Friday, October 27, 2017

Casualties of 2017 NZ Election:- Ethics and Credibility of Some Mainstream Media and their Journalists

Thakur Ranjit Singh

A free, independent, impartial and neutral media is the last bastion of democracy – it is the fourth pillar, joining Legislature, Judiciary and Executive in building a robust democracy.

That is why media is called the FOURTH ESTATE.

A big danger to this fourth estate is NOT from outside but from WITHIN, by slanted and skewed opinionated reporting.

A similar thing happened in Fiji after 1999 election, resulting in destabilisation of a democratically elected government.

Such signs are appearing within sections of New Zealand media after Labour and its coalition came to power after 2017 election.

People know who the journalist are, which the media organisations are – but as in case of revelations by “Dirty Politics” in 2014 election, there appears to be a deafening silence. Nobody seems to notice signs of early corrosion in the Fourth pillar.

Perhaps, among others, that is one reason why the Commerce Commission is opposing a merger of NZME (owners of NZ Herald and Newstalk ZB) with Fairfax (Stuff) as this would produce a virtual monopoly in news and cut quality…..We already seem to be experiencing this degeneration…Please read on..

Sensational,, partisan and irresponsible media agitation and reporting against People's Coalition Government in Fiji, in part, led to its demise. Ironically media is supposed be the Fourth Pillar of democracy -it should support it, and not lead to its fall. Sections of New Zealand media has already started this sort of partisan, biased and sensational reporting against the new coalition government led by Labour. Hope common sense prevails and media of a First World Country stops stooping to what we experienced in Fiji.
I had a feeling of Déjà vu when I saw some New Zealand mainstream journalists crying into their pillows that the National Party failed to get back in. This was after Winston Peters decided to go with the Labour Party.

When National got into power in 2014 and previous terms under the MMP system, this system then was perceived and considered as a robust and suitable system for our country.

No sooner had Labour come into power in 2017 with their coalition partners, than the same MMP became a defective monster for some National supporters and sections of supposedly neutral and impartial New Zealand media.

A similar thing occurred in Fiji in 1987. Under 1970 Constitution, Fiji’s first Prime Minister, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara’s Alliance Party won successive elections for seventeen years from 1970 to 1987. As soon as they lost power to Dr Timoci Bavadra in 1987, (which resulted in Rabuka's coup) the hitherto suitable Constitution all a sudden became defective, and they claimed it failed to safeguard interests of indigenous Fijians or democracy, which it appeared to have done under Mara’s rule. This was acceptable as long the as Ratu Mara’s Alliance won the election.

Same has happened here in New Zealand, and I feel I have been in this situation before, hence the feeling of Déjà vu I spoke about earlier.

A free, neutral, impartial and respectable media is supposed to be a Watchdog of a robust democracy. Once it degenerates into a Lapdog, democracy is threatened. Hope this is not allowed to happen here.
Certain mainstream journalists (Radio, Print, TV, and Social Media) have been using (read abusing) the platform of national mainstream media for their septic, jaundiced, personal and blatant partisan weeping for the National Party. They seem to regard themselves as Little Gods in media. They need to come down to earth, and decide whether they are impartial and neutral journalist to occupy influential media positions. Or should we regard them as public relations arm of the National Party, masquerading as journalists on the mainstream media. 

They have tarnished the status of a respectable Fourth Estate. Their employers need to decide whether they suit their position of responsibility, trust and neutrality. This is because they abuse their positions in media with their partisan diatribe criticising and blatantly running down the new government even before it has been sworn-in. 

It appears, apart from the right wing political parties, the biggest casualty of this election is the mainstream media's ethics of impartiality and neutrality. The blatant media wailing, show of naked partisan and animosity towards the new government is a matter of concern for those who respect freedom of speech, decorum, demeanour, the ethics and good practices associated with the Fourth Estate. This refers to the 4th pillar of democracy - a free respectable media. This comes after Legislature, Judiciary and Executive. A free, neutral and impartial media is essential for a flourishing democracy.

A free impartial media is referred to as the Fourth Estate - the fourth pillar supporting democracy, in addition to Legislature, Judiciary and Executive. A country with such unbiased and neutral media is a blessing to democracy. The question we need to ask in New Zealand is whether all our journalists in influential positions in the mainstream media can honestly pass a test of impartiality , neutrality and credibility?
What is a grave matter of concern is not that this blatant abuse has occurred. What concerns me is the deafening silence from those who should care. Where are the analytical, responsible and conscientious journalist who need to stand up to corruption and humiliation of their proud profession?

Where are the guardians of a free and responsible media? Where are the scholars and professors from media schools who need to oversee what they teach in media schools as gospels are really followed by senior and influential journalists in the field? Should not they defend the fundamentals of media ethics? 

Where are those from AUT’s media school where I studied journalism? Why does it take an ethnic person from a Third World Fiji to see what New Zealand journalists and related organisations are blind to?

When Fiji imposed media controls because journalists with similar behaviour were fanning racial divisions in a fragile democracy, certain banned journalist from New Zealand were critical of Fiji, lecturing them of media responsibility. 

Now, where are they when we need their sharp judgement? Cannot they detect this scandal in their backyard where some highly paid influential journalists appear to have taken the role of pseudo opposition party, acting as mouthpiece of National Party, disguised as journalists?

I am reminded of the Irish statesman, Edmund Burke’s famous quotation: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.

So, I am calling on the good journalist to stand up to this triumph of bad journalism in New Zealand. 

A responsible, free and non-partisan media is the last bastion of democracy. I know this well. In 2010, my research thesis for Masters in Communication Studies at Auckland University of Technology’s (AUT) media school was on such a topic. My research thesis was on the role of a Fiji media in bringing instability to a new Government in Fiji. It was titled: The 2000 Speight coup in Fiji: The role of “The Fiji Times” leading to political instability. 

What we learn from history is that we do not learn anything from history. This author's Masters in Communication (MCS) research at Auckland University of Technology's (AUT) media school on Speight's coup in Fiji in 2000, showed, that in part, media's (The Fiji Times") biased and sensational reporting led to fall of a democratically -elected government. Hence, it is our duty to safeguard that in New Zealand. A deafening silence  on erosion of media ethics here is very worrying.
My findings revealed that a partisan news media, and its negative portrayal of a new government can lead to a danger to democracy, cause instability and even lead to attempted coup, as in case of Fiji.

In the 2017 election, National Party lost power.

But the bigger loss is assault on the proud New Zealand’s Fourth Estate by those who need to stand up to protect it.

Let’s do that – lets protect media credibility in New Zealand to safeguard our healthy and strong democracy.

[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a post graduate scholar in honours in journalism from AUT, is a media commentator and political observer. He runs his blog, FIJI PUNDIT, and lives in Auckland, New Zealand.]

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