Media Meltdown

Since the current Government took office, the number of communications specialists (spin doctors, in house media, call them what you want) has significantly increased.
Each minister now has at least two press secretaries and the Prime minister currently has four.
Former British journalist, Andrea Vance, one of the few in NZ with enough overseas experience and the tenacity to fight back, this week described the current media playing field as, “An artfully-crafted mirage,” and very different to reality.
Vance went on to say, “This is a government that is only generous with the information that it chooses to share.”
In terms of broken promises, the media industry looks back to 2017, when Ardern promised her government would be the most open and transparent New Zealand has seen.
In her first formal speech to Parliament she pledged: “This government will foster a more open and democratic society. It will strengthen transparency around official information.”
What happened instead,?
Since then our media as such has been dramatically reshaped and inspite of claims that our media has been ‘bought’ the reality is somewhat more complicated.
Why should YOU care?
After all, they are just the left wing media we’ve grown to hate … why should the trials and tribulations of the nation’s journalists concern the public?
Our media has been dismantled, refunded and overshadowed by a rapidly developing propaganda machine run from within parliament. That’s a step beyond spin doctor and in-house media and journalism.
Add to this the number of faceless communications specialists now spread throughout government agencies, creating control over most information.
It is now much more difficult to get information, both directly from the government or through the Official Information Act process.
But our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has captivated an audience with her communication style, and it is just that, a likeable sometimes goofy style without substance but obviously one that appeals to many people, regardless of the consequences.
Our government is becoming a secretive device where “journalists” as such are now compromised to the extent that they cannot function, or are restricted to the point of irrelevance in competition with ‘our’ new machine.
Andrea Vance describing the task of obtaining basic facts these days as, “Frustrating, torturous and [an] often futile exercise.”
It’s now very difficult for journalists to get to the heart and the truth of any story when they are competing with an army of ‘well-paid’ government employees delivering a manufactured narrative.
In this new view of our media the country is stuck between ‘a dual media system’, one side being controlling and the other incapacitated while a frustrated opposition is suffering as much from this secrecy and their own inability to obtain information or get questions answered.
Last week, we saw how the Australian and New Zealand media were shut out of reporting on the visit of the Australian Prime Minister. Any and all questions were prearranged, and they were the only questions that were allowed to be asked and reported on.
This is not only a serious blow to the availability of information but also to accountability, and to the public being able to respond, or to be heard when an individual needs their circumstances known for the public interest.
This dual system allows ministers to chose or cherry-pick who interviews them and when. Independent media are no longer in a position to compete with each other and can be short-circuited by parliamentary media any time they front with difficult questions.
The Ombudsman shouldn’t be required to play mediator between our free press and the government but this will increasingly be the case because of this dual media system and the determination to control a narrative.
We’re now funding ‘journalism’ that is being over-burdened with often meaningless or repetitive information while we are also funding the Ombudsman and paying for a massive media infrastructure to prevent any sustained or detailed questioning.
The best bit for last.
The prime minister’s office starts the week with a conference call with political editors.
The agenda for the week being the whim of a prime minister and that can be quite different then to her public image.
And if you want to be part of the PM’s little fan club?
That might account for some of the extraordinary and somewhat unexplained events recently within the media.
I congratulate Vance for airing her frustration. Following on from Chris Trotter, of course – it’s long overdue.
It is far more serious than that though.
We can’t have a democracy without journalism and this situation can’t continue where we are funding both the private sector and government media industries to play silly games with each other.
One of them has to go and what remains will sit alongside the future direction our country takes.