Holding the media to account

In our democracy the politicians and political parties need to be held to account. Every three years the voters get to do that. In between elections it is largely up to the media to hold them to account.

In this day of pervasive and invasive news coverage the media have a very powerful influence in politics. They have the power to make or break politicians, and to make or break parties.

Media coverage of the worm in the 2002 campaign is seen as a major reason for the level of success United Future had. And coverage of the cafe meeting between John Key and John Banks became a major influence on the 2011 campaign – it may have affected party votes, possibly to the extent of syrging NZ First over 5% and backn into Parliament.

What if the media get something wrong? What if they show or print an unfair or incorrect item?

If it’s about a big issue or a big party there can be a lot of noise about it in social media. If it’s about a small party and most commenters don’t care or like the negative coverage because it suits their purposes it won’t get significant scrutiny.

If an inaccurate or unfair item is printed you can write to the editor, your complaint may be published.

If an inaccurate or unfair item is broadcast what can you do about it?

You can officially complain to the broadcaster. I tried this once – during the last election campaign – and was pretty much sneered at, and nothing was done about it.

If the broadcaster doesn’t respond to an official complaint within twenty working days you can then lodge a complaint with the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

In due course the BSA will make a ruling. On the 10th May the BSA published decisions on complaints relating to broadcasts back in April last year, nearly a year ago! In the fast moving modern worlds of media coverage and politics that’s a pointless historic exercise.

If a politician makes a mistake they can immediate and extensive coverage, and they are often put under extreme pressure to respond, sometimes to the point of hounding and harrassing.

If a broadcaster makes a mistake or airs an obviously unfair item they can usually effectively ignore any complaints, unless competing media choose to highlight it.

Those on the receiving end of unfair coverage, the public and the politicians, have virtually no control over any redress, they remain at the mercy of the media.

In the modern age shouldn’t we have an effective means of holding the media to account? Or should we just accept that media’s unfettered power is just something we have to live with?