Louisa Wall: “The Media have a responsibility to do no harm”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced yesterday that she is is chairing a meeting in Paris next month in a attempt to find a way to prevent terrorists from being able to social media to promote and publicise terrorism.

Labour MP Louisa Wall on Facebook yesterday widened her focus to ‘The Media’:

Kia Ora. The Media and those that transmit their political content and other political content generated for these public mediums, are defined as The Fourth Estate or fourth power that refers to the press and news media both in explicit capacity of advocacy and implicit ability to frame political issues. It is time that it was formally recognized as part of a political system, as it wields significant indirect social influence.

This would impose a Duty of Care on The Media – a formalisation of the social contract, the implicit responsibilities requiring adherence to a standard of reasonable care while performing any acts that could foreseeably harm others.

The Media have a responsibility to do no harm. Kia Kaha PM Jacinda Ardern for the meeting on May 15 – two months after the Christchurch terror attacks which claimed the lives of 50 people – which aims to see world leaders and tech company bosses agree to the “Christchurch call” – a pledge to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

Linked to NZ Herald: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to lead global attempt to shutdown social media terrorism

This prompted a reaction from some journalists.

Andrea Vance (@avancenz):

Uh, what? Bringing media under control of Parliament … is this govt policy ?

(Facebook post image included)

Liked by SamSachdeva, Hamish McNeilly, Hamish Rutherford, Stacey Kirk, Laura McQuillan, Richard Boock, Paul Harper, Kim Baker Wilson, Tracey Watkins, John Campbell (all media/journalists) plus Chris Bishop (MP).

Two lawyers add their views:

Graeme Edgeler (@GraemeEdgeler):

It sounds bad, but I kind of feel most of these things are already present, certainly for online and broadcast media anyway. Duty of care is not a ridiculous paraphrase of the duties on media in some defamation defences, and under the HDCA.

Stephen Franks (@franks_lawyer):

Without the defences of truth and honest opinion it is completely sinister and as far from the law that protected both freedom and honest public discourse as we could get.

Graeme Edgeler:

I was thinking, for example, of the defamation defence of responsible communication on a matter public interest as provided in Durie v Gardiner [2018] NZCA 278.

Stephen Frank:

I understand that and am very conscious of NZ judges massive indifference to the vital role of liability for lies, as a condition/corollary of free speech, but your comment is still misleading rationalisation of sinister nonsense from Ardern and her fumbling Minister of Justice.

That is widening somewhat from what Wall posted.

Despite the concerns shown by journalists I don’t think Louisa Wall has much sway in Labour let alone in Government. She is ranked 23 (Clare Curran is 22), despite being an MP for 11 years, a term and a bit from 2008 as a list MP, and since 2011 as MP for Manurewa (2017 majority 8,374).

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.

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?

Brown affairs: Who watches the watchdog?

A comment by blokeintakapuna at Whale Oil.

Why the Governor General needs to investigate Auckland democracy issues…
and whilst there, look at the political / media corruption issues also.

Our form of democracy is a 2-sided coin. Firstly, we all get “free” elections on a regular basis where all of us are free to choose who we wish to vote for and in a transparent, credible manner and with correct over-sight, the winner is eventually announced soon after voting finishes. That winner then needs to uphold the laws and expectations from the mandate they created for themselves by the values and virtues of who and what they campaigned and crusaded on as an individual.

They are supposed to not only help create the by-laws to help our societies function better, they are required by virtue of being the elected office holder, to actually up hold the laws, ethics and standards of those laws, rules and expectations.

The other-side to our democracy coin, is the checks and balances. Keeping the elected officials and politicians honest, corruption free and being held to account. The so-called mandate of the 4th Estate – the traditional media.

However – when the “watchdog” traditional media become complicit in assisting an elected official to maintain mass subterfuge on all of the population… even aiding and assisting with the façade, through rate-payer funded personal using rate-payer funded resources, to launch coordinated smear campaigns – by the watchdog 4th Estate – on the messenger that revealed the political corruption – well then it really is time our entire democratic systems were investigated… independently. For the sake of “Perception” if nothing else.

…and the coordinated smear campaigns are easily proven too. The Press Council can just review the likes of the Herald’s coverage and that of some of their captured journalists and their attempts at character assassinations of the messenger that spoke up about the corrupt practises by the Mayor elect. For these so-called journalist professionals have nailed their colours the masthead by the tone and calibre of their “articles” ..and it’s that same masthead from which they have hoisted their own petard.

When the democracy Watchdog has been captured and lulled into more of a lapdog of the Left, it’s an ugly stain on the political sofa in the Mayor’s office. When the Authorities can see our democracy and democratic processes being subverted for secret agenda’s of a select few and then elect to sit on the side-lines whilst the messenger gets attacked for exposing the political corruption to the disinfecting qualities of dazzling sunlight…

Our democracy can only function correctly with proper checks and balances. The checks it seems are in the post… and the balances are somewhat MIA.

The Governor General needs a microscope, rubber gloves, and the stomach to lift up the rug in the Mayor’s office and see what’s been swept under there…

Who watches the watchers when the watchdog has become a drooling lapdog? …and a willing, complicit component of coordinated subterfuge upon the Auckland population and NZ’s democratic freedom?