Bryce Edwards’ Political roundup: Is the media biased?

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Political Roundup by Dr Bryce Edwards.

Dr Bryce Edwards.
Dr Bryce Edwards.

Hating Mike Hosking became even more popular last week, with Winston Peters lashing out in a strongly worded column condemning the broadcaster and calling him a National Government “stooge”. So is our media politically biased? And, if so, how?

Too rightwing, too leftwing, too white, too male, too politically correct. These are some common complaints about the biases of the New Zealand media. So bias is often in the eye of the beholder, which means we can all see problems with how the media reports on politics and the world. It’s impossible to come to a consensus on the ills of the media and how to deal with bias, but it’s a discussion worth having nonetheless. 

In the weekend, Radio New Zealand’s Colin Peacock put together a useful overview of some of these recent debates in his article, Are media bias claims anything new? You can also listen to his 12-minute Mediawatch examination of the recent Mike Hosking saga: Claims and counter-claims of bias, cheek-by-jowl.

Is Mike Hosking a “National Government stooge”?

Last week’s Hosking-hating was led by Winston Peters in his must-read column in the Herald: Mike Hosking’s Pollyanna world lets us all down. The strong words and condemnations were then amplified in opposition media platforms – see Rosanna Price and Jo Moir’s Had enough of Mike Hosking?

Satirists had a field day with the topic. The best was Steve Braunias’ Secret diary of Winston vs Hosking. And Jeremy Wells pushed the envelope even further with his weekly one minute parody ‘Like Mike’ Hosking Rant:  Winston Peters Vs The Prime Ministers Cheeks & Me. See also, the Hosking parody column by Perfect Mike Hosking (@MikePerfectHosk): ‘The morons are those who fail to learn the life lessons that sport provides’

Both Braunias and Wells also took on the previous week’s media bias debate instigated by Rachel Smalley – see Braunias’ The secret diary of Smalleygate and Jeremy Wells’ Rich White Straight Male Broadcasters

And the band Climate Change also got a lift from the Hosking debate, with their song “Hosking As a Verb” getting wider play. 

In defence of Mike Hosking

The Prime Minister jumped into the debate, joining others on the political right rubbishing the accusations about the broadcaster and, in doing so, possibly had the opposite effect to what he intended – see Jo Moir’s John Key dismisses opposition leaders accusing Mike Hosking of ‘political bias’

Hosking himself then fought back on his Newstalk ZB breakfast show – you can listen to his 2-minute response: Whose Stooge Are You?, or see the Herald article Mike Hosking hits back: Winston Peters is ‘grumpy and bored’.

A more surprising defence of the broadcaster came from veteran broadcaster and Labour-friendly Brian Edwards, who argued that Hosking is just an old-fashioned conservative who probably does his best to be objective – see: Mike Hosking: You pays your money and…. But it’s also worth reading one of Edwards’ earlier blog posts, Sufferin Succotash – Mike Hosking is really, really huge!, in which he takes apart some of the promotional advertising for Hosking. 

Free press under attack?

Do politicians attacking Mike Hosking constitute an attack on the freedom of the press? Press Gallery journalist Andrea Vance (@avancenz) responded to Peters’ initial column, saying, “Not sure I’m cool with politicians – of whatever shade – delivering personal attacks on journalists”. 

Similarly the Herald’s Paul Thomas has said that he sides with Hosking in this fight because Peters is “no champion of journalistic freedom” and “A cornerstone of freedom of the press is that politicians don’t tell journalists how to do their jobs” – see: Focus on media personalities not healthy

Thomas also goes on to discuss the issue of media bias and ponders whether a narrow Auckland media elite is taking over the conversation: “We’re in danger of being force-fed the “unique perspectives” of the likes of Hosking, Duncan Garner, Heather du Plessis-Allan and Smalley herself….  Is the ubiquitousness of this tiny and incestuous metropolitan media elite a healthy thing? Probably not, especially if they can’t or won’t bear in mind that, for two-thirds of the population, Auckland is not the New Zealand in which they live”.

National Party blogger David Farrar has also taken aim at the opposition politicians complaining about Hosking, saying that Peters’ criticisms are “a Muldoon like attack on the media”. Farrar argues it’s an unhealthy trend towards media censorship: “the opposition parties effectively demand that Mike Hosking be taken off the air, because – well he doesn’t always agree with them.  So think about this. What Labour and Greens are saying is that they only want media that agree with them” – see: Opposition parties only wants media that agrees with them

Similarly, blogger Pete George says that “Politicians attacking prominent people in media” is “bad for speech and democracy” – see: Sustained attack on the media

Blogosphere debate

There have been plenty of other interesting contributions to the Hosking debate amongst bloggers. Chris Trotter says that the problem isn’t Mike Hosking the individual, but society at large, which the broadcaster is simply holding a mirror up to – see: Heart of Gold: Why Mike Hosking is a more popular broadcaster than John Campbell

We shouldn’t expect those in the media to be without bias, argues Leigh Fletcher in her blog post, In the News Today: Mike Hosking and News Media. She says “What perhaps could be Hosking’s failing in this, is that he has entirely denied any form of political bias. It would be perfectly fine for Hosking to be openly aligned with the right-wing, provided that he stated this was the case. Many other countries have liberal and conservative news mediums: this does not necessarily destroy their credibility. In fact, the admittance of media personalities, especially those involved in topical, political issues, to bias in some cases makes them more useful”.

Similarly, on The Ruminator blog it’s argued that it would be a mistake to get rid of the likes of Hosking when the obvious answer is to find additional opinionated voices – see: Be Like Mike

But according to Steven Cowan, “Mike Hosking is just a symptom of a much wider media problem” – that of a concentration of media ownership, which means that only pro-Establishment voices get prioritised – see: Sick of Mike Hosking?

For Danyl Mclauchlan the problem is that Hosking is used on the “state broadcaster” – see: The trouble with Mike

The tabloid TV bias

Could it simply be that market forces are causing the biggest biases in the media at the moment? As we saw earlier in the year with Campbell Live, the ratings play a central role in determining what gets put on our screens. Joanna Hunkin has two interesting articles about on-going ratings issues – see Ratings wars and Future uncertain for TV3 hosts

Some in social media see a conspiracy in relation to some of these issues – see Anthony Robins’ Gower and the 3 News ratings slump

The 6pm TV news is becoming more tabloid according to Karl du Fresne, who explains Why I’ll no longer be watching 3 News, and complains Must TV cameras intrude on private grief? Similarly, see Mamari Stephens’ Memo to TV3 and TVNZ and Stuff: grieving children’s tears are not for our public consumption.

What about the quality TV political programmes? These too are biased according to Winston Peters, who is now targeting TVNZ’s Q+A, which he says is too narrow. According to John Drinnan, Peters is especially unhappy about who is chosen to appear on screen: “Yesterday, Peters said Q+A still treated politics as a two-party race and seldom offered any representation to the smaller parties. Panellists were chosen to represent the extreme left or extreme right, he said” – see: Peters rarks up Hosking attack

In fact yesterday’s Q+A included some relatively new faces and one of them, economist Shamubeel Eaqub, was less than polite about Peters during a debate about immigration: “You know, you’ve got to have a bit of balance here, and I know Winston in particular has a big thing about family reunification. Get f***king real.” Winston Peters is a long-time critic of the family reunification visa programme, which he claims is manipulated by Chinese immigrants” – see TVNZ’s ‘Get f***** real’ – economist drops F-bomb on Q+A

For some reaction in social media, see my blog post, Top tweets about the F-bomb on Q+A. And for a more in depth look at how broadcasters and society are dealing with swearing, see Adam Dudding’s very good feature article, F&@#: the truth about swearing

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Dr Bryce Edwards is a political scientist and a lecturer in Politics.

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