300 protesters made TV lead item

April 28th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

300 people marched in Auckland against asset sales. A miniscule number – 0.02% of the population of Auckland or 2 in 10,000.

Despite that, it was the lead item on TV news.

Slow news day?

Manufacturing news?

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The Knuckleheads vs Politicians debate

April 23rd, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

On Thursday May 9th, the annual EPMU media freedom debate will be held in the Backbencher. These debates are to raise money for the Media Safety and Solidarity Fund which provides support to journalists and other media workers under threat in the Asia-Pacific region. Just a month ago three Pakistani journalists were murdered in a single day.

The previous debates have been hilarious. with only vague references to the topic, they are a cross between a roast and a debate.

The moot is “That you can trust a blogger, a lobbyist and a journalist, but not a politician.”

Patrick Gower is chairing the debate, and it is safe to predict there will be as many insults and jokes at his expense, as there will be at the participants.

The knuckleheads team is:

  • Myself
  • Chris Bishop, lobbyist for Philip Morris
  • Andrea Vance, Dominion Post

The politicians team is:

  • Annette King
  • Tau Henare
  • Grant Robertson

If you want a great nights entertainment, then order tickets from Brent Edwards at brent.edwards@radionz.co.nz or 04 817 9564. Tickets are $25 each and turn up  after 5 pm for dinner and drinks with the debate starting at 7.30 pm.

The tickets often sell out fast, and the venue gets packed to the brim so I recommend getting in quick.

I’m looking forward to a fun night for a good cause.

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Lacking disclosure

April 3rd, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Lawyer and social policy expert Michael Bott said the plan showed the Government’s hatred towards those who were passionate about the environment.

That’s very strong language from Mr Bott, who is described as a social policy expert. I’m not sure how you get such a title, but they have missed out a more relevant title.

Mr Bott was of course the Labour Party candidate for Wairarapa. A fact that should have been disclosed.

This continual non disclosure on the part of media really annoys me, because it happens so consistently and in just one direction.

I honestly can not recall the last time I saw a National Party candidate, office holder or even activist quoted in the media without reference to their party involvement. While Labour Party people pop up in various guises so often, I have lost count.

Either the Herald were unaware Mr Bott was a Labour Party candidate, or they thought the public don’t need to know that this “social policy expert” who says the Government hates people who are passionate about the environment stood for Labour at the last election.

I’m not sure what answer is worse – that they didn’t know, or that they did no and decided not to say.

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Final Law Commission report on new media and news media

March 26th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Law Commission has published its final report as part of their review of regulatory gaps and new media.

I blogged on their draft report in December 2011, and said I thought their draft report was excellent.

I also blogged my submission on the draft report in March 2012.

Their final report is not hugely different to their draft report, but there have been some useful changes, especially around the key area of having any media regulator totally independent from Government (unlike the current Broadcasting Standards Authority).

The report is a welcome dose of common sense and respect for a free media, which avoids the excesses recommended in the UK an Australia.

The Law Commissions cites four policy objectives in their report:

  • recognise and protect the special status of the news media, ensuring all entities carrying out the legitimate functions of the fourth estate, regardless of their size or commercial status, are able to access the legal privileges and exemptions available to these publishers
  • ensure that those entities accessing the news media’s special legal status are held accountable for exercising their power ethically and responsibly
  • provide citizens with an effective and meaningful means of redress when those standards are breached
  • signal to the public which publishers they can rely on as sources of news and information.

They note:

Finally, there is a strong public interest in ensuring that any accountability mechanisms for the news media encourages rather than stifles diversity. It must therefore provide a level playing field for all those carrying out the functions of the fourth estate, irrespective of their size, commercial status, or the format in which they publish or distribute their content. In other words it must be technology neutral focusing on content and context rather than the format or delivery platform.

I agree, and that is why I support their key recommendation of just one self-regulatory standards body, rather than the existing three bodies (one Govt regulatory, and two self-regulatory).

Some of their recommendations are:

  • A news media standards body (the News Media Standards Authority or NMSA) should be established to enforce standards across all publishers of news.
  • Membership should be entirely voluntary and available to any person or entity that regularly publishes or generates news, information or current opinion.
  • To gain the full legal rights of news media (which are extensive), an entity or person must be accountable to a published code of ethics and the NMSA.
  • The NMSA should be chaired by a retired Judge who is appointed by the Chief Ombudsman and the majority of complaints panel members should be representatives of the public who are not from the media industry.
  • The NMSA will have a code of practice and may also have sub-codes for different mediums (I think is is important as I think online media should focus more on correction, which is less of a remedy in broadcast or print media).
  • NMSA powers will include publishing of their decisions, website take downs, corrections, right of replies, apologies, censure and ultimately termination of membership. However no power to fine.
  • A three person appeals body is also recommended.
  • No state funding of the NMSA for its regulatory function – will be entirely industry funded.
  • A working party of seven people to establish the NMSA, with the Chief Ombudsman appointing the Chairperson and the Chairperson the other six members – with industry representatives in the minority.
  • NZ on Air funding of news and current affairs will only be open to media that are members of NMSA.
  • BSA would have its role reduced to good taste and decency and protection of children standards only.

I think this report is an opportunity for the media to move from a mixed model of partial government regulation and partial self-regulation to effectively full self-regulation. I also like the opening up of opportunities for non traditional media to gain the legal privileges of the media, so long as they are willing to sign up for a code of practice and complaints procedure.

To some degree the status quo isn’t broken, so I wouldn’t call this a legislative priority for any Government. We’ll see a formal response in 120 days (off memory). But it does represent a sensible way forward and is worth pursuing.

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A misleading headline

March 24th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The SST headline:

Call to ban ministers from share float

Except they already are. Ministers absolutely can not take part in the share float.

In fact the conflict of interest obligations are taken so seriously that when Contact Energy was sold in the late 1990s, I was one of those banned from buying shares when it floated as I worked in the PM’s Office. Now I had zero involvement in the float, saw no papers about it, but still was banned.

So a headline that suggests Ministers are not already banned is absolutely misleading.

We asked our readers if they wanted a similar rule to Australia’s “Standards of Ministerial Ethics” that require ministers “to divest themselves of all shareholdings other than through investment vehicles such as broadly diversified superannuation funds or publicly listed managed or trust arrangements”.

That is a very separate issue to the suggestion that Ministers can take part in the Mighty River share float.

Incidentally I think it is a good idea for Ministers to follow the lead of the PM and put their shareholdings in a blind trust. But a one size fits all rule may be overly prescriptive  You may have a Minister who has say 10,000 shares in one company prior to becoming a Minister and requiring them to set up a Trust for such a minor shareholding could be a bit over the top.

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The decline of newspaper advertising

March 20th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 2.21.37 PM

This graph from The Atlantic tells a powerful story.

Print advertising is dying (but more slowly than a few years ago) but it is not being replaced by online advertising.

This is partly I think because of online alternatives to advertising such as auction sites, social media pages and free sites such as Craig’s List.

 

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Labor’s media regulation

March 15th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Michelle Grattan writes:

After an immensely long labour, Australian Communication Minister Stephen Conroy has produced a media policy mouse with a modest roar. …

It has a number of aspects but let’s deal particularly with some core controversial ones. A “public interest test” would be invoked when mergers or acquisitions threatened to reduce diversity. A Public Interest Media Advocate would make decisions on the basis of the test.

This advocate would also ensure that bodies dealing with media standards, most notably the Australian Press Council, met certain benchmarks for credible and effective self-regulation of print and online media.

Sounds a powerful role this Public Interest Media Advocate.

Whatever one thinks of the content of the policy, its preparation and presentation has been a shambles.

It was due months ago but held up by internal argument. Now minister Conroy has presented a take-it-or-leave-it package that he says must be through Parliament by the end of next week or the Government will drop it. The actual legislation will only be presented today.

That is outrageous, especially on an issue such as this.

The public will put the Government out of its misery in six months time.

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Giggle

March 7th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

I had to giggle. Scoop’s Werewolf has a patsy interview with Green Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown.

I wondered who interviewed her. It was former Green MP Sue Kedgley!

One commenter suggested next they could have Joe Karam interviewing David Bain!

Almost as bad as the recent fellating interview with Russel Norman the Daily Blog ran, where the first question was:

The first thing I want to ask is how frustrating is it to be the co-leader of a political party that is constantly criticized for challenging the orthodoxy, only to be vindicated in that challenge later down the track?

Yes I’m serious, that was the first question!

It’s like asking someone “How do you cope with being so awesome and right on everything”. If that is journalism, God help us.

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Why not inform people of whom is right?

March 4th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

It’s another case of she said, she said. Labour MP Jacinda Ardern was yesterday bemoaning record benefit numbers during National’s reign.

DPB, sickness and invalid beneficiary numbers were at the highest since records began in 1940, she said.

It didn’t take long for Social Development Minister Paula Bennett to respond with her own gloating statement.

The number of people on the DPB, unemployment and invalids benefits all decreased last year, she said. It seems statistics are everyone’s friend.

Rather than just report that both MPs are claiming different things, it would be nice if the media actually provided the full data and allowed people to decide for themselves.

I blogged yesterday that the numbers cited by the HoS and Ardern were over a year out of date. That’s not opinion – it is fact.

The excellent Stats Chat site also gives people the full data, in graph form. Sadly the number of people who read that site is far far less than those who read newspapers.

Lindsay Mitchell also has some useful fisking of Ardern’s claims.

Ironically Anthony Robins at The Standard is also unhappy with the article. Not for the misleading claims, but because a Labour MP is suggesting that it would be a good thing to have fewer people on welfare!

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Welfare numbers

March 3rd, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The HoS reports:

Paula Bennett’s reputation for being tough on beneficiaries is in jeopardy as figures reveal record high numbers on state financial support.

Labour spokeswoman for social development Jacinda Ardern said the highest unemployment numbers were at around 10 per cent in the early 1990s but support for solo parents and invalids have hit record highs during Bennett’s reign as Social Development Minister.

“When it comes to the worst DPB, sickness, and invalid benefit numbers, these have all been since 2010 and under Paula Bennett,” Ardern said. “Interestingly, the two highest figures for the DPB were both after the introduction of Bennett’s welfare reforms, which mostly targeted DPB recipients by increasing their work obligations.”

Ardern provided the Herald on Sunday with figures which showed:

Between January 2009 and January 2012, the number of people on the DPB rose by 13.2 per cent. During the same period, the number of people on the unemployment benefit rose by 82 per cent. “The Government seems to be clamping down on DPB mums in an effort to show ‘action’ to mask their ‘inaction’ in employment and job creation,” Ardern said. “But neither figure will budge unless the core issue of job availability is first addressed.”

The moment I saw this story, I had a fair idea of what the actual data would show. Yes more people on those benefits between those two dates, but not a linear pattern. Of course Jan 2009 was as the GFC was in full force, and hence job losses occurring.  Also the comparison stops 12 months ago. Why?

Let’s look at the actual data, in terms of increase or decrease each year. For DPB they are

  • 2008 +2,128
  • 2009 +9,007
  • 2010 +3,576
  • 2011 +1,365
  • 2012 -5,112

I think we now understand why Jacinda left the 2012 figures off. What I don’t know is why the Herald on Sunday did.

Let’s do the same with Invalid’s Benefit numbers.

  • 2008 +3,419
  • 2009 +1,537
  • 2010 +67
  • 2011 -1,062
  • 2012 -472

And for those interested in the Unemployment Benefit.

  • 2008 +7,760
  • 2009 +35,820
  • 2010 +756
  • 2011 -7,120
  • 2012 -6,217

They all show the same thing. The increase in benefit numbers started in 2008 (under Labour) and worsened in 2009 as the Global Financial Crisis struck.  Despite patchy economic growth since 2009, benefit numbers in all three categories have fallen in the last two years.

One has to congratulate Jacinda for getting the Herald on Sunday to run an entire story based on selective cherry-picked data. That’s a good achievement for an Opposition MP.

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Good research from Whale

March 3rd, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Whale has done some good research on a family highlighted in the media as being unable to afford a house. He did some basic research and found out they did have enough money for:

  • booze
  • pets
  • cigarettes
  • Playboy branded paraphernalia
  • iPhones
  • tatoos

He also reveals that they simply paid no rent at all at the place they were previously living at.

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Rudman confirms media campaign against Government

February 27th, 2013 at 1:25 pm by David Farrar

What an admission from Brian Rudman in the NZ Herald:

With job lay-offs, unaffordable housing and a call for better public transport, Labour should be making inroads.

Despite the best efforts of Opposition politicians, single-issue campaigners and me and my colleagues in the media, most Kiwis seem resolutely unconvinced that this country is heading for hell in a handcart.

A stunning admission by Rudman. Not a huge surprise that he admits to trying to convince people the country is heading for “hell in a handcut” as Rudman is well known as a left wing columnist. But his inclusion of  his colleagues in the media speaks volumes.

They see their role to convince New Zealanders that their country is fucked, with the implication being unless of course they change the Government.

Will the NZ Herald let Rudman’s comments stand that the role of his media colleagues has been to use their best efforts convince people the country is damned?

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Herald again fails to disclose author is a Labour candidate

February 23rd, 2013 at 10:54 am by David Farrar

I blogged on Thursday how the Herald ran a blog post from James Dann that was both factually incorrect and also failed to disclose Dann stood for Labour for the Christchurch City Council.

Well again on Friday they have run a blog post by Dann (of course attacking the Government again). Once again they do not mention that he is a Labour Party candidate.

How can the Herald justify not telling its readers that the blogger whose work they reprint, who constantly attacks the Government, is in fact a political party candidate?

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A new media regulatory body

February 19th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The broadcasters have announced:

Broadcasting Industry to Launch Online News And Current Affairs Self Regulatory Body

New Zealand’s major radio and television broadcasters today confirmed the launch of a new industry funded, self-regulatory body, the Online Media Standards Authority “OMSA”, which will oversee online news and current affairs content standards.

Since the Law Commission’s paper, The News Media meets ‘New Media’ was published in December 2011, NZ television broadcasters TVNZ, SKY/Prime, MediaWorks TV, and Maori Television have worked together with Radio New Zealand, The Radio Network and MediaWorks Radio to provide an industry led, cost effective and consumer friendly solution to regulate online news and current affairs content. OMSA will publish a code of standards and provide a free complaints process overseen by the OMSA Complaints Committee.

The OMSA Complaints Committee will be chaired by retired Court of Appeal Judge, Sir Bruce Robertson and including the Chair; will comprise four public members and three broadcasting industry representatives.

The new body will use a similar format to that used by the Advertising Standards Authority and the NZ Press Council, as they are excellent examples of industry funded, self- regulatory regimes working effectively. OMSA acknowledges the advice and guidance that was provided by both organizations. OMSA Chair, Clare Bradley, said

“OMSA enjoys the total support of New Zealand broadcasters and the OMSA code and complaints process will apply to the websites operated by all OMSA members. The Authority has its genesis in the report of the Law Commission which identified a regulatory “gap” in the oversight of news and current affairs content solely published on line. We are delighted to be able to provide the solution to the Law Commission’s “gap”.

This does help plug a gap. Currently broadcaster’s websites are not covered by any code or body. Print media websites are covered by the Press Council.

It’s a step in the right direction, but a poor substitute to what we should have – which is a converged standards regulator for all media – totally independent of Government.

What is no clear is what the membership eligibility for OMSA will be, and associated fees. Should online publishers who wish to be seen as media join OMSA or the Press Council? Will the fees be affordable for non-commercial entities.

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Cycleways in Chrstchurch

February 13th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Lois Cairns at The Press reports:

If Christchurch is to become a city for cyclists, then the city council should spend the $69 million needed to create a city-wide cycleway network.

That is the view of Cr Aaron Keown, who says that if the council is serious about turning Christchurch into the Amsterdam of the South Pacific, it needs to put its money where its mouth is.

He said number crunching by council staff showed that if ratepayers were prepared to accept an extra 1 per cent increase in their rates, the network could be funded and built within two years.

“The average household in Christchurch pays $1600 a year in rates, so a 1 per cent rate increase is an extra $16 a year,” Keown said.

“If the people of Christchurch really want a cycle network, are they prepared to pay an extra $16 a year for it?”

Christchurch looks to be an ideal city for cycling as it is so flat. The idea of cycleways is a good one. However I am unsure about the robustness of the $16 a year figure.

There are around 140,000 households in Christchurch. $69 million is in fact $492 a household. Not $16.

The story refers to it being funded within two years. So that would in fact require $250 a household per year – not $16.

This wasn’t hard to calculate. It would be nice if media had the resources or inclination to fact check claims made by politicians, rather than just report on them.

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Newspaper readerships

February 9th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The latest Nielsen data is here. Major papers are:

  • NZ Herald 531,000 (-39,000, -8% drop in last year)
  • Waikato Times 96,000 (+2,000, +1%)
  • Dominion Post 235,000 (+3,000, +1%)
  • The Press 215,000 (-18,000, -9%)
  • ODT 96,000 (-9,000, -10%)

That’s some huge drops for the Herald, Press and ODT. The Herald has dropped 68,000 in the last two years.

Weeklies:

  • Sunday News 220,000 (-39,000, -16%)
  • SST 432,000 (-105,000, -21%)
  • HoS 362,000 (-20,000, -6%)
  • NBR 53,000 (-5,000, -11%)

Look at the drop for the SST. That is like an arterial blood loss.

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Waitangi Day pub crawl

February 4th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

An estimated 4000 Kiwi revellers have marked Waitangi Day in London with the annual pub crawl around the city’s Circle underground line – and won police praise for it.

The event, marked in London for decades, began with a minute’s silence for Jacob Marx, 27, a Kiwi lawyer killed in London last week. He suffered fatal injuries when a sign outside a shop in North London’s Camden Rd fell on his head.

Young men then bared their chests in a chilly London for the traditional haka while others caroused in Kiwi-themed costumes, dressing as sheep, Marmite jars, Fred Dagg, EQC inspectors or Kim Dotcom.

Confronted with the spectacle, bemused Londoners took to Twitter. Alex Johnson wrote: “Kensington is overrun with thousands of Kiwis in sheep outfits. Apparently it’s the Waitangi Day Pub Crawl. Weird, but go #newzealand!”

Police looked forward to the annual celebrations, Inspector Bruce Middlemiss told 3news.

“The crowd have been fantastic, absolutely fantastic. There aren’t too many nations who can have 5000 people on a pub crawl and result in no arrests. It’s been extremely good-natured and New Zealand should be very proud of them, I think.”

Excellent. Kiwis do know how to have lots of fun but not be pillocks.

This is in marked contrast to last year when a Kiwi complained to the New Zealand high commission of being ashamed by the display of debauchery.

Actually it isn’t in contrast at all. The Police said almost the same thing last year. The only contrast was last year one lone person e-mailed in an inaccurate description of the pub crawl. It was later shown that he had said on Facebook that he intended to complain about the pub crawl before it had even occurred!

I recall this story because the Dom Post ran a massive front page story on the basis of this one inaccurate unsubstantiated complaint, and how by the end of the day their online version of the story had basically backed down on it as hundreds came forward to say it was well behaved – including the Police.

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du Fresne on media balance

January 26th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne writes in the Dom Post:

John Campbell is a very talented broadcaster and a likeable man. But I believe he is dangerously wrong when he pooh-poohs the idea of objectivity in journalism, as he did in a recent interview with this paper’s Your Weekend magazine.

”I’ve never met a journalist who didn’t want to change the world and make it a better place,” the TV3 current affairs host was quoted as saying. ”Without exception that’s why they get into journalism. And yet when they get there they are asked to be dispassionate and objective.

”Who came up with that rule? It’s stupid.”

In fact that ”stupid” rule, which requires that journalists try to remain impartial and present facts and opinions in a balanced way, has underpinned good journalism in Western democracies for decades.

The importance of objectivity is recognised, if not always followed to the letter, by virtually all the world’s great news organisations, including the BBC. It’s also upheld by the bodies that adjudicate on journalism standards, including our own Broadcasting Standards Authority and Press Council.

There’s a very good reason for this. The requirement for balance is a vital check on the potential abuse of media power. If it were abandoned, journalists would be free to spin the news however it suits them – in other words, to exclude any inconvenient fact or opinion that doesn’t align with their own world view.

It’s a curious fact that those who argue that journalistic objectivity should be discarded – a view now routinely promoted in journalism schools – are almost invariably from the Left of the political spectrum. Yet the same people are the first to condemn Right-wing news outlets, such as the notorious Fox News, for making little or no attempt at journalistic balance.

A fair point. It is rather hypocritical to be a critic of Fox News for being unbalanced, but praise Campbell Live for proclaiming they are not objective.

It doesn’t seem to occur to them that objectivity, or more precisely the absence of it, can cut both ways. Being objective doesn’t mean, as is sometimes dishonestly argued, that journalists have to be timid or defer to those in power. Neither does it prevent them expressing shock and outrage when faced with obvious atrocities. But it does require reporters to acknowledge that in most situations there’s more than one side to the story, and that things are often more complex

And this is where I think John Campbell sometimes gets it wrong. 99% of NZers would agree that kids should not go hungry to school. But how to fix that is a complex issue, and any solution such as the state providing free food may have unforeseen side-effects. But if a TV show decides that “their”solution is the only solution and campaigns for that – well it is not serving the public well.

There is still a place for impassioned advocacy journalism of the type Campbell practices, as long as it’s clear to the viewer or reader that that’s what it is. But as a general proposition, the abandonment of journalistic objectivity would be disastrous. 

The challenge is making it clear when it is advocacy journalism and when it is so called balanced reporting. In print that is usually reasonably clear. In broadcasting far less so it seems.

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The anti-austerity fraudster

January 25th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Alasdair Fotheringham at NZ Herald reported:

As an ex-presidential consultant, a former adviser to the World Bank, a financial researcher for the United Nations and a professor in the US, Artur Baptista da Silva’s outspoken attacks on Portugal’s austerity cuts made the bespectacled 61-year-old one of the country’s leading media pundits last year.

The only problem was that Baptista da Silva is none of the above.

He turned out to be a convicted forger with fake credentials and, following his spectacular hoodwinking of Portuguese society, he could soon face fraud charges.

So this media darling was never checked out, for over a year?

Here’s a sample article quoting him from Reuters:

Portugal needs to renegotiate its bailout package or risk social problems spinning out of control soon, a U.N.economist dealing with southern Europe told a local newspaper.

The Expresso weekly on Saturday cited Artur Baptista da Silva, coordinator of a group set up by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to monitor debt-ridden southern Europe, as saying Portugal’s bailout programme was yielding “very bad results” and some of its terms had to be changed.

The government and the lenders insist no change of terms is needed and that the programme is “well on track” towards reducing the public deficit. They rule out any need for debt renegotiation to avoid parallels with Greece’s crisis, which has already caused a debt writedown.

But Baptista da Silva said Portugal, which has slid into its worst recessionsince the 1970s after applying tough tax hikes and spending cuts dictated by last year’s bailout, doesn’t have much time.

“If it’s not negotiated now, then in six months’ time, we’d have to do it on our knees. All the projections that we’ve done for the economy, debt, unemployment leads us to believe that Portugal will be in serious difficulties in terms of social control in half a year,” he warned.

He said as many as 2 million Portuguese out of 10.6 million were living below the poverty line, surviving on less than 7 euros a day. Unemployment is at record highs of over 16 percent and social strife has grown in the past few months.

The proposed renegotiation would save Portugal 10 billion euros ($13.1 billion), according to the economist.

Hilarious that they made him into the leading spokesperson against austerity, and took a year for someone to find out he was a con artist.

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Over-stating the case

January 25th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Kate Chapman at Stuff reports:

Labour leader David Shearer is attempting to capitalise on the Maori Party’s apparent demise by extending his visit to Ratana.

Whoa. There is no way that should be asserted as fact in a news story. You can and should refer to leadership tensions, infighting etc. But to label a mere leadership challenge is the apparent demise of a party is not appropriate for a news report. It would be okay in an opinion piece speculating on what the struggle may do to the Maori Party.

All parties have leadership challenges, except those which are personality cults. You don’t label a party as having apparently demised, just because of one.

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Press freedom in China

January 9th, 2013 at 8:27 am by David Farrar

Reuters reports at Stuff:

The Communist Party chief of Guangdong province has reportedly stepped in to mediate a standoff over censorship at a Chinese newspaper, in a potentially encouraging sign for press freedoms in China.

A source close to the Guangdong Communist Party Committee said Hu Chunhua, a rising political star in China who just took over leadership of Guangdong province last month, had offered a solution to the dispute that led to some staff at the Southern Weekly going on strike.

The drama began late last week when reporters at the liberal paper accused censors of replacing a New Year letter to readers that called for a constitutional government with another piece lauding the party’s achievements.

Under Hu’s deal, the source said, newspaper workers would end their strike and return to work, the paper would print as normal this week, and most staff would not face punishment. “Guangdong’s Hu personally stepped in to resolve this,” the source said.

“He gets personal image points by showing that he has guts and the ability to resolve complex situations. In addition, the signal that he projects through this is one of relative openness, it’s a signal of a leader who is relatively steady.”

The standoff at the Southern Weekly, long seen as a beacon of independent and in-depth reporting in China’s highly controlled media landscape, has led to demands for the country’s new leadership to grant greater media freedoms.

China will never be a democracy as we have them in Europe and down under. Change will be evolutionary, not revolutionary. But it has been moving in the right direction for most of the last couple of decades and may end up with a Singapore system of governance one day – semi-democratic.

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A non story

January 3rd, 2013 at 8:22 am by David Farrar

Reuters reports:

An Afghan insurgent warlord has branded Prince Harry a shameless, drunken “jackal” out to kill innocent Afghans while on duty as an attack helicopter pilot for NATO forces in the country. …

“It seems that some British authorities still dream about the times of the 18th and 19th century and they want their ambassador to be treated like a viceroy and their prince to go out in uniform to hunt for human beings and play the Satanic role that they used to play in the past,” Hekmatyar said in translated comments.

He said Britain had gained nothing by entering an “unjustified, useless but cruel conflict” to please its ally, the United States, speaking in a recorded video response to questions put by the paper.

“The British prince comes to Afghanistan to kill innocent Afghans while he is drunk. He wants to hunt down Mujahideen with his helicopter rockets without any shame.

“But he does not understand this simple fact that the hunting of Afghan lions and eagles is not that easy. Jackals cannot hunt lions,” Hekmatyar added. …

The US State Department lists Hekmatyar as a “terrorist” for supporting attacks by Islamist Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents, although he became a hero to many Afghans while leading mujahideen fighters against the Soviet occupation of the Central Asian country in the 1980s.

So a terrorist disapproves of Prince Harry’s deployment. This is of course globally important news.

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A stuffed nation?

December 20th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

I don’t how to put this diplomatically, so I’ll be direct.

Dear Fairfax,

Please, please, please exterminate the abomination that is Stuff Nation. 

I of all people am a supporter of allowing readers and commenters to contribute content. I think that is a good thing.

But it is a bad thing when you put that content on the front page of your website, and mix it in with the articles written by actual journalists. It devalues their work, and the entire site.

Take an example of a “story” that was on Stuff’s front page yesterday. It was this one that said:

A few years ago I applied for a job at a factory making trampolines.

The manager’s first question was: “Are you a married woman?”

I thought ‘ughh you creep’ but bit my tongue and asked why he needed to know.

His answer left me speechless: ”I don’t employ married women because their place is in the home to raise their children properly.”

Guess what though? I truly hate to admit it – being a (reformed) seventies feminist  - but he’s dead right.

Let’s even put aside that a company that has a majority of female employees publishes on their front page a story saying married women shouldn’t get jobs, because that makes them bad mums who can’t raise their children recently. Let’s agree that is a valid debate (personally I think it was a valid debate in 1912 not 2012).

But the 81 word “story” doesn’t even make a case for or against. It just says an employer asked me this once, and he was right.

Danyl McL has a theory that Stuff Nation is in fact a cunning plan by Fairfax to make people appreciate real journalists even more. If so, it is working!

Look I understand the commercial attraction of Stuff Nation. Get hundreds of people to write for us for nothing, in the hope their contribution makes the front page of Stuff, and we get to make advertising revenue from the ads we place on their content. And that is a fine model for GP Forums, and other bulletin boards.

But this mixing of banal reader contributions and actual journalistic articles and columns is hideous. Has Fairfax asked their staff what they think of it? I’m pretty confident they hate it.

Is there a solution, short of my preferred option of a large radioactive nuclear bomb?

How about just removing Stuff Nation articles from the front page of Stuff? I’ve already removed the Stuff Nation section from the Stuff front page, but their articles still turn up under “Editor’s Picks”. The article on why married women should not work was an Editor’s Pick!!!

Why not make Stuff Nation a standalone website. Make it nation.stuff.co.nz. Have a link to the site from Stuff, but don’t mingle together the content from your professional journalists with your reader contributions.

Either that, or nuke the abomination!

UPDATE: The new editor of Stuff Nation has responded in the comments:

Ouch! I’m totally up for debate on this (as the new editor of Stuff Nation and Stuff’s digital communities), but abomination might be a bit rough.

I think there’s some fair points in this blog though and also in the comments. I’m glad BlairM pointed out the obvious flaw in the fact that this is a blog, based on the opinions of an individual, much like the majority of content on Stuff Nation. I think it’s dangerous as journalists for us to assume that one person’s opinion is more valid than another’s.

There was a lot of debate yesterday about the quality of the ‘job interview nightmare’ mentioned above but I think in the context of readers sharing their stories and opening up debate on key issues, it’s a very valid form of citizen journalism. And by publishing it we weren’t endorsing the content – in the same way we don’t agree with every op ed piece we publish in our papers or websites.

I think it’s fair to mention that Stuff Nation – like any new major project – is a work in progress and we’re constantly working on ways to improve it and the quality within it. We have had some really beautifully written pieces from our readers (like this http://www.stuff.co.nz/stuff-nation/8059106/Remembering-loved-ones-My-world-ended-that-day ) that have not only been amazing reads, but have provoked discussion around tough issues such as suicide, miscarriage, and loss, and that we would have struggled to produce through traditional news gathering channels.

In the meantime though, the stories are very clearly marked as Stuff Nation content, so if you’re not keen, you can easily avoid them. And I’ll just work away in the next few months to win you back :)

Thanks to Janine for a constructive response to my rather inflammatory post. To some degree I find the dross puts me off discovering the gems like the ones cited above. Maybe have people vote on the best pieces and have them displayed more prominently, so that the signal to noise ratio is higher?

But here’s an example of what I was complaining about. I follow NZ Stuff Politics on Twitter. My expectation is that tweets from that account will be linking to stories written by journalists on politics. One tweet this afternoon was:

Call for new Education Minister

I clicked through on this, thinking it was a significant story. That a lobby group or school or union or MP had called for a new Education Minister.

Instead the link was to this Stuff Nation story. It was basically a letter to the editor, or a short piece by a reader called Peter Condon that he thinks Parata should go.

This shouldn’t be tweeted as a political news story by the Stuff NZ Politics twitter account. It isn’t a story. I’m not saying don’t have the opinion on the website somewhere, but this treating of a Stuff Nation opinion as no different to a news story is I think bad.

Some have said just don’t read Stuff Nation stories. I generally don’t. But when the Stuff twitter accounts promote them as if they were actual news stories, I have no way of knowing until I click on them. Set up a Stuff Nation twitter account, and leave the nation stories ou of the other twitter accounts.

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Australian excitement

December 10th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

7 News reported:

A record number of New Zealanders are arriving in Australia, and thousands are doing it thanks to cash handouts from their own Government.

Umm, not thousands. Six people.

The outrageous unemployment policy is turning Australia into a dumping ground for the out-of-work Kiwis.

Yes those six extra Kiwis last year have grown the Australian population by 0.000027%. How will they cope.

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The prank call tragedy

December 9th, 2012 at 7:19 am by David Farrar

news.com.au reports:

THE boss of the radio network at the centre of the hoax call suicide tragedy has defended radio pranks as the government watchdog begins to investigate the incident.

A visibly shaken Rhys Holleran, CEO of Southern Cross Austereo that owns the radio station, has expressed the network’s “deep sorrow” at the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha, 46, on Friday just days after she answered Sydney radio station 2DayFM’s hoax call.

I think there is a place for prank calls, but I don’t regard what that radio station did as a prank call. I think it was a nasty little lie. There is nothing clever or funny in ringing up a nurse and pretending to be someone else to access the private health records of a patient – no matter how famous.

If they had even an ounce of empathy, they should have realised in advance their call, if successful  would result in the employees concerned being massively distraught at their mistake in trusting them not to be lying. Also I don’t see what is funny about a young women having her first baby being in hospital due to complications.

No the suicide of Jacintha Saldanha was not predictable in advance, and I am sure they are genuinely upset by what has happened. However it was predictable that that nature of the call and the hoax they were enacting was going to cause great distress to the hospital staff they conned. The only thing unknown was the extent.

Now two children do not have a mother, and Kate and William’s first child will always be associated with the death of an innocent. Prince William already hated the press for what he saw as their role in the death of his mother. No doubt this addition to the media death toll will only harden that hatred.

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