Transparency for thee but not for me, why journalists should come clean


Antony Loewenstein writes at the Guardian about his wish for journalists to come clean and declare their political allegiances. He contends that journalists should follow the strict rules of transparency they demand from others as a way of attempting to restore trust in their industry.

Are mainstream journalists dedicated to journalism? This may seem like a strange question, especially since I’m a journalist myself, though independent and not tied to a corporate news organisation.

We are bombarded with details that claim to inform us about the world. From war and peace to politics and global affairs, reporters produce content that is consumed by the vast majority of the population. There are claims of holding power to account, questioning how governments, officials and businesses make decisions that affect us all. In reality, corporate and political interests too often influence what we see and hear.

There are those who think that our journalists are bang in the middle…but they are far from it. Loewenstein proposes a solution.

..[T]he media has singularly failed in holding itself to account. We, as journalists, should disclose for whom we vote and any other political affiliations that may affect our reporting. It’s the least we can do to restore trust in an industry that regularly receives low marks by its readers. A 2011 study by Edelman Public Relations found only 33% of the Australian public trusted the press, compared to an average of 49% globally. A 2013 study by Transparency International finds Australians rank political parties and the media as the most corrupt institutions in the state. 

But instead of taking such ideas to heart and questioning why this is the case, too many in the press respond indignantly and claim that commitments to fairness and accuracy will suffice. They’re important, but not enough. A 2013 study by the University of the Sunshine Coast found that “more than half (51%) describe themselves as holding left-of-centre political views, compared with only 12.9% who consider themselves right-of-centre”, and over 40% of ABC journalists who answered the study (only 34 people; yes, hardly representative of anything) claimed to be Greens voters. But after the predictable indignation in Rupert Murdoch’s Australian – radical communists and Islamists are running your ABC, people! – the debate died.

The debate died because the media didn’t want to confront the uncomfortable and inconvenient truth that they are biased despite their claims to the contrary.

Here was a perfect opportunity for journalists to acknowledge their massive deficit of faith amongst the public, and find ways to address it. In an age where our media is dominated by talk shows, and where punditry is cheap to produce in a period of reduced media budgets, it’s time for commentators and reporters to more clearly reveal bias and voting intentions.

I’ve long argued that by doing this, journalists would follow the strict rules of transparency they only sometimes demand from others. They are humans like everybody else, not exactly a shocking revelation, with experiences and perspectives that shape their world view. Their influence over public debates is massive, almost incomparable to any other profession, and yet we know so very little about them. Why they vote Liberal, Labor, Greens, Wikileaks or another minor party says something important about a person with the ability to influence and question the political cycle.

Only Colin James has stated categorically his position. He doesn’t vote, he has declared that often.

Our media regularly fails to properly inform consumers about conflicts of interest with featured talent.

The responsibility should be on journalists to explain why they aren’ttelling us for whom they vote, rather than claiming it’s a private matter that would only open them up to dismissal by partisan players or exclusion by politicians who don’t believe they’ll receive a fair hearing.

This already happens today. The vast majority of “exclusives” in our media are nothing of the kind but sanctioned leaks to favoured reporters. A 2010 report by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (disclosure: I’m a research associate there but I had no involvement in this study) found that over half of the stories in the mainstream media over a five-day period in late 2009, across major media, was spin and connected in some way to public relations.

Don’t believe him…look at the way the media fawns over Kim Dotcom and Joe Karam.

How we frame stories matters and readers know it; they’re usually far smarter than most reporters give them credit for. Being as impartial as possible surely is the goal while leveling with our readers and viewers that we’re not hollow men and women without an agenda.

The “adversarial journalistic ethos”, as the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald writes, should be the model for us all. Instead, wining and dining and being close to power is how too many reporters pursue the profession. The results lack rigour and skepticism if you fear losing that all-important access to the next sanctioned press release or Mid-Winter ball invitation hobnobbing with politicians and advisors in Canberra. Look at theobsequiousness of journalists at the White House correspondents dinner. It’s hard to disagree with former Labor leader Mark Latham’s recent comments that the press gallery are “people who want to be players in politics, but lack the integrity and courage to run for elected office in their own name” .

Which is all very fine…but where does Loewenstein come from on the political spectrum…you may be surprised.

For the record, I’m likely to vote for the Greens this year but am flirting with the Wikileaks party, both organisations largely dedicated to increasing transparency in the ways we are governed.

Obviously the Greens in Australia are far more honest than the ones bred here.

Let’s see some transparency here, let’s start with some of the “exclusive” deals…Why is it that Kim Dotcom’s stories are always in the Herald and always positive to him? Why is it that TV3 and Campbell Live are the television go to people for Dotcom as well? And what about the sweetheart deals with Joe Karam to push his agenda?


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  • Blue Tim

    I seem to remember Campbell proudly proclaiming he voted Alliance years ago. Since then I have never watched him.

    • Sir Cullen’s Sidekick

      Thanks for letting me know that gnome Campbell’s top chamber is empty…..

    • Jman

      I stopped watching him when he admitted that his favourite journalist is John Pilger.

  • unitedtribes

    “Obviously the Greens in Australia are far more honest than the ones bred here”.

    The ones here, bred in Australia, are far more dishonest than the ones bred here.

  • blokeintakapuna

    The MSM leftie bias is perhaps the #1 reason why WOBH is so popular. It’s a foil to all the invented BS the MSM try and feed us.

    Take the spoon-fed MUNZ stories about PoAL that were utter lies retold by tame churnalists. The continuous stories of “school closures” in Chch, without any mention of the $1Bn being reinvested there and the new schools opening. Or the MRP IPO and all the leftie scaremongering surrounding that topic…

    …and because of the leftie MSM failings, WOBH flourishes… And trounces them all!

  • DavidW

    Even Colin James “I don’t vote” position tells us nothing at all about his bias or worldview. I don’t care about who they might vote for, that is their business, but it would be useful as a measure of how much trust to put in what they say if journos would give their position on several key issues of the day.

    So if someone was to say – I strongly oppose asset sales, I support payment of a living wage, I oppose welfare reform and I believe that a CG tax would solve the affordable housing crisis – it would allow me to take notice (or not) of whatever was being written.

  • Dave

    If the MSM wont do it, perhaps they can be exposed, I mean rated on WOBH. To keep his canvas Clean perhaps WO can simply put up a Journo a day, and the WOBH army can add their leanings and background. Example: (incomplete)

    Matt McCarten

    Political Leanings: Communist / Labour
    Greatest Influencer: Stalin
    Follows: Helen Kelly around like a puppy dog
    Past experience: Driving unite union BROKE
    On payroll of: Unite Union, CTU
    Current Debts Owes NZ Taxpayers over $200K (accumulating interest daily)
    Interests Watching companies / employers go broke
    Going on drives with Helen Kelly,
    Drinking with Cecil Walker and Gary Parsley.
    Singing KumByah with other commies & the CTU executive

    Hypocrisy metre
    Trustworthy index

  • Bunswalla

    Journalists are generally supposed to do one of two things: report the news, or give their opinion. You used be able to tell which was which – anything under Editorial, Opinion or Comment was just that, and everything else was the news.

    What’s happened, subtly at first but now with all the finesse of a bulldozer, is that the journalist or editor’s opinion is shaping not only how events of public interest are reported, but even if they’re reported (and where in the paper or website).

    News, facts and statistics that reinforce the bias or views held by the editorial team are given prominence and often reported breathlessly; those to the contrary are buried, minimised or completely ignored.

    Whether a journalist votes or not, and how they vote, is useful to know, but discerning readers can generally pick up on the angle that is being promoted in any case.

  • mark

    A friend of mine was recently working at a certain govt broadcast network in a reasonable high position where he was interacting regularly with many of the journo and production staff. Now my friend is by no means a right winger, we regularly disagree on many things political, but he was absolutely blown away by how crazy left these people were. He said many on the stories we see were almost toned down for general consumption!

    He eventually left after working there for not long because bureaucracy and boredom got to him.

  • AngryTory

    But all NZ MSM journos’ political positions are well known: communism

    Other than Whale at Truth & Wishart at Investigate.

    so – what’s the big fuss about?

  • redeye

    What I struggle to reconcile is the claim that news outlets only care about readership and their respective advertisers. (Profit)

    I’d guess that beneficiaries and lefty hippes would have less money to spend on advertised products yet rags like the NZ Herald seem to be constantly playing to that audience.

  • Mediaan

    “Journalists to come clean and declare their political allegiances”… Yes.

    Starting with Brian Edwards and Linda Clark.

    And declare their sweet payoff jobs, following substantial media services to the left, removal from which seems impossible. Like when they stop being “political editor” at Radio NZ and immediately move into a very well-paid government job at which they are incompetent and obnoxious.