Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

< Columns

The Publicly owned Media Yet Again


TVONE and RadioNZ seem to have convinced themselves that they are untouchable and that they can act as outrageously as they like without any fear of consequences. After two weeks of beat-ups over Nicky Hager's Dirty Tricks, where their breathless excitement and determination to dent John Key's image came to nothing, their own reputations had been kicked down several flights of stairs. Neither organization seems to have any inkling of what contempt many New Zealanders now hold them in. Losing their audience is only part of it. Rebuilding our trust in public broadcasting after this campaign will be a hard task.

They now seem intent on doing even further damage to themselves. RadioNZ spent much of Saturday talking up Glen Greenwald's rather mild assertion that material in his hands showed that New Zealanders had been subject to mass surveillance, despite Prime Minister John Key's denial. Today TVONE's 6pm news talked of the "spying scandal" heating up. What "scandal"? At the time the programme aired, there was no "scandal". Use of that word "scandal" suggests pre-judgment by TVONE's journalists. Politically-inspired pre-judgment. Evidence might possibly be presented which, if unanswered, could justify that term. But as of Sunday night no such evidence had appeared, and the word is a gross overstatement. What lengths are they going to go to tomorrow?

As Sherlock Holmes always said, attention should fasten on the dog that doesn't bark in the night. Why hasn't it occurred to journalists at both publicly owned media outlets that the real story about spying allegations surrounds Kim Dotcom. Why aren't they inquiring into - indeed, to date, never have inquired into - how this man with a record of court convictions elsewhere managed to get into New Zealand, despite our law, and what his actual game plan has been and now is? Has he extracted any promise from David Cunliffe to intervene in the judicial process should the courts decide that he can be extradited? Why is this German apparently so desperate to influence our election that he is willing to spend so much money? Is it spite? Or more than that? What has Dotcom paid Glen Greenwald to drop tools and fly all the way to New Zealand at the tail end of our campaign to try to upset its likely outcome? What are Greenwald's expenses likely to be? Is Greenwald truthful when he says he's paying his proceeds to charity? What charity?

TVONE and RadioNZ's failure to explore these issues in any depth makes it clear that journalists' personal agendas are in play. Yes, there is also a fair amount of ignorance too. Corin Dann's questioning of John Key when he used the term "henchman" to describe Dotcom's mate Greenwald suggests that Dann has difficulties with the language, and has already decided that Greenwald is a knight in shining armour to be treated with obsequious respect. Surely the mildest term to describe a man, however distinguished, who drops tools and flies to New Zealand a week before an election to participate in someone's stunt is a "henchman"? Others might describe him as a "hireling".

This much seems clear to me: at both media stations there are journalists who deem it their duty to undermine the party leading in the polls by whatever means they have at their disposal. Their method? Understate and sneer at anything said in defence of the government, and overstate any attack on it. Wind the public up as they prepare to vote for those who will rule them for the next three years, hoping that enough of them will not vote for John Key to see the government defeated. Cynical manipulation? You bet. Worthy of an inquiry after the election is out of the way? Absolutely!