We do not need Winston Peters’ Royal Commission into Media Bias and Manipulation, but it is high time we took a coordinated approach to the shape of our media landscape.
The New Zealand First manifesto coyly refers to a Royal Commission of Enquiry into Media Independence, but that is no more than a watered down title for the initiative the party announced with a petition back in June. And its Kaipara ki Mahurangi candidate, Jenny Marcroft, made the focus clear during the Better Public Media election debate last week when she referred to it as “a Royal Commission on Media Bias”.
This looks like vindictiveness. Such an enquiry would be no more than a witch-hunt, an opportunity for New Zealand First to address perceived slights and settle scores against journalists and their employers.
To be fair, though, at least NZ First (along with the Greens) has a detailed section on media policy in its manifesto. Some of its proposals, such as joint funding of media internships, have real merit. Sadly, its lead policy on media bias has none.
Let’s assume for a moment that NZ First does become the kingmaker in a new government. Giving in to Winston Peters’ wishes on the royal commission would be an easy concession, particularly if it traded away some of NZ First’s more wayward proposals.
Such an enquiry would be a disaster. Its true purpose, implicit in the petition title and Marcroft’s description, would be to level charge after charge against mainstream media organisations. In the process, the already depleted levels of trust in them would be further eroded, and their democratic purpose and role in social cohesion called into question. As the saying goes: No good will come of this.
Had it proposed a wider enquiry into the future of media, it may have been onto a winner. And, if Mr Peters does get his formal enquiry, it will be vital to move heaven and earth to broaden its remit to dilute (and hopefully eliminate) its misguided origins. Continue reading “Winston’s Royal Commission: Threat or opportunity?”