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.