Journalism: part of the problem

Hoping for a strong future for journalism, with a “healthy news ecosystem”, James Hollings takes us on an interesting exploration of a range of possible futures (mass vs social, state vs private, monopoly vs diversity) (“A NZ without journalists: The implications of the combustion of our biggest news group”, 17/5).

Hollings appears to be one of New Zealand’s journalism gurus.  He has decades of experience and he is “the programme leader of journalism at Massey University”.  He speaks with a high degree of credibility, even authority.

He presents himself as an independent and impartial figure – he even claims to champion free speech – yet the article is saturated with bias, and his bias is with the movement that is throttling free speech:

  • Describing a past era in New Zealand’s history when there were a very large number of very small news outlets – “often two or three to a town” – Hollings tells us that the “small business owners” who ran them were not just “entrepreneurial”, but “voraciously entrepreneurial”. Really, “voracious”, all of them?  Anyway, he prefers “big media”.
  • Describing the benefits of big media outlets, Hollings reminds us that Stuff has taken down “some rich and powerful villains” (emphasis added).
  • He also reminds us that “Big private has the money and independence to take on bad governments – as we saw in Watergate”.
  • Hollings warns us of the risks associated with big private media: it “can be prone to capture by oligarchs with axes to grind”. Looking more closely, however, he tell us “Oligarchs can be reasonably benign, like the Sulzberger owners of the [progressive] New York Times, or arguably manipulative and self-serving like [conservative] Rupert Murdoch” (emphasised words added).
  • Then, considering some of the legal barriers to obtaining information, Hollings asks “Why do we maintain the right of (inevitably rich) individuals to browbeat news media with the threat of ruinous defamation proceedings?” (emphasis added). It is in this context that he decries certain laws as “the barrier to true free speech”.

In this article, Hollings is telling us that journalism is important, not simply to tell us the truth (no matter what the truth happens to be), but to protect us from villainy and the abuse of power – though not all villainy and all abuse of power, only the villainous rich and the excesses of conservative governments.  We are being told here that the only people who have power and are capable of abusing it are the rich and conservative.  Similarly, only the rich and conservative would try to control or censor the news!!  The only villainy we need to be protected from is what you might call “traditional villainy”.

We all know this isn’t true.  We all know about traditional villainy, but we have also come to know “progressive villainy”.  We all know that our principal institutions have been taken over by “progressives”.  We all know that, because one of those institutions is the mass media itself (thanks to people like Hollings who “programme” students of journalism), we only ever hear one side of serious contentious issues.  We all know we are being told and constantly reminded which opinions and people are good and which are bad.  We know the kids are being told the same things in the schools – because the education system is another institution that has been taken over.  We know we are not able or permitted to discuss any of this in public, and that it’s increasingly difficult to discuss it in private.  And we know this is because the “progressives” have found a variety of means of shutting down free speech: they pretty much monopolise the megaphones and they muzzle, intimidate and punish the holders of contrary views.

Does Hollings not know this?  Has he been in the game for decades and emerged naïve and blind in one eye?  It seems unlikely, doesn’t it?  It is far more likely that he is at heart a serious ideological player (not a reporter), and therefore a part of the problem.

Hollings’ “healthy news ecosystem” seems to be the unhindered expression of “correct” views.  Whether or not he personally aims to inhibit the expression of contrary views is unclear, though it seems very likely:

  • media bias is not among the limited range of concerns he feels for the future of journalism;
  • thanks to the programming of journalism students by Hollings and others, very few journalists hold conservative views (and those who do struggle to get their material published).

Some time ago, I greatly admired journalists and considered them essential to a functioning democracy.  Now that they’ve become players rather than reporters, I’m quite ambivalent about them.  They can get by without my admiration.  Nonetheless, for the little it is worth, I will admire them once again when they start telling the whole truth.

Meanwhile, journalism is a critical part of the new power to which truth must be spoken.