Red Alert

Who holds the media accountable?

Posted by on June 19th, 2010

I’ve been musing a bit lately about accountability. How important it is. Labour’s new OpenLabourNZ policy process is about being accountable and open with New Zealanders.

When you become an MP you know you are accountable to your Party, your caucus colleagues and to your constituents. And of course, to yourself and your family.

Media are an important part of our democracy. We need them, we need them to be vigorous and to scrutinise, investigate, probe beneath the surface and critically analyse. We need them to be intelligent and wise, responsible and have high standards of quality, to be ethical. And we need them to hold elected representatives accountable.

Here’s the NZ journalist code of ethics, produced by their union the EPMU. It makes interesting reading.

Two questions I’ve been grappling with.

First, is the spotlight on MPs expenses all about accountability? Or is it something else? It certainly has taken people’s attention away from how public money is being spent  and how significant cuts and changes are happening in health, education, social development.

This week, Contact Energy put its electricity prices up by nearly 10% in Dunedin. Gerry Brownlee sat on his hands. Despite his govt having pledged to do something about high electricity prices. Is anyone watching this?

On the Foreshore and Seabed, John Key and Ministers promised most NZers that they wont notice any changes, and yet tell Maoridom they are delivering them what they want. I’m not seeing much scrutiny here.

In social development Paula Bennett talked recently about the  possibility of the welfare reform debate turning ugly. Thankfully John Armstrong in the NZ Herald picked this up and wrote about it. But it got lost in the maelstrom around MP spending.

Tony Ryall manages to continue to get away with calling cuts to frontline health services “changes”.

And then we have Judith Collins who has the Police Association onside after settling a wage claim arguing that cuts to policing in a number of regions is ok because those regions are overpoliced! Not sure Otago is going to feel safer after losing 22 police jobs.

There are many more issues. Rhetoric vs reality.

Delving into the issues is time consuming. It’s worthy but not always sexy. It requires resources, determination and investigative skills. And motivation. Not many news organisations have extensive resources, or skilled practitioners for this and there has been a growing trend for journalism to syndicate material and concentrate on day to day stories.

And second, who holds the media accountable? For their motivations and their methods? Is it the Broadcasting Standards Authority? The NZ Press Council?

Here’s a list of useful websites for anyone interested in seeing what’s available. Complaints can be laid, but they take a long time to be processed. The results of investigations are printed in newspapers (not usually the front page) and sometimes read on air.

Is it enough? Media coverage can be hugely unforgiving. Once it’s out there it creates an impression which is hard to shift, even if the reporting has been found wanting.

And what about the role of citizen journalism? Blogs have become sources of news and we are seeing more and more claims made by bloggers portrayed as “fact”. I think the rise of citizen journalism is fascinating but it carries dangers and distortions.

In the spirit of OpenLabourNZ what role does the media play in our democracy? Could it be different? Better, Stronger? Are they too powerful? Are they equipped? Or have we got it about right?

110 Responses to “Who holds the media accountable?”

  1. Rebecca says:

    Hmmm the fact that you reference a song from Alice in Wonderland doesn’t do much to convince me! :)

  2. Spud says:

    😯 Yeeeee haaaaa a confession from Rebecca! 😀
    An honest tory, I think I need to sit down…

  3. Spud says:

    It’s a great story 😀

  4. A Mother says:

    Don’t think I’m going to change my views any time soon as all Nact has done is make it harder to get anywhere for many people. I don’t like some of the cuts they have made, and I’m worried about what more is to come. All I see is Nact = hardship for many. I’m not saying that some changes needed to be made, but there are cuts then there is buchered.

  5. Nevyn says:

    I really don’t see this as a National vs. Labour issue.

    Let’s quit with the speculation and looking for ways to make it about the parties. Let’s instead look at the facts.

    The fact is:

    The news is little more than a business with more concern with ratings than presenting the facts in an impartial manner.

    Clare is saying is that this sensationalist reporting serves to misdirect our attention elsewhere. But let’s be honest, Labour has used this as well.

    How can this be fixed? Well what if we stopped watching the news? And we stopped buying newspapers? If we hit them in the wallet, would that make them sit up and notice? (or would they bleat on about how the Internet isn’t fair on ’em?)

    Who does the media answer to?!?


  6. DeepRed says:

    @Nevyn: A good start would be to browse your local news sites with the ad-blockers turned on, even if it’s only a token gesture.

    In an ideal world, media would be under the eye of the Commerce Commission, as well as the Press Council (which was formed when most media was privately held or state-funded).

    Other than that, we’ll have to wait for the next Jay Pryor.

  7. A Mother says:

    No neither do I see it as a National vs Labour thing. Think this thread has gone off topic somewhat.

  8. Clare Curran says:

    @ A Mother I don’t see it as off topic or I’d intervene. It’s good to have the discussion. I didn’t argue that the media was in a conspriacy to get the left. My argument is about quality and the purpose of media in our society.

    @Nevyn keep telling us your views.

  9. DeepRed says:

    @Rebecca: if what you say is true, kudos for ‘fessing up. Some of my best friends are Jewish, but…

    Getting back on topic, who remembers the Lyprinol cancer cure debacle?

  10. Rebecca says:

    DeepRed – funny! I hope gullible is not your middle name… 😉

    Clare – I would be beg to differ given that you stated:

    “First, is the spotlight on MPs expenses all about accountability? Or is it something else? It certainly has taken people’s attention away from how public money is being spent and how significant cuts and changes are happening in health, education, social development……There are many more issues. Rhetoric vs reality”.

    then you went on to discuss the said issues in more detail.

    Sorry, but this to me implied that your goal here to was to launch yet another empty attack on the NACTs rather than actually discuss the ethical boundaries of media and how they go about reporting the issues of today…