Monday, September 8, 2008

Diverse and free media under threat, not just from Helengrad

Matthew Hooton has sparked off fears that Dear Leader plans to introduce controls of the media should Liarbour win a fourth term.
That Liarbour was able to introduce the 'chilling' Electoral Finance Act without any recourse to the ballot box just fuels the fears.
And Hooton backs this up with a range of comments from government figures.
But there are other threats to a free, diverse and independent media.
First of all, let me say that for a small county with a small population New Zealand is blessed with quite a diverse range of publications on a population basis. We have a population more akin to a large English county and yet we have a nationally-based range of titles.
However, that the population is so small means we tend to have a monopolistic model of one city having just the one paper. So Christchurch has the Press, Hamilton the Waikato Times, Auckland the Herald and so on.
It all means that so as not to alienate readers they take a soft, safe and centrist/liberal left line. We don't have the duopoly you see in Australia where one paper backs Labor and the other the Coalition, nor do we have the diverse range of papers you see in Britain, with opinions represented from the Communist Morning Star to the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail.
Thus, we in New Zealand don't get the robust debate the Brits and the Australians enjoy.
Many papers seem to go for a 'don't scare the horses' approach, just like John Key, so it was brave of Granny Herald to take the stance it did with the Electoral Finance Act.
Of course, there may also be a part to the Kiwi psyche that we don't like rocking the boat and upsetting people. Not so the Australians or the Brits, including me, a blunt Yorkshireman.
Indeed, I have even heard it said that my bluntness or 'outrageous' views may even have hampered my career in New Zealand.
So in a small country, where everybody knows everybody, it is so easy and tempting to toe the party line, rather than court controversy.
So be nice to the government and you may well get a job in the PM's press department or some government ministry. That Cate Brett has left the editorship of the Sunday Star-Times for a job with former Liarbour leader Sir Geoffrey Palmer just highlights this. There again, should we get a government whose views tie in with mine, then I too might go for a government communications job. We all have to pay the bills somehow.
And this is where a free and independent media is under greater threat; the growth of public relations, especially in government. The Ministry of Social Development is famous for having 54 staffers in its comms team. This is probably more journos than in the largest of our papers. The Ministry of Health will employ more journalists than there are specialist health reporter across New Zealand. So whose views on health will we hear more of? But the government's!
And all these comms people need to justify their positions somehow.
More recently I have come across a trend that for some of the government employees I need to talk to for some of the trade titles I work for, are no longer allowed to talk direct to the media. You must go through the comms department first and quite often you are asked to email the questions, which will be answered eventually once the answers have gone past the comms team.
We are not talking Earth shattering stories here, nothing to bring down the government, but I guess the ministries are keen to avoid the embrassment that bad news might bring.
And then we have the state of the media itself.
As mentioned earlier, I said government will have more journalists than the media. It is probably the biggest employer of journalists in New Zealand now and this trend is set to get worse.
Fairfax Media has announced jobcuts, I think APN who own the NZ Herald announced some last year, and there will be small cuts that never make the papers. This morning one of my editors told me he had been ordered to impose costcutting, so he won't be able to us me as often as in the past and I had better find another source of income.
Thus, the dumbing down of the media will continue. You think our press is light and fluffy now, that there is no investigation into government corruption, well, it will only get worse. The media will rely more and more on media releases, with the biggest source of them being government! How much corruption has already happned and passed us by because the existing media lacked the resources to investigate properly? And with government a major advertiser, if not the biggest, perhaps we don't want to offend our greatest advertiser too much.
Of course, the media is losing its 'rivers of gold' of classified advertising and readers too are departing. Some are going online instead, while others see the paper's of having 'nothing in them' so this leads to more costcutting and the spiral of decline continues, even if on a revenue/profits basis, some of our newspapers are the most profitable enterprises around.
Are the owners, typically overseas-based , a little too greedy and thinking of making a short term fastbuck as opposed to nurturing their products for long term survival?
With journalism increasingly lagging behind on the payscales it tends to be the more activist 'change the world' journos that linger in it. The more money orientated will move on to better paid professions like public relations. And seeing 'bad employers' in the media as I have on some occassions, it will make even the most apolitical shift leftwards and my own experience at the hands of one or two publishers has made me more centrist on employment issues as opposed to other matters.
So you see there are already many factors threatening a diverse and free media in New Zealand.
Such forces have been in train for many years an Dear Leader should take comfort she has benefitted for some of the most tame and psychophantic media imaginable. Many journos were reportedly gaga with excitement some years back when Dear Leader gave them her cellphone number and her charm offensive worked.
As for the Sunday Star-Times, you could even imagine Cate Brett sending over the pages herself, waiting for Dear Leader or Heather Simpson to tick them off before they head to the printing presses!
Indeed, Liarbour sees media manipulation as central to its re-election, which is why Dear Leader has a press team as big if not bigger than Gordon Brown. And Dear Leader's comments show how 'control' or acquiesence of the media beast is essential too.
That is why she is upset when a big player like the Herald dares to disagree, it is why Cullent threatens tax reprisals too. Such a hatred of differing views from the left is confirmed by Chris Trotter's comments on the Listener and its new apparant rightist leaning.
So, yes, talk of a secret agenda for Helengrad to control the media does not surprise me. It might sound horrifying but in some ways we are already there, but it means National can use the situation to its advantage too. But I would guess with all those lefties in government comms roles, National just might find things a little harder to get its message out there.
Now, we have heard how the government, which National foolishly supported, in banning satire in parliament, which represented another unprecedented attack on freedom, was again delivered in some secret agenda, without recourse to the ballot box.
Which brings me back to the Lstener.
You might recall a mock front page Whale Oil created in recognition of the Poles, whose equivalent of the Economist cruelly poked fun at German PM and the twins that were running Poland at the time.
Well, I thought it was time to reuse the pic, while we still can.


Anonymous said...

Since when has Helengrad's agent to control the media been "Secret"

the EFA isn't a secret

stacking the BSB & censor's office isn't secret

the plan to abolish the press council & amalgamate it with the govt controlled BSB isn't a secret

the plan to apply BSB regulations etc to internet & blogs isn't a secret...

poneke said...

You are a disgrace, putting pictures like that on your blog.

And you bleat, moan, whine and wonder why no media organisation will employ you.

Nor will the Nats. They would not want to be associated with a pornographer.