Media disinformation threatens democratic values

Fiji’s experience should be an eternal lesson

Thakur Ranjit Singh

I had a feeling of Déjà vu when I saw some New Zealand mainstream journalists crying into their pillows that the National Party failed to return to the Treasury benches. This was after Winston Peters decided to go with the Labour Party.

When National got into power in 2014, and the previous terms under MMP, this system was perceived as robust and suitable for our country.

No sooner Labour come to power last week with their coalition partners, than the same MMP became a defective monster for some National supporters and sections of supposedly neutral and impartial New Zealand media.

The Fiji analogy

A similar thing occurred in Fiji in 1987. Under 1970 Constitution, Fiji’s first Prime Minister Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara’s Alliance Party won successive elections for seventeen years from 1970 to 1987.

As soon as they lost power to Dr Timoci Bavadra in 1987, (which resulted in Rabuka’s coup) the hitherto suitable Constitution all a sudden became defective.

They claimed that it failed to safeguard interests of indigenous Fijians or democracy, which it appeared to have done under Mara’s rule.

This was acceptable as long the as Ratu Mara’s Alliance won the election.

The same thing has happened in New Zealand, and I feel that I have been in this situation before.

Misusing Media Post

Certain Newstalk ZB presenters have been using (read abusing) the platform of national mainstream media for their septic, jaundiced, personal and blatant partisan weeping for the National Party.

They seem to regard themselves as Little Gods in media. They need to come down to earth, and decide whether they are impartial and neutral to occupy influential media positions. Or should we regard them as public relations arm of National, masquerading as journalists on the mainstream media?

They have tarnished the status of a respectable Fourth Estate, and their employers need to decide whether they suit their position of responsibility, trust and neutrality. This is because they use, or rather, abuse mainstream media with their partisan diatribe criticising and blatantly running down the new government even before it has been sworn-into office.

Real casualty

Apart from National, Maori and ACT Parties, the biggest casualty of this election is the mainstream media’s ethics of impartiality and neutrality. The blatant media wailing, show of naked partisan and animosity towards the new government is a matter of concern for those who respect freedom of speech, decorum, demeanour, the ethics and good practices associated with the Fourth Estate.

This refers to the Fourth pillar of democracy – a free respectable media. This comes after the Legislature, the Judiciary and the Executive. A free, neutral and impartial media is essential for a flourishing democracy.

Some hard questions

What is a grave matter of concern is not that this blatant abuse has occurred. What concerns me is the deafening silence from those who should care. Where are the analytical, responsible and conscientious journalist who need to stand up to corruption and humiliation of their proud profession?

Where are the guardians of a free and responsible media? Where are the scholars and professors from media schools who need to oversee what they teach in media schools as gospels are really followed by senior and influential journalists in the field? Should not they defend media ethics and does not let it degenerate into mere myths?

Controls in Fiji

Where are those from AUT’s Media School where I studied journalism? Why does it take an ethnic person from a Third World Fiji to see what New Zealand journalists and related organisations cannot?

When Fiji imposed media controls because journalists with similar behaviour were fanning racial divisions in Fiji, banned journalists from New Zealand were critical of Fiji, lecturing them of media responsibility.

Now, where are they when we need their sharp judgement? Cannot they detect this scandal in their backyard where some highly paid influential journalists appear to have taken the role of pseudo opposition party, acting as mouthpiece of National Party, disguised as journalists?

I am reminded of Irish statesman Edmund Burke’s famous saying: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

A Frantic Call

So, I am calling on the good journalist to stand up to this triumph of bad journalism in New Zealand.

A responsible, free and non-partisan media is the last bastion of democracy. I know this well. In 2010, my research thesis for Masters in Communication Studies at the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) Media School was on such a topic. My research thesis was on the role of a Fiji media in bringing instability to a new Government in Fiji. It was titled: ‘The 2000 Speight coup in Fiji: The role of The Fiji Times leading to political instability.’

My findings revealed that a partisan news media, and its negative portrayal of a new government can lead to a danger to democracy, cause instability and even lead to attempted coup, in case of Fiji.

In the 2017 election, National Party lost power.

But the bigger loss is assault on the proud New Zealand’s Fourth Estate by those who need to stand up to protect it.

Let’s do that – let us protect media credibility in New Zealand to safeguard our healthy and strong democracy.

Thakur Ranjit Singh is a postgraduate Scholar with Honours in Journalism from AUT. He is a media commentator, political observer and runs his blog ‘Fiji Pundit.’ He lives in Auckland.

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