Alison McCulloch's "Stop The Press" : Is corporate media a flawed product?

AT Alastair Thompson Public Seen by 32

As long as there’s been a fourth estate, there have been critics. In the second reflection in Scoop's "The State of the NZ News Media - A Public Conversation" series, Alison McCulloch surveyed some of her favourites, and concluded it’s time to give up on the corporate media. Do you agree?

Read Alison's full essay here >> Stop The Press

Her introductory paragraphs follow....

When I read Nicky Hager’s book “Dirty Politics”, I thought it should have been called “Dirty Journalism”. Because Dirty Journalism underpinned and enabled all that dirty politics every step of the way. It still does. But unlike the elected (dirty) politicians, whom we can get rid of at the ballot box, there’s surprisingly little we can do to hold Dirty Journalism and its counterparts – Churnalism; Gotcha Journalism; Click-Bait Journalism; Shallow, Celebrity and Listicle Journalism – to account.

Journalism likes to remind us how important it is – to democracy, to freedom, to the polity – and so it is. And because of that, we grant it some quite extraordinary privileges, both explicit and tacit. But what do we get in return? Is there enough speaking truth to power to make up for all that reflecting power back at itself; is journalism as interested in earning its privileges as it is in privileging its earners?

Disaffection with the press is nothing new, and our own shallow corporate media is nothing special. We stick with it because (we think) there’s no alternative, and because we’re human and enjoy distracting ourselves with crap. Besides, amid the gossip, opinion and recycled press releases, there’s some good work; and amid the stenographers to power, there’s the odd maverick. They, of course, should be cherished for helping provide the news media with enough redemption for us to keep granting them their privileges, but more often than not, the opposite is the case. This, too, is nothing new.

Read Alison's full essay here >> Stop The Press


Alastair Thompson Sat 24 Jan 2015 12:08AM

This article from George Monbiot about recent events at the CBC in Canada sheds an interesting light on the issue of business relationships with news media. And in this case with publicly funded media - thus showing very clearly that its not only corporate media which is flawed these days.

In 2013 reporters at CBC, Canada’s equivalent of the BBC, broke a major story. They discovered that RBC – Royal Bank of Canada – had done something cruel and unusual even by banking standards. It was obliging junior staff to train a group of temporary foreign workers, who would then be given the staff’s jobs. Just after the first report was aired, according to the website Canadaland, something odd happened: journalists preparing to expand on the investigation were summoned to a conference call with Amanda Lang, CBC’s senior business correspondent and a star presenter. The reporters she spoke to say she repeatedly attempted to scuttle the story, dismissing it as trivial and dull.

They were astonished. But not half as astonished as when they discovered the following, unpublished facts. First, that Lang had spoken at a series of events run or sponsored by RBC – for which she appears, on one occasion, to have been paid around 15,000 Canadian dollars. Second, that she was booked to speak at an event sponsored by the outsourcing company the bank had hired to implement the cruel practice exposed by her colleagues. Third, that her partner is a board member at RBC.

Lang then interviewed the bank’s chief executive on her own show. When he dismissed the story as unfair and misleading, she did not challenge him. That evening she uncritically repeated his talking points on CBC’s main current affairs programme. Her interests, again, were not revealed. Then she wrote a comment article for the Globe and Mail newspaper suggesting that her colleagues’ story arose from an outdated suspicion of business, was dangerous to Canada’s interests, and was nothing but “a sideshow”. Here’s what she said about the bank’s employment practices: “It’s called capitalism, and it isn’t a dirty word.”

Canadaland, which exposed Lang’s conflicts last week, found that other journalists at the broadcaster were furious, but too frightened to speak on the record. But after CBC tried to dismiss the scandal as “half-truths based on anonymous sources”, Kathy Tomlinson, the reporter who had broken the story about the bank, bravely spoke publicly to the website. The following morning, staff in her office arrived to find this message spelt out in magnets on their fridge: “Jesse Brown snitches get stitches”. Jesse Brown is Canadaland’s founder.

CBC refused to answer my questions, and I have not had a response from Lang. It amazes me that she remains employed by CBC, which has so far done nothing but bluster and berate its critics.

This is grotesque. But it’s symptomatic of a much wider problem in journalism: those who are supposed to scrutinise the financial and political elite are embedded within it. Many belong to a service-sector aristocracy, wedded metaphorically (sometimes literally) to finance. Often unwittingly, they amplify the voices of the elite, while muffling those raised against it.


Dialey Sat 24 Jan 2015 2:20AM

Yes the corporate media is flawed and compromised and basically corrupt and is also depriving us of one of our fundamental freedoms. As posited by John Ralston Saul: "The definition of our second fundamental freedom begins by talking about the freedom of thought – notice it begins with thought, not facts – and goes on to belief, opinion and expression.  Ask yourself what that means.  Does this definition simply describe our freedom to write and express our thoughts, beliefs, opinions and expressions?  Or does it also include our right to hear thoughts, beliefs, opinions and expressions?  And does the right to hear thoughts, like the right to think, not implicitly include the right to hear a variety of thoughts?  Most citizens do not become journalists or writers.  Few of us will have lengthy and sustained opportunities to speak and be heard.  But we do have the right to hear.  It is one of the ways in which we will feed the debates in our personal lives.  That is our democratic right.  They have the right to hear a variety of opinions and we all have the right to hear a varied debate."


Jason Brown Sun 25 Jan 2015 7:57AM

. . .

I am no fan of corporate media - public or private.

Yet, even if we are to project ahead and entertain an ideal outcome - a " confident, well informed and professional" news media*, then we are going to face similar problems to now.

That is, honest (and dishonest) differences of opinion which about what constitutes proper journalism.

This may point to journalists having to do something we have been traditionally loath to do - hold each other to account.

This will become more acutely necessary if we are to make sustained and effective use of future funding models. Rather than let them be corrupted by the current "light hand" style of regulation, journalism needs to utilise digital tools to subject its practitioners to greater scrutiny.

And weed out, in an open and transparent manner, those who do not adhere to codes of practice and ethics. I could be wrong of course. But how else are we going to be taken seriously if we do not self-regulate?


Ian Apperley Wed 28 Jan 2015 10:34PM

Is corporate media a flawed product?

Yes. Definitely.

I don't know what the answer to it is, but you can be sure that anything that is corporatised is fare more open to influence. We don't have to look much further than Rupert Murdoch to see that.


Deleted User Wed 28 Jan 2015 10:40PM

There are biases in everything, transparency in where the bias is applied allows for greater reader judgement.There's no more/less bias in a blog post than a news article or PR release - but can you determine from each where the bias is based?

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Malcolm Aitken Fri 6 Mar 2015 1:20AM

Hi everyone. Just joined this group. Have to say Alison, that is a very good piece you have written. Too busy to say much more now but I like the exultation of American radical Jello Biafra's about the media: 'don't hate the media, become the media!' I will make a point to re-join you all soon. Oh, and well done Alastair. Good work on getting this conversation started...here's to broadening it as much as possible.