TVNZ sends timely reminder on vital news processes

TVNZ’s updated rethink on how it handles stories – a consequence of Radio New Zealand’s controversy over altered foreign news content – is a timely reminder that good journalism relies not only on trust but on checks and balances.

Every functional newsroom relies on trust: It is both top-down and bottom-up. An editor (or whatever newspeak title you wish to create for the person responsible for the overall editorial output) must trust the heads of each part of the editorial structure and, through them, the cascade of staff down to the most junior. Everyone from that junior up must trust the decision-making and stewardship of those above them.

Very occasionally, that trust is broken by someone who – through malfeasance, poor judgement, or human frailty – goes rogue.

That happened at RNZ in June when inappropriate editing of foreign wire stories was discovered. It led to an independent enquiry and a raft of recommendations for change within the public broadcaster. The RNZ enquiry’s report can be found here

No such breakdown of trust occurred at TVNZ. When the RNZ scandal broke, then chief executive Simon Power ordered a review of his own organisation’s handling of news stories. General Counsel (now interim chief executive) Brent McAnulty found no similar breaches of editorial policy but nonetheless made 11 recommendations to improve processes.

McAnulty’s report preceded the release of RNZ’s independent enquiry and TVNZ has now revisited its findings in light of recommendations in that enquiry. The result is a further series of recommendations by current TVNZ senior counsel Michele Lee that have implications for editorial news handling processes. You can find the updated report here

The update recommends refresher training on upward referral and on disinformation, reviewing software and systems, and re-assessing resourcing levels in the newsroom. Continue reading “TVNZ sends timely reminder on vital news processes”

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”

Proof our newsrooms need a ‘second pair of eyes’

Own goals by two of our top news organisations last week raised a fundamental question: What has happened to their checking processes?

Both Radio New Zealand and NZME acknowledged serious failures in their internal processes that resulted in embarrassing apologies, corrections, and take-downs.

The episodes in both newsrooms suggest the “second pair of eyes” that traditionally acted as a final check before publication no longer exists or is so over-worked in a resource-starved environment that they are looking elsewhere.

The RNZ situation is the more serious of the two episodes. It relates to the insertion of pro-Russian content into news agency stories about the invasion of Ukraine that were carried on the RNZ website. The original stories were sourced from Reuters and, in at least one case, from the BBC. By last night 16 altered stories had been found, but the audit had only scratched the surface. The apparent perpetrator has disclosed they had been carrying out such edits for the past five years.

Continue reading “Proof our newsrooms need a ‘second pair of eyes’”