Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Mike Hosking: When media ethics get assaulted from within

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Unquestionably, a casualty of 2017 election in New Zealand has been its media ethics.

FIJI PUNDIT has previously written about an issue that no mainstream media or their journalists wished to raise.

This unfortunately, is largely due to professional courtesy where those in the same profession do not wish to taint their fellow journalists. And it is also largely because of the duopoly of media in NZ, with only two major players.

However, the advent of Social Media has brought a big change. Now, some celebrated journalists in powerful media organisations, with Halo-Effect, cannot dream of being Little Gods, while assaulting the ethics of a profession that provides their bread and butter. It appears that in New Zealand such ethics and code of conducts are only confined to lecture halls of Media Schools.

However, an insignificant David took courage to challenge an award-winning Goliath on an issue about which the mass –media has adopted a stance of deafening silence.

FIJI PUNDIT wishes to raise this issue, hoping it will prick conscience of some media professors and media commentators who can gain nerve to point a rot in their own profession.

Please read on……..

Indeed, this is a David versus Goliath story. This David had earlier shot his sling at some Goliath mainstream journalists who have been shaming the Fourth Estate in the aftermath of 2017 election, unable to digest the results of MMP.

David versus Goliath: When an insignificant journalist, FIJI PUNDIT takes on the Award-Winner celebrated journalist of NZME, the great Mike Hosking, who can never be wrong.
My scepticism with media ethics was further heightened by actions of one particular award-winning journalist of New Zealand Media and Entertainment. NZME is huge media duopoly, owning NZ Herald, Newstalk ZB, among others.

NZME was launched in 2014 as the formal merger of the New Zealand division of APN News & Media and The Radio Network, part of the Australian Radio Network. It operates 32 newspapers, 8 radio networks and several websites in twenty-five markets across the country, and reaches over 3 million people. They are huge and behaviour of some of their celebrated journalists is contrary to what I learnt in media school at Auckland University of Technology (AUT).

The only confidence I get is from Commerce Commission, which is opposing a merger of NZME with Fairfax (Stuff) as this would produce a virtual monopoly in news, and cut quality. We already seem to be experiencing this deterioration from NZME. And that brings me to NZME’s hero, Mike Hosking.

The great Mike Hosking, who circulated a video (see link in article, below), where some of his erroneous claims are challenged. And I accuse him of tarnishing the image of journalists by being a spin-doctor.
He has been circulating a video under the banner of Newstalk ZB titled: “Does Labour want to sink the housing market?” It goes with his comments: “This so called ban on foreign ownership is xenophobic bollocks. It's the work of inexperienced amateurs.”

Is this an advertisement from National Party?

Or is it supposed to be a critique of an award-winning journalist who is expected to apply media ethics when publicly talking about a government which has been in power for merely a week.

He has gone on a tangent, blaming Labour for doing what National has not done in the last nine years. Therefore what has been untested should be allowed time. As a celebrated journalist of almost monopolistic media organisation, he owes a duty of care to be probing, balanced and telling the truth - and the whole truth. It appears he did not allow truth to spoil a good story.

I will only pick two issues from his very partisan video. The first was his undying reliance on government statistics which showed only 3% of buyers were from overseas. We know that National government had failed to keep any credible records, and only did so half-heartedly when forced to do so.

Phil Twyford, now Minister for Housing had warned about the 3% figures from government record as being  useless. Despite this warning and caution from Government officials, Hoskings completely relied on this questionable figure to discredit Labour and its policies. He was miser with facts, which he did not allow to spoil a good spin.
There was a warning from Officials that there were some limitations to the data and it was not an authoritative guide to the level of foreign investment in New Zealand's residential property. (NZ Herald, 10 May, 2016). The then Labour spokesman on Housing (and current Housing Minister) Phil Twyford stressed that these figures were effectively useless because of its limitations.

It also excludes trusts and businesses. A further 45 per cent of the Auckland sales were also excluded because of exemptions for those buying family homes and those who signed contracts before the law came in.

Hence the 3% was a window-dressing and nothing to rely upon. One would have expected greater degree of journalistic acumen from Hosking. In a recent Radio talkback, a director of a leading real estate cited a case where an Asian resident student owned 41 houses. So, you can guess what methods are employed to hide the true picture of foreign ownership.

The other issue in his video was about breach of free trade agreements. If Hosking had cared to read comments of a more credible journalist from NZME’s sister organisation, Fran O’Sullivan of NZ Herald, (02.11.17), he would have been enlightened:

Labour now says it was incorrect to claim the house ban could not be done without breaching other free trade agreements.
Ardern has announced the Government's chosen mechanism is to introduce an amendment to the Overseas Investment Act to classify residential housing as "sensitive".

While the previous government has been sleeping on the job, Labour has found an escape clause within 5 days of coming to power, to bring necessary changes without breaching overseas trade agreements.

Perhaps if that was not understandable to Hosking, he needs to read article by another colleague from sister organisation at NZ Herald (05.11.17). Heather du Plessis-Allan, under the heading “Labour's new broom lightweight, but sweeping clean”, had relevant revelation for Hosking:

The first to go was the notion New Zealand should be for sale to the world. National refused to ban foreign house buyers, claiming it would breach our free trade deals.
        Except, it turns out it won't, which is why Labour did it              within five days of taking office.
 Foreign buyers should have been banned years ago. Ignore the data that suggests it wasn't a problem. It was.
      The data goes nowhere near capturing what was really               happening in the housing market, especially Auckland's,            where some foreign buyers were snapping up houses sight         unseen.  
       The fact is, if we put this country on sale to the world, our          citizens will end up being outbid by foreigners every time          because we don't have their kind of cash.

What is evident to other journalist is missed by Hosking. He was very emphatic on questioning government’s objective on banning foreign buyers. You do not need to be a rocket scientist to know the reason why.

The new prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern achieved in halting house-sales to foreign speculators in 5 days in government which National could not achieve in 9 years. Where there is a will, there is way.
Whose interest is he safeguarding? The foreign buyers?

Or is he more worried about National's rich cronies being able to sell their overpriced properties at extremely high prices and untaxed profits to foreign buyers? Like Sir John selling his Parnell mansion for $20m to a Chinese buyer?
As a responsible, credible and conscientious journalist, it is one thing to be ignorant about issues.

It is quite another to use your position in an influential media to degenerate journalism to spin-doctoring.

[Thakur Ranjit Singh is a Political Observer, Indian Newslink columnist and Media Commentator and runs his Blog, ‘Fiji Pundit.’ He lives in Auckland. Email: thakurji@xtra.co.nz]

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