The conservative media: Reactionaries

Part 2 in an ongoing series. This series examines trends that lead the New Zealand media, often conceived of as a liberal institution, towards a more conservative take on some of their stories.

Last time I talked about how the media sometimes resorts to “telling stories” because a comprehensive article often is too time-, space- or money-consuming. This time I want to talk about comments from advocacy groups on non-political news.

I’m sure we’ve all seen it- some poor granny is mugged at home, and after the news show us everything that’s relevant, to fill in a little bit of extra space or time, they do a spot with some crazy old man on a vengeance trip from the Sensible Sentencing Trust or Family First.

This reactionary gets as much time as the actual story to lobby unopposed for harsher penalties, freedom to murder taggers, or whatever they generally like, because of two things:

  • Impact: Most crimes don’t leave an impact that shows well on TV or in a newspaper, so bringing along some angry dodger to be outraged for them, without compromising the prosal neutrality of the article or TV piece is quite convenient.
  • Ease: It’s a quick, easy, cheap way to fill in space for your program or publication, especially as these groups make a point of being available for easy media comment.

Now, that’s great if you view selling newspapers or news advertising as your business. Unfortunately, some of us still want news that performs a social function, for example fair and rigorous political debate.

This torrent of exposure to radical social conservative lobby groups normalises their views. That is, it doesn’t necessarily convince people it wouldn’t otherwise, but because their views are shown unopposed so much, moderates don’t react as unfavourably to these groups as they might had the news sought comments from groups that oppose punitive justice systems, (or ones that support restorative justice systems) or groups that propose liberal social norms, family planning, safe sex, and marriage only when people are ready. Effectively, the newspapers and programs that run these stories with unopposed comments are systematically endorsing the views of those groups, but without having the courage to say so.

Now, I don’t contest that the news media has a right to publish content from a certain political perspective1. I’ll critique them when they’re stupid and that’s that. But trying to hide your bias is what makes it insidious, and doing reaction-checks with these reactionaries is a pervasive trend of hidden bias in our media that I’d love to see stopped.

1This is actually the reason I bag on the Herald. They’re like a reverse-Guardian. Speaking of which, where the hell do I have to move to get a left-wing paper in New Zealand?

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