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Bruce Cotterill

Bruce Cotterill

Local Media Need To Find Their Teeth Again


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In the past couple of weeks I’ve noticed a bit more commentary starting to appear about the behaviour of the media.

One of the often repeated charges is that the media is demonstrating bias in favour of the Government and against the various Opposition parties.

This may not be a popular view, but I think there has historically been a natural bias in the media, one that favours the left side of politics. I suspect it’s a hangover from the old Fleet Street days in the UK when members of the press traditionally came from and thus took the side of the working class.

In the last couple of weeks we’ve seen the leader of the Opposition accusing TVNZ of bias against the Opposition parties. We’ve also seen journalists openly expressing their personal political opinions on Twitter. In the meantime, MediaWorks radio has continued the change that sees it’s talkback line-up reflect a more left-leaning makeup.

At the same time, we’re seeing increasing commentary about the Government role in funding the media. This has probably come about on the back of recent strong financial results at TVNZ and other media organisations that demonstrate the impact of the Government’s Covid-induced $55 million media support package and record levels of government-funded advertising, particularly around Covid-19 and the controversial three waters proposals.

In the last 15 months, we’ve seen a number of businesses fronting up to refund the wage subsidy.

For the media companies, the advertising revenue is a fair gain. But, in light of the recently published financial results of media companies, I wonder whether its timely to consider refunding some or all of the support package.

My reason for saying so is this. If there is any risk that the media is skewing their representation of the performance of government, then we are indeed on shaky ground. In fact I suggest that there is nothing quite as dangerous in any democracy as a media that is beholden to the Government.

And there is no doubt in my mind that this Government, as it lurches from clumsy mistakes to avoidable crises, is currently getting an easy ride from the majority of the media operators.

The organisation that publishes this newspaper is the closest we have to an exception.

Through the efforts of a number of radio broadcasters on Newstalk ZB and some of the print journalists and columnists in the New Zealand Herald and its affiliate publications, there is a semblance of a balance at least.