Time to beat a different drum, Winston

It is all a bit predictable these days.

Blame the media for just about everything which is inconvenient or embarrassing from a politician’s point of view.

Globally, the blame-game with the media at its heart has become part of a broader strategy by some governments to either hide or rewrite the truth.

Darn those pesky reporters for daring to reveal what is really going on and for trying to uphold the sanctity of facts.

Former United States president Donald Trump took the lead in this, by attempting to disarm journalists and undermine their reputations by attacking their work and the media outlets they work for.

Get the people mistrusting the media and you can potentially get away with far more — corruption and sleaze and even an attempted insurrection, for example.

This belligerent, even at times bordering on violent, approach to journalists who have the audacity to ask questions has been taken up with gusto by the leaders of countries such as Russia, Israel and Brazil.

It also ties in beautifully with the guidelines in the conspiracy theorists’ manifesto.

Once you’ve cast enough doubt in the minds of the gullible about journalists and the media, about what truth is and isn’t, you can race through the middle of the pack with your swag-bag stuffed full of misinformation and disinformation.

Illustration: Mat Patchett
Illustration: Mat Patchett
The last thing we want is for New Zealand discourse to be skewed by doubtful or dubious claims any more than it already has done during the past few years.

A big step towards warding this off is to have politicians who believe in truth and in the value of independent journalism, and who are unafraid to support the importance of a free media in any properly functioning democracy.

Instead of abnegating his responsibilities in this area, we would like to see our newly appointed deputy prime minister Winston Peters conduct himself in more statesmanlike fashion.

Before opening his mouth, he needs to think how his utterings undermining the media might affect our democracy.

Mr Peters has always had a crotchety relationship with the New Zealand media. Some of it has been a bit of a front — behind the scenes he has often been helpful to reporters — but in recent years he appears to have taken a leaf out of the Trump playbook and baited reporters as a way of diverting them and media conferences, and ultimately the public, from the real issues.

However, what he can say and get away with as a party leader or as an aspiring MP is quite different to the views a deputy prime minister should express.

His most recent comments about the media and its independence come with the ink barely dry on the coalition agreement and on his ministerial warrant. He berated reporters at a press conference on Friday, and repeated his claims of media bias yesterday.

Mr Peters, somewhat ironically given his attitude to journalists, told media he wanted "mutual respect" and suggested that news agencies who had accepted money from the Public Interest Journalism Fund — originally set up in 2020 to help support journalists as Covid-19 struck — could not claim to be independent of the then government.

While he believed a neutral media was critical in a democracy, he said he hadn’t seen evidence of independence in the past three years from especially state-funded organisations RNZ and TVNZ, and called the PIJF "$55 million of bribery" whose raison d’etre could not be defended.

Former Labour broadcasting minister Willie Jackson was quick to call Mr Peters out, reminding him that the first Covid lockdown was a disastrous time for local media who needed support to carry on supporting democracy.

The PIJF, which ended in July, was not just for RNZ and TVNZ, and had been a "great investment" for many outlets, including the Otago Daily Times, Mr Jackson said.

Here at the ODT the fund has never once compromised our independence as the "Voice of the South".

It enabled us to ensure we could continue to bring our readers the most thorough coverage of happenings in our patch during a very challenging time for media.

Yes, Mr Peters, we agree.

Let’s have some of that "mutual respect" you talked about.