Hooton: “the real corruption in the New Zealand media”

Matthew Hooton gets good coverage in media, but he is quite critical of the hand that feeds him publicity in ‘I’m completely squeaky clean’: an interview with Matthew Hooton (The Spinoff):

“I think the real corruption in the New Zealand media comes from so-called academics frankly and Labour Party operatives embedded in the media.

“If I look at the people in PR who commentate and the people who work for unions I don’t think they represent any threat to the integrity of the New Zealand media compared with people who are basically political activists posing as journalists.

“…in New Zealand – and it’s a worldwide problem – commentary has moved into reporting. It’s terrible. When I started doing political commentary 30 years ago the basic facts of what might have occurred were established by reporters and reported in quite a bland almost boring manner. And then there were the commentators.

“One of the big risks, one of the problems that’s occurred, and Fox News is the most notorious, is the merging of reporting and commentating. That’s a far greater issue than some PR person or union boss popping up and saying what they think.”

I think he could have a solid point here – especially as the media has control of which PR person or union boss pops up and what is published, but at times seem out of control with their own involvement in commentating and influencing politics rather than just reporting. At times the lines between journalism and activism seemed badly blurred.

“Corruption” was the word he chose in August last year to describe TV3 political editor Tova O’Brien’s reporting on the Simon Bridges expenses story – which, of course, ended up mutating into the Jami-Lee Ross saga. His remarks at the time seemed – how to put it? – a bit hysterical.

“Oh, it’s a phrase,” he breezed. “They enjoyed that and ran it on the news. It was good for their ratings.”

‘Good for their ratings’ is a major factor in the evolution of political media. Most functional politics is quite boring and un-newsworthy, so there tends to be an overemphasis on the sensational and over-sensationalised.

“It’s hyperbole. That was taken from a talkback context and they put it on the news, right? It’s all fine. But that’s the biggest risk in the New Zealand media I think – where does reporting stop and where does commentating begin?”

One change has been more prominence given to the reporter over the report – media (mainly television) try to make celebrities out of reporters.

Another change is the way news is presented to us. Newspapers (the print versions) still tend to have news sections and opinion sections so you have a good idea what you are getting in each part of the paper, but online (on their own sites these articles are arranged by popularity and clickbaitability.

Or by Twitter or Facebook, who may not care about differentiation between news and opinion.

There is probably nothing we can do about this. Some of us may be discerning and able to differentiate between news, commentary, opinion and activism, but to most people it is mostly a big mash up and they see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear.

But this has diverted from a key claim made by Hooton – “the real corruption in the New Zealand media comes from so-called academics frankly and Labour Party operatives embedded in the media”.

However this angle was not explored in the interview. This deserves more attention.

It’s well known that many journalists get recruited in political PR departments – but ‘Labour Party operatives embedded in the media’, if true, is a serious accusation with no sign of evidence.

Many murders maim Mexican election

Mexico is having an election this weekend for positions ranging from president to local mayors.

Corruption and violence are major issues, both argued in campaigns and evident with over 100 election related murders claimed. If candidates can’t be bought off they are knocked off.

CNN: Mexico goes to the polls this weekend. 132 politicians have been killed since campaigning began, per one count

Even for a country numbed by escalating violence, the toll the campaign season in Mexico has exacted is horrifying.

In the nine months leading up to this weekend’s presidential election, 132 politicians have been killed. That’s according to Etellekt, a risk analysis and crisis management firm.

The group’s report, released Tuesday, found that 22 of Mexico’s 31 states have seen a political assassination since campaigning began in September.

Etellekt’s tally found 48 of the victims were candidates. The rest included party workers.

Forty eight murdered candidates. That is an horrific war on democracy.

Reuters:  A look at Mexico’s presidential contenders ahead of key election

The four main candidates have sparred over key issues of corruption, security and the economy.

The front runner is the left wing Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador…

… known as AMLO, enjoys a more than 20-point lead in most polls, running on an anti-corruption platform with his National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party.

The former Mexico City mayor has capitalized on widespread anger over years of rampant corruption and violence, but has been vague on policy details. Seeking to corral support from economic nationalists, leftist liberals and social conservatives, he has pledged to combat inequality, improve pay and welfare spending, as well as run a tight budget.

He could usher in a Mexican government less accommodating toward the United States, where U.S. President Donald Trump has stoked trade tensions with Mexico and aggressively moved to curb immigration.

Trump has labelled illegal immigrants as dangerous criminals, but they are more likely to be trying to escape violence and corruption.

Ricardo Anaya…

His main proposals include increasing the minimum wage, raising public spending to reach 5 percent of gross domestic product by 2021, and forming an international commission to investigate the current government over corruption allegations.

He has also indicated he would take a firm line with Trump.

Jose Antonio Meade…

During the campaign he said he would expand the conditional cash transfer program “Prospera” to include 2 million more families. Has also vowed to extend social security to cover domestic workers.

Meade led a campaign to strip politicians of immunity but has been unwilling to criticize outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto, whose PRI government has faced multiple corruption allegations.

Corruption is a common theme.

Known as “El Bronco,” Jaime Rodriguez …

…shocked voters in one of the televised debates when he advocated chopping off the hands of those who steal — including public servants.

… polls estimate he will get between 1 and 6 percent of the vote.

So a violent approach to justice doesn’t seem to be very popular.

Mexico has huge domestic problems, especially involving drugs, corruption and violence. Those who survive the election may struggle to make any real difference.

The struggle for integrity in politics

Bryce Edwards has another political roundup, this time examining the state of democracy and integrity in politics.

Political roundup: the struggle for integrity

Some soul searching about the state of democracy and transparency in New Zealand public life is warranted at the end of the year. Bryce Edwards looks back at the struggle for integrity in politics in 2015. 

The integrity of governance of any society is dependent on numerous pillars that hold up democracy. Akin to an old roman temple, important institutions such as the Official Information Act, public servants and watchdogs act as the foundations of a corruption-free society.

But in 2015 it became apparent that some of the pillars of New Zealand’s governing arrangements have eroded, making democracy less stable. There have been apparent failings in the OIA regime, transparency of Government ministers and departments, murky deals struck and clampdowns on attempts to get accountability.

It’s a long read with many links to further articles and posts.

It covers:

  • Tightening elite control over information
  • The OIA “Game of Hide and Seek”
  • Taxpayer-funded politicisation
  • Cronyism in government
  • Risks of corruption in New Zealand
  • Government efforts against corruption
  • Saudi Sheep scandal rolls on
  • Erosion of public information



Lauda Finem versus Rachinger

The Ben Rachinger story just gained a lot more (public) complexity with a detailed post be Lauda Finem:

The Rachinger Identity – Espionage thriller or just another bad outbreak of Streisand effect?

It takes a bit of digesting but it’s worth reading right through.

It would be wise not to jump to conclusions on this story, still.

Corruption of political media

Far more important than the Campbell Live campaign is the widespread corruption of media power in politics. Media are theoretically supposed to be public watchdogs but the attractions of power corrupts the democratic process.

The Northland by-election was a prime example. Winston Peters is a canny campaigner but he was given a huge boost by the free media attention he was given, which seemed far less critical than the crumbs given to the other ten candidates.

Media chose a winner and at least helped make a resounding win happen for Peters.

Bryce Edwards looks at the political corruption of the so-called fourth estate. Money attracts journalists to work as PR merchants for politicians. And power. And that power is often abused.

The headline Bryce Edwards: Is the media turning on John Key? is an example of editorial messaging. His analysis mentions a bit of Key related stuff but it’s about far more then the Prime Minister.

Spin-doctors helping the politicians

In the relationship between politicians and the media, a crucial role is played by the taxpayer-funded media managers in Parliament. It’s the role of these spin doctors to do battle with, and attempt to manipulate, the media in order to get their desired message across, as well as combat negative messages. These communications managers and press officers are always attempting to manipulate and massage public opinion.

I’ve written about this in an academic chapter on spin doctors and political manipulation – which you can read on my blog: Politicians, Party Professionals and the Media in New Zealand. As this chapter discusses, most communications managers and press officers actually come from jobs in the media, and the shift from watchdog to lapdog is normally referred to within media circles as “crossing over to the dark side”.

But they also maintain friendships and relationships with journalists in the ‘mainstream’ media. They are all complicit in the gaming of politics and power.

Journalists still do an important job in our democracy, but they often look compromised, agenda driven and attention seeking.

Du Fresne is worth quoting at length: “I know that freelance journalism is a precarious way to make a living, and that there’s a powerful temptation to take work wherever you can get it. But conflict of issues arise when people who comment on matters of public interest (Cohen is National Business Review’s media columnist) are simultaneously involved in political work behind the scenes. I suspect this goes on much more than we know. Cohen has come out in the open because he was understandably pissed off at not being paid. Otherwise his relationship with Labour would probably have remained secret. How many other notionally independent commentators, I wonder, are potentially compromised by connections we don’t know about?”

The increasing number of spin doctors in government is also explored by Claire Trevett in her December article PR staff numbers up despite promises, which reports that government departments are hiring more communications professionals, including “about 35 press secretaries for the Prime Minister and Government ministers” out of 288 across government departments. Trevett says “There has been increasing focus on the relationship between spin doctors, media and bloggers after Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics“.

So it looks like it has become a very uneven playing field. Political PR numbers keep increasing while journalists and serious political coverage in mainstream media keeps diminishing.

Political journalists and pundits

The media’s engagement with politicians and their spin-doctors is normally undertaken by the parliamentary press gallery. For a fantastic insight into how some of these journalists think and deal with politicians, its worth reading four interviews that freelance journalist Gavin Bertram carried out last year – see his series on “Asking the Right Questions” with Brent Edwards, Tracy Watkins, Corin Dann and Patrick Gower.

But a few people having doesn’t address the problems.

Does the Internet offer an alternative to hold politicians to account? Monetary and media are stacked against it.

And often the biggest noises online have bigger agendas than traditional media. Abuse of alternate opinions, smearing campaigns, vindictiveness and trying to shut up ‘enemies’ seems to get far more emphasis than fearless examination of politics and politicians.

The methods are more extreme but tend to happen in small bubbles that are ignored by most of the population.

The most visible online politics often looks very ugly.

There are ways of have small amounts of influence but social political media is not filling the big void left be diminishing and (often) compromised mainstream coverage.

Can a number of small voices online be harnessed into a strong collective voice? There’s no sign of anyone coming up with a way to do that. I’ve suggested ways of trying this and been attacked and the ideas discredited because political activists online generally are far more interested in trying to advance their own agendas than considering the greater democratic good.

With the increasing merge of journalism and politics it certainly hasn’t lifted politicians to a better level. Journalism has become more politically corrupted.

Do we try and combat this? Or do we shrug our shoulders and join the masses who are largely oblivious to the mess?