Herald on journalists and politics

The Herald editorial:

But if these misuses of company property had not occurred, Taurima’s position would still have been untenable. He not only joined the Labour Party while working in news and current affairs, he made an unsuccessful bid to be Labour’s candidate in the Ikaroa-Rawhiti byelection last year. Strangely, after missing the selection, he was able to return to his position at TVNZ. There, his continuing Labour activities reached a level that, the report says, “would plainly be deeply embarrassing to TVNZ if it came to light”.

He must have known that would be so. It is elementary to journalists that joining a political party is not an option unless they plan to make their career in the party’s publications. Those who want to be credible reporters of news and politics for a mass audience cannot belong to a party. If they did, they would have to declare their affiliation, and their audience would rightly question the reliability of everything they reported.

The Public Service Association seems not to understand this. It thinks a recommendation to ban reporters, content producers and editors from political activity is a draconian and unnecessary breach of their rights as citizens. It believes the State Services Commission guidelines for public servants are sufficient for the state broadcaster and that TVNZ will set “a dangerous precedent for other public servants”.

Public servants serve the Government of the day. They can belong to a political party and take part in its activities after hours because the primary audience for their professional work is ministers and other politicians understand their code. State-owned such as TVNZ and Maori Television are different. Their primary audience must know their reporters, producers and editors are not a member of any party in their spare time.

I thought the position was appalling. They should be defending neutrality – but they were effectively arguing that political journalists for state television should be able to be party activists.

The Herald does not allow its editorial staff to participate in community or political activities that could compromise their work. This means not only membership of political parties but taking part in public campaigns that they could have to cover. Preserving this distance from politics is not an onerous restriction for those whose credibility is paramount. They have the privilege of observing, reporting and commenting on public affairs. Once they cross the line to partisan participation, there is no coming back.

Well stated.

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