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Role of Media in Nz

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For New Zealand’s democracy, the media plays a central role. Ideally, the media’s role is to inform the public with in-depth, accurate information about political decision-making, propose a forum for the exchange of opinions, experiences and perspectives, and act as a watchdog against the misuses of power. From both National to International level, these functions help the public to understand complex social and political issues.
The media may act in a democratic role, but their ability to fulfil this role is affectedby many things such as laws protecting freedom of expression. The media had much greater freedom of expression in the 2000s. Though this was limited by a number of laws introduced to protect other rights like The Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993 had provisions designed to avert discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, age, gender or disability. Legal recognition of the media’s crucial watchdog role is found in the Evidence Act 2006, which banned the media from publishing anyone’s name who were granted name suppression in court. (McQuail, 1992,pg 123)
The media is also affected by the media accessing government information. The Official Information Act 1982 is an essential tool for the media. This act allows all official informationto be made available upon request unless there is a genuine reason for withholding it. Journalists have complained that officials and ministers use a range of methods to delay or refuse such releases of information. Nevertheless, most political news stories are based on information released under the Official Information Act. (Surette, 2011, pg125)
Regulation and censorship also affects the media. New Zealand has a long history of Government censorship on the media. It started in the 1840s when Governor William Hobson shut down a few newspapers criticising his Māori land purchase policies. In 1923 when radio was starting out in New Zealand, the government prohibited the broadcast of any propaganda of a controversial nature. They stipulated that broadcasts berestricted to matters of an educative or entertaining nature, such as news, religious service and musicals etc. (General Books LLC, 2010, pg15)
During both World War One and World War Two there was strict censorship to avert the broadcasting of information to the enemy and to maintain public support for the war effort. Pacifist and revolutionary socialist newspapers were targeted with the Communist Party coming under scrutiny in the early years of the Second World War. A number of publications were banned and their distributors prosecuted. (General Books LLC, 2010, pg15)
In 1996 Prime Minister David Lange took legal action against political scientist Joe Atkinson whose article on Lange’s role as Prime Minister had appeared in North and South magazine. Lange alleged that the article was offensive. In 1998 and 2000 the Court of Appeal accepted the defence of ‘qualified privilege’, allowing journalists to criticise politicians on the basis of ‘honest belief’. These decisions gave the New Zealand media greater freedom in commenting on politicians’ performance. (Jowell& Oliver, 2007, pg 55)
Most New Zealand newspapers were intensely critical of the Labour Party before it took office in 1935. Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage was extremely suspicious of the newspapers while appreciating the power of radio. He feared that newspaper companies would also come to take over broadcasting. Labour introduced the Broadcasting Act 1936, placing broadcasting under direct government control through the National Broadcasting Service. Radio news was to be supplied by the Official News Service in the Prime Minister’s Department. Labour also introduced the world’s first regular parliamentary broadcasts, with the aim of giving people direct access to Parliament’s activities without any slant from newspaper reports. (Debrett, 2010,pg 132)
Politicians depend on the media for publicity, while the mediacount onpoliticians and politics to provide them with some news to broadcast. The mediahave the ability to inflict damage on reputations, with sometimes devastating effects for the electoral prospects of politicians or parties. In October 1980 Prime Minister Robert Muldoon refused to answer a question from journalist Tom Scott during a post-cabinet press conference, before ordering a member of his staff to take him away.His reputation for terrifying journalists was bolstered by the fact that none of the other journalists that were there at the press conference objected as Scott was taken away. (Gustafson, 2000, pg306)
During election campaigns the media plays an important role providing information and breakdown about the parties’ programmes, policies, candidates and performance. Party leaders have appeared in television debates in New Zealand since 1969. In 2005, TV3 decided to host a leaders’ debate that was to feature leaders of only six of the eight parties then represented in Parliament. The two excluded leaders, Peter Dunne of UnitedFutureand Jim Anderton of the Progressive Party, wanted a provisionalinjunction in the High Court against TV3’s broadcast. Justice Ron Young ruled that TV3 must include Dunne and Anderton. TV3 complied, but the judge was criticised for interfering on media freedom. (Gauja, 2010,pg 26)
With the introduction of television in New Zealand in 1960, the media’s power to influence public opinion increased. Robert Muldoon’s rise to power as National Party finance minister and then prime minister coincided with the arrival of television. Muldoon quickly learned to use television to his advantage. He appealed directly to his supporters, while attacking his opponents. His combative approach to interviews and interviewers divided television audiences but made compelling viewing. (Gustafson, 2000, pg 302).Television’s universal power led politicians and corporations to develop ever more sophisticated image-management strategies. It has become common for senior politicians and government departments to employ press secretaries, often former journalists to handle their relationship with the media. Richard Griffin, a former Radio New Zealand political editor became National Prime Minister Jim Bolger’s press secretary, while Kathryn Street, formerly a Radio New Zealand chief political reporter was Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark’s chief press secretary. Politicians have definitely used the media todisperse the power to influence public opinion more widely across society. (McMillan, 2012)
The media may be called the Fourth Estate of democracy, but does it now help or hinder the “public functions” of representative politics? For many years the media has been known as the Fourth Estate of democracy, working as a channel of independent communication between the Government and society – being the watchdogs of New Zealand. However there are three primary roles contributing in the independence of the governmental control, scrutinize government activities, and to provide public say in debates. Independence of the government ensures no limit to political news due to personal well as of its huge impact on the election since media acts as a communication channel. (Schltuz, 1998, pg 72)
At the same time the media must scrutinize government doings, informing the public about political actions, and holding decision makers to account. The media's role in analysing reports listed in parliament, and reporting on the doings of government departments, is all vital to public understanding of policy issues and the political process. A lack of information results in a lack of accountability – giving the government absolute power. (Schltuz, 1998,pg 73)
The Fourth Estate should also provide aground for people to enter into public debate. If the general public are well-informed, they are then able to respond to political activities. Such responses include voting, boycotting, lawful demonstrations, talk-back radio, letters to the editor, public submissions, opinion polls and reader panels.However, public debate and opinion is dependenton the media fulfilling its other two roles, since people must be fully informed in order for public debate to work at its full capacity. (Schltuz, 1998,pg 74)
In contrast to this, America has created the term 'Fourth Branch' to describe the media and other specialised interest groups.It acts as a contrast to the independence of the Fourth Estate, where the Fourth Branch is a means of influencing political proceedings. Essentially, it illustrates how 'government by the people' and the independence of the press have become less legitimate over recent years, and that the media now acts as another branch of government. (Rees, 2008, pg 04)
The concept of state censorship goes back to the story of the Government intervention in the printing of political news – regulating the distribution of material through legislative action. While this may have been the case in previous years, current politicians now employ a new, more subtle form of censorship(General Books LLC, 2010, pg14). According to Peter Goodwin (Goodwin, 2005, pg103), when the BBC once indicated they were broadcasting potentially controversial material, the government quietly recommended those programmes be scrapped.
As society has become more instantaneous, it’s also become more trivial – which has directly affected news media. Indeed, media is now beginning to focus on broadcast material intended for entertainment and to inform. News values now determine political information, with a preference towards the unusual or sensational over facts and policies.
As infotainment increases, media output is also becoming shorter and more fragmented. Several years ago, hour long programmes were devoted to analysing and discussing one important policy issue, examining many different aspects and effects of real world application.However, in the current market, a thirty-minute programme will be divided up into three or more issues, dramatically condensing the material presented. Accordingly, interviews predominantly consist of sound bites, which may be taken out of context and twisted to suit the final broadcast. With less time devoted to examining different policies and their effects, the general public are no longer as well informed as they have been in previous years.Since people must be fully informed in order for public debate to work at its full capacity, the decrease in media quality is now reflected in public opinion. (Palmer, pg21)
Unfortunately,these downsides destroy any credibility of the media as the fourth estate since it's failing to support the“public functions” of representative politics. As a result, public participation in political affairs is likely to decrease, since people are no longer well informed about political activities.Clearly, the Fourth Estate should maintain an ideal balance between reporting Parliamentary activities and public opinion, while remaining independent of government control - building the foundations of representative politics. The fight for ratings has also turned leaders’ debates from serious policy debates into trivial and entertaining banter. These results in the media focusing on items which people find interesting, rather than reporting for society’s best interest. Such broadcasts seem based on the theory that politics is theatre, instead of an important democratic operation.

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