How the MSM fails us on democracy

Democracy means more than one man, one vote. It requires an informed and engaged citizenry. The media’s role is not just to report authoritative talking heads. It is also to research and mediate complex and difficult ideas into accessible information, (though not top down Lippmann style) with the minimum of framing. Not just the big parties. The smaller parties too. Academics. Activists. At election time we should be able to decide from a smorgasbord of ideas and policies, not a tiny a la carte menu. How legitimate would a wine awards be if only a handful of vineyards were allowed to compete and they could only enter the same varietal made the same way with no entry for boutique vineyards with innovative techniques and new grape varieties? That’s how it is with politics.

In a Catch 22, new parties face not only the ridiculous 5% threshold for entry to Parliament, they are also denied the media oxygen they need to broadcast their policy ideas and get those votes. No publicity, few votes. Few votes, no publicity.

I can’t say I’m a fan of the Conservative Party’s policies. Colin Craig however seems a pleasant enough guy and has enough money and personal conviction to get politically active. Great! Yet like Kim Dotcom the media focus has been mostly on his perceived eccentricities, not what he says so much as how he says it. The Crazy Colin tag has become prevalent (the election billboards didn’t help) because he didn’t know enough about the chemtrail and moon landing conspiracy theories to form an opinion. Perfectly reasonable. Not in politics. The MSM set him up and turned having no definitive opinion into a yes I believe in them. For being naive he became an object of ridicule. Nothing to do with his policies. Media wasn’t interested in those, just his reluctance to rule out a couple of fringe theories until he had found out more about them. Will that residual ridicule and perception stop the Conservatives getting over 5% and alter this election?

Mana have a policy of full employment. Not a single MSM journalist to my knowledge has asked them anything about it or tried to do some research. Yet before 1984 it was central to all the parties economic policies. Is the idea now that radical or unworthy of discussion? Likewise their push for a Universal Basic Income, something the Greens would also like to explore. Same story. No coverage despite it also being a central pillar of Gareth Morgan’s Big Kahuna and a potential economic game changer. Plenty of air time on marijuana and supposed Internet-Mana rifts over it though. Have politics ratcheted so far to the right that what was centre policy 30 years ago is now radical left wing fringe?

How’s this for a crazy theory. All people are rational, utility maximising economic units and aggregating the sum of their self interested actions will create the optimal result for the economy and society. All markets are rational, all participants fully informed with equal information, and they always tend to equilibrium. Whatever the price it is the rational market price. There are no bubbles. Doesn’t sound very realistic does it. Yet these are core tenets of the neoliberal economic theory our two major parties have followed for 30 years, virtually uncontested in the MSM who refer to “experts” in the banking system and bureaucracy who are disciples of the same wacky ideas because that is what has been taught at university. They drive our trade policy, fiscal policy and monetary policy. It is all very self reinforcing (you don’t get the good jobs by being a square peg) and dissenting alternative theories don’t get a look in. Another intellectual monocrop.

Anyone who falls too far outside the stultifying consensus is going to be ridiculed or ignored. As is often the case, George Monbiot in The Guardian nails a major cause with his piece How the media shafted the people of Scotland. Despite the internet, we still need a good MSM.

Despite the rise of social media, the established media continues to define the scope of representative politics in Britain, to shape political demands and to punish and erase those who resist.

Often their only option is stunts a la Dotcom to get media air time. Ultimately this is self defeating as it permanently reduces you to a sideshow, someone not to taken seriously.

There is a working media model that can be expanded on. Radio New Zealand has fantastic shows in the weekend, a treasure trove of interesting guests and ideas that would never see the light of day in the rest of the MSM. This could be expanded on, both on radio and by reintroducing a public television vehicle like TV 7  seemed to promise before it was cut short by this government. There are a plethora of documentaries available. Academics from all disciplines could be interviewed or give TED like presentations. The public could ask questions. Debate on any number of important issues could be initiated beyond the same tight circle of politicians, journalists and pundits in Wellington. I’m sure there would be a number of journalists who would love to break free from their current media model and contribute more meaningfully to a more intelligent national discourse. That’s not patronising or pointy headed.

No, people can’t be compelled to watch. Maybe it is more “boring” than the TV diet they are currently fed. Maybe it will challenge a few of their existing prejudices and old beliefs. So be it. At least citizens have the option they do not have at present. And they can never say “no one told us” or “how was I to know”. You get the democracy you ask for.


  1. “Democracy means more than one man, one vote.”

    One of the tenets of modern democracy is the protection of the rights of the minority. In English law and the American constitution they are described as the natural rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

  2. […] true alternatives and for this reason have borne the full force of the establishment and their henchmen in the MSM. The joint concerted effort against Hone Harawira in Te Tai Tokerau bears this […]

  3. […] party’s platform – A Universal Basic Income and a Comprehensive Capital Tax. Given the facile nature of most of the New Zealand media I wont go holding my breath. Red Peak. Who […]

  4. I think UBI is more widely known than you think. YouTubers spread it along with Elon Musk saviour complex sh_t. Even non-corporate MSM can not be expected to reflect fringe views, and corporate MSM do reflect a lot of popular opinion, albeit with an unhelathy neoliberal bias. My thinking in recent times is that we can do a lot by simply raising our private conversations with friends to a higher level. Monetary dynamics is actually very engaging becasue you can talk about it in terms of people’s direct lived experiences and fears, the way Stephanie Kelton does… but even she could be improved upon. The basic idea we are crippling ourselves by trying to pay down the deficit is simple to explain, because everyone can understand the flow pipe imagery. It’s the same imagery used effectively to disabuse climate change skeptics; the global climate is like a bathtub of water, gets in heat from Sun (the tap), drains it through the plug hole (IR radiation) pretty much as fast as it fills up. Except if humans add a tiny amount of extra trapping, even 1% on top of the tap water, without altering the drain, we will accumulate over time and eventually warm the planet. This effectively combats rhetoric by deniers that anthropogenic warming is tiny – it is tiny, but it accumulates. So there is a very similar basic explanation of MMT Private surplus = government deficit is even simpler I think. People I talk to “get it” immediately and ask me why politicians are always complaining about the growing deficit. How about this as yet another ratchet effect: I think this monetary circuit dynamics idea is so simple, it cannot be forgotten, and cannot be disbelieved once understood, so eventually people will be win over to the “MMT” (misnomer: it is a dynamics not a theory) monetary dynamics awareness. Once we get awareness then the field opens wide for political activism.

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