Journalists react to attack on media freedom

Written By: - Date published: 3:33 pm, March 13th, 2008 - 54 comments
Categories: Media, national, slippery - Tags: , ,

freedom_ot_press_01.jpg Yesterday in Parliament, Winston Peters tabled a letter of protest from the Herald journalists’ chapel to APN chief executive Martin Simons.

The letter related to Simons’ meeting with John Key to draft a ‘clarification’ for the Bay Report’s quote of Key saying he “would love to see wages drop.” The Bay Report was then forced to run this ‘clarification’ despite the paper’s staunch backing of the story at all levels. The Herald journalists’ letter reads:

Dear Mr Simons,

I am writing to express the concern of the Herald Journalists Chapel over the “clarification” published in yesterday’s Bay Report newspaper.

We understand that the item, regarding comments attributed to John Key in the December 20, 2007 edition of the paper, was inserted on your instructions.

It is not necessary here to traverse the facts of the original news article or the need or otherwise for the clarification.

Our concern arises from your management interference in an editorial decision of a newspaper. Our concern is heightened by the fact that your action was on behalf of a political party. We clearly have no objection to your conversing or corresponding with politicians. Our concern is that you have acted as the conduit for an approach which ought properly to have been made to the reporter and/or editor/s concerned. It might have seemed a small matter since the paper concerned is a local one. However, the potential effect is to portray all New Zealand newspapers owned by APN as subservient to political interference. The risk is that readers will perceive the Herald, which has previously carefully guarded its political independence, as open to National Party influence.

We would appreciate hearing your view on this matter and ask that in future you respect the tradition of editorial independence.

We are circulating this letter to other journalists at the Herald and within the union because of the widespread concern among journalists about the matter.

It’s one thing for a politician to contact a journalist or an editor if they feel they’ve been treated unfairly, but to get management to interfere in the editorial process is completely out of line. APN management have overstepped the mark too. It is a gross breach of media freedom for a proprietor to decide to kill a story because it upsets a political ally, and worse to gag journalists when they object.

The Herald’s journalists deserve to be congratulated for standing up to their management in support of media freedom.

54 comments on “Journalists react to attack on media freedom”

  1. I wonder what the free speech coalition (aka fat tory boys for plutocracy) think about this?

  2. r0b 2

    To the authors of this letter – bravo. After all the misguided fuss about freedom of speech last year, here we have an actual genuine issue. A reporter and editor appear to have been silenced by the APN management after political pressure from John Key.

    Everyone who spoke up so vigourously for free speech last year should speak up again on this issue! Except – ummm – The Herald, obviously – since in this case their management is the party gagging journalists. Oh the irony.

  3. Patrick 3

    Wow, this is incredible. Congratulations to The Standard crew and the authors of this letter, for sticking to their guns. This is very unjust and is a story that deserves to be told.

  4. out of bed 4

    First they came for the journalists

  5. Ari 5

    It’s nice to see someone in the Herald actually understands what Freedom of Speech is about.

  6. The risk is that readers will perceive the Herald (…) as open to National Party influence.

    Wot – is he trying to say the Herald isn’t the publishing arm of the National Party? I find that difficult to believe…

  7. Benodic 7

    John Boscawen’s just released on this in support of the journalists.

  8. higherstandard 8

    Two comments

    – It is not surprising, to me at least, that the Herald chapel (EPMU) is giving this legs

    – Do you realise that many people of the centre when they first visit this sight will see your cartoons and consign the site to the extreme left and leave rather than reading the posts.

    Out of bed suggest you go back for a nap

  9. insider 9

    I don’t think it is good the management interfered. It’s not usual, particularly in NZ where we don’t have aligned papers and interfering proprietors in the Maxwell, Black and Murdoch mould.

    However, they do own the paper and ultimately have the right to decide what does and doesn’t get printed, and will bear any financial penalty or reward. Do you want to deny them their ownership right?

  10. Benodic 10

    Just kidding. John Boscawen’s nowhere to be seen. He stands for freedom of capital not freedom of speech, just like our friend Insider.

  11. mike 11

    Good grief. You have to laugh, of course the “Herald journalists chapel” is going to try and smear National.
    Did the FOC blow a whistle and shout “everybody out trouble at mill…

  12. out of bed 12

    HS it was a tongue in cheek comment

  13. Phil 13

    “He stands for freedom of capital not freedom of speech”

    Any particular reason why you can’t stand for both? I sure do…

  14. Tane 14

    However, they do own the paper and ultimately have the right to decide what does and doesn’t get printed, and will bear any financial penalty or reward. Do you want to deny them their ownership right?

    In a democracy the news media does not exist to line the pockets of its corporate owners. Freedom of the press is about journalists having the right to challenge power, not about the right of the powerful to silence journalists.

  15. higherstandard 15

    Out of bed ….. so was mine

  16. Tane 16

    “He stands for freedom of capital not freedom of speech’
    Any particular reason why you can’t stand for both? I sure do

    Sometimes these two interests intersect, sometimes they don’t. That’s hardly controversial. From what I’ve seen of Boscawen he stands purely for the former but uses the latter for PR reasons.

  17. insider 17

    “In a democracy the news media does not exist to line the pockets of its corporate owners.”

    So why would a company bother owning such business? Why do we have ads and reality programmes on TVNZ? WHy isn’t the media operated by a series of altruistic, unpaid collectives?

  18. Mike, HS – Journalists who are members of the EPMU are very aware of the potential for conflict of interest and very careful to avoid it. I should know, I used to be one of them when I was a journo – it’s a shame that partisan hacks like O’Sullivan don’t have similar integrity.

    On the matter of the letter, my mate at the herald told me they were very clear they wanted it to stay as an internal document so they would not be seen as politicising a media-freedom issue – I considered putting it on my blog but decided not to based on that discussion. I would guess that someone at the Listener would have passed it onto Russell Brown (the first person to publish it).

  19. Tane 19

    So why would a company bother owning such business? Why do we have ads and reality programmes on TVNZ? WHy isn’t the media operated by a series of altruistic, unpaid collectives?

    Um, because we live in a capitalist society? But in case you hadn’t noticed, we also live in a democracy, and in our democracy there are conventions that proprietors do not interfere in the editorial processes of their news outlets in order to protect the right of journalists to report the news freely. Again, this is hardly controversial.

  20. Steve Pierson 20

    HS. “Do you realise that many people of the centre when they first visit this sight will see your cartoons and consign the site to the extreme left and leave rather than reading the posts.”

    but it’s got pretty colours

  21. insider 21

    Tane

    Incidentally, the concept of freedom of the press does not exist for the benefit of journalists. To say “Freedom of the press is about journalists having the right to challenge power” is a particularly arrogant, media centric view of the universe. Fortunately it is not one that I have actually encountered from journalists, although the antics of some popular broadcasters probably comes close.

    Media freedom is there to benefit you and me as the media are seen as proxies of the people. Media get benefits from this but it is not done for them in their own right, it springs from your right and mine to access and disseminate information that is in the public interest.

  22. Steve Pierson 22

    insider. did you read that in a book on media theory? cause if you did, Tane might be the one who wrote it.

  23. it springs from your right and mine to access and disseminate information that is in the public interest.

    Good point insider but how do you reconcile that with your support of the political interference at the Herald?

  24. insider 24

    Steve

    Well if he did I would be concerned, because he has in just a few posts moved media freedom from seemingly a right to only a convention, which doesn’t imply a good grasp of the subject (no offense Tane _ I just don’t agree with your analysis).

    If you are trying to allude that he has some professional standing, I think he undid that with his phrase on power I critiqued above, which was a political statement more than an academic one.

  25. Tane 25

    Insider, clearly I was not saying media freedom exists purely for the benefit of journalists. The public benefits from journalists being free to report the news – I thought that was obvious from my comments.

    My point stands: if our democracy is to function properly then journalists need to be free to report the news free of managerial interference. My right to a free press trumps APN’s property rights any day of the week.

  26. r0b 26

    In a democracy the news media does not exist to line the pockets of its corporate owners.

    Sadly, I have to disagree with you there Tane. It shouldn’t be that way, but it all too often is. Let’s consider…

    Freedom of the press is about journalists having the right to challenge power, not about the right of the powerful to silence journalists.

    That’s the ideal end of the spectrum. Insider states the pure capitalist’s end of the spectrum:

    Insider: However, they do own the paper and ultimately have the right to decide what does and doesn’t get printed, and will bear any financial penalty or reward. Do you want to deny them their ownership right?

    So those are the two extremes (1) freedom of the press is a fundamental cornerstone of democracy, vs (2) freedom of the press applies to everyone that owns one (Rupert Murdoch decides what’s news).

    In the real world societies get media that lie somewhere in between these extremes – in short societies get the media that they put up with.

    I believe that for NZ society, this case (Key and the APN gagging a journalist) has crossed the line. I don’t think we want a society where political interference in a journalist’s right to speak is OK. And I think that we should speak up about it.

  27. insider 27

    Sod

    Go back and you will see I said I ddin’t like it and it was unusual. But I also recognise that it is the ultimate right of an owner to do what they want with their assets.

    Are you proposing that that principle should change?

  28. Tane 28

    Insider, you seem agitated. Just to put your mind at ease, I’m not an academic. Steve was joking.

    Regarding whether freedom of journalists from managerial interference is a right or a convention, it is both a right and a convention because the two are not the same thing.

    I view it as a human right for journalists to report the news freely and for citizens to have their news unfiltered by corporate interests. So do others, and so there is a convention that media owners should not interfere in the editorial affairs of their news outlets.

    Pretty simple really.

  29. Tane 29

    “In a democracy the news media does not exist to line the pockets of its corporate owners.” Sadly, I have to disagree with you there Tane. It shouldn’t be that way, but it all too often is.

    Agreed r0b, I was talking about the ideal role of media in a democracy and what we should expect from it, not about how media companies actually behave. Believe me, I could tell you a few stories.

  30. insider 30

    rob

    Generally I’d agree but I’m not sure if they are both extremes of the same continuum. # 1 is not an extreme at all. Much of our society functions around that assumption. I’d see the extremes as being : proprietors have no right to editorial input and journalists have no right to expect independence from proprietor pressure.

    In the UK you have a long history of intereference but that is balanced by the diversity of media. We don’t have that which is why proprietor interference is generally bad, but denying that they have the right is naive.

    Tane

    I was surprised at what you originally said. Suffice to say if I thought you had meant what you subsequently said, I would not have picked you up on it.

  31. insider 31

    Not agitated at all Tane. I think we are agreeing more than disagreeing.

  32. Steve Pierson 32

    insider. it’s not the ultimate right of an owner to do whatever they like with their property. this is not some libertarian wet-dream we’re living in. ownership is created, defined and constrained by a system of laws and right both legal and moral.

    I shouldn’t have to spell this out in extreme examples but I will, and no doubt you will say i’m being weird for comparing these extreme exmaples to the present case, which I’m clearly not doing. Anyway, i do not have the right to starve to death a dog I own, I do not have the right to produce nuclear devices in my factory if I choose. why? because my ownership of these assets is not a right to do whatsoever I please with them.

    the right of journalists to report to the public free of political interference by politicans and their owners is a moral right within our society that ought to and usually does constrain interference by media owners in the day to day operations of journalists working in their organisations.

  33. Insider – when it comes to the media then yes. There are plenty of limits on property rights that are there for the public good. APN cannot, for example, extend its buildings without consent. They cannot remove the brakes from their fleet and legally drive them on the roads. A free media is a public good. As a nation we allow APN to profit from providing this media but should be able to censure it when it gets involved in direct political manipulation of our news.

  34. r0b 34

    Believe me, I could tell you a few stories.

    Maybe I’ll get to hear them one day…

  35. Brownie 35

    Being a leftie, I gotta say that if this is true (and I await Simons response), I would be bloody disappointed. No matter what our affiliations, the press should remain free of interferance.

    Lets await the evidence and subsequent responses.

  36. Don’t you mean “rightie”? Or can I welcome you into the fold of the good and the great…?

  37. insider 37

    Please uncle Tane, please tell us a story now. Pleeeaaase!

  38. Scribe 38

    rOb,

    I enjoyed our discussion on this topic last week, even though we disagreed. And, as I said at the time, if the Herald journos were concerned, this letter was necessary.

    Key’s Australian excuse

  39. Brownie 39

    lol! Sod – was a “slippery mistake!”

    Rightie absolutely!

  40. Damn – I thought we’d converted one! Are you sure? You’re not just feeling a little bit lefter than before? Just a little?

  41. Occasional Observer 41

    What an astonishing coincidence. The EPMU releases a letter criticising the Herald, and the Standard are the first people to get hold of it!

    Could it possibly be that the same people who wrote the letter, also wrote the Standard?

    Could the journalist whose impartiality the Standard has championed be the same journalist who is a high profile Labour Party member, and whose father stood twice as a Labour Party candidate?

  42. James Kearney 42

    The letter was posted by Russell Brown on three days ago.
    http://publicaddress.net/system/topic,991,hard_news_call_it_what_you_like.sm

    It was also raised by Winston Peters in the house today.

    You’re a conspiracist OO.

  43. James Kearney 43

    Oops this is the proper link.
    http://publicaddress.net/system/topic,991,hard_news_call_it_what_you_like.sm?p=44324#post44324

    I just had another read of your comment. Are you also saying the journalist chapel at the Herald writes the standard? What a strange accusation.

  44. Wayne 44

    Observor. The EPMU didn’t release the letter criticising the Herald – it was written by the Herald journalists themselves and released by the chapel. Where do you get your facts from?

  45. James Kearney 45

    Wayne- OO is another National party troll. I don’t know why he’s still allowed to post here.

  46. r0b 46

    rOb, I enjoyed our discussion on this topic last week, even though we disagreed. And, as I said at the time, if the Herald journos were concerned, this letter was necessary.

    Scribe – me too. It’s great to have someone who has identified themselves as a journalist commenting on these issues. I wonder if there are any other journos lurking who want to come out?

  47. randal 47

    the truth is independent of ownership and management but I suppose in this post modern age the truth is either what you say it is or what you pay for it…

  48. Now Wnston’s stealin’ ma material!

  49. I just had another read of your comment. Are you also saying the journalist chapel at the Herald writes the standard? What a strange accusation.

    Precisely. I write the Standard, usually after a few drinks. Didn’t everybody know?

    [lprent: are you sure? I thought I had a list here somewhere…. Somewhere under this GUI code :)]

  50. Yeah – I do my best work after a couple too…

  51. Dean 51

    I love how you got the Key quote in there.

    I think it’s time you got a different drum to beat, though. Unless you think it was more than Key being, as usual, tongue tied, in which case you need something a little stronger.

  52. Dean 52

    “I shouldn’t have to spell this out in extreme examples but I will, and no doubt you will say i’m being weird for comparing these extreme exmaples to the present case, which I’m clearly not doing. Anyway, i do not have the right to starve to death a dog I own, I do not have the right to produce nuclear devices in my factory if I choose. why? because my ownership of these assets is not a right to do whatsoever I please with them.”

    Yeah, I don’t think you get property rights at all. Much the same as you didn’t get the chart you posted a few days ago about corporate tax rates.

    This blog is by and large written by people of reasonable common sense, but I sense you have a long way to go to compare to their abilities.

  53. Craig Ranapia 53

    Oh dear… Winston the great defender of a free press — unless they’ve got the utter gall to accurately report his own statements, in which case they’re liars and traitors. I’ve got to give kudos to Fran O’Sullivan for calling Winnie’s bluff, and it would be nice if the rest of the Press Gallery would actually do the same to Peters.

  54. Ari 54

    Dean: I don’t see how you come to that conclusion at all.

    Property rights must be constrained by justice, because they can only be understood as resulting from it. Therefore no property right allows you to illegitimately undermine society or violate human rights.

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