EXCLUSIVE: media/party collusion

This post isn’t an exclusive nor a scoop, it’s an observation of public behaviour that shines a light on how politicians and media promote ‘exclusive’ stories and collude to promote their own interests.

We have far from an open even playing field in new Zealand politics, with media often complicit in the game playing and choosing what they will promote as news based on what will benefit themselves rather than working for the public good.

An interesting exchange on Twitter yesterday emerged from the promotion of a Green story about trusts, John Key and his (ex) lawyer.

Some background here: The PM/lawyer/trust story

A Frances Cook opinion at Newstalk ZB (also NZ Herald) – PM’s trust issues not a good look – mostly covered the awkward look for John Key that the Green sourced story had stoked. But she concluded:

But problems with trust go across the political spectrum. It was the Green Party which uncovered the story, after some excellent investigation. Less good is that they then spoke to several media outlets, leaving at least three with the impression that they had an exclusive story.

It’s not the end of the world, and it’s still the Prime Minister who will face the most questions over this. But the Green Party might find media wary of them the next time they uncover dirt on their opponents.

Cook also tweeted:

When about five different news outlets are fed an “exclusive”, you gotta wonder about bridges being burned. #KindaExclusive

Details on John Key’s links to foreign trust lobbying – the ‘exclusive’ the Greens tried to shop to everyone.

Rachel Stewart@RFStew 

If you promise a scoop to 1 journo don’t piss ’em off by going to 3 others. Environmentalists are particularly bad at pre-media ejaculation.

I refer here to @FrancesCook‘s ‘take down’ of the Greens comms people at the end of this article.

Put simply, it’s bad manners.

A number of Green supporters expressed dismay at this criticism., including co-leader Metiria Turei who tweeted:

Metiria Turei@metiria

Frances is wrong. Only one had the exclusive. Hei aha, the story is whats important

Cook responded:

Are we doing this? Ok, I guess we’re doing this.

Newshub promised an exclusive first. Then Herald. Then confusion reigns as both Herald and Newshub try to protect exclusive. @metiria

Then RNZ and TVNZ given story, but asked to respect “embargo”, so their competition can have the glory.

I’m not mad, I don’t really care, but it’s certainly noteworthy and will inform interactions in future. Hopefully everyone learns

Rob Hosking@robhosking
@FrancesCook @metiria hmm. Some things I said about embagos on @MediawatchNZ just got more relevant.

Metiria Turei@metiria
@FrancesCook call me if you want to talk through why you think this.

metiria had a lengthy chat with Andrew last night. Happy to talk to you on Monday when I’m back at work.

And it was two lines at the end of a lengthy opinion piece. Want to focus on the bigger story? Focus on it. Like I did.

So things got a bit tetchy.

But Turei admits that one media outlet were given an ‘exclusive’ story by the Greens. It seems that some other media were also given the story but that was embargoed until the chosen outlet had got the glory of an exclusive, albeit delivered to them by a party with a motive of maximum bang.

That the Greens play political and media games like everyone else won’t be a surprise.

But this puts a spotlight on the reality that not all news is equal.

Some news is far more equal than others, especially if one outlet thinks they have exclusive rights to first publication.

News outlets are chosen by politicians and their media managers based on what might best achieve their aims, either of promoting good news about themselves or scoring a hit on opponents.

Openness and equal opportunity news is a low priority. Winning by any means is what drives both parties and media organisations.

Media have become the deciders of what will make the news, and what will be given prominence. And this is often based on what deals they can make with politicians and parties about exclusivity.

Some media even ignore newsworthy stories if they were out-scooped by competitors – or ignored in preference to other media.

So a lot of what the public is fed on politics is based on games, egos and self interest of both politicians and journalists.

The ‘fourth estate’, the media, has sometimes been portrayed as or claimed to be an independent watchdog that is essential in keeping politicians and those with power honest and accountable.

But as the power of the media grew the lines between the estates became blurred.

Now media are as likely to abuse their power as much as politicians, whether they are consciously trying to influence the outcome of political issues, including elections, or they are corrupted by their own egos and drive to be in the spotlight.

This is exacerbated by the move in media first towards celebrity coverage (it sells copies, online eyeballs and the all important advertising) and then towards making themselves the celebrities – with a degree of power that should be concerning.

If there are still genuine journalists out there (I’m sure some of them must be conflicted by the political media games now played, apparently like Frances Cook)  then I think this dangerous trend in the democracy playing field should be examined more and exposed.

What has become apparent is that the corruption of power is not confined to politicians. Journalists and media companies have become a willing part of the problem they were supposed to hold to account.