Watching mediawatch

Karl du Fresne has a look at National Radio’s Mediawatch:

There was never much room for doubt about the politics of Russell Brown, who originally hosted it. Peacock, who took over, seems an affable and intelligent sort of bloke and I couldn’t claim to know what his politics are, other than to repeat the observation that his programme has a tendency to assume ulterior motives for just about everything the privately owned media do. But the recent recruitment of two other contributors to Mediawatch raises some questions.

Jeremy Rose, like Peacock, is a likeable fellow (well, he’d have to be – he’s a mountain biker), but I’m sure he’d be the first to acknowledge that his politics are more pink than blue. He was closely associated with City Voice, a markedly left-leaning free paper founded by Simon Collins (now of the New Zealand Herald) which struggled heroically but unsuccessfully to find a niche in Wellington during the 1990s.

I remember City Voice fondly. It was indeed markedly left-wing, but was a good read all the same as a newspaper focused on Wellington City. And while talking matters media, I should praise the work Simon Collins does on the Herald. Simon is I am sure, still left wing. However the reporting he does for the Herald I have found to be very balance, and if one didn’t know Simon from his City Voice days, you might struggle to guess his leanings – which is how it should be

More recently, Mediawatch has started carrying contributions from Adelia Hallett. Hallett has a respectable background in journalism but also happens to be a former media officer for the EPMU, the union that covers journalists (or at least those journalists who have chosen to remain unionised). It strikes me as slightly odd that of all the people who might work for Mediawatch, Radio New Zealand happens to have chosen two with leftist associations.

Others might say it is not odd at all!

Today’s programme featured an item in which Hallett editorialised disapprovingly on an arrangement whereby a reporter for The Radio Network sits in on the daily editorial conferences of the Northern Advocate, which is owned by the same media conglomerate (APN) – the implication being that by sharing news, the two arms of APN are reducing competition (and ultimately threatening jobs). The item included critical comment from Tony Wilton, whom Hallett described as an “industry veteran”, but who is far better known these days as a long-standing official of … why, the EPMU.

In the “interests of full disclosure”, Mediawatch revealed at the end of the item that Hallett was a former deputy chief reporter of the Northern Advocate. But it evidently thought it not worth mentioning that she was also a former employee of the EPMU, a fact some listeners might have found just as interesting.

This is not to say that the arrangement between The Radio Network and the Northern Advocate was not a legitimate issue for Mediawatch to investigate. But when a programme consistently plays up stories that reflect badly on privately owned media while appearing to treat its host broadcaster as immune from criticism, when it appoints reporters with leftist political connections and doesn’t make all relevant disclosures, you have to suspect there is an unbalanced agenda at work.

A programme that sets itself up as a media watchdog – and a taxpayer-funded one at that – has to be squeaky clean. It has to ensure that it meets all the standards it demands of other media outlets in terms of fairness, balance, consistency and integrity, and then some. Can this be said of Mediawatch? Sadly, I don’t think so.

I think it is a fair call, that Mediawatch, of all programmes, has to be cleaner than clean.

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