Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

< Columns

Our Media Goes Troppo


What has gone wrong with TV1? It's on a par with Radio NZ. Both are meant to be news stations. But both have decided to prostitute themselves before their thieving acolyte Nicky Hager and his book of stolen emails, Dirty Politics. Over the last ten days they have become so preoccupied with this plot theorist that one wonders what they are up to. Both stations are required by their charters to provide news for the taxpayers and consumers who pay their wages. Both of them, however, are so besotted with Nicky that they repeat the same stories about his very thin book. TV1 excelled itself a week after Hager's book was published when it outlined in graphics on Thursday 21 August the same story all over again, just in case we had missed it. Nothing new. Simon Dallow, a nice enough guy, who got a law degree years back, and who fronts TV1 news, stood up there and repeated himself for the sixth or seventh time. Surely time a bit of self-respect kicked in? Tonight, Saturday 23rd, TV1 played footage about Judith Collins and John Key they'd shown days back.

What, precisely are we dealing with? Endless repetition, the same editorializing at the expense of more relevant news like party policies that could be analysed and costed, a process which would assist people to make up their minds over which party or group of parties is more likely to assist them over the next three years. Katy Bradford, daughter of veteran left-winger-anarchist, Sue Bradford, said tonight that John Key would be hoping that the Hager story went away. By the look on her face we can count on her to see that it doesn't. She'll be there to throw mud at this government till the cows come home. And her producers appear willing to assist. But surely voters have a right to know what parties are promising? Instead, TV1, with valiant back-up this last week from Radio NZ, and with the New Zealand Herald in hot pursuit, looks like it has decided to steal the election from the wider public.

Who is calling the shots at these so-called "news" stations and papers? Are the faceless people who assemble what constitutes news just lazy, or are they all so anti-National in their political views that they have become stuck in a groove like a badly worn vinyl record? Or do they hate Cameron Slater who is usually better than them at getting news breaks? Whatever. The question we need to ask is where is the management of this TV station and radio? Does nobody in these publicly-owned media outlets monitor what is broadcast or printed? Does no one say to the news editor that it's time to move on: that every bit of what is such a thin story line has been wrung out of Dirty Politics? Does no one point out that this book is just the last in a long line of election-year beat-ups trotted out by this ferret-faced fruit cake?

It's not as though Hager has provided novelty in his book. The story line is very thin. There's a fair bit of hyperbole about "a new kind of attack politics" in New Zealand, which to seasoned observers like me is absolute nonsense. If one is to believe his claims, one must believe he's been wearing earmuffs for forty years. Yes, today there are some unpleasant characters involved on the periphery of politics, a lot of un-savoury language by those who for their own kicks seek news breaks. Just like always. There are references in the dirty book to a few dim wit reporters who are believed to be open to manipulation by the nasties' superior, if warped intellects.

But if you stop to think of it, the only new development of the last 20 years is the internet that Hager, for more than a decade, has been busy hacking into in search of beat-ups. He wasn't so good at phone tapping! The internet has replaced the phone as the main means of communication these days between hackers, nasties and leakers. Their activities, and intentions, remain the same as in the days when the phone ruled supreme. From my memory as a former politician, there's little difference in the content of the communications Hager has stolen from what was passed to journalists twenty, thirty or forty years ago over the phone.

Our ferret-faced one is very selective. He concentrates his fire on John Key and the centre right, when people like Helen Clark and her apparatchiks did the same sort of thing by phone quite recently during her nine years. A bit of a memory check by journalists who were on the receiving end of her drip feeding, and a bit of historical reading would smooth the fevered brows of an unbiased reporter. No journalist worthy of his/her pay should have let the contents of this thin book de-rail him/her to the extent they appear to have. Unless, of course, those same journalists have thrown away any pretence to being unbiased and are allowed these days to indulge their own personal agendas.

The good news of the last ten days is that it is starting to look as though the wider public is less easily misled than the journalists. Roy Morgan's poll on Thursday suggested that the Hager nonsense might actually be helping, rather than hurting the political centre right. Allowing for the fact that the Herald's July Digi-Poll was a freak that no one else's polling supported at the time, the Herald's August poll also suggests that the egregious Hager has scored an own goal with his media manipulation.

Presumably TV1, Radio NZ and the Herald wish to have a future beyond the election? Unless someone takes charge of them, that future is likely to be dimmed if only because the public turns off, and fewer read or listen to the ravings of weak journalists. Certainly neither TV1 nor Radio NZ can credibly argue for more taxpayer funding!