Are the media critical enough of the Government?

The media, in particular political journalists, are seen as playing a critical role in a healthy democracy, being required to hold politicians and parliaments to account.

While commenters at Kiwiblog are as bitter about media coverage of the Ardern government, commenters at The Standard were as disatisfied with media coverage of the Key Government. It seems you can never please any of the opponents any of the time.

But for most of us do our media do a good enough job of casting a critical eye and pen and camera over the actions of the incumbent government? Media certainly earn some criticism, but that not just from the public, it also comes from politicians being criticised.

A few days ago the Government announced an initial support package for media, who were struggling to compete with online megacompanies for revenue before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and now have been hit by a major business pause and another major drop in advertising revenue. Even before the support package a lot of advertising revenue was from the Government via Covid messages.

Going by comments at Kiwiblog (noting that there they are dominated by strongly anti-Government views) one might think that the support package makes the media a paid-for extension of Government public relations. They represent just a small but vocal right wing minority never happy with a left leaning government is in power – and again yesterday in response to a post ridiculing a ridiculous president comments predictably swung to ‘but Biden’, ‘but Clinton’, ‘but Obama’, ‘but Ardern’ (they are well indoctrinated by Trump’s anti ‘fake news’/critical media diversions).

It’s always easy to find things to criticise about the media in general – too much over sensationalising and too much ‘click bait’ trivia were problems long before Covid.

Media have a very important role to play in a democracy, which is why in 1787 Edmund Burke said (from Thomas Carlyle in his book On Heroes and Hero Worship):

“There were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

Political journalists have difficult jobs to do. They spend a lot of time with a few politicians and risk getting too personally affected. And they constantly have to battle against ex-journalists now working in large politician defending PR departments.

Jacinda Ardern has had an unusually good ride with journalists, quite a few of whom are fellow females of a similar age or younger, so empathy with Ardern probably came naturally.

But John Key was popular with media too – he was also easy to get on with and he could be entertaining in an often dour field. Helen Clark had a lot to overcome in her early years as Labour leader but became widely admired (most of the time) in her job as Prime Minister for nine years.

Media tend to favour the people in power, incumbent Governments, in part simply because that’s who the biggest stories come from.

But media also have a tendency to hunt in a vicious-looking pack when they smell political blood, no matter who the victim. One problem is that if some media get their teeth into a big and damaging story the rest tend to join the frenzy because that’s where the attention grabbing stories come from. David Lange referred to this media mob mentality as “demented reef fish”.

Media will never do enough for everyone, and will never do any good for those wallowing in opposition to the current government.

Are media critical enough of our politicians and our Government? Or as well as could be expected in the circumstances?

Even if seen as poor at times, the alternative to inadequate political journalism – no political journalism – is far worse.

Are media critical enough of our Government and politicians?

Are we too critical of media?

 

We remember, but what can we do?

Thanks in part to ANZAC Day New Zealand does a good job of remembering the horrors and the stupidity of war.

Sometimes war is unavoidable, if someone is intent on waging war.

But World War I is best known for the stupidity and futility involved in what result in the killing of many millions of people and difficult to quantify damage to many others.

The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was more than 38 million: there were over 17 million deaths and 20 million wounded, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. The total number of deaths includes about 11 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I_casualties

And WW1 and it’s aftermath contributed significantly to the reasons for and the conditions under which World War II started. There has been endless debate about whether anything could have prevented Germany and Japan from launching multiple invasions, but regardless, it happened, with dire consequences.

World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history in absolute terms of total dead. Over 60 million people were killed, which was about 3% of the 1940 world population (est. 2.3 billion).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_II_casualties

There hasn’t been anything on either scale since, in part because of a determination not to let anything like it happen again, in part due to the nuclear deterrent, but there have been many smaller conflicts. There has also been a move to more asymmetric warfare.

Is the war in Ukraine still going? I don’t even know what the outcome of that conflict is.

Can we do anything about large scale conflict from New Zealand?

We have a small but respected peacekeeping force that operates in a number of countries – but we are currently helping Iraq wage war better.

Unfortunately sometimes fighting back is the only realistic option to prevent death and destruction.

New Zealand can play a part in trying to reduce armed conflict, especially while a member of the United Nations Security Council.

Promoting Helen Clark for the role of UN Secretary General will help promote significant future Kiwi input.

But is there anything we as individuals can do about war?

The Edmund Burke quote comes to mind.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Perhaps that’s an over simplification, but it does make a good point.