynch dislikes Winston Peters, or any number of other prominent figures who are old and male is not ‘news’ in that it is not surprising, insightful, or even particularly relevant.
Second, it is not the Deputy Prime Minister that has undermined public trust in media…
Since accepting money from the government in exchange for “Commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi”, media in this country have been held in increasingly disdainful regard by a growing portion of the population. Whether they view that perspective as ‘becoming’ or not.
Rather than addressing these concerns and working to regain the public’s trust, the media lectured them for spreading ‘disinformation’, and then did it again…
In 2022 TVNZ and Stuff accepted $500,000 between them from the Government in exchange for a number of programming and print deals, including an hour long 1news special on climate change, five news articles on 1news.co.nz, a selection of interviews with climate experts on Breakfast TV and a 7 Sharp interview with a government official.
All of these were presented as news content, none of them were adequately marked as government advertising. To quote broadcaster Mike Hosking at the time ‘if that isn’t media corruption, I don’t know what is’. The story received almost no coverage other than this comment.
The media’s mistake, in my estimation, lies not in signing up to PIJF and other deals, and thus formally accepting the government’s view on issues like the treaty and climate change, but rather in failing to adequately acknowledge how their readers and viewers felt about it.
And they’re still failing at that. After branding the aforementioned deal with the Government as ‘media corruption’ last year, Mike Hosking this week referred to Winston Peters’ claims of bribery in media as ‘categorically not true’. Is he forgetful or has he had a change of heart?
Going further still, Former Prime Minister Chris Hipkins went on TVNZ – who agreed to present government messaging on climate change as news in exchange for money, and suggested Peters could be ‘breaking the law’ for commenting on media independence.
The fact is this ‘deny, deny, deny’ attitude is an industry wide affliction at the moment. You’d be hard pressed to find a media commentator in the mainstream that hasn’t come out swinging at Winston Peters' comments, or blindly defended the persisting arrogance of their profession in the face of free-falling public trust in it.
There is ample evidence of faltering journalistic integrity in our media over the past 6 years. This article does not contain anything that hasn’t been publicly admitted to by government officials or published in the public domain by the relevant players.
The eligibility criteria for the PIJF is published in full by NZ On Air. The deal between Stuff/TVNZ and the Labour Government was confirmed by former Energy Minister Megan Woods in May of last year.
It’s all there in black and white. There are no cover ups. There is no conspiracy. The fact that the Deputy Prime Minister made accusations relating to this publicly available information is not what is undermining public trust in journalism or democracy, as the former Prime Minister and Newshub spuriously claim.
What is undermining this trust, is their own astonishing stubbornness and inability to accept that the actions of their executives and editors have led directly to the negative perceptions they continue to fight so vociferously to dismiss.
Ben Espiner produces the breakfast show on The Platform. He has a BA in Political Science and English Literature from Victoria University of Wellington. This article was originally published by ThePlatform.kiwi and is published here with kind permission.