How well do political journalists serve New Zealand democracy? Does the blogosphere do any better? The Leveson report in Britain has media accountability being discussed internationally. Recent events in the Labour Party, where the blogosphere has suddenly received greater attention due to its role in creating rumours of a possible leadership coup, have sharpened the debate here as well. The mainstream media is under scrutiny for its role in reporting on Labour's recent annual conference. Chris Trotter deals with these issues in a recent blogpost that severely criticises the parliamentary press gallery journalists - see: Islands In The Mainstream. Trotter reflects on the conference coverage: 'The political journalists covering the conference were either collaborators with, or the dupes of, a faction of the Labour Party Caucus which, fearing the consequences of radical changes to the party's constitution, manufactured a leadership challenge to Opposition Leader, David Shearer, by his front-bench colleague, David Cunliffe'. He ponders whether 'the Fourth Estate, far from speaking truth to power, has become its willing stenographer'. Incidentally, Trotter also suggests that the 'real' leadership coup brewing in the background was from 'supporters of Grant Robertson'.
Trotter has allies in his critique of the media, with various blogposts on The Standard offering some further analysis - most significantly, Media Medicine and "Name" journalism & voter dis-engagement. Both make some interesting critiques of changes in the media. The first says that 'The relationship between media and politicians in this country has become incestuous and toxic' and it outlines some radical proposals to reform the press gallery, including the idea that 'No political journalist should be allowed to serve more than six years sequentially AND 33% of their total career in the Parliamentary Press Gallery'.
Both of The Standard posts are, typically, by anonymous authors. This is the beef of Brian Edwards, who has launched a critique of the blogosphere in his own blogpost, The Anonymity Pandemic. As the title suggests, he's particularly unhappy about the amount of nameless commentary that goes on - particularly because of the vitriol that he says flows from authors not owning their own statements. As some sort of reply, one anonymous Standard author details The privilege of real-name blogging.
So who are the best bloggers at the moment? For one in-depth view of the current state of the blogosphere, see Martyn Bradbury's Tumeke NZ Blogger Alignment Awards 2012. One particular blogger was very pleased to receive his commendation - see Scott Yorke's Blogger Welcomes Lawful Evil Runner-up Award. Yorke also suggests that the political left needs a new blogger in the image of the right's Cameron Slater - see: We Need A Hero.
So is the New Zealand mainstream media subject to the problems that the Leveson report found in the UK, and would it benefit from similar proposals for greater regulation? The consensus so far seems to be a firm 'no'. Sean Plunket reports the following: 'I'm happy to say that in my 25 plus years in New Zealand media it is not the prevalent attitude here. I don't know any Kiwi colleague who has bribed, hacked or blackmailed to get a story' - see: Curtailing press freedoms no way forward for democracy. Similar points are made in the Dominion Post editorial, Media must remain free of state control, The Press editorial, Censoring the media, and by Adrien Taylor's Does New Zealand need tighter media restrictions?. Blogger Chris Ford isn't so sure, and he discusses the reasons why in a long post entitled Post-Leveson: Does New Zealand need more media regulation? At least we need our own Leveson!. But there are signs today that the media and at least some politicians aren't so close. See, for example: Labour's Tamihere calls journalist 'stupid little girl'. The Christchurch Press also reports that 'Gerry Brownlee has described The Press as the "enemy" of Christchurch's recovery' because of its critical reporting - see: Brownlee: 'The Press is the enemy'. The Press' new editor, Joanna Norris has replied to Brownlee with an explanation for her paper's critical role - see: Press: a watchdog and champion.
There is no doubt that the nature and configuration of the mainstream media is changing fast. The Listener magazine has finally decided to install a paywall for its content, which is explained by editor Pamela Stirling in Read it here first. Meanwhile, another fledgling media project appears to be going on hold - see Bernard Hickey's An update on Journalism.org.nz. At the other end of the media power spectrum, Sky TV is arguably made even more powerful by the appointment of 'Sky TV lobbyist Tony O'Brien to the board of Antarctic New Zealand' - see John Drinnan's Antarctic job for Sky man.
Recent research about newspaper political bias by Massey's University's Claire Robinson also continues to rankle with some in the media. Both John Armstrong and Claire Trevett have put together rebuttals to Robinson's thesis - see: Allegation of election coverage bias doesn't wash and Lessons in the political art of smilin' and lovin' it. One element of the debate that is often forgotten are the publications put out by the politicians themselves. Blogger Patrick Leyland points to the latest edition of The Collins' Courier saying that publishing 26 photos of Judith Collins might be a bit over the top.
Other items of interest or importance from the last week:
* The Labour Party and David Shearer will be extremely pleased with most of their recent media coverage - especially about opinion poll results. See, for example, Vernon Small's Polls have Labour closing in on Nats. Other commentaries have also been particularly complimentary - such as John Armstrong's Labour starts to put its houses in order.
* But John Tamihere's re-admission to the party is somewhat more fraught, and not helped by his insults of various politicians and journalists - see Tova O'Brien's Tamihere comment targets hit back. No doubt there will be many further controversial statements to come, and to facilitate this, Cathy Odgers has helpfully 'compiled an instructional insult list for use on his new Labour colleagues incorporating some of his best and most popular hits as recorded from the glory days past' - see: Supporting JT's Return - A Guide To Caucus Insults. Chris Trotter also laments his own role in creating the Frankenstein of 'Waitakere Man' - see: 'Waitakere Man' Finds His Avatar.
* Labour is also facing some renewed challenges with its most obvious coalition partner, the Greens. Patrick Gower reports that Green MPs are looking to demand some serious payoffs for joining a Labour-led government - see: Greens and Labour talk coalition. Corin Dann points to some continued policy differences that might threaten Labour-Green unity - see: Labour and Greens need to work out their differences. And Green co-leader Russel Norman has ramped up tensions with his Herald opinion piece, It's Green Party versus National, but where is Labour.
* The reviews of the year in politics are starting to come out. The annual Trans-Tasman ratings give the prize of the 'politician of the year' to Chris Finlayson - see: Finlayson judged top politician. David Farrar has analysed the ratings to show, for example, that the average MP rating is 4.4 out of 10, with National MPs averaging 4.9 and Labour and Green MPs 4.0 - see: The 2012 Trans-Tasman Ratings. United Future blogger Pete George has also got in on the act of ratings, giving National 5 out of 10, Labour 3 out of 10, and the Greens 8 - see: Rating the parties for 2012.
* If you enjoy political biography, then you might find something of interest in reading about the personalities of an ex-politician and political scientist - see Michele Hewitson's Interview: Steve Maharey and Joseph Romanos' Wellingtonian Interview: Jon Johansson.
* Most New Zealanders are probably now sick of reading about the politics of the Hobbit, but there's a few Hobbit items that are particularly worth reading: Pattrick Smellie's CNN article, Hobbit-nobbing with the stars in Wellywood, Vince Mancini's amusing ATTN: The real New Zealand is now indistinguishable from parody, Helen Kelly's Guardian article, How the Hobbit dispute was used to justify curbs to the actors' union, and finally, my own blogpost, The Politics of The Hobbit - images.
Bryce Edwards is currently overseas on research and study leave, and his online columns will be published occasionally until his return to daily columns in February.