No such thing as Free lunch or Free Media

With the fall of Murdoch Media Empire and Wikileaks scandal, the concept of free media has taken near fatal hit.

With recent developments in mainstream television, controversies and questionable decisions by some media outlets in New Zealand, one is forced to revisit ‘Propaganda Model.’

Edward S Herman and Noam Chomsky in their 1988 book Manufacturing Consent: The political economy of mass media put forward a model for gauging, analysing and understanding the functioning of the US media.

Their ‘Propaganda Model’ stipulates that media is not a free agent that the public have been made to believe. They challenge the myth that the press is stubborn, difficult, persistent and present everywhere as searchers and defenders of the truth.

According to them, all facets of news are structured by the influence and consensus of the elite to ensure systematic propaganda. They said that the media serves and propagandises on behalf of those who control and finance them.

The NZ focus

This is where the recent behaviour of TVNZ and Media Works (which owns Radio Live and TV3) come into question. Almost two months before the last elections, Prime Minister John Key hosted an hour-long show (on September 30, 2011) on Radio Live. He declared that the show was an ‘election-free zone.’

However, the Opposition complained to the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) and the Electoral Commission claiming that the show qualified it as an election advertisement because it was close to the election on November 26, 2011. The Electoral Commission ruled saying despite statements that the show was an ‘election-free zone,’ Mr Key had associated himself with well-known people.

In doing so, he took the opportunity to raise his personal profile unchallenged, and hence was likely to have been seen to encourage people to vote for National Party under his leadership.

The accusation

The then Labour leader Phil Goff accused Radio Live of granting special favours to Mr Key in exchange for Government’s decision to defer $43 million of licensing fees for Media Works.

He said it would have been a different situation if other leaders had been accorded the same opportunity.

Mr Goff said Radio Live had rejected the idea of allowing others to participate. The concentration of ownership of the New Zealand media with three major organisations and the Government makes the picture murkier and gives credence to the ‘Propaganda Model.’

Another move that would raise concerns and controversy was a TVNZ decision to dump the Labour leader’s weekly appearance on its Breakfast show.

Vested interests

What TVNZ effectively said was that the Labour leader was not that newsworthy.

Coming on the heels of Labour’s complaint about the Prime Minister’s free election advertising on Radio Live, some feel that it was the government-owned station’s act of getting back at Labour for being a naughty boy.

Its axing may be due to the Electoral Commission’s negative finding and the case being referred to the Police.

This fiasco also raises questions as to whether the media should treat party leaders differently in their coverage.

However, according to Propaganda Model, TVNZ will look after the interests of its owner and financier-the government.

Such expedient decisions by the media in pleasing the government have gone abroad as well. This comes amidst allegation from the Fiji Broadcasting Commission (FBC) that the New Zealand government was blocking the newly established FBCTV from showing TVNZ news and features.

Bias towards Fiji

FBC chief executive Riyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said that while TVNZ Pacific Services was free-to-view across the Pacific, Fiji was denied permission for showing the related programmes.

Mr Khaiyum told Fiji Sun that two requests made last year by FBCTV had been rejected by TVNZ on the grounds that it was owned by the Fiji government.

What defies logic is that TVNZ itself is a government-owned enterprise.

Mr Khaiyum claims that political pressures were exerted on TVNZ by the Foreign Ministry not to grant approval, confirmed by the New Zealand Deputy high commission’s Peter Lund.

Effectively, this was a case of a government exerting its ownership powers to prevent dispersal of regional information.

TVNZ, as a supposedly free media organisation, was merely dancing to the tunes of the New Zealand government, its owners and financiers.

The above illustrate the fact that Herman and Chomsky’s ‘Propaganda Model’ propounded more than two decades ago, holds current in New Zealand.

In this developed First World, some media organisations continue to be sympathisers and mouthpieces of their owners and financiers.

Thakur Ranjit Singh is a media commentator chief executive of ‘Media Relations Limited,’ a media promotions, event management, public relations and communications company based in Auckland. Email: thakurji@xtra.co.nz

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