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Hammering the MC

By Steven | August 11, 2017

Mike Hosking for TVNZ election debate moderator? Doesn’t look like many would vote for him, even though he’s the best person for the job according to a very well-placed source.

The problem is obvious. He is, in fact, biased. Apparently this doesn’t concern TVNZ, which seems remarkable right there. On the other hand, as Bill Ralston points out, the role is basically that of a traffic cop. I think this understates the importance of the choice and tone of the questions (which I hope are at least being overseen by someone else). It also understates the dangers of being pulled over by a traffic cop who thinks you are contemptible.

So 18,000 people on current count have signed a petition to dump Hosking as debate moderator. I don’t think Hosking should be moderator. But I haven’t signed the petition. That’s because it invokes the balance standard from the Broadcasting Act. Here it is:

Section 4(1)(d) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 requires broadcasters to maintain standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Call me a media law geek, but I have to point out that this is basically irrelevant to the question. For one thing, we can’t tell whether Hosking has breached this standard until we have seen his performance. He didn’t do a bad job last time.

For another, it applies over a period of time, and across all the coverage. Any lack of balance in one programme can be corrected by supplying it in a later one.

For another, this standard is about issues, not about people.

The standard that may be relevant is fairness. Every programme has to be fair to those involved. But again, that will turn on Hosking’s performance. You can’t complain under the Broadcasting Act in advance of a programme about the selection of a host.

But for me, there’s a more powerful reason to criticise TVNZ’s debate coverage. It screws over the Greens and NZ First, and therefore the voting public. I know their polling has dipped a bit, but a debate with them included would be much more useful to the public than one between the two major parties. The debates matter, and can have real effects. TVNZ is picking sides: it’s biased toward the two big parties. It sends the implicit message that they’re the only ones worth taking seriously. That other parties’ agendas aren’t worthy of the big stage.

I’m not suggesting this is legally challengeable. Judges won’t interfere with decisions like this unless they are utterly bone-headed. And excluded parties broadcasting standards challenges have never succeeded. TVNZ can certainly come up with a rationale to survive those sorts of challenge.

But, really. Why not have a leaders’ debate with the two big parties, then a four-party one, then one with the minor parties?

TV3, I hope you’re listening.



Topics: General | 4 Comments »

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