Radio New Zealand is obliged under its charter to provide impartial and balanced coverage of news and current affairs. I interpret this to mean that, like publicly funded broadcasters in other countries, it accepts a duty to reflect a range of opinions, particularly on contentious issues.
Most of the time it honours that charter requirement, though sometimes you sense that its journalists, producers and presenters, many of whom have a natural inclination to the left, do so with clenched teeth. But now and again RNZ treats its charter obligations with utter contempt.
I’m not talking about Kim Hill on this occasion, though heaven knows she’s a frequent offender. Neither am I referring to Chris Laidlaw, though his Sunday morning show is notable for its deference to gurus of the Left. No, the programme that captured my attention in the early hours of this morning was a repeat broadcast of a panel discussion – you certainly wouldn’t call it a debate – chaired by the ubiquitous Finlay Macdonald, a man whose silky manner and apparent reasonableness disguise a lofty contempt for anyone whose views he doesn’t share.
The subject was the environment and Macdonald’s guests were Simon Terry, executive director of the Sustainability Council, veteran environmentalist Guy Salmon and former Green MP Nandor Tanczos. All were articulate and spoke with conviction, as you’d expect – and all were conveniently like-minded when the discussion turned to climate change.
The three panellists, with no lack of encouragement from the host, presented variations on the same theme. We are on the brink of a global catastrophe and the only thing that can save us – if it’s not too late – is that we change our wicked, extravagant, exploitative, capitalist ways.
You would never have guessed, listening to this back-scratching fest, that there exists a large body of formidable scientific opinion that doesn’t buy into the alarmist theory of anthropogenic global warming. Disparaging reference was made once or twice to “deniers” (a contemptible term that places climate change sceptics in the same category as those who insist no Jews were killed by the Nazis), but in such a way as to make clear to listeners that such people were a lunatic fringe and therefore not to be taken seriously.
I’ll stick my neck out here and assume that no climate change sceptic was invited to join the discussion. On no account was the cosy, leftist consensus to be disturbed. If you don’t like what someone says, no matter how solid their credentials or persuasive their research, shut them out of the debate. In fact if their credentials are sound and their research persuasive, all the more reason to deny them a voice. Nothing must be allowed to challenge leftist orthodoxy.
The programme was a travesty. It may have played well to Radio New Zealand’s substantial left-wing audience, but it will also have played into the hands of those who ask why the taxpayers should continue funding a broadcaster that can, on occasions, so flagrantly disregard its obligation to promote balanced debate.