Thursday, 2 October 2014

Media malice

There has been a lot of talk, over on the Standard and elsewhere, about media bias.  The election was lost because of it.  Cunliffe's leadership ruined because of it.  The Scottish independence referendum lost because of it.  The media are to blame for climate change.  And so on.

The last two may actually have some slight merit.  I commented a few times on the hysterical reaction of the Mail to the possibility of Scotland leaving the union.  If anything though, that showed how powerless the media actually are as opinion shapers.  Inspite of their relentless pro-union coverage, polls narrowed, and unionist panic increased.  In the end, I doubt the Mail's hysteria made a difference.  The final result was what had been predicted in almost every poll - a win for the union camp.

That's an example of genuine, palpable media bias.  But what about the claims of media bias distorting politics in New Zealand?  Are our media really just opinion trumpeters for National and Act?

Yes, ultimately, the mainstream media is in the hands of the capitalist class - of course it is, as it is a means of making money - you wouldn't expect them just to leave something like that just lying around for the proles to get their hands on, do you - but that does not mean that tere is a strong or persistent bias against Labour or in favour of National or Act.  Bluntly, there isn't really enough difference between the National and Labour for it to be worth while running a deliberate campaign to undermine Labour.

There's something similar and more visceral going on here.

The media likes one thing - winners and losers.

Yeah, I know, that's two things.  No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

The media love to celebrate a winner, but even more, they love to put the boot into a loser.  Labour, unfortunately, has been looking like a loser for almost a decade, now.  It's hard not to, when you've churned through a grab back of leaders and the party is polling 30% and National is on 50% (remember those heady days when 30% seemed low!?).  That's why I've always eschewed talk of grant multi-party coalitions.  We live in an MMP environment, but most people don't think MMP.

IF Labour managed to drag the party to the right side of 30% ... (Dare I say the right side of 35%?) and managed to stop the continual factionalism and squabbling, and had a leader with the sort of vim and energy of Norman Kirk, or the grim technocratic authority of Clark, the media would be much more positive towards Labour.  National, of course, has had someone who has looked like a winner since 2006, which is a bit of an advantage for them

Consider how the Greens were treated in the election.  They had a fairly easy time of it.  This wasn't because of Norman's comment about working with National, but because the Greens were seen as a party on the upswing ... so the media - being little more than nasty bullies - didn't put the boot in.  Or contrast the treatment of Don Brash - the media had a field day with him, once they decided he was a rightwing zealot (worse) and a fumbling loser, not the plain speaking champion of middle New Zealand.

Ultimately, the mainstream media exist to sell advertising to people.  As long as they perceive people as being more inclined towards the right, they will pander towards that.  Labour needs to makes itself important and interesting again.  Then the media will be ready to make nice.

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