I’ve been writing for a while about the degradation of quality media in this country and building a case for strengthening it.
I have also written at various times about how cynicism towards politics and politicians has become like a cancer in our society. That it creates distance and distrust between people and politicians and has made the practice of democracy somewhat of a farce.
A couple of weeks ago a former senior Australian politician, Lindsay Tanner released a book called Sideshow, dumbing down democracy, which delved into both these subjects. Lindsay was Minister of Finance in the Labor Government and unexpectedly resigned at the last election. I have enormous respect for him as a man and a politician.
He writes of the mass disillusionment with politics in Australia and describes how politicians have become increasingly robotic, with scripted stunts and gimicks.
He talks of the pressures on media to be competitive and the impact of technology-change which has squeezed out much of the commercial media’s ability to be serious and considered about national politics. Instead, commercial media has become a zone of ultra sensationalsim, personalities, celebrities, trivia and gimicks. And politicians have responded by becoming more defensive and robotic to protect themselves.
He says nobody is particularly to blame, it’s the market pressures. But that two crafts; politics and serious journalism, have been trashed in the process.
Sound familiar? I think it’s worse here in NZ because we don’t have the diversity of media that Australia has. But the hunger for trivia is increasing.
And as Kris Faafoi said in the debate in parliament last week on the Bill that axes the TVNZ Charter, the news on TV is becoming less important than the ad breaks in between news items. One could sometimes say indistinguishable from ad breaks.
We need serious debate about these issues in our country. If you’re interested; listen to Lindsay Tanner being interviewed on Australian Sky News by political editor David Speers.
And then watch the ABC’s MediaWatch clip which lays out in frightening detail the subsequent media coverage of Tanner’s book launch, in precisely the way he predicted it would play out in the media. As an attack on the government of which he was previously a part. Despite him trying to generate discussion about how the media interacts with politics.
How do we get critical analysis and discussion back into our public discourse in this country? That’s a pretty important and urgent question I think. It’s unlikely to come through commercial broadcast media. That leaves the depleted public broadcast media. And print, which faces similar issues. The demise of NZPA has raised some critical issues for our news media generally as we will soon no longer have a national news agency.
Do New Zealanders care? Jonathan Coleman, the undistinguished Minister of Broadcasting, thinks they don’t. He reckons we all want to exist on a diet of reality TV. Do we really? And what do we do when our news and reality TV become indistinguishable?