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Media Bias & Democracy II: beyond 2 sides

Written By: - Date published: 11:56 am, January 22nd, 2013 - 51 comments
Categories: blogs, broadcasting, class war, david cunliffe, david shearer, democratic participation, labour, Media, news, radio, tv - Tags:

Democracy needs that news media that provide in-depth and well-researched coverage of a diversity of political perspectives, as I argued in Media Bias & Democracy I.  Attempts to ensure impartiality have been most often become a formula for presentation of two sides around a very small and shifting “centre”.  Traditionally the UK print press aimed for objectivity, while TV news and current affairs, led by the BBC, aimed for impartiality.  As Brian McNair explains in News and Journalism in the UK: A Textbook 5th edit (2009), these are impossible ideals, that should be aimed for, but will never be totally achieved.  As the UK Ofcom reported in 2007 (McNair, p37), the rules established a while back to ensure impartiality in the news, when media and communication technologies were less diverse, may now be counter-productive:

This may have fostered a middle-of-the-road culture in mainstream news. Views that do not fit easily within a conventional, two-sided debate can struggle to be heard, resulting in a discussion round a narrow perceived fulcrum.

In NZ and elsewhere, the increased corporate dominance of, and commercialisation of the news media since the 1980s has foregrounded “neoliberal” values of infotainment and individualism, further undermining objectivity and impartiality.  In the case of the main television news “impartiality” has long been implemented by a narrow idea of the “presentation of both sides of an argument”.  As argued by Stuart Hall back in 1976*, this has most often become narrowed into the default position of the two sides being associated with the perspectives of the two main political parties.  This creates a centre point, that becomes the neutral position, presented as natural, masking the way it is constructed. This is particularly true for coverage of contentious or disputed issues such as AGW/climate change.  And any views outside this centre point, to the left or right, are labelled negatively as “extreme”.

Various kinds of bias are evident in the MSM coverage of politics and current events.  This goes beyond just ensuring the presentation of two sides of an issue, and includes factors like:

  • selection bias (of issues to report on, as well as aspects of the issue selected)
  • the way each perspective is portrayed
  • the quality of evidence supporting each side of the debate
  • the influence of unnamed sources and interpersonal networks
  • editorial selections, changes
  • headline bias, and how it compares with content of the report
  • construction of the report (e.g. language, camera angles, editing)
  • how often an issue and/or view is reported (within one media outlet, or across several outlets)
  • inadequate fact-checking

The ratings driven values of infotainment result in individualised, headline-grabbing reports of human dramas and catastrophes.  These are most usually expressed in simplified narrative terms: crime, disasters, political conflicts (usually between politicians) etc. Little background is given to the political dramas so that policy issues get reduced to sound bites – the slicker the better.  We saw this in the coverage of the  2012 Labour Conference where the 2 sides were presented as a drama between Shearer and Cunliffe, mediated by journalists like Patrick Gower.  Cunliffe was asked for his position (so the non-partisan prescription of presenting 2 sides was covered).  However, presented within the infotainment format, Cunliffe was presented as the villain and Shearer the good guy.  This was aided by Team Shearer leaking their demonisation of Cunliffe to the media.  This view of Cunliffe was mostly presented uncritically.

Journalists did not do an in-depth and far-reaching investigation into what was happening at the conference.  Consequently the ground breaking democratisation and empowerment of the membership was marginalised, if mentioned at all.  The deeper and more significant story wasn’t about individuals that could be expressed in simple sound-bites.  It was about the will of the collective, the decades long frustration at the hi-jacking of the Labour Party by Rogernomics etc.

These days, the Labour caucus tends to create policy with the intention of firstly presenting it to the MSM.  They talk to potential voters through this filter. Some party members, and left blog posters and commenters are now contesting this.  This is the sign of a significant shift, resulting form worrying changes in people’s circumstances, in these uncertain times. The result is a struggle to determine the appropriate and necessary left wing direction.

Some of this is done in a way that aims to close down discussion by smearing left wing bloggers and commenters who are critical of the current Labour Caucus. This was seen in the discussion (allegedly) “from the left and from the right” on RNZ’s Nine-to-Noon programme yesterday.  Matthew Hooton and Mike Williams were huddled around the “centre” ground, which is loosely aligned with the current Labour caucus and the public face of the Key led government.  In keeping with this kind of MSM positioning, the solid left wing critiques expressed on The Standard, were labelled as “extremism” written by “nutters”.  The diversity of left wing views presented on this blog was ignored, lumped into smears associating such views with the old Alliance Party and Cunliffe supporters.

Since the 1980s, it has been difficult for Labour parties to get favourable coverage of their traditional policies and values in the MSM.  Such policies include a focus on collective action, the interests of those on relatively low incomes (workers and beneficiaries), fair employment conditions and pay, adequate social security, etc.  When Labour parties have been elected into government, it is by not straying too far from the artificial centre created by the corporate MSM.  However, sooner or later the MSM will switch back to the party/ies that more strongly favour the elite, as seen with Tony Blair’s government eventually falling out of favour.

Initially Murdoch and his press supported Tony Blair mainly because there was a shift in the views of MSM consumers away from the then Tory government.  New Labour also courted Murdoch by “signaling that it would provide him with a sympathetic business environment should it win the election“.  in 2008, with another consumer shift, Murdoch shifted back to his more sympathetic allegiance with the UK Conservative Party (McNair p.51).

McNair argues that press barons like Murdoch are losing their influence and consumers gaining more power, aided by the access to the diversity of news that has expanded on the Web.  However, McNair doesn’t account for what followed once the likes of Cameron and Key gained power.  All the gentle, slow shifts by the Labour governments away from hard core “neoliberalism” are being ruthlessly undone.  Harsher, more divisive and punitive austerity measures are being brought in, savaging the less well-off in favour of the elites.

Each time governments shift from Tory to Labour and back again, the centre is moved further to the right.  The only way to truly break the “neoliberal” consensus is for the flax roots to cut out the MSM middle-people and engage directly with the politicians.  It’s encouraging that the Labour membership are taking a strong lead in this.  Engagement and campaigning from below is a multi-pronged affair that also requires engagement with local communities and individuals.  Some can be done online (e.g. on left wing blogs), but this also also needs to be in association with an ongoing range of offline events where people can exchange ideas and experiences face-to-face.

* HALL, STUART (1976) “Broadcasting and the State: the independence/impartiality  couplet”, stencilled paper, AMCR symposium, University of Leicester . (This article is discussed here.)





51 comments on “Media Bias & Democracy II: beyond 2 sides”

  1. Tim 1

    Geez Karol – did you ever have a Vic Uni Media Studies bent? (out a shape)
    Just curious

    • karol 1.1

      Hi Tim. Not sure what the “bent? (out a shape)” part means. But I have never had anything to do with Vic Uni. Media Studies though is part of my background.

  2. Tim 2

    OK….was just wondering – I used to tutor in MS sometimes – until I struck some marking manipulations (not something I was prepared to indulge in – but characteristic of shit that happens these days).
    Btw… as I said elsewhere, I will do my BEST not to comment on here ‘cos that’s what I promised (lol) after I criticised some pathetic munter that deserved all he got. I understand the rules tho. So if it comes down to shutting up or expressing an opinion – mine is no better than the next person.
    Really tho’ – there are some complete fuckwits that need to be challenged, so at times – I just can’t help mesef

    • Lanthanide 2.1

      Not sure who you made the promise not to comment on here to. If the moderators didn’t want you commenting, you’d be banned.

      As you’re not banned, you should assume no one in a position of authority here minds if you comment. The more the merrier.

    • karol 2.2

      We’ve moved beyond that, Tim. There’s no problem in expressing any views opposed to that of TS authors, or anyone else here. I think you misunderstood my comment back then. It is just personal abuse directed at authors that is against policy.

      I enjoy reading your comments, which have a lot of substence to them.

      • Tim 2.2.1

        Yep @ Karol. I probably did misread you at the time. I frequently misplace my reading glasses too. That, combined with the fact that every time I see a van with something like “Smith & Smith Shopfitters” on the side, I misread it as “shoplifters” so it’s quite likely I missed your point completely at the time.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.3

      So if it comes down to shutting up or expressing an opinion – mine is no better than the next person.

      No, you’re not entitled to your opinion

      If two people are discussing something and one person can back up their arguments with facts and the other can’t then the second opinion is worthless.

    • RedLogix 2.4

      after I criticised some pathetic munter that deserved all he got.

      I’m assuming you are referring to me Tim. I have absolutely no problem with being criticised or having you robustly debate the ideas with me, or anyone else. That’s 100% welcome here.

      If however you’re going to take recourse to unprofessional, unjustified name calling of that nature, you’ll find that the 100% will plunge to zero very quickly.

      • karol 2.4.1

        Actually, I think he’s referring to a comment he made that was a bit abusive towards Mike Smith, which I comment on, then IB deleted the particular phrase. See here.

        It was one phrase that went a bit far in an otherwise acceptable comment.

      • Tim 2.4.2

        Karol’s correct – it wasn’t about you and I’m in agreement with your comment about ‘unjustified’ name calling. I’m a firm believer though in ‘what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander’ – so that if the likes of Mike Williams refer to the likes of us as extremists – they lay themselves open. AS I read whoever it was, I interpreted what I saw as the comments of a wanker – I really should go back and re-read it
        I am unable to speed read as I once did and I need to keep reminding myself of that.
        As an aside, I’m wondering if there are others who’ve suffered some sort of trauma that’s changed their eye sight, memory processes, etc,. encounter similar.
        I just did it again btw:
        Blue Leopard posted “The international credit ratings agencies are a load of bunkem, which along with travesties that the Nat party require us to swallow, we seem to have to “go along” with despite the deficiency in veracity.” on “NZ economic forecast “deteriorating”” on 23 Jan at 12:10″. I misread the ‘travesties’ bit as ‘transvesites’. It probably says more about me than anything, but there ya go!
        At the very least it makes life amusing however, in amongst a gubbamint that’s obviously incompetent and a-wishing and a-hoping.
        I’m an infrequent reader on here, although becoming more attuned to the idea that The Standard is actually the current centre of the views of a sometimes silent (if apathetic) majority and silent ALTERNATIVE. An interloper if you like. My hope is that there’ll be more.
        I do have to disagree sometimes though, and there are times I may make comment where I expect to be chastised. I mean quite obviously – Patrick Gower is a wanker (and not a very pretty one) driven by over-ambition in his field. Not exactly the Brains of Britain. – It’s an opinion! Not the Brains of Britain but driven by ambition and attuned to what he percieves as the best route -AN OPINION
        I once had Duncan Garner hassling me over a certain issue after a storey till I realised how FUNDAMENTALLY dishonest that guy was as well (Mihi et al). Ditto now the Geee-on. These are simply my perceptions and opinions.
        I actually don’t care if the above generates any innuendo – that is THEIR problem – they generated it. A side effect of their over-ambition
        I hope Dunc and Guy are both very happy, though I wish they’d get a little more honest than they’ve been. That they’ve risen to the status as oracles in their field says more about the status of the MSM than it does about their competencies. What’s worse is that its a status that the current regime wishes to push (in spite of what I understand to be the NATURE of a democracy – including the place of a 4th Estate).
        Anyway – as I'[ve said – my OPINION is no better than the next guy

  3. Bill 3

    Ripping news from its context is another one. Eg. Although I simply don’t watch TV any more, I’d hazard a guess that Mali is being portrayed as a part of the ‘war against terrorism’ and that no contextural framework is provided. So the fact that Salaafists are being bombed in Mali and armed in Syria (if viewers pick up on it) leads to disengagement through confusion or incomprehension. And if the contradiction in the western approach to Salaafists is missed, then an uncritical and uninformed support for western actions results.

    As for the coverage of parliamentary politics, I think the ‘unofficial coalition’ of the parliamentary right and left (not just here, but in many countries), meaning that a game of tag is played (with corporate interests handicapping or backing whichever side at a given election in line with their own current preferences) ; where the reigns of economic management and social containment are assumed and riden along a ‘business as usual’ course ; where, as a result, there really is nothing to report besides tittle-tattle and attempting to present that tittle -tattle as somehow, something that underpins meaningful choice – Where am I going with this? – ah yes, back to the obvious capture of the democratic process and social democratic possibilities by corporate interests where we (the voters) play our meaningless role by anxiously deciding between tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum every three years or so…or disengaging and increasingly leaving them to it without any need to present a facade.

    • karol 3.1

      Bill, on this thread, I have no problem with people mentioning how the MSM portrays issues other the one the ones I mentioned. it’s the main argument about skewed media “impartiality”/”objectivity” that is the focus. I aimed to illustrate it some current NZ political issues, but others would do just as well to illustrate the argument.

      The coverage I have seen on Mali – largely on Al Jazeera, talks a lot about Al Qaeda links.

      This post was originally meant as a response to Tim Watkin’s claim that the NZ MSM does a good job of being impartial, unlike political blogs. In his “Bloggers vs journalists” post back in mid December, he said:

      Few bloggers attempt to find facts, remove their personal opinions from the story, seek balance and make contact with numerous sources before writing. Most blogs are happily biased. Most journalists do their best to remove as much bias as possible. They’re different; farmers and cowboys.

      But, I agree (along with McNair in the book I quoted in my post), that full impartiality is not possible. However, Watkin seems oblivious to the shortcomings of the current MSM approach to trying to remove bias.

      As such, I think it’s better for an author to openly state their political position, so that readers/viewers can include that in their judgement of the article/report/post. And, rather than focusing solely on being as impartial as possible by presenting 2 sides, journalists need to be more self-critical of the values they are representing – and to thoroughly investigate the isseu, not just rely on political press releases, “leaks”, etc.

      It took me so long to get this post together, and try to (unsuccessfully) keep it short, that Watkin’s post has gone stale now. (However, the Labour Party conference, and MSM coverage of it, was a significant part of Watkin’s post.)

      • Bill 3.1.1

        Sorry Karol, my comment wasn’t intended to distract from your post in any way. I agree that the myth of ‘impartiality’ or ‘objectivity’ needs to be blown out of the water. It’s a particularly pernicious myth when obvious partiality is presented as being neutral or objective (Gower was just reporting news, right?) And then there is also the effect of deliberate and straight forward omission leading to informative non-information or, put another way, the promotion and acceptance of descriptive reporting over analytical reporting and the subsequent widespread disengagement from political discussion/events.

        As for writers or journalists proclaiming their allegiences or background etc, I completely agree. I remember a number of academic papers in Anthropology being preceded by the author’s openly stated political/cultural position. And that puts blogs streets ahead of many journalists insofar as a writer’s subjectivity or position becomes plain when viewing a number of posts or comments over a range of topics.

        And…well, bloggers are usually quite clear when what they are offering up is opinion. And it’s quite clear that writers like yourself, in spite of what Watkins claims, actually do fact check and seek sources or back up material and that some journalists don’t. Meanwhile, journalists and bloggers are just people and as such tend to internalise orthodoxies and to rarely (if ever) examine the unquestioned assumptions that lie deep within those orthodoxies…and that leads to all types of mischief in reporting (eg Mali again)

        • blue leopard

          yeah, it ends up having the effect of more “objectivity” when allegiances are stated, this way one can read/view the item with a clear knowledge of the bias.

          Edit: On second thoughts, the bias is pretty bloody clear mostly anyway, and this approach of stating ones influences/bias would be more of a matter of goodwill or courtesy which would be an advantageous quality in many arenas.

          • karol

            bl, journalists acknowledging their biases could also help them be a little more self-aware and/or critical. At the moment many probably manage to convince themselves that they are being totally “objective”.

        • karol

          Bill, no need to apologise. Your comment was on topic in relation to my post, and i agree with both your comments.

          I also think it’s really important for NZ political coverage, that journalists are held to account with respect to their short coming,s and that they are more open in acknowledging their political allegiances. NZ news media is far less diverse than that of the US or UK, which have a variety of known slants: e.g. UK Times compared with The Guardian or Independent.

          Our MSM, all tends to follow a similar, middle-of-the-road line, and seem to believe that they are being “objective” or “impartial” in their news coverage.

          We can get more diversity in coverage of international politics and news, but less diversity in the coverage of NZ politics.

          This reminds me of the following quote from the McNair book linked to in my post:

          The editor of one of Britain’s (and the world’s) leading journalistic organisations, The Guardian, put this pragmatism well when he noted that ‘the newspaper that drops on your doorstep is a partial, hasty, incomplete, inevitably somewhat flawed and inaccurate rendering of some of the things we have heard about in the last 24 hours.’.

          So, apart from anything else, I think blogs can play an important role in holding the NZ MSM to account.

  4. Colonial Viper 4

    A very thorough and detailed piece, karol. The way Labour has used, over-used and failed to use the MSM in an advantageous way is a topic that could have its own dedicated post. What I feel we need now is a coherant strategy to extend the reach of The Standard, maybe even explore deliberately increasing the objective journalistic/news analysis components it now has hints of.

  5. Rich 5

    I enjoyed and largely agreed with that.

    Regarding Murdoch in the UK, there was/is also the circle of corrupt symbiosis between media, police and government, which was partly exposed by the phone hacking scandal. The evolution of that is a global attempt by government and media to suppress alternative sources of information using narratives such as “trolling”, “cyber-bullying”, “abuse of anonymity” and the like.

    • karol 5.1

      Thanks. And yes, I agree with your comment, Rich. Also the phone hacking scandal has led to the Leveson inquiry recommending self-regulation by the media. The impact of media concentration under the ownership of a small number of large corporates is left untouched.

      The MSM has long been antagonistic to the Internet. It tends to highlight and sensationalise problems, and marginalise the good aspects of it. As well as the topics you mention, Rich, some of their favourite topics are child pornography, bullying among school pupils, hoaxers, and fraudsters online.

  6. I was struck by the message in the first paragraph, if I am understanding correctly, was that the aim of achieving impartiality may have lead to mediocrity in reporting. This strikes me as probable. Perhaps also some manipulation has been involved to push the “unintended consequence” a little further?

    The articles/documentaries I most trust are ones that present both sides of an issue fairly. There really is no need for a conclusion at the end, simply a suggestion to consider the points. If this approach was followed middle-of-the-road items would be a thing of the past.

    Sadly I believe big money is having an influence on this issue, where one side of an item will be played down to big money’s advantage; is a pity that big money is having such an impact on every aspect of our lives. Money is supposed to be our servant; not our master.

    Thank goodness for the internet creating more diversity in information sources.

    • karol 6.1

      blue leaopard: I was struck by the message in the first paragraph, if I am understanding correctly, was that the aim of achieving impartiality may have lead to mediocrity in reporting. This strikes me as probable. Perhaps also some manipulation has been involved to push the “unintended consequence” a little further?

      The focus on impartiality coupled with less focus on the kind of investigative reporting that Hager talked about, has undermined quality. A large influence on the shift to mediocrity has been the pursuit of profit, and the commericalisation of public service broadcasting (the BBC, for instance, has increasingly aimed to be commerically competitive in various ways). This means cutting back on the number of journalists, sub-editors, etc; less use of “on the ground” reporting and more reliance on press releases and links; less fact checking etc.

      • blue leopard 6.1.1

        …so basically my suspicions are confirmed; that the degeneration has to do with money.

        I do wonder about this “commercially competitive” concept. When we had a few channels, with some informative programmes on (Stratos, TV7, SBS 1&2), it struck me that perhaps “commercially competitive” was not what I once had thought it to be.

        I had thought it to mean playing programmes that lots of people watch, therefore the commercials inbetween the programme breaks (humour) were more effective (i.e. created sales for the advertisers).

        On having watched a particularly thought-provoking programme or two, and then switched over to something on the brain-dead side of things-on one of the other “commercial” channels-it suddenly occurred to me, that perhaps its not the amount of people watching these programmes, it is that “commercial programmes” get your mind into a type of almost hypnotised stupor, which then leads the adverts to be more effective?

        This is certainly not the case with a thought-provoking programme, which switches one’s mind on into a more discerning mode.

        …just a thought…

        • karol

          Good point, bl. I don’t remember who said it first, but the line is that commercial “television delivers audiences to advertisers”, and isn’t primarily there to deliver programmes to audiences.

          John Ellis says it’s a bit more complicated than that:

          … scheduling delivers programmes to audiences when they are most likely to watch them, and delivers audiences to advertisers in the composition that makes their advertising most likely to be effective.

          So partly that means the aim is to attract the audiences the advertisers think they will be most able to sell their product/services to. But maybe your idea of also making the mind more open to the advertisers message could be considered to be part of that.

        • fatty

          On having watched a particularly thought-provoking programme or two, and then switched over to something on the brain-dead side of things-on one of the other “commercial” channels-it suddenly occurred to me, that perhaps its not the amount of people watching these programmes, it is that “commercial programmes” get your mind into a type of almost hypnotised stupor, which then leads the adverts to be more effective?

          Yes, well put. Advertising goes beyond just the number of people watching a TV programme, in addition, the TV show must foster individualistic desires which resonate with capitalism, and also target certain groups.
          For example, many of our current TV shows focus on individualism and consumption, but they tend to target age groups specifically. The TV shows promoting property fix-ups / makeovers is aimed at babyboomers who control a large percentage of the property market, and have money to spare. At the younger generation the products promoted are often new technologies which have a short shelf-life, and will need re-buying soon.
          Cribs on MTV and the house renovating programmes on TV both hit the jackpot on the ignorance scale…both promote capitalist desires at such a dumb level that a sledgehammer through the screen should be seen as a logical response. They are nothing more than well planned vehicles for selling us dumb shit that we don’t need. Our so called news is no different, same subtle message can be seen on TV1 or TV3 at 7pm every week night.
          I’ve recently been watching some Adam Curtis documentaries which examine these issues…the way our news and popular culture is shaped for a reason. Many of Adam Curtis’ docos are on youtube or can be streamed other places – they don’t get shown on TV much. The Century of Self

          • blue leopard

            Yeah, its really very horrible what is going on.
            It is horrible that there are so many people still open to this shite.
            What can we do about it 🙁

            I will have to get my hands on that Adam Curtis doco, I enjoyed the “All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace”, perhaps didn’t agree with some of the conclusions, yet presented in a way that inspired thought. Great stuff! Just the type of item that would be good to see on our TV channels. (Can’t remember which it was on, perhaps SBS 1 or 2, which seemed to have some pretty informative programmes on, the calibre of which TV 7 never really came close to).

            Am wondering what happened to the move to get TV7 back on, and also was it David Beatson (can’t remember) who was looking into creating a private owned TV channel?

            • karol

              You might be referring to Face TV, which is about to start on Sky, and will include some programmes that have been on Triangle and Stratos, such as The Beatson Interviews and Citizen A.

              Which is fine for those people who subscribe to Sky, but not so great for those of us with freeview only.

              • Perhaps, if Beatson organized “Face TV” to happen, it would be what I was referring to; I believe he was looking into setting something up…around the time of TV7 going down the gurgler….I’ll do a google search!

                Yes, effective move by Sky. Freeview was great when I first got it; unbelievable how many channels have been lost! What a rip-off!

    • Polish Pride 6.2

      When ‘Money’ became the single biggest barrier to a significant number of people throughout the world being able to obtain things that should fall into the category of ‘needs’ for a human being, it stopped serving its purpose in my book.

  7. Polish Pride 7

    I do believe that MSM needs (for the good of humanity) to keep going down the path that it is. It is this very path which is seeing more and more people disenfranchised with MSM content and as a result seeking out alternative and better news sources such as RT and blogs. MSM know this only too well hence the venom spewed in the direction of the blogisphere late last year.
    One of the best things I ever did was to sell my TV (after a safety period of moving it into the next room just in case… :). Never before felt so liberated.
    This is another area where the best thing that people can do is to stop participating. There are far more interesting news sources out there. Coverage on Aaron Swartz has yet again confirmed this for me.

    • Colonial Viper 7.1

      Al Jazeera is also pretty good and objective…for anything not associated with the middle east and especially Syria, that is 😀

  8. Hi Karol.

    A very thoughtful post. I read it three times and each time my understanding grew. It could be just as much part of a Political Studies or Sociology discussion paper as much as it could be a blog post.

    You have very gently summed up a number of problems with the MSM.

    I am particularly perplexed by yesterday’s Radio New Zealand politics “discussion” on Radio New Zealand. The tentacles of political control run deep when a supposedly “socialist” media outlet can present such tripe.

    Hooten is nothing more than a paid hack. Why any media organisation with a modicum of fact checking would use him is beyond me. And I cannot understand why the state owned media outlet which is supposedly there to present quality analysis of the news should put up with his stuff.

    Mike Williams I have a great deal of respect as a political campaigner and former party president. But he is too ensconced in the Wellington bubble and sees politics far too much like a game of chess played by Wellington operatives than something that should be argued in neighbourhoods and communities and amongst ordinary people.

    They are both trapped by the supposed rules of the game. It sort of makes you want Mana to succeed so that the current rules could be shown to be irrelevant …

    • karol 8.1

      Thanks, micky. I think the post ended up a bit more academic than I wanted it to be. Part of the reason it took so long to write was because I was trying to make it a bit more blog-friendly: shorter, while also being clear and to the point. In the end, I just decided to go with what I had.

      Yes, I agree that Mike Williams & Matthew Hooton seem trapped in the rules of the game. Listening to the Nine-to-Noon discussion, it seemed to me that Williams used his experiences with Labour under the Clark government as a guide on how to proceed. I did understand at the time that pressures from the powerful elites (inside and outside NZ), and the MSM made it difficult for the Clark government to bring back any policies that were very much to the left of the “centre”.

      However, I think circumstances and knowledge have changed since the Clark years. There’s the GFC repercussions, and there’s the example of what current right wing governments are doing, here and in the UK. I think the best way forward for the left, is to break with the strategies developed by the Labour caucus and staff during the Clark years. And the best way to do that is through a genuine engagement with the membership, and through that, with the wider NZ population.

  9. JK 9

    To Karol : and Mickey Savage : ” The only way to truly break the “neoliberal” consensus is for the flax roots to cut out the MSM middle-people and engage directly with the politicians…… Engagement and campaigning from below is a multi-pronged affair that also requires engagement with local communities and individuals. Some can be done online (e.g. on left wing blogs), but this also also needs to be in association with an ongoing range of offline events where people can exchange ideas and experiences face-to-face.”

    But only if all participants are willing. And so far I haven’t seen much sign of such “willing” on the part of David Shearer and his mates. Has anyone seen any answers to questions from Labour members/ supporters on the David Shearer Facebook ? If so, could you let me know how to access them please.

    Plus – it might yet happen – but despite requests, its extremely difficult to get face-to-face
    with Mr Shearer. He has his minders all around him to protect him from the rank/n/file Labour members who might question him about his actual beliefs !

  10. xtasy 10

    Having just come across this topic story, I find it a bit too much and deep stuff to digest at this late hour. I need to digest it a bit better, to make any competent and sensible comment.

    But at least I congratulate Karol for having put so much effort into this.

    At first glance I can agree with a lot of what she wrote and expressed.

  11. unicus 11

    Your formulae of how media bias is applied can be observed daily in New Zealand and reflects the effect of Australian interest and political intent here . Given the preponderant ownership in banking retail tourisim and of course media it would seem self evident that Australian born editors sub-editors are delivering the message agreed in board rooms across the Tasman to serve the interests of Australian buisiness and political influence here . It must be remembered that almost the entire print media here is owned by Fairfax and APN in their own country these companies are dedicated to the promotion of neo-liberal agendas their intent here is exactly the same .

  12. Tony 12

    Well written, I completely agree. As somebody who worked in a major New Zealand newsroom, I was exposed to just how biased and sensationalist they can be. On occasions I was asked to re-hash the same story on Winston Peters for example, to divert attention from National Party failings. The words of my producer when I mentioned a particular development regarding John Key in the lead-up to the 2008 election was, “Don’t say that about Mr Key, he’s a good man. Now you write about Winston Peters and Owen Glenn, I can’t stand him”. I was astounded. I would receive the same information as other reporters and producers and I could see how their stories were structured to take a particular position – I left soon after the election. The reality of that particular newsroom was that most of them were privately educated, lived on the North Shore, St Mary’s Bay or Herne Bay and there was also a strong conservative christian element. I now work for a much larger and more reputable media institution in the UK and have found the way British media own their perspective refreshing – as you mentioned you know what you’re getting with The Guardian, The Times, Independent etc. Exactly how can this issue be taken to the mainstream population though? When I discuss this with friends, they don’t understand how the news can be anything but the news – they take the word of institutions such as the Herald, TVNZ & Stuff.co.nz as law. Are there societies where reporters/MSM publications are forced to declare their perspective? Personally I think Auckland needs a centre-left newspaper – not just a website, but something tangible.

    • It is always most enlightening when someone shares their direct experience on something like this. Horrible to hear, yet helps to really accept what is going on, and that it is going on.
      Thanks very much Tony

    • xtasy 12.2

      Tony – thanks for sharing this.

      It proves, what I have experienced. Indeed, I have over time, tried to interest certain media persons to pay attention to particular bits of actually quite exposing, interesting information, but I was shocked, how they simply did never bothered to take up any of it, and to not write something about it.

      What you have written now proves to me without any shade of a doubt, NZ mainstream media, and even public media like TVNZ and Radio NZ, are rotten and useless to the core.

      To get real news, it is essential to visit a number of various blogsites, social media outlets, alternative media, plus of course some of the mainstream media. Also one needs to do own research of otherwise available information. Then disect it, read between the lines and pick the info that is really relevant.

      I have NO real trust in NZ newsprint, television and radio anymore. They serve us what certain key decisionmakers want us to hear and see, mostly nothing of substance though.

      • Tony 12.2.1

        Hi there.

        I agree, we all need to use multiple sources of information and read between the lines, but I don’t agree that NZ institutions like TVNZ and Radio NZ are rotten to the core. True they might have lost their way a little, but there are still good journalists within these organisations. There are liberal line-up producers and duty editors who can influence the structure and content of a newspaper or bulletin, but in reality they are outnumbered.

        I think the biggest problem with NZ’s “state” broadcasters is that they are too heavily influenced by a change of Government. Within months of National being voted into power in 2008 there were heavy and influential changes within organisations which affected content, editorial and political neutrality. In the UK the BBC is run by a royal charter that is fixed for 10 year periods – in New Zealand the government has far too much direct control over “public” news media.

        Thanks for your comment!

    • karol 12.3

      Thanks, Tony, for describing your experiences. I agree that the left needs a newspaper that includes a website (as most papers do these days). But it also needs a TV channel, or several programmes on an existing channel (plus programmes available online ondemand), because many people get most of their news and political information from the screens.

      • Tony 12.3.1

        I’d be a part of that! The problem is investment Karol – television channels are incredibly costly to set-up and to run. However I do believe there is a market for it. Some here might think it’s a dirty concept, but it would need to operate within a commercial environment – it’s not the type of project that would receive funding. The future is through cloud-based on demand services anyway, however New Zealand is so far beyond with regards to broadband infrastructure that it will occur slower down under than the rest of the world… thanks Telecom!

        In saying that, such services need time to grow and develop audiences so strike while the iron is hot! I’ve been thinking along these lines for some time but lack the required resources.


  13. Andre 13

    Boy you people have analyzed the msm with great insight Thankyou all . I have a slight obsession with fact checking all i watch and read. Manipulation of fact is so alarming in Media ,some cases of this is pure inept reporting . Regurgitating others work is a common cause. Bias is obviously there.Small media groups as we have here, are so disheartening.{leave intellect at door] Some isolated cases are outstanding . Fox news network makes me happy…. yes HAPPY. The absolute bias refreshing ,you have expectancy for nothing apart from there distorted view . Pure joy .just sit back and bask in pure Batshit. Keep up your good debate thanks “Standards”

  14. xtasy 14

    An impressive summary of the state of the media and its impact and influence on public opinion and democracy as such! I congratulate you, Karol, I could not have written anything better with such limited words and sentences.

    Yes, the media is kind of part of the inert kind of “establishment” now, whether corporate, privately owned and operated media, or whether still in some form state or non-state (by any NGO – or privately operated on a not for profit basis) owned “public” media.

    Social media now occupies a kind of special area, or rather areas, depending on who runs it, and what views and informations get presented.

    State run public media are overseen by boards, so party politics does in some forms come into play, who is allowed to sit on a board, who has which leaning, which affiliations and so forth. And hence in virtually all western democracies – and the public media in them (traditionally usually television and radio) – the “centre” has become the focus point, or the “balancing” point, around which reporting, broadcasting in general is now run. Add a “commercial” aspect like advertising being done to partially earn additional revenue, then another compromise takes place, by way of giving consideration to whether any broadcasting may negatively upset advertisers.

    Corporate media, which has become the dominant privately owned and operated form of media, naturally primarily “earns” revenue through advertising to cover costs and to also earn a PROFIT for shareholders. There may be some selling of content, but that usually never reaches levels advertising “earns” those operators money.

    So it can probably not be avoided, usually at least, that such privately owned and run media will give substantial considerations to the ones paying them. Those are retailers, large and small, who sell products and services. They clearly have a dominant commercial interest.

    The media operators then are also driven by ratings, which means viewer numbers.

    A whole society has diversity, but it is a range of interests that is behind that, and like perhaps levels of education, intelligence and cultural inclinations, there will be some larger than other segments of interested viewership. The tendency has been to cater for the numbers, and that does not necessarily, I’d say rather less likely, represent quality of information and whatever else gets broadcasted.

    With the information age being a bit much for many to cope with, as people at the same time often also live in more complex work-environments, many rather want to “switch off”, relax, be entertained, than be informed with yet more, to “burden” the brain.

    Hence, I think, we have what we have. A tendency for more and more light-hearted, less informative, entertaining rather than informing and educating presentation of anything on the broadcasting media.

    Print media have their own challenges, and with the internet, they are cutting costs to levels, where no journalist is given time and pay, to spend too much on investigations and research. So the “news-releases” in the email inbox are the focus now.

    A worrying scenario and development, but forums and social media sites like TS are now the opportunity to add spice and new diversity and quality to what is on offer.

    • karol 14.1

      Thanks, Andre and xtasy.

      Yes, it is a worrying scenario, xtasy. And, yes, the dominance of corporate media and its level of saturation is a major problem. Apart from anything else the entertainment arm of it constantly promotes the individualistic, meritocracy message, making it seem that it is someone’s own fault if they are unable to earn a living wage. Public service broadcasting, can, and should, also air a wide range of entertainment programmes, including ones that focus more on the collective aspects of community and society.

      It’s necessary to have this diversity. This article provides evidence that there is more diversity in public service broadcasting in the US, Europe and UK, than in commercial broadcasting in those countries/regions. It also argues that the state always interferes in broadcasting, whether or not it is public service. So they say the important thing is to not throw out the baby with the bath water, but work on ensuring the content of public service broadcasting is free from state interference: e.g. being able to be critical of the government and status quo .

      I have heard Peter Thompson (NZ’s leading academic on public service broadcasting) say that there are ways to ensure the state does not interfere in the production and broadcast of public service broadcasting. In this article Thompson considers the development of our current broadcasting environment and provisions. He concludes that the last Labour government, with its “third way” agenda, did nothing to end the dominance of “neoliberal” dominance in the media. The media were not “permitted” to lead “informed public debate” on the need to reform the media.

      So it really needs a bold Labour-led government to more totally away from a “neoliberal”, “third way” approach, to ensure the development of a more diverse MSM: one focused on open debate, presenting a wide a range of political views, and in the interests of the general public.

  15. xtasy 15

    Karol – well, you have done in-depth media system studies, for sure.

    That is all very interesting reading material that you have suggested, and it is impressive and convincing, as a brief glance and perusal tells me.

    Yes, I know that much of Europe (North, West and Central) has much better public media than NZ, and also in the UK, a bit less so in Canada and the US, similarly Japan, the situation is better than here.

    Reading that analysis by the two authors that wrote for New York University, it shows how appalling the public broadcast media in NZ has become, due to being cut back and forced to work under impossible conditions. It is a damning report they present.

    I have not read the piece by Thompson in detail and will see if I have time to do so later.

    Thanks – you surely are informed and know what is going on.

  16. unicus 16

    Thanks Tony for the rare insiders insight few journalists are prepared tp speak out about the constraints placed on their independence and objectivity in New Zealands media .

    Clearly the effect of corporate ownership on editorial policy extant in western media is also rampamt in this country .However it should be noted that New Zealand faces a unique situation in that ownership of print media here by the APN -Fairfax duopoly creates a perception of an unhealthy conflict of interest stemming from their status as corpoarate news organisations domiciled in Australia – the country which holds the biggest forign corporate investment in our economy

    I cant think of a country which holds the dubious luxury of exercising such expansive corporate dominance in another country while owning in entirety the print media of its host . Can we imagine Australians suffering the same situation in reverse – not bloody likely mate ! .

    The question should be answered – what is the nature of Australian buisiness political and media interest here Are APN and Fairfax simply exploiting a normal business opportunity or does a wider agenda exist which New Zealanders should know about .

    The situation of media ownership in New Zealand definitely warrants public discussion and ivestigation . Unfortunately this is unlikely to be instigated by the Australian dominated Boards of Directors or editors sourced from accross the ditch currently opperating our metropolatan and provincial papers

    Never the less there is growing concern from those among us who still harbour aspirations of national independence and seek protection of New Zealands sovereign status

    When the Hortons Riddefords ect held sway in our print media its central political objective was to attack the ambitions of labour and defend the interests of business. Somehow the fact that they were integrated with a cabal of local business and the National Party made it a little more acceptable .

    But a print media which is part of a forign corpoarte cluster exercising a deep and powerful penetration of New Zealands buisiness sector begs the question where has this taken us and exactly what implications does this situation hold for our culture social aspirations and our sovereignty.

    The facile individual currently occupying the role of Prime Minister here has stated his prefference for political union with Australia – fully aware that the prospect is repugnant to most Kiwi’s . But union with Australia may become irrelevant if Australian dominance of our buisiness sector continues its accelerating trajectory . With the valuable support of a sympathetic Australian owned media why bother with the un-predictabilities of a messy political conflagration.

    The social profiles of media colleagues contained in Tonys post was a telling point . At the same time chilling in its connotations of how easily the sectional interests of middle-class proffessionals can dominate a critical social need such as the fourth estate .

    Perhaps the time is apposite for the invisible movers and shakers of media governance and management in New Zealand to come into the light and explain exactly what their political and social preferences and intentions are . And how those predications mesh with the interests and emerging social profiles and aspirations of New Zealanders . .

    • Tony 16.1

      Completely agree – reporters, producers and news outlets should show more ownership of their editorial and declare their support or personal interest rather than hide behind a false claim of “objectivity”.

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