Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Mainstream Media will dictate election result.
New Zealand has had the MMP electoral system operating since 1996 and despite overwhelming support for the introduction of a fairer system we are still grappling with a reluctance to fully engage with it. The mainstream media has a powerful part to play in ensuring that MMP is fully understood, that people are engaged with the process and are informed about most important issues confronting our politicians. It is my belief that there are serious flaws in how politics is reported in this country and that the media often shapes public perceptions in ways that stifle debate and understanding and will probably dictate the election outcome.
The fourth estate has important roles in both reporting the events of the the day and also providing robust critiquing of political events and national governance. When lobbyists and political parties are determined to promote their spin on any given issue there has to be some effort to filter the spin and provide useful commentary and analysis.
Our print and television media now appear to manage themselves around a corporate model where maximizing profits takes precedence over solid reporting. Journalistic staff have been pared back to the barest minimum and junior (cheaper) reporters have taken on roles that were normally the domain of the more experienced journos. While the ability to write isn't necessarily confined to a particular age, some life experience is useful to cut through spin and bullshit. Government press releases and statements are being printed verbatim and are often presented as fact and there are few attempts to do the analysis and research that used to exemplify good journalistic practice. Many believe the corporate leadership of the Fairfax media monopoly are more likely to support the current government and this dictates editorial decision making. Even within New Zealand's relatively free press there are vested interests at work.
Personalities and crisis sell and this has been fully exploited by the National Government who have successfully shaped John Key's "everyman" image into one that resonates so well amongst voters that they are reluctant to have anyone else at the helm. It appears voters would rather suffer the consequences of National's unnecessarily harsh austerity measures than contemplate a new Prime Minister. The media are guilty of buying into National's tactics to the extent that leadership polls have taken precedence over policy and we now have a presidential style campaign that ignores the MMP environment and actively excludes minor parties. Leaders' debates will largely feature the two largest parties and there will be little attempt to look at the depth of talent within party lists.
While Phil Goff has sometimes fallen short and mismanaged some events the reporting of his performance has taken on the appearance of a witch hunt and interviewer bias is blatantly obvious. John Key, in comparison, has had an easy ride, his obvious fudging and dismissively shrugging off tough questions should not go unchallenged, but it generally is. It is a pity that the only way for the leaders of smaller parties to get attention is to court controversy and Hone Harawira exploits this well but suffers through the fact that his behaviour is scrutinized at the neglect of his party's policies.
Smaller parties become defined by their extremes, as these are more newsworthy than the breadth or depth of their policy. The media's simplistic approach also supports pigeonholing smaller parties and supporting stereotypes to the extent that media representation of the Greens as wholesome hippies is actively reinforced despite the evidence of being much broader in its membership and within its candidate list.
The Neo-liberal use of crisis to progress policy has also been effectively exploited by the National Government to great effect. Whether it be the cuts to education, ACC, state services or welfare, the Government has been able to have their spin promoted successfully in the media. When their manipulation of the true state of affairs is exposed, as with ACC, the media silence is deafening. This government has manipulated data and information almost to the level of lying and yet they have not been held accountable.
Despite the huge professional rejection of the Government's National Standards, for example, I have not been aware of any attempt by mainstream media to do any research on the issue. When there are huge funding discrepancies and priority disjoints in spending, like paying many times more to support the Americas Cup campaign ($36 Million) than cleaning our increasingly polluted rivers ($15 million), where is the reporting of these facts?
The future of our country and the direction that respective governments lead us is dependent on how well informed voters are and under the current regime they are ill-informed, the election result is predetermined and our future is shaky at best.