In the aftermath of the Shane Taurima controversy Television New Zealand is requiring reporters to divulge their political affiliation, membership and other political party activity.
To be honest I thought the criticism of Taurima because of his political beliefs was overblown. The TVNZ review found no evidence of bias. Specifically it described Taurima as “a talented long‐form interviewer who grew in the role as the year progressed. He was well prepared, polite and calm. His questions were often based on specific research conducted by the programme, or by other credible sources, such as the Law Commission and BERL. His questions came from across the political spectrum. In each instance there was a justification for the questions he was asking.”
People with an interest in politics will naturally be attracted to the job of reporting. They also have rights to hold their own political beliefs and of freedom of association so why shouldn’t they be allowed to belong to political parties. It is not as if they hold an especially sensitive position such as the head of the GCSB where political involvement in the selection process should raise alarm bells.
The subtext of the attack on Taurima is that the political media is somehow left leaning. A cursory glance at the comments at Kiwiblog or Whaleoil will show that on the right there is this utter conviction that the capitalist media is somehow a hot bed for socialism and is intent on undermining the right. Anything short of obsequious regurgitation of National spin lines is regarded as some sort of heresy. On the left we just hope reporters do their job properly occasionally.
The Herald’s John Drinnan has been commenting on the issue with some insight. His latest column points out the inequity of the situation. A reporter can be fearlessly doing their job properly without favour yet not be allowed to be a member of a political party. But someone with clearly conservative views such as Mike Hosking is allowed to not only hold those views but express them publicly.
As Drinnan puts it:
The TVNZ political purity drive unmasks an anomaly.
While current affairs people are not allowed to align themselves with political parties, presenters such as Mike Hosking are allowed to give their personal views, as long as they are not a member of a party or an activist for one.
In fact, Hosking is the “elephant in the room” when it comes to TVNZ’s reputation as an objective political observer.
He wears his conservative politics on his sleeve and TVNZ has given him influence over what gets shown on Seven Sharp, says a source familiar with the show’s workings.
Spokeswoman Georgie Hills says TVNZ accepts that most people, including journalists and presenters, will have some political opinions.
“Over the years it has become more common to hear personal views expressed by presenters on more conversational style news programmes like Seven Sharp – and up to a point we accept that as well.”
Which is probably handy, because Seven Sharp with Hosking and Toni Street rates well and delivers more advertising revenue than it did last year.
“You have to draw the line somewhere and we draw the line at active membership of a political party,” says Hills.
We are talking about the State broadcaster here. If political reporters are not going to be permitted to be members of political parties then people such as Hosking should not be allowed to express their clearly held right wing views, even if it is good for advertising revenue.
Paul Henry is the strongest example of political bias. The former National Party candidate has a world view which many of us find obnoxious. And it seems to me that he has engaged in the repeating of National attack lines.
And John Key recently attacked Linda Clark claiming that she had been providing media advice to David Cunliffe. I have no idea if she has or not but I had always regarded her to be scrupulously fair and sharp in her comments.
The big issue is the use of pundits to provide commentary on current events. The right is well served by the likes of Matthew Hooton, David Farrar, Cameron Slater, Bill Ralston and a number of others. The left have struggled. A recent top class performance by Robert Reid has been marked by his complete disappearance from media events since then.
The overall impression that I have is that the right are busily attempting to silence any reporter or commentator they think could help the left, and are doing their best to make sure that important media positions are held by people perceived to be more sympathetic to the right.
The Herald came out with an editorial on the issue claiming that “partisan politics and mass media journalism do not mix.” I laughed when I read this because the Herald’s pro National bias is clear to see.
The danger is clear to see. If holding strong left wing views requires your silencing then the media will only reflect a corporate right wing world view. Perhaps this is the intent.