When watchdogs become lapdogs: Some New Zealand media in spotlight


By Thakur Ranjit Singh*

Noam Chomsky
With the fall of Murdoch Media Empire and Wikileaks Scandal, the concept of a free media has taken almost a fatal hit. With recent developments in mainstream television, controversies and questionable decisions by some media outlets in New Zealand, one is forced to revisit Herman and Chomsky's Propaganda Model.


Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, in their book, originally published in 1988, Manufacturing Consent: The political economy of mass media (2008), have put forward a model as a framework for gauging, analysing and understanding the functioning of the US media. Their concept, called the Propaganda Model, stipulates that media is not a free agent that the public have been made to believe. They challenge the myth that the press is stubborn, difficult, persistent and present everywhere as searchers and defenders of the truth. What they state through the Propaganda Model is that all facets of news are structured by the influence and consensus of the elite to ensure systematic propaganda. Effectively what they say is that the media serves and propagandises on behalf of those who control and finance them.

This is where the recent behaviour of Television New Zealand (TVNZ) and Media Works comes into question. Almost two months before the last elections, Prime Minister John Key hosted an hour-long show on September 30, 2011 on Radio Live. He declared that the show was an "election-free zone." 
 
However, the Opposition, complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) and the Electoral Commission claiming that the show qualified it as an election advertisement because it was so close to the November 26, 2011 election. The ruling of the Electoral Commission was that despite statements that the show was an "election-free zone", Mr Key had associated himself with well-known people. In doing so, he took the opportunity to raise his personal profile unchallenged, and hence was likely to be seen to encourage people to vote for National Party under his leadership. 
 
The then Labour leader Phil Goff accused Radio Live of granting special favours to John Key in exchange for Government’s decision to defer $43 million of licensing fees for Media Works, the owners of Radio Live and TV 3. He said it would have been a different situation if other leaders had been afforded the same opportunity. Goff said Radio Live had rejected the idea of allowing others to participate. The concentration of ownership of NZ media between Fairfax, Media Works and Government makes the picture murkier and give further credence to Propaganda Model.

In yet another media move that would raise concerns and controversy is a decision by TVNZ to dump the new Labour leader's weekly appearance on its Breakfast show. They were courteous in telling Labour leader David Shearer that he was not newsworthy and he did not have an automatic right to appear on the show, and would have to create news to appear on its show. It is a typical chicken and egg situation: how is he expected to create news without TV exposure?

Coming on the heels of Labour’s complaint about PM’s free election advertising on Radio Live reported above, some feel it is the government-owned station’s act of getting back at Labour for being a naughty boy. Its axing may be due to the Electoral Commission finding Prime Minister’s appearance on Radio Live breached the Broadcasting Act and the case being referred to police. This fiasco, apart from illustrating the act of Government broadcaster licking the hand that feeds it (government), also raises questions about whether the media should treat party leaders differently in their coverage. However, according to the Propaganda Model, TVNZ will look after the interests of its owner and financier - the government, and the Opposition (Labour Party) can go and jump.

Such expedient decisions by the media in pleasing the government are not only confined within New Zealand, but have gone abroad as well. This comes amidst allegation from Fiji Broadcasting Commission (FBC) that NZ government was blocking the newly established FBC TV from showing TVNZ news and features to Fijians.
FBC’s chief executive, Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum (former TVNZ’s Asia Downunder reporter) said that while TVNZ Pacific Services were free of service across the Pacific, Fiji was denied permission for showing them to its people. All that was needed was any broadcaster to be given approval from TVNZ. However, reportedly two requests made last year by FBC TV had been rejected by TVNZ on the grounds that FBC TV was owned by government of Fiji. What defies sense or logic is that TVNZ itself is a government owned enterprise. And because of it being NZ Government owned, Khaiyum claims political pressures were exerted on TVNZ by Murry McCully’s Foreign Affairs Department not to grant the Fijians the approval to broadcast. According to what Khaiyum told Fiji Sun, this was confirmed by New Zealand High Commission’s Deputy Head in Suva, Peter Lund, who said that the directive of refusal came from New Zealand Foreign Affairs. Effectively, this was a case of a Government exerting its ownership powers to prevent dispersal of regional information in the Pacific region. TVNZ, as a supposedly free media organisation was merely dancing to the tunes of its owners and financiers, the New Zealand government. Khaiyum said the decision may only change with the change of government.

However, your truly is not holding his breath. The Labour party has been no different in its treatment of Fiji. Just the players change, the game rules remain the same. In the meantime, people are getting used to the high standards and quality of TV services from the English service of Al Jazeera from Doha in Qatar. It is similar to the case of another Arab enterprise, Emirates Airlines, increasingly taking foot in the traditional Australasian market.

The cases above illustrate that Herman and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model stipulated over two decades ago still holds current in New Zealand. In this developed First World, some media still continue to be sympathizers and mouthpiece of — and jump to the tunes of — those who finance them. In doing so, they abandon their watchdog roles to become lapdogs.

[Endnote: The author graduated with Masters in Communication Studies (MCS) with Honours from Auckland University of Technology (AUT) last year. His research topic was: The 2000 Speight coup in Fiji: an analysis of the role of The Fiji Times and the impact of partisan media. The research is available at the following site:
The research revealed that the Propaganda Model of media was also in play during 2000, leading to Speight coup in Fiji.]

*  Thakur Ranjit Singh is a media commentator, a community worker and CEO of Media Relations Limited, a media promotions, event management, public relations and communications company based in Auckland. thakurji@xtra.co.nz

Comments

Cake said…
@Thakur.

This is one of the most laughable postings I have ever read. Your point about TVNZ and Radio NZ being influenced by Government is nothing new. So they gave the standing Prime Minster a slot on a TV show, they took away a platform from the opposition leader. It happens. Media organizations the world over are influenced by their owners. The key is to have enough different media organizations so that the different points of view and stories get aired. The other key is not to allow government editorial control of news items and Thakur does not make that accusation here.

But you have to really laugh when he makes the point that TVNZ is the villain, by not supplying programmes to FBC, the goody. He blames the NZ government for this and quite right too. FBC is nothing but the propaganda machine for a dictator. It lets the dictator appear whenever he wants but never carries the views of people in opposition. It never comments critically on the dictator’s actions. So to use FBC as the good guy when compared to TVNZ is well and truly mixed up.

I would also like to remind Thakur his beloved dictator Bainimarama was the one to ban ABC from broadcasting in Fiji.

I will never understand why the supporters of a dictator believe Bainimarama should have his cake and eat it too. I suppose he can in Fiji but thankfully some Governments and media organizations see Bainimarama for what he is; a tin pot dictator in a banana republic.
Anonymous said…
If it happens in the US, you can bet your bottom dollar the 'mighty wurlitzer' runs the media in all western countries.

Bury the lead and keep the public glued to mindless advertising, TV soaps and sports programs.

http://carlbernstein.com/magazine_cia_and_media.php
Castigation of political funding by the Fiji Times said…
Why are we at all surprised by this? THe Media dances to the tune of its owners: "He who pays the piper calls the tune".

It is a long time since the days of "Aunty" (the pet name for the BBC under total government ownership) and other broadcasting corporations that worked in the same model (FBC for instance). A multiplicity of media under varied ownership has had to replace total government control to ensure balance. But....it is not necessarily balance within one manifestation: in other words, it has always been required elsewhere to glean news from a variety of sources to ensure one jumped over the hurdle of a single ownership. This requires critical thinking and analysis of quite a high order. It also requires investment in the purchase of a variety of quality media products.

We have never really 'got it' in Fiji and we are too small to have had a wide ownership and media output of our own. But in tertiary education this should always have been stressed: the absolute necessity to read and to quote from a variety of sources. To analyse fully the bias of these sources and then to come to a critical awareness and judgement on the issues.

For this reason, the political funding of a sole party by the Fiji Times Newspaper which was not transparently done was heinous and extremely damaging to Fiji. The Chair at the time and the entire board of directors should be castigated for this and for what happened next.
Anonymous said…
Cake has a caked brain and is proven by the fact that his first two paragraphs contradict each other. In the first paragraph he is comfortable with govt owned media, "It happens. Media organizations the world over are influenced by their owners". But when it comes to FBC he lambasts it saying, "It never comments critically on the dictator’s actions."
Cake, you and your supporters were always comfortable with successive dictators but not with this one because those in the past danced to your tune and this one makes you dance to his tune and you are not used to it! I know it pains and hopefully you and your kaivata change for the good - realize and accept that no dictators are good! Sometimes people learn the hard way but it is an opportunity that must not be missed.
Anonymous said…
Cake has a caked brain and is proven by the fact that his first two paragraphs contradict each other. In the first paragraph he is comfortable with govt owned media, "It happens. Media organizations the world over are influenced by their owners". But when it comes to FBC he lambasts it saying, "It never comments critically on the dictator’s actions."
Cake, you and your supporters were always comfortable with successive dictators but not with this one because those in the past danced to your tune and this one makes you dance to his tune and you are not used to it! I know it pains and hopefully you and your kaivata change for the good - realize and accept that no dictators are good! Sometimes people learn the hard way but it is an opportunity that must not be missed.
Cake said…
@Anonymous

I am comfortable with government owned media, where they are set up and run properly. I listen to the BBC World Service and I find it is just as happy to criticize the Government of the day as to praise it. In fact the World Service is actually funded by the British Foreign Office but has a reputation throughout the world for fair unbiased reporting.

TVNZ and Radio NZ have similar charters and are able to and do criticize the governments in power.

FBC has not criticized Bainimarama or his cronies since 2009 and hardly ever before that. It is a propaganda machine for the government; one that Khaiyum brothers have expanded into TV at a cost of over $20m and are now struggling to make their interest payments with Fiji Development Bank.

Again you say because I am against this tin pot dictator I must have been for all the others. I am against all tin pot dictators; I am against all coups and anyone who benefits from them.

Bainimarama is the worst of them all. He is the one who has been in power longest, he is the one who has damaged the economy of Fiji the most. He is the one who continues to trample on human rights.
flyhalf said…
@ Cake

Your guilty of 'Having your cake eating it too'.
Yes talk up the virtues of BBC and ignore and obfuscate their vices.

For more information on the bias in BBC refer to:

http://biased-bbc.blogspot.com/
Cake get real said…
Unfortunately every news media in Fiji propagandises for the regime but it is partly the media's own fault. When Rabuka took over, FBC was a propaganda machine for him; when Speight took over likewise.

So spare us the claptrap about the media in Fiji being some kind of beacon for freedom of speech, Cake, whoever you are.

Fiji Times under Russell Hunter was well and truly in bed with the the SDL, contributing financially to its so-called Duavata Fund.

The Times campaigned relentlessly against the Chaudhry Government when it was in power. A female journalist who had a relationship with ousted PM Rabuka was used to write anti-Chaudhry stories on a daily basis.

One Russell Hunter spearheaded the campaign. It was the worst case of skirt journalism seen in Fiji. The draconian media law is legacy of this type of unethical behaviour by the media, encouraged by expats and newsroom tyrants like Russell Hunter and his local clone Netani Rika.

So get real Cake.
Good joke, Thakur said…
Far more than TVNZ, Fiji's FBC is a personification of the propaganda model and a shameless and blatant lapdog of the Bainimarama Government, and to use the Thakur's term, is "licking" the government's hand, worth around $24m in loan, I believe.

Thakur has turned a blind eye to this while criticising NZ govt and TVNZ. This man writes a totally one-sided article yet he has the gumption to preach and pontificate to the media about fairness and balance...he literally writes a whole thesis on it, but he learnt nothing from his own thesis and can't even follow it. This man is a joke not to be taken seriously!
Good Joke, Thakur said…
Correction to earlier poast: FDB loan to Radio Fiji is $17m, not $24m.

PS: thought you might like to know that it has become more difficult to make out the characters for verification on your blogsite; more than on other blogs.

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