Posts Tagged ‘media bias’

The freedom to belong

August 31, 2008

John Drinnan has placed the comments in his column in context. I mentioned them in an earlier thread. It’s helpful to know the backstory.

Drinnan says the Tan “row” has for some journalists brought to a head the tensions of belonging to a party-affiliated union. They ask, “can I be a unionist and not be caught up as a third party in a party election campaign?”

Fair enough. But implicit in  the suggestion that journalists will “face criticism they are in an organisation that is on the frontline backing one party” seemed to be the idea that they might be better to leave the union. It is difficult to divorce such a suggestion from the centuries of struggle for the right to have and to belong to unions.

One important point that has been overlooked in the current debate over Tan is that unions are inherently political organisations. Always have been and, as long as the distribution of wealth is determined within a system which is itself shaped by the struggle between capital and labour, always will be.

By struggle I don’t mean the sort of class struggle that my grandfather experienced. But the northern EMA’s recent ads contesting law changes to ensure employers contribute to their employees’ kiwisaver savings serve as a perfect example of how the interests of employers and employees are not identical, and that both groups continue to pursue their interests through political forums as well as industrial ones.

A very good case can be made for exempting unions from the prohibitions on discrimination on political grounds. As well as their “industrial” work, they promote their members’ interests through the political process. Reflecting their inherently political nature, unions played the major role in forming the Labour Party in the first place, and some continue to maintain links.

Because some union officials see themselves as “fighting the good fight”, problems will arise such as those that Drinnan outlines, where an organiser likened the union to “a religion”. Chris Trotter started his post on the EPMU’s response to Tan with, “unions … have an atrocious record as employers.”

I recounted in a comment to Chris’s post that as a trade union official I once went out with my colleagues because we’d been lied to by our management. When I was introduced to Ken Douglas on the street a few days later as one of those who took this industrial action, I was promptly denounced as a “wanker.”

It’s all about being in the “vanguard of the proletariat”, I guess.

Yes, as Drinnan writes, the union does belong to its members, not the staff. Some union staff functionaries have trouble understanding this. They mean well, but they have lost touch with what unions are really about. They been sucked into the political system, and they start to believe the puff about how wonderful they are, just like many of the managers with whom they have to deal.

To come back to the issue Drinnan raises, Herald journalists are working for a large capitalist organisation that has never failed to take the side of capital in any showdown with labour. They can strive for objectivity, but they don’t get to decide policy.

I can’t see how being a member of a Labour-affiliated union need have any bearing on the “professionalism” with which journos work, even in an election campaign. Unions are large organisations, and it is widely recognised that their members hold a range of political views. I’d like to know who is “pillorying” journos for their union membership. It’s wrong-headed and anti-democratic.

Journalists forgo their right to collectively deal with their employer at their peril. But yes, a media column can ask that question without it being part of a right-wing conspiracy.


The old media: worse than you thought

August 31, 2008

Girl, 12, rearrested over ‘attempted hanging’
Guardian, 3 June 2005

Lynching suspect ‘a renowned bully’
Evening Standard, 3 June 2005

What’s wrong with these headlines, and similar headlines in British newspapers in the days “after a five-year-old was “hanged” by a gang of children” as the Evening Standard put it, in early June 2005?

Well, as Nick Davies points out, there was no lynching. The critical information came from the testimony of the victim’s cousin who was reported as saying:

“I asked him, ‘What the hell happened?’ He said, ‘Some boys and girls tied a rope around my neck and tied me to a tree. They wouldn’t let me go’. “

Recall, the Evening Standard said “after a five-year-old was “hanged” by a gang of children.”

Davies is the author of the highly revealing inside look at the traditional news media, Flat Earth News: An Award-winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media. London : Chatto & Windus, 2008.

Davies “exposes falsehood, distortion and propaganda in the global media.”

“Finally I was forced to admit that I work in a corrupted profession.” When award-winning journalist Nick Davies decided to break Fleet Street’s unwritten rule by investigating his own colleagues, he found that the business of truth had been slowly subverted by the mass production of ignorance.

Kim Hill interviewed him yesterday and the interview is great stuff (he’s a real talker). (Audio here.)

This post is for Winston.

US voters: media bias more of a problem than campaign funding

August 12, 2008

Rasmussen poll results released today show that most US voters (55%) see media bias as a bigger problem in politics than big campaign contributions. Only 36% think that campaign cash is a bigger problem.

This despite 63% saying most politicians will “break the rules to help people who give them a lot of money”. Only 14% believe most politicians would refrain from breaking the rules for a donor. Cynical, yes, but given the nature of Washington, D.C., who could blame them?


Media bias seen as issue in US

June 9, 2008

The voters aren’t fooled, in the US anyway. Rasmussen reports that just 17% of US voters believe that “most reporters try to offer unbiased coverage of election campaigns.” Two thirds or so (68%) believe that “most reporters try to help the candidate that they want to win.”

It seems that Republicans are most skeptical, with 82% of Republicans, 69% of non-affiliated voters, and 56% of Democrats believing the news media promote candidates.

The vast majority (76%) think that the media have too much power and influence over elections, with a small minority (16%) thinking the balance is about right, and almost no-one (3%) thinking the media should have more power. (more…)