Media blame game in Gaza

Judgemental journalism – a strong presence in today’s media – has met its nemesis in the Israeli-Gaza conflict. News outlets are being called on to choose sides of a circle.

Do they condemn Hamas for the deaths of Israeli citizens, or do they condemn Israel for the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza? Do they label the Israeli dead and kidnapped as victims of terrorism, but the dead and wounded in Gaza as casualties of war? Or should it be the reverse?

Around and around, it goes.

The problem with judgemental journalism is that it defines good and bad, right and wrong. Too much modern journalism is framed that way, and it is encouraged by the endemic practice of combining reportage and opinion. Journalists are encouraged to voice their preferences or judgements. They choose sides. Continue reading “Media blame game in Gaza”

Time to rethink the nightly news and current affairs offering


It may be time for television broadcasters to see the writing on the wall and cut their early evening news offering to a total of an hour – 30 minutes of news and the rest devoted to current affairs.

They have ample reason to think that the days have gone when they could hold large audiences until 7.30 pm with material that was even loosely news-based.

Warner Bros-Discovery NZ is already partway to that conclusion, announcing last week that The Project will not be renewed next year. TV3’s owner did say it would be replaced by “a redefined news show in the 7 pm slot”. The as yet undefined nature of that programme has led to speculation that Patrick Gower may be the beneficiary of the vacated timeslot.

However, both Discovery and TVNZ had a very hard 2022-3 financial year. In spite of both networks cracking hearty about prospects for the current year, the fact is that broadcast television is looking into the same sunset that newspapers have long contemplated.

Added to that is a drift away from news bulletins. When NZ on Air started its Where Are The Audiences? surveys in 2014, the total television audience peaked at about 70 per cent in the 6 pm to 8.30 pm timeslot. This year, the peak in that time slot was 37 per cent of the potential audience. Given the rate of decline, next year the news slot is likely to attract less than half the audience it boasted a decade earlier. Continue reading “Time to rethink the nightly news and current affairs offering”

We need journalists: Here’s proof

It is one of the fallacies of the digital age that its ubiquitous communication places the power of information in the hands of individual citizens.

At one level it is said to have provided each of us with the means to communicate with an almost endless number of people. At another level it is said to have given us the ability to choose for ourselves the information we receive. On a third level it is said to have given us the power to collectively hold power to account without mediation by mainstream media.

In fact, this apparent universality has had effects that not only fall well short of those utopian goals, but which create environments in which social cohesion and the foundations of democracy are put at risk.

Instead of broadening our range of contacts to give us a greater understanding of the views of others, it has created silos in which we take comfort from people with the same views as ourselves – irrespective of whether those views are reasoned, misguided, or malevolent.  If anything, our contacts have become narrower in scope and outlook.

Instead of allowing us to choose the information we receive, we are hostage to algorithms that direct us to particular sources and, on the basis of our use of digital services, may reinforce our silo mentality. And our desire to seek information, without employing any of the skills needed for verification, has opened the field to those who use disinformation as a weapon.

Instead of allowing us to collectively hold power to account, with a few notable exceptions, that power has been allowed to hold the field. The promise of amateur ‘citizen journalism’ – even the flawed publish-then-filter model that allows facts to emerge over time through a process of online changes and corrections – has not been realised. It fails to hold power to account because it lacks throw weight. That term refers to the size of payload a missile can deliver, and citizen journalists cannot make a bang as big as their professional counterparts in the news media. The result is that the holders of power can ignore or minimise their endeavours.

Yet the fallacy persists, and it has eroded the standing of journalists and the organisations that employ them. The rationale is that society doesn’t need them because society can find out for itself.

This may be part of the reason for alarmingly low levels of trust in media, although the full scale of distrust in institutions is a complex matrix. Perhaps people distrust journalists in part because they think they can do a better job themselves, now that they are armed with the tools of communication.

If that is the reasoning, those people are living in a fool’s paradise. And, if they are looking for proof of their folly, they could look to last Saturday’s Otago Daily Times and ask themselves a question: ‘Could I hold people accountable as powerfully as Mary Williams has done?’ Continue reading “We need journalists: Here’s proof”

It was graphic election night coverage and a touch of déjà vu

It would be far too boastful to use the phrase ‘great minds think alike’ but the Herald’s Simon Wilson and I had the same thought on the general election result: There is a parallel with what happened in Britain in 1945. British voters turned their back on the man who had led them through the Second World War, and New Zealanders wanted to turn their backs on storm and pestilence.

Wilson commented that Churchill’s rival, Labour leader Clement Atlee, promised a welfare state, and that looked like the kind of peace voters believed they deserved. In 2023 “it has meant that one thing trumped everything in this election. We want to forget. Move on and forget. Don’t tell me about the pandemic, I have to find the money to feed my family.”

I think he’s right.

Winston Churchill put on a stoic public face after his defeat by Atlee (despite his private anguish), and on television on Saturday night Chris Hipkins did the same in acknowledging National leader Christopher Luxon’s victory. Continue reading “It was graphic election night coverage and a touch of déjà vu”