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?