Written By: - Date published: 10:37 am, August 14th, 2018 - 64 comments
Categories: accountability, broadcasting, disaster, International, journalism, Media, radio, the praiseworthy and the pitiful - Tags: news, radio, radio new zealand, RNZ
A Guest Post from regular contributor Adrian Thornton:
After listening to this Sunday’s excellent Mediawatch piece ‘Stormy Daniels vs Yemen: No contest’ I was moved to send the crew at Radio NZ’s Sunday Morning show a few excepts from an email exchange I had with RNZ producer Kim Griggs earlier in the year on this same subject.
I had sent a pretty inflammatory email addressed to, I think, the producers of Morning Report, questioning their almost non-existent coverage of the 2017 South Asian floods but at the very same time extensive coverage of the floods taking place in Texas. This, in my view, displayed a clear race bias.
I promptly had a reply from Griggs (the exchange is reproduced below in its entirety) which ends with Griggs telling me “more people care about Paris over Kenya, Houston over Bangladesh. It may be a sad fact for you but it’s true.”
Now my issue is this; if some tragedy occurs in the US, like the floods mentioned above or the Florida high school shootings, as a RNZ listener you will have, firstly, huge amounts of airtime dedicated to this item.
Secondly, the victims (or at least some of them) will be humanised, so not only will we know the tragedy in every detail we will also have real life humans with names that we can relate to in the story. So this report, and these people, will have entered your conscience as something worth knowing and people worth caring about. This must be important, our subconscious will be telling us, or why else would so much precious RNZ coverage be dedicated to them?
Now let’s cut to a school shooting tragedy in a Brown/Black/Yellow part of the world like the 2014 Peshawar school massacre. Did we get to know any of the victims, or even the name of one single person involved?
Of course not, and it goes without saying the airtime would be considerably less.
So what in effect is being reinforced into the subconscious of the listeners of RNZ by this racial bias is that the lives of (mostly) white children have more value than the lives of foreign coloured children.
It is as simple as that.
Now, I am not saying that Radio NZ can or should be everything to everyone, and of course there are plenty of good things one can point too on RNZ – John Campbell’s show for instance – but I am saying that I think they seriously need to do better, a lot better.
Surely New Zealand citizens deserve a more balanced world view?
Unaltered mails to and from Adrian Thornton and RNZ (Kim Griggs) 31-8-2017 with all my spelling and grammar mistakes intact:
Is RNZ as racist as it seems to be, or am I missing some nuance in your white bias? You do realize there is another flood effecting over 41 million people that is not is America? Maybe your internet isn’t working that well, so here is a link to help you… http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/india-floods-bangladesh-nepal-millions-affected-says-un-a7920721.html Come on, what the hell is going on over there, this type of racist bias is probably very offensive to the 200,000 Indians living in NZ, not to mention the NZ citizens from Bangladesh and Nepal and is frankly embarrassing to listen to.
Please address this issue asap
Adrian, actually we are planning to talk to a local community leader here from Bangladesh. And no, we’re not racist but there are differences in news values about deaths during annual monsoons, difficult as these are, versus unexpected and catastrophic flooding of a large city not used to flooding. There are also issues about news production from one area versus the other which is part and parcel of being part of the Western news media. I could go on – I did an MA in this stuff – but suffice to say that we do think about the balance of the news each and every day. To be honest I think it’s a cheap shot to just sling that off to a team of people who are working hard each and every day to bring a wide and varied range of stories to the New Zealand community.
AT: Thanks for your reply, however Huston has had major floods over the last three years, so this is not a completely unusual event there of late, where as the floods in India, Bangladesh and Nepal are the worst in 30 years, so are in fact an unusual event. The short piece Susie did with the Mehedi Chowdury felt ad hoc at best, but better than nothing I guess.
I of course understand your (RNZ) dilemma with being a ‘western’ media source, however RNZ is the one place where this seemingly natural news bias should be at it’s lest obvious, which I have to say it is often not. Lastly I don’t think it is at all a cheap shot, these floods have hardly been mentioned in RNZ’s main hourly news roundups over the last few days, where as the floods in the US have constant updates, we get to know the names and hear the stories of many of the participants, thereby humanizing them and their disaster etc, but the same humanizing coverage is not afforded those in India etc…. you have done the MA so you know where I am going with this.
Thanks again for your reply, and thank you and your team for all your hard work, but I maintain that RNZ has to be far more vigilant on this vital issue, as surely the overall project is helping in raising people’s consciences through even, fair and unbiased well informed reporting?
KG: Adrian, we’ll have to agree to disagree on this. Thirty years of experience in news tells me most people don’t care about Bangladesh, more people care about Houston. Right or wrong, it’s happened like that for years. For instance If you can, without googling, name the ship involved in the deadliest peacetime maritime disaster in history (and a hint – it’s not the Titanic), I’ll listen to your arguments harder.
AT: I can’t remember it’s name off the top of my head, but I know that a German troop ship carrying civilians sunk at the end of WW2 by a Russian submarine is often cited as having the worst causality rate of a ship lost at sea….no google involved. I am sad to hear that you have succumbed to just answering the call of essentially reinforcing the lowest common denominator in human instinct, instead of helping to fellow citizens to look up higher, which as I mentioned earlier, is what I thought high level public funded news and reporting was all about…so I might just as well listen to Mike Hosking’s then?
KG: Not at all, it was a ferry in the Philippines. You probably don’t recall because here in NZ no one took any notice of the fact four thousand Filipinos had died – then or ever since. And going back to the original message a) we are not racist and b) we are not an educational service, we are a news service. As such we follow the usual news values, which at the moment mean more people care about Paris over Kenya, Houston over Bangladesh. It may be a sad fact for you but it’s true. And if anything more extend our reach much further than other news services.
AT: That’s a very strange analogy that you have used, surely you have just reinforced my position? isn’t this is the exact reason why RNZ should cover non european news in a more balanced way…I didn’t remember this tragedy probably because it was covered quite lightly considering it’s epic proportions at the time, whereas if this had happened in a western country I surely would have remembered it from the amount of coverage and human context you would have given it over a long time?
People can only care about what they are informed about (you don’t know what you don’t know), if you took time to humanize and contextualize a human from Bangladesh most other humans would relate to that person just as much as they would if the person was from France, but you never do so they never will have that chance…but that is your production choice not ours. It is not sad for me personally because I try to take the time to stay informed, but it is sad for the citizens of NZ who trust you as their main news source. BTW news and education are the same thing, well should be.
So there you have it. It was good that Griggs was prepared to debate me, however I still stand by my position, and I am still a bit disappointed that she thinks it is right to actively perpetuate such a negative (and small) world view.
But most of all I am angry that RNZ is so stuck in its ways, does so little to raise the bar and only helps in reinforcing national/ethnic divides.
All of which seem to me to be a real shame, and a lost opportunity for our state funded news agency to actually help in bringing a little positive change in people’s perception of their world and the people in it.
Finally, here are some excerpts from the RNZ charter, parts of which I believe show quite clearly that RNZ is failing to deliver the balance in world news as defined by its own charter (thanks to TRP for bringing this to my attention).
(1) As an independent public service broadcaster, the public radio company’s purpose is to serve the public interest.
(5) In achieving its purpose, the public radio company must endeavour to provide services of the highest quality, which-
(b) inform, entertain, and enlighten the people of New Zealand:
(d) foster critical thought, and informed and wide-ranging debate:
(i) provide comprehensive, independent, accurate, impartial, and balanced regional, national, and international news and current affairs:
(k) contribute towards intellectual and spiritual development
– Adrian Thornton