Every now and then, facebook beats me to news. Like the cow cubicle thing, and now, the fact that the National government is trying to “tighten belts” at Radio NZ, the last public radio station in New Zealand that provides independent journalism. Here’s a news report from TVNZ, which notes that despite already making savings of about $1m a year, several key figures at Radio NZ are being threatened with redundancy if they don’t start doing things like commercialising Concert FM. Thanks to Jake Quinn of Life and Politics, however, this issue is being publicised.
So what’s the big fuss? Most people will already know that an independent press that will hold government to account is vital for a well functioning democracy, because a free media will let the public know what’s going on in government. Now, some may think that a government funded news provider would be more likely to be positive about the government, but there are guidelines that can be put in place for this. Interestingly, there is plenty of evidence that the opposite is true – government funded news organisations are usually the most credible, upstanding sources we turn to – TV One (although that’s crumbling as it is being increasingly subjected to a profit-driven model of business), PBS in the US, and the BBC in the UK. Sure, there are examples of state funded media who are censored (think China, Iran…), but these got their bad wrap from being the only source of news, and thus had total control. When there is some sort of competition, generally, government funded stations are the bastions of credibility, because they have different goals than profit driven news organisations, and this is where the problem lies.
Just like health care and education, there are areas where there needs to be public option. Having an independent (ie, not subject to the pressures of being profitable, and thus the pressure of your sponsors, who are usually advertisers) press means that you are free to report on important issues without being limited by those that sponsor you. Commercial broadcasters generally don’t publish stories that hurt their advertisers, and there are examples abound of stories being gutted due to corporate displeasure. In other cases editors let companies know beforehand and they will withdraw their advertising, thus discouraging harmful stories in future, or companies churn out their own PR to rebutt claims in a particular story. Worst of all, journalists don’t even bother to consider writing damaging stories about their sponsors, even if the truth affects a large section of society. The Columbia Journalism Review published an article in 2000 that found that about 1/3 of journalists self censor stories that would conflict with the financial interests of their news organisation.
I’ve attached an essay written in my first year of university, in COMS102: The News Machine, which sort of addresses the issues discussed here, but the essay question asked how media proprietors control media content.
Will keep adding content as this develops. Meanwhile if you’re still not convinced about my points on media ownership there’s a great breakdown on globalissues.org relating to corporate influences on the media, and the importance of media in democracy.
…if you are convinced, then sign the petition.