AUT journalism report criticises unethical alliances with bloggers, politicians, PR and media
By Fiona Rotherham
Dec. 5 (BusinessDesk) - There is increasing evidence of unethical alliances among bloggers, politicians, PR companies and legacy media, according to New Zealand Ownership Report, the fourth published by AUT’s Centre for Journalism, Media and Democracy (JMAD).
Last year JMAD observed bloggers had gained in prominence and influence in New Zealand as the media space becomes more commercial and they were filling the gap in public interest journalism left by the commercially-operated media corporates.
But report author Merja Myllylahti said following the revelations in Nicky Hager’s book 'Dirty Politics', it appears that blogs are not necessarily a counterweight to commercial media outlets.
“The capability of blogs to retrieve the principles of public interest journalism become questionable,” she said.
Hager’s book, published just before the September general election, revealed links between Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater and a range of others including PR firms, National party members, Beehive staff, and journalists in mainstream media organisations. It said Slater and his collaborators were using the Whale Oil blog as a platform to shape public opinion and mainstream media coverage.
The JMAD report said Hager’s book had cast a shadow over long-established media organisations and also damaged the Whale Oil blog, alongside the reputation of the wider blogging community.
Slater was not the only blogger criticised this year for his political links. The report said some had perceived left-wing blogger Martyn Bradbury as being too close to the labour unions and Mana Internet Party. He later confirmed writing an internal strategy document for the Internet Party.
Alastair Thompson, co-founder of the privately-owned independent news service Scoop, resigned from the publication earlier this year after Slater revealed he was the new secretary for the Internet Party. Ten days later he resigned from the party and re-joined Scoop.
The report said other blurred boundaries include Shane Taurima, TVNZ’s general manager of Maori and Pacific programmes department, organising Labour Party meetings on TVNZ premises which triggered discussion on the state-owned broadcaster’s possible political bias. In May TVNZ released the findings of an independent panel which stated the since-departed Taurima failed to adequately disclose extensive party political activity but that there had been no evidence of bias.
The JMAD report also said during 2014 there were some encouraging signs of media diversity as new competitors emerged in the on-demand video market to circumvent Sky Network Television’s dominance in paid television content, and as the first Maori newspaper 'Mangai Nui' was launched in partnership with a mainstream newspaper.
Behind the scenes though, the report said media ownership remains dominated by fund managers and other financiers who are not interested in maintaining newsrooms and news products. Financial institutions are the most substantial shareholders in the bigger news providers, APN, Fairfax, MediaWorks and Sky TV. Financialised ownership fundamentally shapes newsroom and journalistic practices and is potentially eroding the quality of media content as journalists are given even less time to produce more material, it said.
A lack of alternative media ventures to take on mainstream media means New Zealand is also falling behind in digital media development.
"Other similar markets have successfully produced new media outlets. There is no reason why New Zealand couldn't do the same," Myllylahti said. "For example, in Finland Long Play, which publishes long-form, in-depth investigative stories, has proved sustainable since being launched early last year.
“Taken together, the trends described in this report suggest that the public sphere in New Zealand is shrinking as public interest journalism declines," the report said.