The story of wire stories having been altered for the last five years on the RNZ website undetected is mindboggling. However, I don’t think this is an isolated case and more of these kinds of ‘mistakes’ will surface in other websites of NZ news media.
One of the causes is chronic underfunding over many years, as put forward by Newsroom co-editor Mark Jennings, for example. The sector has been under immense commercial pressure, more so after the Covid-19 pandemic, and coupled with ridiculously tight deadlines this inevitably leads to BS and propaganda, for example, getting through the expected critical filters & safety checks and published in great haste. This is a point also made by Dr Joan Donovan, a US-based researcher of media manipulation, disinformation and online extremism.
Predictions are that when the internet is flooded with AI-generated content, this will only make matters worse for new bureaus across the world.
I can personally attest how time-consuming and labour-intensive it is to author Posts and keep an eye on all comments on this blog site whilst trying to maintain a form of quality control. Authors & Mods do rely on the collective knowledge, attention, and wisdom of the commentariat to keep things running smoothly here and keep the truthfulness levels as high as possible. This is not fail-safe by any means!
For public debate and civil conversations, we all rely on trustworthy sources of news & information and the problems that surfaced at RNZ go to the heart of the matter. If we, individually, lose trust in those sources, for whatever reason, and we can no longer mutually agree on those sources as a foundation for robust yet respectful debate, then we find ourselves in a truly dark & dystopian world.
In some ways, trust is a chain, of dominoes, and it is as strong & reliable (and durable & resilient) as it weakest link or the most wobbly domino. This is even more true in politics where even the most innocent ‘gotcha’ moment or the slightest and most trivial alleged misdemeanour or ‘technicality’ can be instantly weaponised and blown up to become a nuclear weapon of mass political destruction. Further erosion & undermining of trust, in media or authorities, et cetera, is merely collateral damage and sometimes even a welcome bonus, depending on who the aggressor is.
Charlie Mitchell over at Stuff has done a nice analysis (https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/300906113/this-rnz-story-is-probably-more-complicated-than-first-thought) of some of the alterations that were made to the wire stories on the RNZ website. Interestingly, many were quite subtle & nuanced and a speed-reader such as me (with a mild dose of dyslexia) would simply miss them even when having the two versions side-by-side on one computer screen.
Other changes were more major & significant, but none would clearly qualify as something coming straight from a ‘radicalised’ individual’s megaphone or something that you would read on absurd NZ blog sites run by small egos with extreme opinions and combative attitudes (mostly aimed at people rather than topics). However, they all had a common that they changed the “tone or framing” of the story and “always in the same ideological direction”. However, Mitchell opines that the changes/alterations may not necessarily neatly fall under the disinformation umbrella.
We live in interesting times.