In the wake of the publication of Dirty Politics, I have been pondering on the urgent need for a revitalised public service broadcasting and online media.
Our media largely works within a corporate context, driven by commercial considerations. This provides a context where dirty operators, with limited ethics and underhand methods can too easily subvert the democratic potential of the media.
For democracy to thrive, the people need to be well informed of the issues. Here the media has a role to provide in-depth reporting: by researching, examining the truth behind the political spin, and explaining diverse perspectives the issues of the day.
The media should also be a vehicle through which people can talk back to power, and which stimulates well-informed discussions and knowledgeable voters.
Our news media are dominated by commercial interests. The demise of public service media means that coverage of politics, current events and social issues is ultimately driven by the need to catch the attention of as many eyes and ears as possible.
It’s the sales of newspapers and advertising that drives the whole show. And as it is becoming increasingly hard to run such enterprises for profit, entertainment, drama, conflict and sensationalism often trumps in-depth coverage.
Journalists may well have the best intentions, but they need to produce copy for the latest stories, quickly and relatively cheaply. So an on-tap source of insider information from someone with significant political contacts would seem likely to provide an advantage. And this leaves an opening for those who aim not just to be vehicles of information, but to use that role in such a way as to manipulate the media coverage of politics.
Today David Fisher of the NZ Herald, published an insightful and brave article about his contacts with Cameron Slater. He also provides some clarity to something that has often been discussed by commenters on The Standard: how is it that for a long time right wing bloggers (like Slater and David Farrar at Kiwiblog) seem to get mentioned in the mainstream media? In contrast left wing blogs and bloggers have largely been ignored? The answer seems to be that it’s partly in having the contacts and connections, and the ruthless and vicious will to manipulate, not just the media, but the general public.
Fisher explains both the attraction to using the likes of Slater as an information source, as well as how he came to realise that he was probably being manipulated. Consequently Fisher turned his back on the Slater connection. The result was that he was then subjected to vicious smears and misinformation on the Whale Oil blog.
Fisher’s article begins:
Cameron Slater was a contact of mine – Nicky Hager made this clear in Dirty Politics.
What also became clear is how politics is little more than a game to Slater. He says: “I play politics like Fijians play rugby. My role is smashing your face into the ground.”
The media are just players in the game, and bit players at that.
Looking back, Slater kept journalists like he would have kept hunting dogs – hungry, leashed and fed with morsels until they are ready to be unleashed after whatever game he was hunting.
To Slater, it all part of the game of Dirty Politics. About the time I felt I was being gamed, I decided to have nothing to do with the blogger.
This is how it happened.
Part of Fisher’s story includes the changing nature of Slater’s relationship with John Key. A while back Key wouldn’t communicate with Slater. Then, in 2012, that changed:
At some point after April 2012, Key went from blocking Slater to talking and texting with the blogger, and posing for photographs at his side.
It was also about this time I stopped dealing with Slater.
Fisher writes of the balancing act journalists need to perform when using sources who have some particular line to push. A journalist needs to maintain some critical distance, so as to be able to, not just report the information received, but to critique it.
Fisher goes on:
Information has power. Those with the greatest access to information are those in power. Slater’s links inside National meant he had access to good information.
But as 2012 got underway, I began to wonder who was manipulating Slater and whether I was in turn being made to do another’s bidding.
It caused a feeling of great unease.
Fisher describes some of the nasty treatment he received once he cut Slater off:
He launched a personal assault with what I believed were threats of violence and created an atmosphere in which I was personally and professionally denigrated. Those who post comments on his website made awful slurs. It is as horrible an online environment as you will find anywhere.
Our news and political media need a big clean-out: not so much a change of people as a total change to the system. We need a section of the media that is free from commercial bottom lines. We need a better public service media, primarily operating in the interest of the public.
This is a very important election issue.
Better Public Broadcasting has been running a series of events around the country, making broadcasting an election issue. They have an event planned in Auckland this weekend. I will be interested to see what the MPs have to say, as there is not a relevant policy for broadcasting/media on either the Greens of Labour websites.
AUCKLAND – Sunday 31 Aug at 6.30pm (Doors open 6.15pm)The CBB presents the AK Broadcasting Debate.Come to the Pioneer Women’s Hall on High St, Auckland City to see speakers:Maggie Barry – NationalKris Faafoi – LabourJulie Anne Genter – Greensmoderated by Guy Williamsand asked pointed questions by you the public