While you read this, I will be enjoying my first holiday since Covid hit our shores. So I have cheated…just a little. In place of the Tuesday Commentary, here is a speech I gave last week to combined North Shore Rotary clubs.
No matter where you were, the horrendous attacks on innocent worshippers at two Christchurch mosques in March 2019 made the front page of newspapers and led television and radio bulletins.
Those acts and others like them have affected our journalism but, before I get into the detail of those events, I want to talk about motivation, and the awful dilemma that terrorism presents for journalists.
Every time I sit down to review the past year, I am drawn to the words of a former reporter on London’s Morning Chronicle.
No matter what the year, the opening lines to one of his better-known pieces of writing seems to resonate: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”
And, by Dickens, that sums up the past 12 months.
The New Zealand media’s year has been, to put it far less eloquently than the author of A Tale of Two Cities, one of ups and downs. Of course, media cannot be held entirely responsible for those oscillations. In many respects they are simply mirroring or reacting to what is happening more widely in society and on the global stage. And that world is full of paradoxes – some of the best rises out of the worst. Continue reading “By Dickens, what a year it has been”→
Every journalist that ‘outs’ a conspiracy theorist or extremist paints a target on their own back.
The anti-truth brigade thrives in dark places and shining a light on it and its associates is doing a public service. Yet it comes at a cost.
The tone of abuse that it generates is even darker than the places from which it emanates. Journalists – particularly female journalists – are being subjected to taunts and threats on an unprecedented scale and in forms that are deeply disturbing.
Paula Penfold of the Stuff Circuit team that produced the documentary Fire and Fury, which unmasked many of those behind the February-March protest in Parliament grounds, revealed in the Sunday Star Times last weekend that since its appearance she has been targeted with death threats, abuse “and, unsurprisingly, conspiracy theories”. She told the newspaper: “I’ve had lots before but never as many or as ugly or as threatening than after this documentary.”
Penfold’s situation was outlined in an article about the abuse three female Stuff journalists had endured for doing their jobs. Alongside Penfold were Kirsty Johnston, who revealed MP Sam Uffindell’s record at King’s College, and Andrea Vance, currently revealing the anti- brigade’s associations with local body candidates. Continue reading “Latter-day anarchists throw digital bombs at journalists”→
New Zealand journalists have been done an immense disservice by those siding with conspiracy theorists who are convinced the nation’s mainstream media are in the government’s pocket.
Broadcaster Sean Plunket told Andrea Vance in the Sunday Star Times that state funding of journalism projects “comes with the requirement to adhere to certain editorial principles. That is not independence. In truth, many parts of the media are being compromised.” He singles out the $55 million three-year Public Interest Journalism Fund as the focus of this cash-for-loyalty theory.
Journalist Graham Adams, writing on the Democracy Project website, concluded a critical examination of the fund’s criteria with this: “But it’s hard to imagine anything more damaging to the trust the public has in media organisations than plausible accusations – or even just suspicions – that they have been bought with $55 million of taxpayers’ money.”
New Zealand Herald columnist Bruce Cotterill, citing not only the $55 million fund but the level of Covid-induced Government advertising, told readers: “If there is any risk that the media is skewing their representation of the performance of government, then we are indeed on shaky ground. In fact I suggest that there is nothing quite as dangerous in any democracy as a media that is beholden to the Government.” To its credit the Herald ran his column – no doubt mindful of the firestorm that would have accompanied its rejection – but added a rider signed by eight of its senior editors. It stated:
Our NZME and NZ Herald newsrooms operate freely and independently, without fear or favour, in our editorial pursuit. The Fourth Estate is a critical pillar in the New Zealand democracy and the Herald’s editorial independence is enshrined in our code of ethics: “We will be independent and not bow to improper internal or external influences”. Any suggestion that our journalists — and those more broadly in New Zealand — are failing to ask hard questions of both the Government and opposition politicians is rejected.
At this point I need to make a disclosure: I was one of a group of independent assessors who made initial recommendations – decisions are made by NZ on Air staff and its board – on applications to the fund. I am bound by commercial confidentiality agreements not to discuss the applications and I do not intend to do so. However, I feel I have a right to defend the professional journalists whose work may be funded by the scheme, and the organisations that employ them. Continue reading “Trashing journalists is not in the public interest”→