Archive for ‘Media’ Category
Posted on 10:02, June 16th, 2009 by Lew
The BSA has upheld a complaint against TVNZ’s Breakfast on the grounds of balance after it allowed Garth McVicar the free and unopposed opportunity to rant about sentencing.
Complainant Roger Brooking argued that the programme privileged “the reactionary views of an unqualified right wing individual as if he was the oracle on sentencing law”, and that the show’s hosts were unduly sympathetic toward him. The authority upheld the complaint on the grounds that Breakfast producers and interviewers failed to challenge or question McVicar’s “controversial” views, simply accepting them at face value, and internalising them for use as a frame for viewer responses.
This is an excellent decision, for a couple of reasons. First, it reinforces the expectation that the media have a responsibility not to naïvely accept the statements of their commentators or interviewees; that the interview process ought to be adversarial. Secondly, it provides a line in the sand as to what constitutes a controversial topic of public discourse, by implicitly agreeing with Brooking’s characterisation of McVicar and his pronouncements. It goes counter to some previous decisions, such as the rather alarming case last year in which the authority effectively declared that talkback was legitimately a balance-free zone.
It’s not very often I get excited about a new entrant to NZ’s media ecology. The last time I did was for MiNDFOOD, based on the pre-release PR, and that only lasted until I opened the thing up and realised it was just another glossy ad-filled waiting-room mag with skinny celebrities on the cover.
But this morning I’ve read most of werewolf, the latest offering from Scoop’s Gordon Campbell and others, to be published every full moon. I’m pleasantly surprised. The debut edition features a reasonably thorough survey of Helen Clark’s little-considered but much-valued arts policy through the Oughties; a good bag of the smacking petition which drew immediate fire from petition backers Bob McCoskrie and Larry Baldock in comments; a satire primer from the dependably excellent Lyndon Hood; and a bit about the effect of electoral systems on democracy – case in point: Lebanon. Music and travel writing as well. Go read some of it.
I can only assume that Gordon’s choice of masthead is drawn from the same place as my title, the name of Ian Wishart’s publishing company. In some ways werewolf reminds me of Investigate: a niche publication which will try to carve out its niche from a critical, complicated, politically and philosophically-engaged, media-aware, somewhat geeky audience and specialising in long-format, analysis-rich material which digs a bit deeper than that published (and re,re,republished) by the usual suspects.
Like Investigate/TGIF/TBR, it has potential to bridge the divide between traditional and new media formats essentially by providing the best of both worlds – periodic, reliable and high-quality content which doesn’t demand too great a commitment in time or resource from its audience but which provides blog-style opportunities for engagement should readers want them. Since I don’t imagine Gordon and co. would overly appreciate being compared to Ian, I should note that that’s where I think (and hope) the similarity ends – NZ doesn’t need another ideologically-bound narcissistic soap-box publication, and that this first edition is not. Nevertheless, I wish them all the success Ian has had, and bring on the next episode.
David Haywood has posted a mighty mashuptastic bit of Lawsery on the Richard Worth case which you should all read. Judging by some of his (Laws’, or should that be Lawses?) comments on the wireless this morning, I’d say it’s not too far off the mark.
Update: The actual column is somewhat, err, flaccid by comparison.
One of the major issues in this Richard Worth affair, like the Tony Veitch affair, is the degree of scrutiny to which the various parties are being subjected, and the degree to which their assertions are accepted without scrutiny.
Richard Worth’s motives, alleged actions and responsibility generally have not been subjected to significant public scrutiny or discussion (although his reputation has). The victim’s motives, supposed actions and responsibility for her position as a victim have been subject to a much higher degree of investigation; that is, expected to withstand closer scrutiny in order to be considered credible, as have those of her political agent Phil Goff. In most cases this has not been subtle, although some has.
I know, who’d have thunk it. Sexual harrassment victim held to account more strongly than alleged harrasser, sky blue and water wet. But this case, where the differentials in power and standard of acceptable conduct between alleged harasser and alleged victim could not be more stark, illustrates more than most why it’s arse-backwards.
But I think we are seeing a change in the public attitude toward this sort of thing. Although Louise Nicholas, Kristin Dunne-Powell and the anonymous victim here are still subjected to undue scrutiny and speculation, the media have in each case gradually begun to treat the incidents more seriously. As John Key is discovering, it is no longer politically viable to simply ignore this sort of thing and hope it goes away.
Richard Worth has resigned from his ministerial positions citing “personal reasons” and taken a fortnight’s leave of absence from Parliament, John Key has said this is related to a criminal investigation for matters unrelated to his actions as a Minister or MP.
Why, other than a desire for gossip, do we need to know what Worth is being investigated for?
He, and any victim(s) that may exist, have all the same rights they would have if he were not in Parliament. If one of my neighbours was being investigated by the Police I would have no expectation of being informed of the existence of the investigation, let alone the substance of any allegations. Why is this any different?
Paul Henry led TV One’s Close Up the other evening with disbelief that GetAcross – “just a few protesters” – could bring Auckland to “a virtual standstill”, and that the police were “powerless to stop them – almost unwilling to stop them”.
Yes, that is amazing.
But he goes on:
Hang on a minute. “Vulnerable” denotes susceptibility to attack, and this construction therefore defines “civil disobedience” as an attack on society, or at least on Auckland. But civil disobedience as a form of activism, an agent of social change or a means of engaging people in the wider political process is by definition not an attack, but one of the `institutions of societal democracy’ referred to in Pablo’s recent post on the topic; a civic duty, to use Thoreau’s formulation, rather than an act of social destructiveness. That the police didn’t – or couldn’t – prevent it by force seems to me a good thing for our society, and I might add a refreshing change from former attitudes toward peaceful protest.
This wasn’t an attack which weakened society, it was an action which could strengthen it by demonstrating that when you want something, there’s no better way to get it than to make your views known. The GetAcross action didn’t result in violence, property damage, serious disorder or anything of the sort – all it did was show up a critical weak link in Auckland’s infrastructure chain. When a couple of thousand – at most – people on bikes can cause tens of thousands of people to become stuck in traffic just by crossing one bridge, once, there are more serious problems than the protest action. If by simply adding a lane two metres wide, ARTA could prevent this from ever having to happen again – then why wouldn’t they? If not, then aren’t they asking for the weak link to be tested, again and again?
Update: To my great delight, James at Editing The Herald has skewered Garth George’s latest set of authoritarian mutterings about this topic on the sharp spike of the the black civil rights movement. Party on, James.
It is nearly impossible to steal emails, because to be stealing you have to take something so that the owner no longer has it (not only blindingly obvious but also in the Crimes Act).
So if we go with the common rumour that Brash’s emails were printed out, and imagine someone with legitimate access to them made copies then it’s not theft, in fact I can’t see how it would even be criminal. Another scenario, someone forwards the emails on to someone else, again not theft, and I can’t see how it’s criminal.
The Nats know this, they know it won’t have been theft and is really unlikely to have even been criminal but they keep saying “stolen emails” over and over. They say it because it’s spin – the exact same kind of spin documented in The Hollow Men – they say it because it smears Nicky Hager and it distracts from what the emails show about their behaviour. That makes sense, that’s politics: dirtier than I’d like it to be but no more dirty that we expect from the Nats.
So the question becomes, why do the media keep repeating that National spin?
Late last year I wrote to the Police asking them for the current status of the recommendations of the Bazley Report (the report of the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct). Several months later, after much to-ing and fro-ing and the involvement of the Ombudsmen, I have some documents, some redacted documents, and an out of date status report. I’ve probably got more paperwork about their non-answers, denials, forgetting and delays than I do in answers.
I still don’t know the current status of the implementation of the recommendations, I do know that the out of date status report says they’re still slipping and not making progress at the rate they’d committed to. I also know that if you redact a report, repaginate it but release it with the original table of contents and index it’s really annoying.
So, if Guyon Espiner, Tracey Watkins, TV3 or Rob Hosking would like to run big high profile stories saying it’s a “whitewash” or a “cover up” I’m totally open to that! Plus if any right wing blogs would like to weigh in and show that it’s all part of a massive conspiracy run by the Labour government that would be grand too.
But seriously, it just ain’t news.
Teenager objects to school uniform policy is hardly news – unless the teenager is as photogenic as young Sheridan Marris, whose green streaks have landed her on the front page of today’s Rodney Times and Stuff’s splash image.
It works – this non-story is (as of the time of writing) on Stuff’s `Most Viewed’ list, along with stories such as “League’s group sex romps to continue”; “Man finds wife and mate on porn DVD” and “Babysitter sentenced for sex with boy”. Sheridan now has excellent publicity for her petition to have the rules at Rodney College changed, while her image has been employed to the same effect as those headlines. That’s how the mutual exploitation model of the media works; but is the payoff worth it?
Update 19:15: On the Stuff front page, the headshot of `world’s hottest woman’ Olivia Wilde is now positioned right next to the similarly-composed headshot of 13 year-old Marris.
Ethical Martini asked the question on Sunday. Out of largely professional interest I watched, read and listened to the coverage on the two main TV newses, National Radio, Stuff, the Herald online and their various dead-tree editions from Thursday to Monday so perhaps I’m too close to it, but I’ve been pondering the question since, unsure how to answer because it comes down to one’s assumptions about what the media is supposed to do in such a case. That’s a tricky question.
If it’s supposed to maximise value for its shareholders, then it sure as hell did that, with garish wall-to-wall coverage and plenty of breathless speculation, really hitting the spectacle out of the park in such a way as to ensure that the name of Jan Molenaar will long be remembered as shorthand for `paranoid survivalist with guns, dope and death-wish’; our own little Ruby Ridge (but without all that annoying moral/ethical/legal equivocation).
If it’s supposed to perform a civil defence or public order function, keeping those in immediate need of information informed for the purpose of ensuring their safety, security, peace of mind, etc, then I would have thought they did a pretty decent job – from Wellington, I thought I had a pretty clear picture of what was going on, despite not ever having been to the place in question or in such a situation. Comments from those in the local area, however, are mixed on this count – and those who know Napier express some frustration at the constant mangling of street names, landmarks, etc.
If it’s supposed to be keeping the wider public informed on a matter of national significance, then I think the media did an exceptional job of keeping everyone engaged and updated with massive amounts of information, although with the proviso that much of that information was speculative at best.
If it’s supposed to act as a communication medium from authority to gunman in the sense of megaphone diplomacy, then I think it failed miserably. Although this was largely down to police command not using it in such a way, the media also framed coverage of Molenaar in the third person and spoke to his family members in othering ways, hardly making it possible to reach out to him. I think the first broadcast message I heard which addressed him directly was on Friday night.
If it’s supposed to act as a balm for a shocked nation, then I think it did a pretty good job of that as well, bolstering public confidence in the Police by portraying them as calm and disciplined rather than vengeful and reactive, and local businesses, charities, schools, Civil Defence and local government as united in solidarity, working well together for the public good, as we might hope they would in what I hope it isn’t too churlish to term `a proper emergency’.
If it’s supposed to tell us who to cheer for and who to boo at, once again it did a cracking job. You know you’re dealing with a real villain when all the people who can’t go home for their own safety are classified as `victims’ and even the people who make cups of tea for them are `heroes’.
If it’s supposed to stimulate and inform public debate on the wider political and social issues which are germane to the case – drug law, gun law, alienation, the role of the coercive arm of the state in private affairs, police doctrine and posture, the complexities of entrenched tactical operations – then it gets a bit more complicated.
On the one hand, I’m inclined to think it did an execrable job. If I may cram a whole lot of mixed metaphors in here: the lobby groups, armchair experts and those with an axe to grind on such matters have played the media like a fiddle, and the media has tuned itself up and rosined the bow to allow it. We’re going to get an awful lot of heat and precious little light. Instantly we have people calling for more guns, less guns, more guns but only for some people, guns to be licensed like cars rather than owners being licensed, the absurd notion I heard on NatRad this morning that all privately-owned firearms should be stored at a central, secure facility and be checked out and back in again. The battle of the slogans is well underway – `if you’ve nothing to hide you’ve nothing to fear’ counterposed against `when you outlaw guns, only the outlaws have guns’, for a start. And then there’s the debate about marijuana, with the frankly idiotic counterfactual that if the police didn’t prosecute minor drug crime then they wouldn’t have been in this sorry mess at all – possibly true, but only until something else brought the red mist down on Jan Molenaar.
On the other hand, the free flow of information around this case – the fact that every idiot on Your Views and talkback radio gets to listen to the so-called experts and decide what to think – should mean in principle that we have the basis for a good fact-based debate. Is not free expression via the media, with everyone putting their arguments up to be judged in a market of information, the most efficient means of determining which views have merit and which are bogus? If not, by what other means should we determine the relative merits of conflicting views and arguments?
I’m still no closer to an overall answer to the question Martin posed. I think it’s pollyanna-ish to say that the coverage did what it needed to do because everyone got a say, we all got our little reality TV fix and all the experts got a chance to climb up on their hind legs and argue the world to rights, but I think it’s curmudgeonly to decry the whole affair as a lurid farce.
What do you reckon?