Message to Mitch: “Dude, you’ve got egg on your egg.”

March 13, 2010

How could the editorial executives at the Sunday Star Times have thought that pulling a stunt like infiltrating the crowd at a provincial rugby game with reporters carrying fake terrorist gear would ever be a good idea?
As we say in the news business: “It’ll all end in tears.”
In this case, perhaps the tears of a newsroom clown forced to fall on his or her sword and take the blame.

I had a chat with TVNZ 7’s Miriama Kamo yesterday evening. I made the point – also made by Jim Tully in today’s Herald – that the premise of the story is dodgy from the start.

Security at a 14s or provincial rugby match today – a year or more out from the Rugby World Cup – is not going to be as tight – in fact the main security ‘threat’ is that spectators try to smuggle in their own cheaper booze. So the premise of “testing” the security arrangements that might be in place for the RWC doesn’t hold water.

The only ground for defending the SST‘s actions would be a favourable comparison to the Schiphol airport sting which is also in the papers this week. It would be a defence based on a high threshold of public interest, but I don’t think a stunt at a provincial rugby ground is quite the same.

I also think it’s ethically questionable and probably is a technical breach of at least three clauses in the EPMU Code of Ethics.

The SST – terrorists at the rugby stunt has become a real “What were they thinking?” moment. And we might argue, a failure of leadership in the newsroom hierarchy.

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We don’t trust the news media – so where’s the news in that?

October 8, 2009

UMR Research has today [7 October]  released the results of a survey of New Zealanders that show, on the whole, that we don’t trust the news media.

As UMR Executive Editor Tim Grafton said in a company media release, the findings really come as “no surprise”.

What would have been newsworthy and surprising, would be a survey that says the news media’s doing well in terms of accuracy, balance and a willingness to admit mistakes.Nearly two-thirds of respondents  felt there was a problem with the media: only 35 per cent said the media was accurate, 30 per cent  that the news was balanced and only 27 per cent believed the media was willing to admit to mistakes.

Age and gender also appear to influence the results, which is also not surprising really. We might expect older men to be more inclined to read newspapers and therefore perhaps more inclined to complain and to notice potential problems.

The real issue is what, if anything, the news media – or more accurately perhaps, editors and senior journalists – are going to do about their poor standings.

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The Veitch story-when too much information is barely enough

May 21, 2009

So the New Zealand police were forced to release documents relating to the Tony Veitch assault trial to the news media under the Offical Information Act, after journalists asked for it.

According to the Dom Post there is an injunction in place preventing further disclosures from the 358 page police files. There will be hearing next week to determine if this will hold or be lifted.

My question is why did the media go after the files  in the first place?

Now we get a chance to satisfy our voyeuristic urges and read from the transcripts of Kristin Dunne-Powell’s statements to the police.
So what?

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A new low in New Zealand journalism – Napier siege coverage

May 8, 2009

I was so angry last night that I tweeted.

I could not believe what I was seeing on Close Up. A police officer’s body lying in a Napier street and the vultures of the media circulating, sniffing out a tasty morsel or two.

In the case of Close Up the tasty morsels were the mother and the brother of the alleged gunman.

Then again this morning,  the brother, Peter Molenaar, was back on air. This time on Morning Report and the questioning was sickening.

“Do you think you’ll see your brother alive again”

“Why did he open fire? Did you know he had guns in the house?”

“Did you know he was doing drugs? Was he using P?”

These are questions for the coronial inquest, not for radio hosts. The news media is overstepping the boundaries of public decency in relation to this story. It’s not over yet. The siege is ongoing, there’s likely to be more blood on the streets of Napier. The way things are going, we’ll get it live at 6pm tonight and again at 7pm.

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Legal letter freaks Big News – should the Internet be “Adults Only”?

April 28, 2009

A week ago I mentioned an interesting little blogwar breaking out in Wellington, now the skirmish has gone nuclear with one protagonist sending a lawyer’s letter to Dave Crampton host of  the Big News blog.

The row started when someone began to spam a Big News post suggesting that the media now back-off in the Tony Veitch case. Whoever the spammer was posted something like  40 comments in less than half-an-hour. The spammer used the names of Tony Veitch, Zoe Halford, Glenda Hughes, TV3 producer Carol Hirschfeld, Sailent editor Jackson Wood, big News host Dave Crampton and TVNZ’s Mark Sainsbury to put offensive and stupid comments into the post thread.

Now it’s come down to a threat of legal action. A threat that could have serious consequences for the blogosphere in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

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Boquet for HoS – attempting to come clean on Veitch

April 26, 2009

I would like to congratulate Shayne Currie and David Fisher for the piece in today’s Herald on Sunday [Inbside the Veitch media circus] and for getting Tim Pankhurst to at least put something on the record about the genesis of the whole caravan.

I was interviewed for David’s story and in the course of our long-ish chat I raised the idea that the Dom Post and the other media outlets, who bought into the story subsequently, actually owed the public a certain level of disclosure about sources.

I know this flies in the face of accepted ethical wisdom about protecting sources and so-called “shield laws”, but I argue that in this case the motivation of sources is actually a key element of the story.

This is particularly salient when everyone involved – editors, journos, PR managers and the central protagonist – all admit that scrambling for the media high ground (and a position of control) was a key objective of both sides.

Unfortunately, we – the readers and viewers – were not privy to who the sources were, though in David’s piece, the Team Veitch PR expert, Glenda Hughes, says that she was reactive to the media most of the time and only admitted to “selling” a story on one or two occasions.

I am still mulling over a more considered and lengthy post on this story. In my view it is a fantastic case study of media actions – in this case feeding on one of its own – almost an act of cannibalism. I’m sure none of us (media people) would like to be in Tony Veitch’s shoes and see our career shredded.

I actually have sympathy for everyone caught in the shockwaves of this story.

Kristin Dunne Powell has been unfairly and disgustingly labeled a “bunny boiler” [cultural reference to Sharon Stone’s character in Basic Instinct]. Her life will never be the same again.

Tony Veitch does not at the moment have a life – he is medically unfit for work, marriage and friendship – he may well be the “author” of his own misfortune, but he got plenty of help from the news media.

Zoe Veitch is also a victim, her performance during the whole saga was as “stoic wife”, but she too got dragged through the PR fence backwards from time to time.

The families of key figures are all scarred and substantially out-of-pocket. Therefore we have to ask, was it worth it? Was the public interest really served by the attention this story got?

I don’t think the media covered themselves in glory on this story. I will post something more substantial later.

I’m also considering doing an academic paper on this for a journalism studies conference in December. If anyone would like to talk to me about it, particularly any journos or editors, I’d love to hear from you.

ethicalmartiniATgmail.com is the best way to get in touch. Or you can leave a comment to this post. For the record, if you leave a comment I will assume that it is public and that you consent to me using it in any research publication that results (eg: conference paper and/or journal article).


The Daily Show chops down the Wall Street poppies

March 6, 2009

I have to link to this, it’s a priceless chop down of CNBC’s coverage of Wall Street by the Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “The Daily Show chops down the Wall St…“, posted with vodpod

Background here Welcome to Loserville Mr Santelli.

It’s very interesting that Jon Stewart – an erstwhile comedian – is one of the sharpest and most left-wing critics of American capitalism. His “Fuck You” is priceless.


Gaza appeal creates row in UK media

January 27, 2009

The refusal of the BBC and Sky TV to broadcast a charity appeal for victims of  Israeli ground and air attacks in Gaza earlier this month (Jan 2009), is causing outrage in Britain.

Church leaders and MPs have joined in calls for the BBC and Sky TV to join Channels Four and Five in broadcasting the appeal video, produced by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC).

The whole fracas raises some very interesting questions about the line between news and advertorial and the editorial independence of news organisations reporting on the controversial conflict between Israel and the Hamas organisation, which controls Gaza and has been firing Qassam rockets into Israeli settlements.

The video is available on the Guardian’s website.

The BBC’s Director-General, wearing his “editor-in-chief” hat, argues that broadcasting the appeal would compromise the organisation’s impartiality in the coverage of an ongoing news story. This seems, at face value to be a persuasive argument.

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A war crime by any other name – Israel’s “shake and bake” attrocities

January 16, 2009

UNRWA Director John Ging said UNRWA’s headquarters — located in a densely populated neighborhood — was hit repeatedly by shrapnel and artillery, including white phosphorus shells — the use of which is restricted under international law.

“It looks like phosphorus, it smells like phosphorus and it’s burning like phosphorus,” Ging said. “That’s why I’m calling it phosphorus.” (CNN 16 Jan 2009)

Under international law, technically, white phosphorus (WP) is not banned as an “obscurant” – but the Israelis know full well that the “secondary” effects are deaths and horrific burns for anyone caught in the hot, burning rain.

Does the use of WP in Gaza constitute a war crime. I think it might.

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McCain, elections, ethics and smears

February 23, 2008

I’m watching with interest the American presidential primaries. I can’t make up my mind about Obama and/or Clinton. I’m inclined to argue that a vote for Barak Obama is more of a threat to the US political status quo than a vote for Hilary Clinton. It’s a judgment about whether race or gender is the more volatile fault line in the American psyche.
I tend to lean towards Obama and a vote for a black man over a white woman; mainly because white women were never tortured and murdered like African Americans, or suffered under the racist and segregationist Jim Crow laws. Though of course, if you go back far enough into American history it’s clear that witches were hated, feared and hunted down too during colonial times.

But today, I’m interested in coverage of the recent New York Times piece outlining some historical allegations that Republican candidate John McCain has a shaky record on conflicts of interest.

The Times has come under fire from other media, particularly the Fox network and the paper’s also had over 3000 email and blog questions posted by readers. I’ve read the Times piece and it seems reasonably balanced to me. It’s quite long and detailed, but critics say it relies too heavily on anonymous sources.

The paper justifies using anonymous sources on the grounds that the story was of great public interest and needed to be told. I have no issue with this; what I find more interesting is the question posed by a reader about the NYT’s endorsement of McCain. Here’s the exchange:

Why Did The Times Endorse McCain?

Q. Why did The New York Times strongly endorse Senator McCain to be the Republican Party nominee in January, if at the same time the paper was well aware of and continuing to investigate what it considered to be front-page, damaging, “un-presidential” charges?

— Debbie Collazo, Tucson, Ariz.

A. The short answer is that the news department of The Times and the editorial page are totally separate operations that do not consult or coordinate when it comes to news coverage and endorsements or other expressions of editorial opinion. We in the newsroom did not speak to anyone at the editorial page about the story we were working on about Senator McCain. They did not consult us about their deliberations over endorsements of the presidential candidates. I’m the political editor, and the first I knew of the McCain endorsement (and of the endorsement of Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side) was when I read them in the newspaper. In all of our internal discussions about the news story subsequent to the endorsement, I do not recall anyone bringing it up.

(As an aside, I think it’s fair to say that most of our political reporters would prefer that the paper not endorse candidates. Endorsements inevitably create the perception among some voters that The Times is backing a candidate on an institutional level, leaving those of us on the news side to explain over and over that our coverage is not influenced by what our colleagues on the editorial page write.)

As your question suggests, this particular situation was especially odd because most everyone in politics and journalism — including, I assume, our colleagues on the editorial page — knew we were working on a story about Senator McCain, courtesy of an item on Drudge in December. Whether that influenced the editorial page’s deliberations, I have no idea.

But it meant that there were a lot of people speculating for months about what kind of story we were pursuing and whether and when we were going to publish it. This didn’t influence the timing or the substance of the story at all, but I do think it created a situation in which opinions and battle lines about the story began to develop long before the actual story was published.

— Richard W. Stevenson, political editor

Sure, Richard, you can maintain the fiction that the newsroom and the editorial decision-making are at arms-length.
It’s the dialectic of the front page. The story is too big to ignore and you’ve got it as an exclusive, so go for it, but don’t pretend that Mahogany Row doesn’t know exactly what’s going on newswise and can intervene at any time.