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Kerre Woodham: Mainstream media is not perfect

Author
Kerre Woodham,
Publish Date
Wed, 29 Nov 2023, 2:10PM
Photo / File
Photo / File

Kerre Woodham: Mainstream media is not perfect

Author
Kerre Woodham,
Publish Date
Wed, 29 Nov 2023, 2:10PM

Well, hasn't taken that cranky old curmudgeon long to rark up the media and play to his supporters, throw his fans a bone.  

Winston Peters has a hate-hate relationship with the media, which served him very well in this last election campaign. Some people have always had a mistrust of the media. Some have a recently discovered mistrust of the media and believe all journalists to be the servants of the UN or whichever government happens to be in power or pizza paedophile rings, you know, whatever suits their particular agenda.  

Others are just brassed off with what they perceive to be poor journalism, sloppy journalism, poorly written stories, badly put together items, a perceived bias. Journalists have rated as lowly as politicians and used car salesman in public trust polls for decades.  

Mistrust of the media is not a new thing. I don't think we've ever made it into the top fifty of the most trusted professions, ever. I think if you look at the Reader's Digest polls, we are always there or thereabouts, lower than a snake's underpants when it comes to public trust. This is not new. Indeed, you can go back as far as 400 BC, in the Sophocles play Antigone, you'll find the line 'For no man delights in the bearer of bad news'.   

Messengers have been shot mostly figuratively, sometimes literally, for as long as bad tidings have been borne by bearers. And that most opportunist of men, Winston Peters, has capitalised on that by accusing media companies and journalists of being bribed, essentially, to write stories pleasing to the last Labour government.  

He was referring to the $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund, which has since been wound up. It was there to prop up media at a time of Covid uncertainty and to ensure that the misinformation that was being peddled through social media and the internet was countered by contestable stories. And when I say contestable, you had to apply for the funding, you got the funding and if you wrote a story that was found to be wanting in terms of facts or what have you, there were ways to complain. Members of the public could say no, that's not on. That's not true. That is biased and they have a way of contesting the story. So political coverage was exempted from eligibility to benefit from it, so writing political stories were specifically excluded from that.  

Now, for those who believe the media is just a tool of the UN, the paedophile pizza rings, et cetera, et cetera, nothing I say is going to make a blind bit of difference. I know that. And to be fair, as former minister for everything Stephen Joyce told Mike Hosking this morning, the media did not help themselves by accepting the funding.  

“People have genuine concerns and unfortunately, I think the media put itself in the position by taking the fund in the first place, which I have to say during my time, the media would never do, And I think it would have been easier if they hadn’t. I think there are some journalists who are predisposed to the left. There's probably a few that are a bit predisposed to the right, but I don't think the fund will have changed that. But just the appearance of the media being paid money to do its job, I think’s problematic.” 

Yeah. And I totally get that. You know, it was a time of uncertainty. I mean, Stephen Joyce, he wouldn't have taken it, and to be fair, some owners of newspapers, the smaller newspapers didn't take it. They wouldn't have had the same costs, of course, but it was a time of uncertainty. Magazines, Bauer Media just disappeared from the market. Radio sport disappeared almost overnight. So there were media organisations crashing.   

You might say that's a good thing if you're one of those who believe that the journalists are the tools of the pizza paedophile rings, but you know. So, the money was taken. And you can debate whether that was a good idea or not. Certainly, for those who have a mistrust of the media, it just plays right into their hands - that the media are just government toadies in the thrall of the Labour government, the past Labour government.  

But the thing is, the mainstream media is still bound by rules. As I mentioned, the Broadcasting Standards Authority, the Press council will take media organisations to task and punish them for all sorts of industry infractions. I'd flounced off and handed in my resignation after I was forced to apologise to Bishop Brian Tamaki because I said he was a homophobe. And the church said no.  “Bishop” in inverted commas, Brian, hates the sin, not the sinner. I mean, really? But we don't take it to court because it's too expensive to fight it. So, I had to apologise. Now, that was a decision made by the bosses, not the BSA, but there have been other times where I've had to apologise if the Broadcasting Standards Authority has found that I've breached fairness or good taste.  It’s amazing I haven't had to apologise more!  

But on social media it’s an absolute free for all. Just because something you read in social media is on there doesn't make it true. And if it's not true, there are no consequences. It's just left to perpetuate throughout the internet, with no rules and no structures. If mainstream media's challenged, they have to justify and defend their journalism or suffer the consequences. And the same is true of anything written under the Public Interest Journalism Fund.  

Also every single time a print story is written by one of the journalists employed as a result of the additional funding, the caveat is put at the bottom of their story. So, if people are saying it's by stealth, no, it's not. Every single time a journalist who's been employed using this money writes a story, that is put at the bottom of the story.  

So mainstream media is not perfect. It may survive, it may not. That will very much depend on the consumer. Some biases are very, very easy to see and should be declared. In my role, I trained as a journalist, but there is no way I would produce the material I do on Newstalk ZB as a journalist. I'm employed as a talkback host, which is completely different. I would never, ever, offer my opinion the way that I do if I was writing the story as a journalist. It's a markedly different beast. In my role as a talkback host, I have biases. In fact, I'm expected to have them. I'm expected to have opinions. As a journalist, my opinion, my bias, should never have been able to be read into that story, and I hope it wasn't. It was a very long time ago.  

Of course, it has its faults. Whether it survives depends on you. But man, I would hate to live in a world where information was disseminated through social media. 

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