In Steven Price’s recent article Opening the door to bloggers first published in Australia’s Gazette of Law and Journalism and now reproduced at the INFORRM (The International Forum for Responsible Media) blog, he lays out this point of view:
New Zealand’s 600 or so bloggers are invariably careless, partisan, malicious or deranged, and are generally incapable of seeing any difference between their views on any particular issue and someone else’s idea of “the facts”.
‘Invariably’? Gee, Steven, that’s a bit disparaging, isn’t it? Speaking as a journalist, who blogs, that’s not how I see New Zealand’s bloggers, even though I am critical of some of them. (But ‘deranged’?)
Price’s article is worth a read. In part he presents a nice summary of the arguments for-and-against or the likelihood of bloggers in any numbers being attracted to the NZ Press Council’s offer of membership — however that evolves.
For my own part, I doubt there will be many bloggers who will want to pay hundreds of dollars to join [the Press Council].
What’s in it for them? Some may welcome the sense of legitimacy it bestows. They are journalists too, see? No longer the poor relations. Readers and sources may be more inclined to trust them if they know that standards are being enforced.
It may also help bloggers in arguing for source protection, exemption from the Privacy Act, and access to courtrooms and the parliamentary press gallery, for example.
A bigger attraction may be the waiver that many Press Council complainants are required to sign.
Complaining is free, but complainants have to promise not to sue in court. This waiver is of very questionable legality – there’s a serious question about whether forcing complainants to forgo their rights of access to court is void for public policy reasons – but it has never been challenged.
You can see why this waiver system might be bait for bloggers. What’s more, the Press Council cannot award damages or costs.
Big bloggers such as Whale Oil, Public Address and Kiwiblog have indicated willingness to consider signing up.
A prediction: if Whale Oil joins, he will withdraw in rage after the first complaint against him is upheld and make it his mission in life to ridicule and smear everyone associated with the Press Council, their children, neighbours, gardeners and pet labrador Boomer.
How will it work for the others? The obvious first question is: what standards will apply?
Surely bloggers won’t be expected to display the sort of balance that is supposed to be a staple of mainstream journalism. Will the same conflict of interest rules apply?
Others have noted that the Statement of Principles includes a requirement to disclose any financial inducements and avoid obligations to news sources.
Does that describe the political blogosphere? Comment and fact must be distinguished. …
Those issues Price raises — conflict of interest, disclosure of financial inducements — if they were a membership requirement, they would neatly exclude the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing PR attack blogs which so duplicitously undertake ‘campaigns’ for their ‘clients’ … with no disclosure.
For instance I know Cameron Slater tried to defend his running such undeclared ‘PR lines’ on his Whaleoil blog on the basis that the attack lines fit in with his personal political beliefs. (Listen to the audio here. Maybe Steven Price’s ‘deranged’ label is fairer than I first thought?) Slater denied being paid … although admitting he ‘demanded’ money. Hmm.
Hidden influence disqualifies
At this stage, I remain of my original view that operators like PR attack blogger Cameron Slater and his propagandist/dark arts PR mates have no business being members of the NZ Press Council.
What Slater cynically pumps out on the Whaleoil website isn’t journalism, in my view, as I have explained,* and his recent pretence that it is I see as desperate and implausible.
The NZ Press Council risks naively making a rod for its own back, just as Steven Price suggests. There’s not enough value in the proposition — for either ‘party’.
Time will tell.