Thursday, August 9, 2018

Arthur Miller's epigram no longer holds true

One of the most striking points to emerge from the free-speech furore has been the failure of the media to reflect public opinion.

In my column in the Dominion Post today, I noted that a Newshub poll – not a scientific opinion sample, but still an indication of what the public was thinking – showed that 78 percent of New Zealanders thought Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux should be allowed into the country. (This was when their immigration status was still in doubt.)

It can be inferred from this that the majority of people believed the Canadians should be allowed to speak here – and more to the point, that we should be allowed to hear what they had to say so that we could make up our own minds about whether their views were harmful or hateful.

But you would never have guessed this from commentaries in the mainstream media, which were overwhelmingly hostile to Southern and Molyneux. As I wrote in my column, an outsider would have formed the impression that New Zealanders were united in their distaste for the visitors. Those who spoke out in defence of free speech, such as Don Brash, were generally caricatured by the media commentariat as pathetic dinosaurs and even as a threat to public safety.

There is a jarring disjunction here. The American playwright Arthur Miller famously defined a good newspaper as a nation talking to itself, but something has gone seriously wrong when the media seem so demonstrably out of touch with what ordinary people are thinking – and worse, when some in the media treat those they disapprove of with sneering contempt, lazily labelling them as racists without attempting to answer their arguments.

There is no rule that says the media should fall into line with popular opinion (God forbid), but they do have some obligation to reflect it, especially if they wish to remain credible.

To be fair, the picture improved markedly with media coverage of Massey University’s decision to ban Brash, which resulted in some spirited (if somewhat belated) defences of free speech. But Massey’s authoritarian edict was such an egregious affront to democracy that it could hardly be ignored.

And even then, some in the media couldn’t help parading their bias. Today’s Morning Report included a travesty of a panel discussion in which the three participants, egged on by Susie Ferguson, all piled into Brash – like-minded leftists united in smug, bigoted, intellectually snobbish groupthink.

Radio New Zealand, as a public broadcaster, has a special duty to observe principles of balance but it is routinely ignored, and rarely more shamefully than this morning. RNZ seems to have decided that it need only cater to the demographic group known as chardonnay socialists, and to hell with everyone else. I feel sorry for the employees there – there must be some – who take its charter obligations seriously.

Incidentally, we’ve heard a lot of semi-hysterical hyperbole in the last few weeks about something ill-defined called hate speech, but the great irony is that the New Zealander most subjected to hateful vilification is the very man who’s constantly accused by the left of fostering it.  


Rory said...

A superb piece of writing. Badly needed amidst a sea of deflection and manipulation of the issues that are always with us.
Editing interviews, "cutting and pasting" within those to prism the story in a different light, by censorship of a kind using technolOgy.

Not acceptable as you well know where that is leading truth and quality journalism.
Like you there are some journalists left acting as the bulwarks of free speech and truthful , insightful well thought out journalism.

Thank you, it will take more courage that ever imagined now to reverse this tide of liberal brainwashing that is seemingly in contagion but hopefully can be contained and reversed.

Phil O'Riordan

Lindsay Mitchell said...

The unfailingly polite, sincere, thoughtful and self-critical Don Brash.

hilary531 said...

What Rory & Lindsay said. I've listened to RNZ all my life, a bit fractured in my 20s, but I concur with your comments. I can no longer tolerate the groupthink & smugness...and I regard myself as an old-school liberal. I've vented here before today...thank the gods for you & the others who similarly penetrate the media with badly needed analysis & intellectual heft. My father, bless, used to cart a tranny (the wireless sort) broadcasting Natrad, as it was then, about the house & garden, lest he miss something. Not sure he'd be doing that these days. Like you I'm heartened by the Brash uproar but, really, what took them so long...the principles are no different from the earlier fuss. I've never joined a political party in my life, but I have joined the FSC with alacrity!

hughvane said...

If RNZ were to lean any further to the left in its bias, it would fall over. It is now all but banned from my home, the exception being Concert with its soul-soothing music. I still listen to the occasional news bulletin in case there is something worth hearing, but I almost inevitably end up disappointed or dismayed. Impartiality, objectivity, balance - Charter? Phooey!

David said...

Well stated.

Arthur Miller, of course, wrote The Crucible, which was a barely veiled attack on McCarthyism, then running rampant in the US. Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a contemporary movie on the same theme.

The Crucible remains of great relevance today, an era in which those who McCarthy persecuted now control most of the establishment, and conduct their own witch-hunts against dissenting voices and unpopular and/or despised people and segments of society.

I find it ironic indeed that the media and movie stars stood up to McCarthy, often to their cost. Today, movie stars and much of the media are the in the vanguard of the New McCarthyism.

I need to write a book about this.

David said...

Radio New Zealand, as a public broadcaster, has a special duty to observe principles of balance but it is routinely ignored

RNZ is of course similar in outlook to the BBC, the NYT, the ABC/Fairfax et al. As a close follower of Australian current events, I thus follow the ABC closely and would put its outlook these days as Green/left. But like RNZ it still provides a good national news service.

But even I was surprised this morning by a history article on the ABC's website, recalling the appointment in 1939 of Warren Denning as the ABC's first journo in the Canberra parliamentary press gallery. Until then, the ABC got the content of its news bulletins from the newspaper-managed AAP.

The article notes without any surprise or embarrassment -- just states as an unsurprising given -- that Denning took up this history-making ABC job after 10 years with the ALP's Labor Daily.

It goes on to say that the ABC nonetheless still did not want its own news service, and Denning "tirelessly lobbied ministers and backbenchers until, in 1946, Ben Chifley's Labor government amended the Australian Broadcasting Act to make it mandatory for the ABC to gather all its own news."

The ABC, like the BBC and RNZ, is an elite establishment organisation that does not see its own biases and would deny being anything but impartial. When almost all your staff are from the same mould, of course, it is hard to see any world view other than your own as being the mainstream one worthy of promoting.

Various studies have demonstrated the left-lean of almost all ABC presenters and journalists, but my favourite commentary on this remains a column former Liberal Party Treasurer Peter Costello wrote in the ABC's print arm, The Age/SMH, in 2009. My fave excerpts:

I WAS doing an ABC radio interview last week and a listener sent in a text message, which was read out, suggesting the ABC should engage me as a radio host. ''I don't think I have the right political views for the ABC,'' I told the broadcast audience. It was not said with any malice, just an observation of an obvious fact... There was a mild effort by my interlocutor to defend the corporation. He pointed out there is a Liberal employed on ABC local radio in Perth, which says it all. It is quite an oddity really - so odd that they know about this man in Melbourne. Out of the 4500 employees in the ABC they know there is one Liberal. The ABC would do well to get a second or a third (and, no, I am not interested).

As one would expect, the ABC and Fairfax journalists are today beside themselves in horror at the announcement that the trashy Nine Network plans to take over Fairfax, and will undoubtedly run down even further the shells that are today its once-great newspapers.