In August last year the New Zealand journalists’ union, the Electrical, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) organised a conference in Wellington to discuss the state of the news media in Aotearoa. It was a lively couple of days, full of passionate speeches, political arguments and…it turns out, hot air.
At the time the EPMU (it’s a long historical story about how the journos got buried in this massive industrial union and something to do with the horror days of the new right in New Zealand in the dim, dark 1980s) was pressured into agreeing to establish a committee to seek submissions into a review of the state of the news media and journalism. Submissions are meant to close soon, but last I heard, none had been received. It begs the question: “Does anyone really care?”
It might appear that not many, if any, really do. But there’s another, at least partial, explanation. In my view the EPMU didn’t really want to do much at all, so the review has been starved of resources and publicity.
Why do I think this?
Well, I’m on the committee along with a couple of other people and we’ve been given no real assistance to do anything. As I understand it though some EPMU officials think it’s the fault of journalism educators for not running with the idea. I did try to spark some interest at the JEANZ conference in December, but no one’s picked up the ball (sorry about the mixed metaphors, it’s been a long day). The ambitious plan at that stage was to have a series of public meetings hosted by the 11 journalism schools in New Zealand, but to stage such events costs money. There is none. The j-schools don’t have it and it seems neither does the union.
The EPMU did establish a website called OurMedia where there’s some coverage of the August 2007 conference and a link to the inquiry’s terms of reference. But in the last few months that’s all that’s happened. Perhaps the EPMU is now trying to rally some submissions from the labour movement; I’m not sure.
I’ve given the ToR document to my postgraduate students and I’ve suggested to them that their final assignment for the semester might take the form of a submission to the review, but without some real grunt – the resources to properly publicise and manage the submissions process – the whole idea now seems like a waste of time.
I think some EPMU journalist branches at various media outlets might be writing submissions, but there’s hardly a groundswell of enthusiasm from community groups or concerned individuals. And this is a shame really. At the conference there was plenty of talk about how the news media doesn’t really respect the public interest and how advertising and marketing are dominating the news selection process and how this leads to ethical lapses. But no follow through.
There is also supposed to be a follow-up conference in August this year to report back on the review, that now seems like a waste of time too.
However, on a positive note, perhaps it’s not too late. If you’ve read this and are inspired to make your opinions felt, or to offer some suggestions to the EPMU about how to make journalism and journalists more relevant, feel free to write a submission. It doesn’t have to be too long, or a worthy masterpiece, but it should be legible and reasonably coherent.