When I was first becoming interested in politics a few years ago I had a conversation that has stayed with me since. It was about the power of the media and a concept then called information-entertainment, which is a merging of serious news such as politics, with light hearted content such as what celebrities are doing, what the latest fad is. I did not pay a huge amount of attention to the discourse at the time, unaware as I was of the influence of the Murdoch empire. Nor was I aware of the slow but persistent erosion of what I always thought was supposed to be a core journalistic task: investigative journalism.
There have been several unfortunate instances of diminishing the importance of current affair programmes in New Zealand, such as the renown Sunday programme being reduced from 60 to 30 minutes, the decline in investigative reporters working for it. In 2005 One News closed their Asia bureau and award winning staff such as Charlotte Glennie whose coverage of the devastating Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean, won her the highest accolade Australasian media could offer resigned as a result. Such a move to this day baffles me given that more than any other geographic region in the world, Asia will impact on New Zealand and thus whatever goes on there should be of interest to New Zealand and New Zealanders.
A decade ago, One News correspondent Barbara Dreaver broke a story about live chemical weapons found on the side of a road in the Solomon Islands. Yes, chemical weapons. How did they get there? Who put them there and what they even doing in the Solomons in the first place? It was a major story for a part of the world that is supposed to be free of weapons of mass destruction.
Another notable reporter was Cameron Bennett. His 24 year service to TV One included breaking stories such as the 1991 siege of the Kremlin in Moscow, the Bosnia Serb Civil War, visiting Guantanamo Bay detention centre, interviews with Palestinian militants and world leaders. Although Mr Bennett parted ways with T.V.N.Z. on apparently good terms, his loss as one of their most senior reporters, current affair show hosts, is something I doubt that they have recovered from.
Most recently T.V.3 current affairs programme Campbell Live was told by channel management that they were considering taking the programme off air and replacing it with a more light hearted programme called Jono and Ben. There has been substantial backlash against the announcement. The programme, has raised among other issues the Dead Sea Spa stall scam, which operates in several countries and gained notoriety in New Zealand after undercover video footage showed very aggressive sales tactics being used on vulnerable people. It has been perceived as a champion for the common person. Campbell Live has much higher ratings than its rival show Seven Sharp which adopts a tact that has turned many people off.
I really fail to see what is so damn hard about New Zealand journalists doing investigative journalism. This is the type of journalism that I enjoy because it is finding information and stories that I on my own could never expect to. This is to me a core duty of the fourth estate (the media/journalists). There are so many things that they could be trying to uncover, such as the secrecy surrounding the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, which is far greater than the shroud thrown around any previous so called Free Trade Agreement. Yes, in a spectrum full of negativity some occasional light heartedness is welcome and even necessary, but the balance in these programmes has swung too far towards the entertainment.
The concept that the population are being deliberately dumbed down was not something I initially believed. But the steady erosion of reputable media in New Zealand, the influence that certain parts of the media spectrum have on politicians, have convinced me that an ulterior agenda may be at work. Whoever benefits from it will not be the common New Zealander that John Campbell and his programme are more and more becoming representative of.
And that is sad.