RNZ Must Have No Dogs In The September Fight.

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RADIO NEW ZEALAND needs to reflect very carefully about the position in which it now finds itself. If it fails to alter its present course, there is a real possibility it will find itself accused of serious political bias. As a public broadcaster, RNZ simply cannot afford to be seen to have its own dog in the September 19 fight. Fair and balanced reporting is of huge importance when your radio network is funded by the taxpayer. In an election year, moreover, fairness and balance are absolutely critical to the maintenance of public confidence.

For the moment, nearly all of the accusations of bias are coming from Winston Peters and the NZ First Party. This is only to be expected, given that RNZ’s reporting has inflicted serious damage on Peters and his colleagues. Lending credence to the latter’s accusations, however, is a photograph of Guyon Espiner, one of RNZ’s senior journalists, chatting amiably with Lester Gray, a former president of the NZ First Party. Looking at the photograph, it is very difficult not to identify Gray as the source of Espiner’s damaging revelations about the NZ First Foundation.

The release of this photograph – taken, according to Peters, by a member or supporter of NZ First – to The BFD (successor to the Whaleoil blog) has not only alarmed RNZ, it has put it on the defensive. The idea that a journalist and his source may themselves come under scrutiny is being widely interpreted as a thoroughly sinister development.

The mainstream news media has had much less to say about the failure of a supposedly experienced political journalist to protect his source. Tauranga is pretty much “ground zero” when it comes to NZ First’s historical support base. Why, then, would a former television journalist, with a very familiar face, choose to wander about in full public view with a former NZ First president and candidate? Why not meet privately, indoors, safe from prying eyes – and cellphones?

As for casting the whole episode as sinister, well, that particular charge is simply without merit. It is well-established in law that the taking of a person’s photograph in a public place, with or without their knowledge and/or consent, is not a criminal offence. If you are foolish enough to parade your connections in a Tauranga shopping centre’s carpark, then you should not act all hurt and surprised when that fact is recorded.

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Nor should the mainstream news media be at all surprised that the photograph ended up on The BFD blog. Cameron Slater, of Dirty Politics fame, has publicly acknowledged his legal and personal connections with the lawyer Brian Henry. One of Winston Peters oldest and most trusted legal advisers, Henry has also stood by Slater. Is this the explanation for what appears to be a decisive shift in the political allegiances of Slater and his colleagues from the National Party (which couldn’t distance itself fast enough from its favoured blogger following the publication of Nicky Hager’s book) to NZ First?

Such a shift would go a long way to explaining the rumours that NZ First is being assisted by one of Slater’s closest political allies from the Whaleoilyears, Simon Lusk. A hard-bitten political operator, Lusk would have needed no instruction when it came to gathering intelligence on the two journalists responsible for revealing the closely-guarded secrets of the NZ First Foundation. The involvement of somebody like Lusk would certainly explain The BFD’s photograph of Stuff Reporter, Matt Shand. Recognising Espiner and Gray would not have been difficult. In that location, however, Shand was unlikely to be recognised by anyone not closely associated with the NZ First Foundation story.

That Tauranga shopping centre appears to have had more shooters in it than Dallas’s Dealey Plaza!

The demonisation of The BFD is yet another problematic aspect of RNZ’s coverage. Conservative blogs have every bit as much right to present their ideas to voters as liberal and left-wing blogs. In my time as a political commentator, I have contributed material to daily newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch, and a weekly business publication edited by a devotee of Ayn Rand. So, when Cameron Slater invited me – along with a clutch of other non-right commentators – to contribute to a new pay-walled section of Whaleoil, I did not refuse. Similarly, when The BFD was launched, I agreed to contribute to its pay-walled “Insight” section. Nothing builds up one’s understanding of the Right like writing for their publications! And, although I have always been scrupulous to submit material I would happily see posted on The Daily Blog, or my own Bowalley Road, I’ve never once been censored.

In an environment where the idea that there might be two sides to every story, and that even those with whom you profoundly disagree have a story to tell, is dismissed as giving fascists a free-pass, it is not easy to make a stand for fairness and balance in journalism. It is vital, however, that RNZ tries.

On its “Mediawatch” programme, broadcast last Sunday morning (16/2/20) RNZ featured an interview with Ollie Wards from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Triple-J” youth-oriented radio station. Among many other observations, Wards ventured the opinion that “holding the government to account” was a vital aspect of the public broadcaster’s remit. There would appear to be a great many RNZ journalists who agree wholeheartedly with Wards’ characterisation of their role. That does not, however, make it right.

In a parliamentary democracy, it is not the news media which is entrusted with the role of holding the government to account, but the Opposition. They are the people elected to scrutinize the executive and ensure that government ministers are doing their jobs. They do this on behalf of the voters – the people charged, every three years, with the ultimate responsibility for holding governments to account. Nobody elected Guyon Espiner or Matt Shand to hold their government to account. Indeed, those gentlemen are not accountable in any meaningful political sense for the potentially decisive influence they are so well-positioned to exert on the electoral process.

The role of the news media (especially the publicly owned news media) is to assist the voters in the critical task of holding their representatives to account – not to do the job for them. That means doing everything within its power to give voters the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It means unearthing the facts, as many as possible, and then contextualising them in a fair and balanced way. It does not mean extracting only those facts that serve an individual journalist’s purposes, and using them to manipulate the voters’ understanding of what a party has, or hasn’t, done.

Winston Peters is encouraging voters to think of RNZ as belonging to “The Media Party”. He wants them to see it as a politically partisan institution with its own, vicious attack-dogs in the electoral fight. If he succeeds, it will be, and probably should be, the end of public radio in New Zealand.

15 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t listen (only oldies do) but do follow them online.
    I find not much between RNZ, newsroom and the spinoff , they are all very urban and woke and very seldom (but occasionally) investigate a story well enough to explore both sides- so on most issues they appear to show bias and are accused of it from both sides of the political spectrum.
    Often they simply recycle stories amongst themselves, and stuff.
    Often these stories are poorly or not fact checked. ( great example: The entangled whale that was going to die that was actually a seal and fine)

    RNZ also no longer has any sort of grammatical standard. It appears as if they are all employing the same breathless teenager to write their reports.
    Not really seeing much use in keeping them around – perhaps that was the idea when the Nats stacked the board that sent them down the track.

  2. Been a long time and regular RNZ listener, online reader, and viewer via phone to large screen (latterly). An immense national treasure of audio in the archives that trickles out from time to time. To me the rot set in with the sinking lid funding starvation during the Key years. Senior staff on all beats were “let go”, no doubt partly due to costs with carrying leave etc. and the newsroom looked like an under siege bunker in Gaza during John Campbell’s brief tenure.

    There were some nice updates for us more modern music fans, but there was a general dumbing down and Bomber was Banned! The news is generally better than on the FM stations you commonly hear blasting in garages and the provinces, but to my ears a disproportionate apportioning of airtime to the current Parliamentary opposition.

    The underlying agenda imo is to allow penetration by private capital one way or another into RNZ, or end it.

  3. RNZ is pretty much to woke to view seriously now, they used to have a few real stories but now their only investigations seem politically motivated against COL and for more migrant visas.

    Considering how frequent there are abuses of donations in NZ, it is obviously fairer reporting to put ALL the alleged cases together over the last 10 years, so it is much clearer who are up to it and the Natz are the worst offenders!!!!

    Sounds like NZ First needs to have a clean up of their own house and NZ First insiders working against the party!

  4. I may be paranoid, but for 18 months I have felt RNZ news has not been impartial. Far too many news bulletins begin with “National says…”. Case in point was last Sunday when leading story was about Simon’s tax policy announcement, not released until Monday. So it became two days of news… Either National has communication staff with excellent access to the newsroom, or more worryingly, the newsroom is ruled by those who see no alternative to neoliberalism. The treatment given to NZFirst compared to National is on a different planet (regarding donations).
    I have not forgotten the RNZ dogs seeming to enjoy ripping Ms Curran apart when she erred as Broadcasting Minister, compare that to all the rumours that never surfaced about Paula Bennet!

    • Not paranoid, if at least someone else agrees!

      The vocal intonations, “gotchas” and questioning speed, on Morning Report varies as applied to Bridges and Ardern say, and what the 1-2% ACT says is excessively weighted in terms of RNZ’s vaunted “balance”. The recent Concert Programme affair shows that the private radio oriented shitheads with some power at the moment at RNZ are not to be trusted, so your instincts are likely right Keith.

  5. Chris the last time i looked TVNZ is a publicly funded broadcaster and is meant too uphold the same standards we are supposed too expect from RNZ yet they have engaged in biased political news coverage for some years.
    Apart from consistent negative news stories targeted at a sitting Labour led government you have political correspondents namely the likes of Guyon Espiner , Corin Dann and recently one Jessica Much McKay.
    Paul Holmes never hid his contempt and rudeness when interviewing members of the left including the late Helen Kelly.
    It reached a level of nastiness during the Clark’s governments last two terms.
    I made a complaint after watching Much Mckay interview Jacinda Ardern and Kelvin Davis not long after their accession too the Labour leadership when she took exception too their criticism of the English government when replying too a question she had put too them.
    Much Mckay responded by saying that their comments were unfair too the National party and their MPs.
    Pure political bias which has no place at TVNZ.
    My complaint was not upheld.
    How has this been allowed too happen and why can’t we expect our public service news too act in the interests of balance and fact without the interference of CEOs and producers in how their political editors approach their jobs with the public’s right too watch non biased reporting that favours one side over the other.
    The new modern media environment and the way news is portrayed has changed but our old fashioned biased coverage sure hasn’t.

  6. It is no coincidence that all the comments so far are in agreement about the bias in RNZ, It sickens me to have to listen to what passes for reporting on the network which appears to be more interested in being the opposition leaders advertising network than providing balanced reporting. My guess is that they know that the right wing are more violent so they are safe putting the boot into the peace-loving center left. I have sent a couple of emails to them in the past pointing out their hypocrisy but there is never any reply/acknowledgment so I have given up on that also.

  7. It is no coincidence that all the comments so far are in agreement about the bias in RNZ, It sickens me to have to listen to what passes for reporting on the network which appears to be more interested in being the opposition leaders advertising network than providing balanced reporting. My guess is that they know that the right wing are more violent so they are safe putting the boot into the peace-loving center left. I have sent a couple of emails to them in the past pointing out their hypocrisy but there is never any reply/acknowledgment so I have given up on that also.

  8. Amen, and women!
    I was a lifelong ( over 50 years ) listener and supporter of RNZ … No longer. I’ve detected this sorry demise over the last 10 years, largely by funding strangulation and personnel implantation… Place
    ‘Commercial assets’ at the top, and the assassination is complete. The BSA is an impotent fig leaf of non accountability. Observing this downwards slide I’ve said RNZ was in danger of becoming like TVNZ! It’s true to it’s name :National Radio’. It’s sold out to commercial partnerships and executives.

    • Philj: “I was a lifelong ( over 50 years ) listener and supporter of RNZ….”

      Me too: I’ve been a listener since childhood in the 50s. I’ve listened to Morning Report since its inception. Nowadays, I still listen to most of it of a morning, partly out of habit and partly because it’s still a more useful source of NZ news than any other outlet. However: I leap for the Concert channel when the RNZ presenters start burbling about Trump. Or Ruuusia. Or they wheel in some worthy talking head who proceeds to tell the rest of us what to think about some issue or other. And I depart for Concert every morning at 9am, if I haven’t gone earlier.

      My growing disenchantment with RNZ began in the 90s, when the rise of the internet opened my eyes to the extent to which we the listeners had been propagandised by it about so many international issues, and over so many years.

      After the day of the dreadful shootings in March last year, I stopped listening to RNZ at all for a considerable period of time, and I’ve never gone back to regular daytime programmes. In my view, RNZ took the shootings and beat the issues to death (so to speak). Judging by headlines on its website, RNZ’s coverage was way over the top: to the point of prurience.

      Over the last couple of years, I’ve been increasingly irritated by its dealings with Maori issues and its tokenistic approach to te reo. Programmes and opinions are presented, usually without any attempt at analysis or critique. I’ve also noticed that reporters and presenters have begun referring to NZ as Aotearoa. In virtue of what is it RNZ’s role to change my country’s name? Not its job.

      “Winston Peters is encouraging voters to think of RNZ as belonging to “The Media Party”. He wants them to see it as a politically partisan institution with its own, vicious attack-dogs in the electoral fight.”

      I have also noticed a drift away from disinterested coverage of politics towards a more partisan approach. As far as I can ascertain – and curiously – this more partisan line on RNZ’s part has coincided with its appointment of many more Maori staff. I wonder if such appointees are too inexperienced to understand what their role should be. Or are they just seizing the moment? Either way, a halfway decent management team ought to be pulling them into line and reminding them of the fourth estate’s purpose.

      As well as RNZ’s handling of the aftermath of the March shootings, two events in particular have really riled me. The first was the 2016 US presidential election. In the runup to it, RNZ breathlessly and uncritically reported everything that came out of the US msm. This despite many of us having seen from US websites and the like that the outcome was much more uncertain than the confident predictions by US outlets of Clinton’s victory. Our messages to Morning Report were ignored. The morning afterwards, I sent a text to Morning Report, wishing them good eating of that great big humble pie I was sure that they had in the studio. Not surprisingly, they didn’t read it out…..

      The second was Morning Report’s – and in particular Guyon Espiner’s – handling of the Skripal story (I use that term advisedly). Espiner interviewed Bill Browder, without any attempt at all to provide a countervailing view. I made a formal complaint to RNZ about that – as I understand some other listeners did. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t upheld.

      I have ceased paying any attention to anything reported on RNZ about what’s happening overseas. Including the coronavirus news.

      I’m desperately keen to keep Concert. As for the rest of it, they can all go jump in the lake, as far as I’m concerned.

      • D’Esterre
        Thanks for your response. It’s good to know that I’m not alone holding this opinion. RNZ, as I have repeatedly emailed them, are (were) the last ( and only) non Commercial Public Broadcaster in New Zealand. RIP. Sad to say … I will ask local MP Greg O’ Connor what the heck are they doing? Faafoi, appears to be on the same clueless road of nothing significant (RONS) policy as the hapless Curran. The State Broadcasters ( and many other state agencies) have been turned. Oh well… Another election looms lol.

  9. The death knell of RNZ was sounded after Kim Hill nailed roger kerr of the business round table to the floor.
    Since then ? ‘They’ have been tugging on RNZ’s apron strings to remind them of who it is, exactly, that’s in control of AO/NZ.
    The brain-fartery of the rnz we know today is a sad reminder of what we no longer have by way of a taxes-paid-to-air-freely-to-the-public media. If that we’re NOT the case, we’d not be having this discourse.
    Puff the Magic Windbag who is kath ryan is a good example of how a decent salary can bend people around like a damp pretzel.
    I tried to listen to a political report by a boy/girl reporter combo and oh my fucking God. It was a compelling argument to never take your tank of laughing gas to work. They giggled and gushed and tittered and spread banter about like a Hippopotamus spreads its faeces. ( Check that out BTW. Is hilarious. https://youtu.be/U-jXMeo4a4k )
    Imagine smoking up large on the glass barbi then listening to Idiocracy and anything by Mell Brooks side by side on a matched pair of televisions ?
    That, is where ‘They’ have dragged our lovely old Radio New Zealand down and into to. To devour it in dark privacy.
    On a more serious note. If RNZ and TVNZ goes? We’re fucked. We’re gone as a people of Ark AO/NZ.
    RNZ and TVNZ should get significant cash injections then returned to a classic form, if you like, but with state of the art investigative journalism and well produced entertainment content. Not. Babbling NoS snorters bloated on their own awesomeness just gagging to sell Pepsi.
    I know! Where’s The Jonkster? The yankee doodle psycho jonky-stien? Remember him. Or ‘it’. What ever you’re comfortable with. He wasted millions of our dollars on Sth Canterbury Finance ( and in so doing, gave his neighbour a mammoth dollar windfall of public money in the process? ) changing the picture on our hand money? Remember? And how about the flag change swindle? And then there was jonky/warner bros/greasy pete and the Hobbit swindle too? Remember?
    When a D grade bankster can swindle you and me out of our hard earned tax money for the absurdities I’ve listed above then surely a “Lets do this’er” can do this? Inject RNZ and TVNZ with cash until it’s back on it’s feet to come out scrapping for us. And please. Please…. Pleaaaaaaaaaasssse ? kath ryan? The Shusshster?
    The jonky whisperer? Uuuugggh….
    Kim Hill please? Ask her what she wants as a salary then double it to replace the dreary S shredder.

  10. RNZ has long and widely been known as Red Radio by those of us who scrutinize these things. There were exceptions – Sean Plunket to name one – but even he’s been pushed out. Now it’s just a rather jaded union shop that applauds diversity but exhibits none of it.

    So while you’re correct Chris, RNZ should indeed be staunchly neutral in terms of politics, I honestly don’t see it happening because most of their staff can’t help themselves.

    The worst offenders seem to be the sneering liberal types in The Panel between 4 and 5pm. Their built-in bias is so bad it’s laughable. As an example I’ve listened to 3 years of polemic about Trump most of which is essentially just a repeat of what they’ve seen on CNN. Orange Man Bad! What will they say when he’s re-elected? Blame the ‘deplorables’ again?

    Ditto Kim Hill. She OK when she’s doing book reviews and interviewing musicians but is WAY out of her depth when it comes to politics: One-eyed to a massive degree.

    So I’m not holding my breath waiting for them to see the light, and if I was in incoming National Party Minister of Broadcasting, I’d be looking to trim their wings and/or add some balance.

  11. Philj: “RNZ, as I have repeatedly emailed them…”

    Heh! As have I. Also numerous texts. Usually to scold them, for inaccurate reportage, or for another of their multiplicity of failings. I doubt that anything I send is even read, nowadays.

    In my view, the more we criticise them, the more convinced they are that they’ve got it right.

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