RNZ ‘pro-Kremlin garbage’ enquiry has lessons for all newsrooms

The penetrating review of Radio New Zealand’s “pro-Kremlin garbage” scandal by an independent panel has a clear message for all news media: Make sure your own houses are in order.

The expert review panel – long-time media lawyer William Akel, broadcaster-turned-lawyer Linda Clark, and former Australian Broadcasting Corporation Editorial Standards Director Alan Sunderland – found the sub-editor who doctored Reuters content had breached editorial standards. However, the panel also found a swathe of systemic issues within RNZ that could well be repeated in other news organisations.

To recap: In June, RNZ was accused of publishing overseas wire stories on its website which had been deliberately edited to include unattributed statements that were one-sided and contested. RNZ subsequently found 49 stories that were inappropriately edited. This included adding pro-Russian content to stories on the invasion of Ukraine. The RNZ board ordered an independent review.

The review found the journalist at the centre of the controversy “genuinely believed he was acting appropriately to provide balance and accuracy, and was not motivated by any desire to introduce misinformation, disinformation or propaganda.” Nonetheless, he breached editorial standards.

It could have ended there: A misguided individual who had since resigned and was no longer a problem for the public broadcaster. But the review panel did not stop there. It found that RNZ’s structure, culture, systems, and processes contributed to what had happened and sheeted home responsibility for that to RNZ’s leadership.

Other media might say it ended there: It was RNZ’s problem and a result of its unique way of doing things. But those ways are not unique, and other media organisations could face their own embarrassments if they do not audit their processes and, where necessary, make the sort of changes recommended to RNZ by the review panel. Continue reading “RNZ ‘pro-Kremlin garbage’ enquiry has lessons for all newsrooms”

Bring me sunshine: Just enough to warm my soul a little

Have years of low pay, low esteem, and lay-offs taken such a toll on journalists that they have become incapable of viewing the world as anything but a grim, dark place?

Almost every time I pick up a newspaper, switch on a news bulletin, or access a news website, I am presented with a picture redolent of Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.

Our news outlets are pervaded by negativity: Violent crime, social dysfunction, economic gloom, and conflict ranging from warring nations to warring neighbours. Continue reading “Bring me sunshine: Just enough to warm my soul a little”

Editorial executive: ‘There must be more to life than this’

The hierarchy of New Zealand’s news media organisations, once a relatively stable environment, is changing with the speed and effect of a Nek Minnit video. In part, it is a consequence of vacancies and reorganisations but several of the moves also point to a deeper-seated issue. Some media executives have given so much of their lives to the job that they have had an epiphany and want some of that life back.

Three senior news executives in as many months have quit their jobs, not to take up another position, but to take extended breaks. RNZ’s head of news, Richard Sutherland, was first. He was followed by senior TVNZ producer Sam Robertson, and last week Miriyana Alexander – the star of NZME’s premium subscription drive – resigned and said she was taking a break from journalism altogether. Continue reading “Editorial executive: ‘There must be more to life than this’”