The relationship between media and politicians in this country has become incestuous and toxic. For much of the time they confine themselves to merely slanting the game with spin and framing language. We’ve learnt to live with that. But increasingly we are witnessing instances where a pack mentality dominates the story, placing journalists themselves as players. We most recently saw it with the ‘take down’ of Winston Peters, now again on David Cunliffe. And it’s the stories we don’t see that are equally perturbing.
Clearly there are some media players who are abusing their privilege as ‘the eyes and ears of the nation’ to suit the needs of their own egos and the agendas of their corporate masters. In particular it demonstrates quite plainly that we never see capable, passionate, left-wing political leaders gain the government benches and implement, real lasting changes for the for all New Zealanders; they will simply be cut down by an establishment media pack with smears and falsities before they get there.
Blogs like The Standard peel up small corners off this scabby business but the I believe that next step in our progression eludes us because we’ve been allowing the media to define our credibility; when in truth theirs cannot withstand much scrutiny either. One stark contradiction is that while journalists and media pundits love hurling the ‘cowardly anonymous blogger’ line at us; while they themselves zealously guard the anonymity of their own sources whenever it suits them. And their papers routinely publish thundering right-wing editorial pieces without names attached. They cannot have it both ways; they cannot belittle and discredit bloggers for not using ‘real names’, while they themselves uncritically resort to the same. It’s a remarkable blind-spot.
In the online era old habits and methods from the print media days need upgrading. Here are some minimum suggestions:
There is no reason why political journalists should not be required to reveal and name ALL of their sources. If you want to quote a politician, someone elected to Parliament to serve New Zealand, then you have to name them. No more ‘off-the-record’ or nameless ‘senior sources’.
All interviews must be ‘on the record’ and fully available online for reference.
All ‘reportage’ articles must be either ‘fact checked’ and/or open to a right of reply from any participant, person or party mentioned.
Start using hypertext links like bloggers do in order to provide references that your readers can check. (Some already do; no reason why the rest cannot catch up.)
All opinion articles must be clearly identified as such. If you want to be a blogger, then fine … just let everyone know that’s what you are doing.
All personal and professional relationships must be openly declared and available in an online bio attached to every article. Credibility goes a lot further than simply knowing your real name.
No political journalist should be allowed to serve more than six years sequentially AND 33% of their total career in the Parliamentary Press Gallery. Any longer than this and you become embedded in the system, you become part of the story rather than a recorder of it.
The Press Gallery are accorded by convention special privileges, protections and access us ordinary bloggers don’t have, yet increasingly it’s obvious that as a whole we’re doing the better job. It’s time the Gallery stopped seeing the online world as merely an extension of the dead-tree media they grew up with; it’s time for them to start making some fundamental adaptations in order to justify their privileged roles.