Trashing journalists is not in the public interest

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 brought 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”

Kill Facebook ‘comments’ before the buck stops with you

We can take a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty approach to the decision by Australia’s highest court making anyone with a Facebook page liable for any comments others post on it.

The judgement caused great wailing and gnashing of teeth in media as far afield as Ireland and India and not simply because it opened the way for a youth detention centre inmate to sue the Australia’s biggest news groups over things they didn’t say. As Harvard University’s Nieman Lab put it: “[It] makes publishers legally responsible for every idiot Facebook user who leaves a comment.”

That is just a little bit scary, but let’s start with the optimistic view. Continue reading “Kill Facebook ‘comments’ before the buck stops with you”

Terror, time, and trust

We need to cut the media some slack in a fast-developing situation like Friday’s terrorist attack in Auckland. Such stories develop multiple strands of enquiry at lightning speed.

As news of the supermarket knife attack developed, I wondered what effect the Covid Level 4 lockdown had on the ability of the surveillance team (who had tracked the terrorist since he was released on bail in July) to stay in close proximity. My query went unanswered for 36 hours but eventually we were told that it had forced the team to stay outside the check-in as he wandered the aisles, seemingly on an innocent shopping expedition until he picked up a knife that was on sale.

The circumstances surrounding his release from custody and the Crown’s inability to keep him off the street; the reason for his name suppression by the court and its decision on Friday night to extend it for 24 hours; the tortuous passage of legislation to close a glaring gap in our anti-terrorism laws; even the timeframe from the beginning of the attack to his fatal shooting by Police. All these were questions that were answered only over time – and some questions remain as I write this. Continue reading “Terror, time, and trust”

Where is Maggie Thatcher when you need her?

Never in my wildest imaginings did I think I would want to conjure up the ghost of Margaret Thatcher…but I’m getting perilously close to doing it.

Specifically, I want a manifestation of her on 23 September 1981. That was the day she sat down to be interviewed by Australian 60 Minutes reporter George Negus.

Negus asked her: “Why do people stop us in the street and tell us that Mrs Thatcher isn’t just inflexible, she’s not just single-minded, on occasions she is plain pig-headed and won’t be told by anyone?”

The British Prime Minister’s immediate response was: “Will you tell me who has stopped you in the street and told you that?” Continue reading “Where is Maggie Thatcher when you need her?”