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“Up To A Point Lord Copper!”

‘Newspapers reflect their owner’s bias’
Jo Holmes, on her blog, September 2013.

Gather round kiddies, for today we are going to be looking at the vexed question of naughty ‘Media Bias’. I have started this article by quoting Jo Holmes’ sage observation that; ‘Newspapers reflect their owner’s bias’, since she is entirely correct in this. Mind you, as a former newspaper owner she is well placed to know.

Of COURSE they do. They would be quite dull if they didn’t. But they also reflect the bias of the people who BUY them. (Assuming the paper isn’t valueless and therefore given away free.) If you are a liberal you buy papers that reaffirm your world view. If you are a conservative you buy something produced by Rupert Murdoch. If you think corporations are evil and that off road vehicles kill whales then you’ll be after a publication that syndicates the droning blether of George Monbiot. If you think everything would be better if they just sent the bloody immigrants home and everybody just did what they were told then you’ll want a paper that can come up with a Garth George sound-alike. If you are a barking mad sociopath then clearly The Daily Mail is just the ticket.

My dear departed Dad covered the Westminster beat for the Daily Mirror, a paper with strong Labour sympathies. Had you suggested to him that his columns showed ‘bias’, he’d have agreed, and wondered why that was an issue. His job was to tell his readers how beastly Mrs Thatcher was. His readers already believed that of course, but liked to be reassured each morning that this was still the case. Had they wished to believe that she was in fact the nation’s saviour, then all they had to do was switch to the Sun, which also featured young women who had mislaid their undies.

Easy.

So when does ‘Media Bias’ become a problem? When YOU are getting the mucky end of the stick of course. When the journalist, instead of simply taking your press release and printing it verbatim, insists on actually asking difficult questions and then going away and TELLING PEOPLE how you refused to answer!

BASTARDS!!!! How dare they? What gives them the right to assert that you are a flimsy nobody who does a crap job and looks like their mum dresses them? Don’t they realise how hard you work? How can they bring up all that stuff from years ago, the silly misunderstanding with the constabulary, the Brazilian lady and the stick of broccoli? Can’t they just FORGET that stuff and talk about your passions and convictions? NO! Not THOSE passions and convictions! Oh bloody hell!!! And so on.

The problem is we LOVE media bias as long as it’s the right flavour to suit our jaded palates. If a publication vouchsafed tomorrow that Mr Key was in the habit of dining on roast beneficiary babies each evening then his supporters might well take this as bias. Others would hasten to share it with their friends on Facebook and a robust discussion would ensue with everyone claiming it just goes to show the slippery bastard was up to no good. If another paper asserted that David Cunliffe was actually a corpse, reanimated by Martian Communists with a view to world domination and has a hammer and sickle tattooed upon his bottom then this news too would be greeted with both horror and delight, depending on individual perspectives. So lets not get too fussy.

The accusation of bias most relevant to this discussion however is the one leveled at the Gulf News. That looney left, tree hugging, ban-the-bomb rag, whose proprietor and staff seem determined to pick up where Pravda left off….

Well now look, of COURSE the Gulf News is ‘Left Wing’ and ‘Green’! It wouldn’t have survived the thirty five or so years it has unless it was. Because like it or not, (And it’s critics really DON’T like this) its readership is of much the same opinion. There are some places around the world, like Berkeley and Ann Arbour in the USA, Christiania in Denmark or my own beloved hometown of Brighton in the UK, in which liberal values are so ingrained that they define the place and nothing you can do or say can alter that. Waiheke is the same. A community long famous for its alternative and laid back lifestyle. The Gulf News reflects that and is quite right, no to mention sensible, to do so. If you move here to live and try and pretend otherwise then you are going to be disappointed.

I realise of course that it is dreadfully unfair on the affluent to have to face that irritating reality every election that, no matter how rich they are, their vote has exactly the same value as those cast by people who work in shops! Or on building sites! Or maybe even DON’T WORK AT ALL!! There are just some things money can’t buy you and extra added value on your vote is one of them.
But if only the DECENT people of Waiheke had a PROPER newspaper of their own! One that spoke to their views and values. A publication that supported progress and development and respected the right of the wealthy to remake this island in their own image! A paper that would give short shrift to the weirdoes and the wobblies and that awful man and his beastly horse!

Hold on though…..There WAS such a paper! It was called The Waiheke Week. Founded as a ‘Pro Business’ weekly and backed by sundry wealthy folk, the ‘Weak’ (As it became known) reflected the values of the affluent and right leaning. It staggered on for a couple of years, growing thinner and sillier as it went. Few, if any read it. Eventually it keeled over and expired under the crushing weight of its own irrelevance, and, in a final terrible irony was bought up and resurrected by none other than the Gulf News as the sublimely lightweight Waiheke Weekender.

It’s founder was heard on many an occasion claiming that; ‘There’s only room on this island for two papers and we are going to be one of them!’
Well, he was right about the first bit.

Posted in Comment.


One Response

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  1. David MacGregor says

    Small heterogenous communities don’t need newspapers. Nothing that needs to be reported on paper happens. Gossip and the pulpit would take care of most outbreaks of ephemera.
    Places like Waiheke nearly make the cut here – except that comparative heterogeny is being supplanted by, well, a different kind of comparative heterogeny. It is New Zealand in microcosm. The issues facing the wealthier inhabitants are, by and large, the same as those who are on the dole. The weather’s nice for growing beer. In the summer there are too many tourists and in the winter there aren’t enough. Culturally we tend not to rock the boat, and no matter how diverse the metapopulation is it ends up in a ‘kiwi’ soup that barely tastes of anything.
    Any bias or variation from the norm is viewed with suspicion – even though we tolerantly tolerate the odd odd-man-out (Tim Shadbolt) – our bias is to have the same biases. It makes for a dull gruel but we like it that way. Scrape away the outer layer of bland consensus and you’ll just find another one.
    To prove my biased theory I posit that New Zealand has all but done with newspapers and broadcast news and replaced it with variations of grumpy cat and The Block. You see, when nothing ever happens of any consequence, the consequences are dire.



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