Monday, April 8, 2013

How two highly educated men miss the point - or do they?

In a Daily Blog commentary attacking my recent column on Radio New Zealand, Chris Trotter portrays me as wanting the state broadcaster to fall into line with the "ideological reality" (whatever that may mean) of John Key's government.

This is a grotesque distortion of what I wrote, and I suspect that Chris knows it. He's too intelligent to have misunderstood me.

He takes me to task over my statement that it's an abuse of power to use a taxpayer-funded medium to promote pet ideological causes and suggests that my real agenda is to promote a pet ideological cause of my own - namely neo-liberalism.

"Not for him [meaning me] the healthy contest of ideas or the testing questioning of a critical intelligence," Chris writes. "No. To Mr du Fresne, Kim Hill, Chris Laidlaw, Jeremy Rose and (Lord spare us) Kathryn Ryan, are voices without legitimacy: wilful heretics who dare to challenge the majesty of neoliberal thought."

For starters, I don't consider myself a neoliberal. I'm distrustful of all ideology, whether of the Right or the Left.

But the real point here is that I've never opposed the healthy contest of ideas. On the contrary, that's exactly what I've promoted repeatedly over the past 20 years or more. It's at the very heart of what I'm saying.

My objection to the Radio New Zealand programmes I cited is that there is no healthy contest of ideas. Most consist of the hosts conducting friendly interviews with people they agree with - or, as in the case of the comically misnamed Treaty "debates" which RNZ recently broadcast, a succession of speakers agreeing with each other. This is the antithesis of the "contest of ideas" that Chris purports to champion.

On the rare occasions when a conservative guest is featured, as in the case of John Howard, the purpose is to try to demolish them.

All I have ever asked for is balance, which the Radio New Zealand charter requires anyway - a point that Chris conveniently sidesteps. I've never argued that left-wing voices should be silenced; merely that the other side should get a fair shake of the stick too.

Neither do I want Radio New Zealand to promote a neoliberal agenda. It's not the role of a state-owned broadcaster to take any political position. What it should do is make an effort to broadcast programmes that reflect the opinions and ideas of all New Zealanders, not just those the hosts and producers happen to favour. 

But Chris isn't the only person to wilfully misconstrue what I wrote. On TV3's The Nation at the weekend, Brian Edwards claimed that what I really wanted from Radio New Zealand interviewers was deference.

This couldn't be more wrong, and he must know it. In my comments about Kathryn Ryan I wrote that the professional obligation of impartiality did not preclude hard and vigorous questioning. Two paragraphs further on, I said: "I’m not suggesting for a moment that RNZ should become a tame government puppet. That would be far worse than the status quo." Which part of this did he not understand?

Only Brian would have the gall, having so flagrantly misrepresented what I had written, to then accuse me of bad journalism.

One last point: when it comes to determining whether a broadcaster is impartial, I'm happy to stack my credentials up against those of Chris and Brian any day. They, not I, are the ones whose judgment is fatally compromised by their political affiliations.


Mark Hubbard said...

I'm following this with interest Karl. I found the TV interview Sunday morning to be interesting, though one of your significant replies was talked over by Rachel Smalley - not trying to shut you out, note, I think she probably had a producer in her ear keeping her to a timetable, it was simply that the timing was unfortunate. Nature of the medium I guess.

I've been interacting with Chris recently with a post on my own blog: he was very civil in his reply to me, but refused to interact past a certain point, which was disappointing.

One thing I would say to Chris though, is he will be associated with whom he posts on in The Daily Blog, including Lynn Prentice bringing her toxic record from The Standard(less), and anonymous Marxist feminist poster Queen of Thorns who runs a site with a wall of scum featuring one of our best minds in jurisprudence, Stephen Franks, also Deborah Coddington, (and just looking at it, gosh, Chris Trotter has made it onto it :) ) QoD has no problem slandering people with her idiosyncratic prejudice; showing my vested interest, I've written how she did that to myself on this post. The last Twitter exchange I saw her on she was holding science responsible for a fat-phobia because the facts of reality had linked obesity to a number of diseases and ailments.

I was stunned to find out last week that The Daily Blog is apparently partially funded by MUNZ. How appropriate is it a union uses membership money to fund anonymous bloggers like the above? I think if all that bears out, there's question in that alone for the union.

Anyway, Chris should stick to his own blog in order to protect his reputation.

(Sorry for link-spamming. I have this notion of the Internet as a big discussion, and conduct myself accordingly. Delete this comment if you wish: no offence taken.)

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Chris Trotter's grandiose, pompous writing style is hard to take seriously.

He and Edwards have to misrepresent you Karl in order to excite their particular audiences.

Kiwiwit said...

Why the state should own a radio station, let alone one with the obvious political agenda of National Radio, is beyond me. It should be sold, preferably to Rupert Murdoch.

Fox Radio New Zealand, now that has a certain ring about it!

Mark Hubbard said...

One embarrassing little correction.

My post should read: '... including Lynn Prentice bringing HIS toxic record from The Standard(less)...'

Ahem. Yes, never mind :)

Jigsaw said...

The only thing I can think of in defence of Trotter and Edwards (I would hate to be seen defending them to any great degree!)is that they have got so used to RNZ the way it is that they cannot imagine it in any other form. The so called debates on the Treaty and the Constitutional Review are absolute travesties of the concept of debate, with a group of people who gather to discuss very minor differences on opinions they largely hold in common. Brian Edwards once said that he only watches FOX occasionally so that he can hear what the enemy is saying. Such a closed mind really needs no debate it seems. Since I am banned from Trotter's blog for disagreeing with him that says it all really.

JC said...

I think I'll start with the obvious.. you got such replies because you attacked "their" station.. regardless of how sympathetic other stations, TV, journalists etc might be RNZ occupies the position of *confirming* polite left wing thought.

The other reason to defend the thing is its one of the few legacies of the nation's socialist past, it connects the ideals of the 30s with the present and provides a benchmark on which to judge or confirm National and Labour governments.

Whether the tax payer should fund such a museum piece is another matter and raises my third point.. the moment there is a credible attack on RNZ's bias you threaten its funding.. and that'll bring out the wasps every time.


hughvane said...

I agree wholeheartedly with most of what you say about RNZ and its political leanings, but I think you missed an ideal opportunity to pose the question directly: "where is the balance, as required in the RNZ charter?"

Indeed, where are the 'right-wing' even moderate, middle-ground presenters or interviewers in RNZ's Nat Prog? A speculative question, since none seem to exist in any of our State-paid radio media.

Challenge RNZ directly to justify the political (or moral and social) balance of its lineup of presenters. Impartial, objective, non-partisan, unbiased, unprejudiced. Or is it "pigs aloft on gossamer wings" again?

Karl du Fresne said...


The following is from the column that kicked this whole thing off.

"Publicly funded broadcasters have an obligation to make programmes that reflect the views and interests of the entire community – not just those the broadcasters happen to favour.

"This is explicit in RNZ’s charter, which commits the organisation to impartial and balanced coverage of news and current affairs."