What is the role of the media in a democracy? Is it to inform? Is it to make money? Is “the public’s right to know” paramount, or can other factors, such as respecting the wishes of a grieving family, take precedence? Who decides what the public wants to know anyway?
I know, I know, earnest volumes have been written on such subjects, and will be written again. But I was moved to ponder these questions again by the following report from the Greymouth Star (see also The Herald):
Mine crisis: Pushy journalists invoke anger
Pushy journalists in Greymouth to cover the Pike River Mine disaster have tried posing as Air New Zealand victim support workers just to get a foot in the door of the homes of distressed families.
There are also reports of some news agencies opening their cheque books to get people to talk, with media from all over the world fighting for stories and video footage.
Inspector Brigitte Nimmo, police welfare co-ordinator, told the Greymouth Star the antics of some media groups were “despicable”.
“It is very disturbing that the media can behave in this manner and I have seen first-hand the effect it is having on the families.” …
As the days wear on, journalists, who want to break stories or get exclusives with family members who have loved ones trapped underground, are resorting to extreme measures to be first with the story.
Mrs Nimmo said it to had to stop.
Sadly, our current answers to the questions that started this post seem to be all wrong. The media (with some honourable exceptions) exists to make money. It uses “the public’s right to know” as a supposed justification for any kind of rapacious behaviour. And those deciding the direction of the media, what it is that they tell us that we need to know, are driven by advertisers, focus groups, and the small elite who own it all.
The behaviour of some of the journalists covering Pike River, as reported above, is an example of all that is wrong with the media taken to the very worst of its extremes. I can see the problem, but (short of gratuitous violence) I can’t see the solution. Any ideas? Or are the light and dark sides of the media simply inseparable?