Journalist are mourning their waning power over lying politicians


via TVNZ

via TVNZ

Politicians are expected to lie. And the public don’t believe journalists either. Where does that put a political reporter?

Journalists have been venting their frustration about all this lately.

“Do John Key and Andrew Little think we are all stupid? Don’t answer that,” a despairing Vernon Small wrote in the Dominion Post in response.

“They have been caught out, time after time, speaking untruths – about really important stuff – and refusing to rectify problems, let alone admit to them,” wrote TVNZ commentator Dita Di Boni.

“Key, Bennett, English, Bridges and so forth insist everything’s fine. But they’re wrong, and need to retract their incorrect statements. They must apologise,” she wrote.

Clearly many politicians see no need to do that, even in cases where the evidence is stacked against them. But why?

In another opinion piece on TVNZ’s website, political correspondent Andrea Vance said “the polls don’t punish National for straying from the truth”, and she pointed to the success of fact-free campaigns by Donald Trump in the US and Brexit backers in the UK.

“We are living in a ‘post-truth’ era and it has infected New Zealand politics,” said Ms Vance, who worked for newspapers in the UK before reporting on politics here.

She’s not the only one who thinks so.

Massey University philosophy professor Bill Fish also sees echoes of the UK’s “post-truth” Brexit campaign in New Zealand politicians’ attitudes towards expert opinion and evidence.

Just politics-as-usual in the age of spin?

“This is different,” Ms Vance told Mediawatch. “With Trump, Brexit and what’s happening here you’ve got political players actively deceiving the public. Politicians have always been selective with truth, but now it is brazen. I’ve been doing this for 17 years and its getting worse. It’s also crept into the public service. This lack of accountability and obfuscation feels like it’s sanctioned by political masters”.

If government ministers don’t feel obliged to acknowledge contradiction – and many people don’t seem to care – doesn’t that mean the media aren’t doing their job?

Andrea Vance insists political reporters do routinely call the government to account, even if many people fail to notice, but she conceded the media do have questions to answer.

“If the job of political reporters to help people make sense of the chaos and spin and complexity of policy – rather than add to it – it’s fair to say many times we fail. The media are under real financial pressure, and political reporting can tend to fall into a ‘he said, she said’ style.”

Good to see some level of self-awareness there. But, bluntly put, media, and especially political media, have moved from reporting to becoming players, supporting or actively agitating for a certain outcome.

Ms Vance should know – she was part of the failed Panama Papers hit on John Key.

And, as we so often enjoy pointing out on Whaleoil, her colleague uttered these immortal words just before the last election

Katie Bradford NZ

Katie Bradford



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