Friday, March 18, 2011

I could listen to Laws and Smith, but ...

(First published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard, March 16.)

A conservative friend remonstrated with me recently for listening to Radio New Zealand. He couldn’t understand why I would subject myself to what he clearly regarded as left-wing propaganda, especially when I could listen to conservative talkback hosts such as Leighton Smith and Michael Laws on commercial stations.

There were so many possible answers to this that I hardly knew where to start, but I explained first of all that I wasn’t a fan of either Smith or Laws, even though I might agree with them on some issues.

I also pointed out that since my taxes helped pay for Radio New Zealand, I insisted on asserting my right to listen to it. This seemed to him an act of pointless self-punishment, but all public institutions need people to keep an eye on them – to keep the bastards honest, in the famous words of the Australian politician Don Chipp.

I expect Radio New Zealand to provide me and my fellow taxpayers with a range of programmes that cater for – and reflect – our diverse tastes and opinions, and I reserve the right to criticise the organisation when it fails to measure up to its obligations as a publicly funded broadcaster. If the 4.2 million people who own Radio New Zealand stop caring about it, they must share the blame if it ends up being captured by an elitist coterie of lefties.

But as it happens, I don’t listen to Radio New Zealand purely out of a stoic sense of public duty. Most of the time I listen to it because I enjoy it and learn from it.

Of course it has always had a left-wing bias. It shares this with every public broadcaster I know of, including the BBC and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Left-leaning broadcasters and journalists naturally gravitate to public broadcasting because they regard private enterprise as ideologically distasteful and impure; incurably tainted by the profit motive. This becomes self-perpetuating because those in charge tend to hire people like themselves. Over time, a left-wing bias becomes part of the organisation’s DNA,

No one will ever die wondering about the political leanings of Chris Laidlaw or Kim Hill, for example. And when Radio New Zealand broadcasts a “debate” about the Treaty of Waitangi, you can be pretty confident it won’t include any Treaty debunkers.

But having said that, the institutional lean to the left, while still clearly discernible, isn’t as pronounced as it used to be. For the most part, Radio New Zealand offers an admirably balanced, diverse and stimulating range of programmes that not only enhance our quality of life but also perform the crucial function of creating an informed public.

To be fair, even Hill and Laidlaw interview interesting people and explore important issues. And even when their guests are people whose views I find repugnant, it’s still information – which brings me back to my friend’s recommendation that I switch over to Smith or Laws.

One of the consequences of the digital revolution is that people can pick and choose their sources of information and opinion as never before. Previous generations of New Zealanders formed most of their views from what they read in the daily paper, and daily papers in this country, unlike those in countries like Britain, have traditionally been “broad church”: in other words, containing a wide range of information and opinion, reflecting and catering to all shades of political belief.

But now people can go online, and inevitably they gravitate toward the sources they find most compatible with their own views. Thus left-leaning people read Britain’s Guardian online and Auckland blogger Russell Brown’s Public Address blog, while conservatives might opt for the Daily Telegraph or National Party-aligned David Farrar’s popular Kiwiblog.

The danger in such circumstances is that the group mindset is rarely challenged, since people are interested only in having their prejudices confirmed.

One reason American politics has become so polarised and overheated is that the hard Republican right gets all its information and opinion from unashamedly partisan sources such as Fox News. Closed minds have no interest in hearing what the other side thinks.

But there’s a lot to be said for exposing yourself to ideas and opinions you find challenging. It helps you to pick holes in them and may even force you to consider whether they have some merit.

Besides, even if I agreed with whatever Smith and Laws say, what could be more boring than listening to people expressing the same views as your own? This is known as the echo chamber effect, where the same opinions are heard and repeated over and over again.

It’s not only tedious, it’s bad for democracy, because democracy depends on a degree of tolerance and understanding of other people’s positions. That’s why I continue to listen to Radio New Zealand, much to my friend’s puzzlement, even though I sometimes fume and splutter at the views being expressed.

I don’t want to be bombarded with ideas that I’m comfortable with. All I insist is that the state broadcaster presents us with information and opinion that fully reflects the diversity of the population it ostensibly serves.


pdm said...

Ah Ha I know why you don't listen to Leighton Smith. You have your ear glued to the radio listening to Justin on 2ZB!!!!

The probligo said...

I couldn't post the image to the comment, so try this for the direct word...

First in line as candidate - "that man"

Karl du Fresne said...

Justin who??

Redbaiter said...

I'm astonished to find so much in this post to disagree with from someone I am usually 99% in agreement with.

You "insist" on "diversity" but are apparently quite happy to listen even when you acknowledge this is not provided.

You seem quite ready to accept that public radio be used as an outlet for left wing propaganda given it is inevitable. I do not accept this inevitability. There was a time when it was not left wing, suggesting what it is now has arisen by design rather than any natural evolution.

I'm shocked at your gratuitous analysis of American politics which sounds to me like it originated straight from the Democrat hymn book.

If FOX News is "partisan" what is the unremitting wall of left wing garbage coming from the remaining 95% of the American mainstream media? FOX are not Conservative apart perhaps from Sean Hannity. I can't even watch O'Reilly these days I'm so sick of his sycophantic arse kissing of Obama.

Who the hell are the "hard right" of the Republican Party? I honestly wouldn't have a clue what you mean by this.

American politics not so much "polarised" as that Conservatives have finally mustered their forces against the unrelenting introduction of socialist ideas over the last five decades. Ideas that have threatened to destroy the American Constitutional Republic and replace it with the fraud and failure of European socialism.

Conservatives might opt for David Farrar's blog? Good grief, Farrar is a dyed in the wool National Party supporter meaning he's virtually indistinguishable from the Progressives of Labour. No real Conservative would view Farrar's socially liberal rubbish as remotely attractive. His comments section is at least 75% Progressive.

As for listening to RNZ so as to be able to pick holes in their arguments, I suggest all that is necessary to enable this is a moderate amount of intelligence, a reasonable level of education, and an average ability to reason.

I despise the presenters there for their deceit in pretending to objectivity, and their cowardice for their refusal to test the real public acceptance of their broadcasts by subjecting them to the forces of the free and open market.

I wouldn't listen to them if I was paid to. Not only for their dull propaganda, but because in terms of broadcasting today they are past their use by date troglodytes. There's a reason FOX or Rush Limbaugh are the most popular broadcasters in America, and its because their minds are not mired in culturally Marxist rubbish that most people had had a gutfull of two decades ago.

Redbaiter said...

Oh, and one other thing I'm outraged about. :)

Conservatives would listen to Michael Laws? Are you serious?

Like maybe Beethoven fans would listen to Ice T.

Karl du Fresne said...

Cheers Redbaiter. It would be a dull old world if we agreed on everything.

Baz said...

I can't be sure, as the only radio I can listen to is RadioNZ, but I believe the Justin mentioned was replaced some months ago by former RNZ rottweiler Sean Plunket.

rivoniaboy said...

I agree with Redbaiter, I recently told Chris Laidlaw that I was tired of the Left Wing interviews that we had to endure week after week.Recently - Gertrude Fester ANC Marxist.
I think that they may well be underestimating the mood of the public.

The probligo said...

Ah, redbaiter, aren't you fortunate that you even know about the likes of Hannity. At least there you can get the kind of confirmation that your personal biases desires. Oh, and you could pick up on the link I left in my previous comment - defines exactly what you are saying.

Elsewise, take five minutes out sometime and read Goethe. Specifically look for his thoughts on "Philistines". No doubt there would be much in his words to describe your place in this world.

For those others who like not the RadioNZ National programme I have to say that compared with the alternatives there is no competition. Bear in mind here that my "listening time" is 0600 to 0730 weekdays and little more on the other two days. At least Geoff lets me leave for work with a semblance of remaining sanity.

EvilROYSlade said...

Karl,somewhat amusing coming from a man who has his 10 minutes of fame every two weeks or so on said broadcaster.We may know Kim's political leanings,she's never made any bones about it,but not convinced about Laidlaw ,he seems to have become an apologist for just about everything,and let's face it,being an ex All Black and being a good lefty are mutually exclusive in this country.As an avid listener to RNZ I am becoming increasingly concerned about the right wing bias rearing it's ugly head on a daily basis,if it's not Ryan pushing her conservative views of an almost Holyoake bent,it's Mora's sycophantic murmurings to anyone with right wing views.The only real lefty left is Mary Wilson and I'm sure the minister for Broadcasting is up all night wondering how he can get rid of her before the next election.So in short Karl,your wine reviews are great but when it comes to RNZ,mate,you need to take the blinkers off.

Karl du Fresne said...

Roy, you sound like the quintessential, old-school RNZ listener, barely able to disguise your resentment that the occasional conservative voice can now be heard on what was once a dependably left-wing broadcaster. Horror!

To comment on some of your specific points:

So Kim Hill never made any bones about her political leanings? I disagree. At a dinner party that we both attended years ago, I suggested it was ironic that she had clashed on air with John Pilger, a man I assumed she was politically simpatico with. Hill bristled with indignation at this. She said she defied anyone to know what her own political views were. But of course she can’t stop her listeners coming to their own conclusions about her leanings, based on whom she chooses to interview and the line she takes with them. And most of us do (come to their own conclusions, I mean).

Chris Laidlaw? I would say Chris’s Sunday programme is consistently the most left-leaning of all. You seem to be implying he can’t be left-wing because he’s a former All Black. This suggests a very simplistic view of the sort of people who play rugby, one largely based on old left-wing stereotypes that should have been shattered decades ago by people like Ken Gray and Bob Burgess. (Chris Laidlaw, of course, is a former Labour MP and race relations conciliator, which gives him total social-democrat cred.)

Kathryn Ryan? I listen to Ryan all the time and wouldn’t have a clue what her politics are, which is as it should be. Perhaps you’re just more perceptive than I am; or does the fact that she interviews people from across the political spectrum (which again is as it should be) offend your perception of what Radio New Zealand should be?

Jim Mora’s sycophantic murmurings? The great virtue of the panel on Jim’s show is that it presents us with a range of voices. Again, I can’t help wondering whether this is what upsets you. Perhaps you’d be happier if RNZ just gave free rein to venomous lefties like Bomber Bradbury.

Mary Wilson? I’ll have to take your word for it that she’s a “real lefty”. I can’t bring myself to listen to her. It’s got nothing to do with her politics; it’s her charmless interviewing style.

As for me – okay, so I ramble about wine once a fortnight for 10 minutes on Jim Mora’s afternoon show. Why should that make it “somewhat amusing” that I should express an opinion about Radio New Zealand? Is there a conflict of interest here that somehow disqualifies me? I don’t see your point.

Having said all that, I like your pseudonym. You and I may be the only people still alive who remember the movie.

Tim said...

Actually thank god for the concert programme - it's where I end up most of the time. Re National Radio - Moaning Report is just insufferable, 9 to noon is yawn, boring ( far too left wing with Hill but at least not dull)- Jim Mora is very good - asks very intelligent questions plus I can't pick his pol leanings which is as it should be - the 'panel' is often great except when Chch and Otago local and regional councillors, raving bradbury, and/or boring lefty females - Edwards, Boag, Franks etc are always worth a listen.

I'm glad that you think that NR has drifted slightly from its hard left normality - I'm not sure that I really hear it. Certainly the 'News' is still very far left.

This should be a station for any NZer to listen to - a station scrupulously balanced - the left are extremely arrogant to claim it as their own - rebalancing is still very much required. i can't see it happening from within though.