Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

< Columns

Bogus Election Media Coverage



This election campaign has degenerated into a media circus with endless trivial claims and counter claims, many of them driven by the media. As a result, we, the long-suffering voters find ourselves dependent more and more on the integrity of the journalists who are reporting the parties' policies. Sadly, many aren't doing the job. We know the Herald's Simon Wilson of old. On Tuesday Professor Rob Maculloch in his Down to Earth Kiwi blog showed Wilson up once more, this time because of his attack on National's tax figures. Wilson claimed Chris Luxon's figures regarding the 15% levy on foreigners purchasing houses didn't add up, when the real problem turned out to be Wilson's own shaky sources. I hope Maculloch doesn't stop here: little of what Wilson thinks is journalism ever seems to pass muster. Several other Herald journalists also peddle their personal politics, although not as blatently as Wilson. The others dress their stories up as reporting. Claire Trevett, Audrey Young, Michael Neilson and a couple of others slant their reporting towards the left. This isn't surprising: a majority of reporters from time immemorial have been Labour supporters. Some, like Newsroom's Jo Moir, just can't help themselves. But they need to remember that in a tight campaign, slanted journalism can damage a perpetrator's reputation for life.

The owners of the Herald, NZME, also need to exercise more care. They should have thought twice before letting the Council of Trade Unions, in the middle of a campaign, take over the front cover last Monday for a personal attack on a major political party's leader. The Council of Trade Unions has a shady past, going back to the days of Fintan Patrick Walsh. Starting 83 years ago, the then FOL and its affiliates began playing games with the Labour Party, sending union bosses to its conferences armed with card votes and voting up or down on issues they'd never bothered to consult their membership about. The current Labour Government has over-empowered the unions once more, and until this is rectified the CTU are indulging in what resembles corrupt practices in defence of their newly-found privileges. The one thing we can be absolutely certain about is that the wider membership of trade unions, whom the CTU purports to represent, weren't consulted before those front-page adverts. Shayne Currie and Murray Kirkness at the editorial level ought to have known that, and blown the whistle.

These days, of course, we get more of the news from television and radio than newspapers. Varying levels of professionalism are evident on the two main TV channels. Mike McRoberts and Simon Dallow are reliable performers, but TV3's Amelia Wade shows her colours more than she should. Jack Tame does his job, but is more interested in avenues of attack than discovering the background to the issue. Despite its excessive, untranslated Maori verbiage, RNZ succeeds most of the time in straight reporting. Of course, blogs like this one, are a different matter. We don't pretend to be unbiased, and nor do we charge for our stories. We don't get money from the Public Interest Journalism Fund that Labour established in 2020, purportedly to assist media outlets adversely affected by Covid, but in reality, to exercise more control over the media. At the time the fund was created, many commentators smelled a rat and criticised newspapers for accepting what looked like a government bribe to journalists paid for by the taxpayer. The Herald's editors haughtily dismissed those fears, but right now, in an election campaign, those assurances can be carefully scrutinised and, in several cases, have already been found wanting.

In a free country, journalists and the media in general need to be trusted to "speak truth to power" on their readers' and viewers' behalf. Prostrating themselves before Mammon, in the form of the Public Interest Journalism Fund, should be beneath them. Television and radio editors and communicators have considerable influence. They should use that power honestly. When interviewing, it isn't necessary always to find fault with the interviewee. Teasing out a policy, its origin and its possible effect can be revealing. Constant negativity is the way our media succeed in blighting all politicians, giving the triennial election process in our lives a bad name. Why not leave trolling to social media?