I had an interesting chat online with some other journos yesterday/last night about the place (or, in my view, lack of place) of paid PR propagandists like Matthew Hooton as ‘pundits’ or ‘panelists’ in news and current affairs shows. (Click the image below to read around the conversation on Twitter. There was quite a lot of to-and-fro.)
At one point TV3’s The Nation producer Tim Watkins quite fairly asked me where I’d draw the line re unacceptable pundits … to which I answered:
click to read in context on Twitter
Here are some thoughts from someone else who’s thought about it — Nicky Hager in 2008…
Imagining a world where the PR people had won
by Nicky Hager
a speech to Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand Conference, University of Otago, November 2008.
Those of you who grew up in New Zealand will share my experience of a country of clean rivers and streams. We could swim in any river, drink from almost any stream and spend time by the smallest creek trying to catch little freshwater native fish. I remember as a child hearing about countries like the United States where they had “water pollution”. It seemed remote and unthinkable that New Zealand would ever have such problems.
As you know, New Zealand today, the land of water, has serious water pollution problems. A lot of rivers are too polluted to swim in, much less drink. Even some major ground water supplies are polluted. Lake Taupo is in risk of biologically dying. The creeks are mostly too polluted to have native fish. Many of them have dried up and disappeared. Even more surprising, there are water shortages. In Canterbury some rivers have so much water taken out of them for industrial farming that they disappear altogether in dry years.
These problems have grown slowly — too slowly to catch attention or prompt much concern — and then they have accelerated in the last 20 years when restructuring of the New Zealand economy led to changes to land use and farming practises. Until recently there was no awareness outside a few specialists and now suddenly people are waking up to what’s been lost, and how it changes our lives. But even now the major water users and polluters unsurprisingly are still denying anything’s wrong.
This, I will be arguing today, is a good analogy to what’s happening in the democratic sphere. We live in an era where the public spaces are being crowded with paid spokespeople, spin and trickery; where news and political discussion are being polluted by the glib outpourings of ever growing numbers of PR people; and where the public spaces available for real democratic activity are drying up.
These problems have grown slowly — too slowly to catch attention or prompt much concern — and then accelerated in the last 20 years as restructuring of the New Zealand economy has led to redistribution of power and resources and changes to our politics and media.
My subject for today is considering the CUMULATIVE IMPACT of the growth of public relations, and particularly its cumulative impact on the media and the other public spaces where politics occurs. I will give an overview of the trends: more and more paid manufacturing of news, more and more paid voices in so-called public discussion, increasing sophistication of manipulation, more media management, more fake community groups, more scripting of politicians by unseen advisers and so on. My question is, how much is too much? When is the system broken, the river polluted?
I will describe some of the range of influences that undermine modern democratic society. It is largely bad news but later I’ll talk about where I see the hope. Continue reading →