A couple of nights ago Nicky Hager gave his Bruce Jesson lecture on “Investigative journalism in the age of media meltdown: from National Party Headquarters to Afghanistan”. It is well worth a solid read (hat tip to NRT– “well worth your five minutes” – clearly a much quicker reader than me!).
Hager reviews the state of politics in NZ today, the dominance and corrosive effect of PR spin, “multiple crises” in journalism, the “nanny state” meme, the dubious utility of the left-right spectrum, the “free market” reforms of the eighties, the decline of public participation in politics, nine actions that are needed for democratic renewal, youth participation in politics, the essential ideas of progressive politics, and the damaging belief in that left, right and center are in conflict. Phew! And that’s just in Part 1.
In the second part of his lecture Hager focuses on investigative journalism, it’s relationship to every day journalism, who does (and should do) investigative work, and the essential characteristics of investigative journalism. Hager concludes on an optimistic note, “truth is great and will prevail” (I wish that I shared his optimism).
The whole lecture is well worth reading, and I’m tempted to quote from it endlessly. But I’ll limit myself to one section, Hager’s nine actions for democratic renewal:
Here, quickly, are some examples of the government actions needed for democratic renewal; that is, for making it easier for citizens to have influence in politics and harder for money to.
1. Radically restructuring the public service, from the top down, into a genuine, independent public service;
2. the same for science;
3. radically restructuring universities as well, pruning the managerial levels and refocussing on students and academics;
4. reassuring people on public salaries of their right to be active citizens in their own time;
5. ending secret and anonymous donations in politics;
6. actively pushing back commercial advertising and messaging from public spaces;
7. strengthening freedom of information laws and extending them to Parliament and the courts;
8. requiring all central and local government politicians to declare their income, assets and tax paid each year; and
9. declaring that news media are an essential public good like education or police and introducing long-term funding and statutory independence for non-commercial television, radio and, eventually, print public news media. Independent public media are an essential defence against media and politics being filled with messages and agendas based primarily on ability to pay.
Some items on the list are clearly more important than others, but I for one agree with almost all of it. Oh for a government that would make it so.