NZ and the international rule of law: The Media: Part II.


Blog No.145.

Introduction. Currently, NZ society and all other societies are sailing full speed ahead into a cliff-face. An abrupt change of course is urgently needed. As the ship changes course a new horizon will come into view – but in the meantime, we are enjoying the cruise and we haven’t hit the rocks yet. Ultimately we know that delay will prove fatal, but no one knows for certain how long that delay can be before it is too late. Resistance to change is built into our psyches and delay until the last possible minute is sought – though no one can be certain that that minute will not be one too late. The officers on the bridge bear a heavy responsibility.

As laid out two weeks ago in Blog No 144, this blog will deal with the initial phase of a more comprehensive proposal to address the three major threats to New Zealand’s society (and to those of all other nations.) These are the current inadequacy and prevalent flouting of the international rule of law, large-scale nuclear warfare and the approaching climate change. Nuclear warfare, or unmitigated climate change will render the Earth uninhabitable. The rule of law is essential, if the nations are to have any hope of collectively addressing the twin threats.

For New Zealand, or for any other nation which is serious about tackling the problem, the first task is to educate the public. They have to be persuaded of the twin dangers the nation faces and convinced of the need to accept sacrifice and change when confronting the danger.

To that end, my previous blog suggested that the NZ government needs to actively intervene in the media market. It needs to wrest back control from the mainly overseas corporations and government agencies that currently own and control it and, which have little, or no, interest in the welfare of NZ society. Indeed, the media menu currently on offer to the NZ public, is primarily concerned with little, other than reinforcing the consumerism that is driving rapid climate change. At the same time, it offers a distorted world view that furthers the New Zealand public’s complacent and passive acceptance of illegal coups d’etat, military interventions and a government unwilling to stand up in international fora and protest our ‘natural allies” regular breaches and undermining of the international rule of law on which the nation’s security is ultimately dependent.

The USA’s ‘free’ media.

Information delivery. No democratic society can function efficiently without an effective information delivery system. Rather than endlessly repeat myself, I would draw attention to two of my previous blogs: “Decline of the fourth estate and investigative journalism Parts I & II.”

Blog No 123 deals with the sorry state of the current media offering to the NZ public, with the malfunctioning current media watchdog structure and the way in which social media have denuded real journalism of funding.

Blog No 124 Deals with the role of investigative journalism, the inadequacy and failure of the current system and proposes that an enhanced Ombudsman’s Office be used to remedy the situation. That idea will be expanded on below.

Basic proposal.

1. That the NZ government buys back the mainstream national and local NZ media that have fallen into overseas ownership.

2. That government funding of and assistance to the media should ultimately involve a budget equivalent of today’s expenditure on military defence – if need be, with commensurate reductions in the defence budget.

3. That oversight of the NZ media passes away from the currently media owned and manipulated watchdogs and becomes the responsibility of an Ombudsman’s Office with enhanced powers and budgets to match.

4. With the safeguards and provisions set out below, the Ombudsman’s office, sufficiently fire-walled against government intervention, takes control of the newly acquired media outlets and responsibility for dissemination of information to the public.

Ownership and control of the media.

The accepted key function of the media in a democracy is to produce an informed public capable of forming intelligent opinions. In fact, it has an even more important function: to ensure that the political leaders drawn from that public are equally well informed and capable of forming sensible policies. It stands to reason therefore that political leaders should not control the content of the media lest idiocy, based on their ignorance, propagates further ignorance and idiocy.

Here is a generalised proposal of principle. It is clearly open to questioning and is most unlikely to represent the optimum solution:

1. All media bought back by the government should remain in public ownership and operated under a public good charter.

2. Its content and editorial policies should be determined by a committee of trustees, neither elected nor appointed, but chosen by lot from suitably qualified members of the public, who have put their names forward. (There are many advantages to Sortition: diversity of thinking; freedom from party rivalry; freedom from corruption; freedom from nepotism and freedom from obligation to those that appoint them.)

3. The committee employs a stable of investigative journalists, whose work it sells to other media outlets. In time, the committee will also be responsible for arranging the making of film, radio and TV programmes.

4. All the above is based on the premise that the NZ media, be it in government, or private hands, is unable to compete with overseas corporate (including social) media for advertising revenue. Therefore it has to be funded by the tax-payer, with the government not only heavily subsidising the whole operation, but itself becoming a major purchaser of advertising time and ultimately, edging out much of the consumerism-oriented advertising that currently dominates the nation’s brain-food.

Reporting of Foreign Affairs.

Tim Hetherington: foreign correspondent. Killed in Libya in April 2011.

World affairs are woefully under-reported in the NZ media, which is unsurprising given the budget constraints that media managers have to operate under. Also unsurprising is the fact that such a bland and sanitised diet fails to raise much interest in the minds of the public – even though their ultimate fate lies in the hands of those overseas decision makers that should be being reported on. Much of the relatively little news about overseas events that does get through, does so in the form of syndicated articles from the major western news outlets. Media tycoons such as Rupert Murdoch are probably happy to let their stuff go cheap, as it is the implantation of their warped world view rather than the immediate cash returns that are their primary objectives.

In today’s electronic world, overseas reporting does not have to involve expensive placement of foreign correspondents and huge travel budgets. With a team of competent investigative journalists in hand, the committee should have little difficulty in identifying the best informed and most discerning bloggers and overseas based free-lance journalists internationally and presenting their work, uncontaminated by corporate or intelligence agency agendas, to the NZ public.

The Charter.

The media supervisory committee, chosen by lot, will have a charter under which to operate. There are multiple objectives, which their audience and the government acting on behalf of the tax-payer, will want to see in that charter. However there are three salient, clauses regarding national security which are behind the whole of the exercise. Wherever appropriate, the media materials emanating from the committee’s supervision should:

1. Draw attention to the need for the observance of international law and the enhancement of the UN’s powers.

2. Continuously inform and encourage public outrage at the continued deployment and development of nuclear weapons and offensive strategy by the major powers.

3. Encourage a decrease in unnecessary and unsustainable consumerism, while preparing the public to face the tribulations of the climate change to come.

When all the above is achieved, it is to be hoped that our political leaders will start to take on board the extent of their international responsibilities. Their duty to their electorate is to speak truth to other international leaders. Before we can expect our leaders to take such risks, we have first, to persuade the New Zealand electorate and then, other nations, to join the party. We cannot realistically expect our representatives to act without knowing firstly that they have the support of the nation behind them, and secondly that they do not stand quite alone and isolated, with no sympathetic nations beside them, in the corridors and halls of international power.

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