Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Hot Media

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  • Craig Ranapia,

    The comments at hot-topic were nothing like the sort of sewer you get from the kiwiblog right.

    Tom: Speaking as someone who's been actionably defamed by both the rabid right and the loony left trolls on that particular forum, you might want to set your moral bar a little higher than the bottom of the Mariana Trench. I'm certainly making no apologies for making it clear to DPF that the next time one of his resident left-wing trolls accuses me of 'supporting a paedophile', he's going to get a nastygram from Sue, Grabbit and Runne.

    If Pamela had chosen to respond to either Poneke or Hot Topic, she would have been assured of a verbatim transmission of what she had to say. The fact that she immediately chose the route of legal threat and a dictated "apology and correction" saddens me greatly. No editor should do that.

    Russell: To play devil's advocate for a moment (and since Tom drew the analogy) Pamela might have decided there was about as much point in engaging with a forum where she'd already been found guilty of whoring herself to corporate special interests, as there is for Helen Clark to try entering into a rational dialogue with Ian Wishart? I'll make it clear right now that I don't think that's a fair characterisation of Poneke or Hot Topic, but I sure don't think the level of vitriol has been entirely constructive. I certainly haven't found it particularly enlightening.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Russell: To play devil's advocate for a moment (and since Tom drew the analogy) Pamela might have decided there was about as much point in engaging with a forum where she'd already been found guilty of whoring herself to corporate special interests, as there is for Helen Clark to try entering into a rational dialogue with Ian Wishart?

    For goodness sake, Craig: read the post in question before you start throwing around Wishart comparisons.

    Steven Price has a link to a copy of it, as well as some withering criticism of the legal intimidation:

    I don’t say that because I’m a free speech absolutist, or because I think the internet ought to be a law-free zone. In general, I think people who defame others online deserve all they get. I doubt this is the first time internet material has been removed in NZ as a result of a legal threat, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Nope, I object to this because I think the Listener has used a tenuous legal claim to bully a blogger into retracting some moderate and reasonable criticisms. I don’t like it when anyone does this, but it’s particularly ugly when the heavies are acting for the media ...

    The correction and apology looks ham-fisted to me. It even includes a retraction of things that weren’t even in the post.

    The proper response would have been a one-line letter politely telling the Listener to sit on its thumb. I doubt that any further action would have been taken. But bloggers, and those who host their blogs, can’t always be that brave. That’s what makes leaning on assertions of legal rights in situations like this reprehensible, I think. I would have been much more persuaded by a thoughtful and factual response from the Listener’s editor on the blog itself setting out the magazine’s version of the story. It would have been much cheaper. And much more in keeping with the Listener’s commitment to open inquiry. And it wouldn’t have produced what’s likely to be an explosion of interest in the criticisms…

    I thoroughly agree.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22747 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    For goodness sake, Craig: read the post in question before you start throwing around Wishart comparisons.

    Sorry, was "I'll make it clear right now that I don't think that's a fair characterisation of Poneke or Hot Topic" somehow ambiguous? I think' my contempt for Wishart and his rag (which you can't even use as long drop arse wipe because the glossy paper isn't absorbent) isn't cristal clear. But I sure don't blame Clark and Peter Davis for (reportedly) seriously investigating legal action over the last pile of slime from that quarter. Nor would I be surprised if any interview requests from IW go unanswered by Clark.

    As I've said to you privately, I have serious issues about defamation law being used as a weapon to intimidate and silence criticism. (And IMO bloggers are particularly vulnerable, because few have the backing of a parent with deep pockets and access to A-list defamation experts for years on end.) It doesn't immediately follow, however, that there aren't occasions where an acid-etched nastygram from Messers Sue, Grabbit and Runne isn't an entirely appropriate response.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • insider outsider,

    Since when is getting a correction and apology “legal intimidation”? If there was a risk of legal action wouldn’t you want someone who knew something about the law to front it? This whole ‘intimidation’ meme was not credible in the original post and less so now, given the resulting apology.

    This is not some poor-me individual blogger. Renownden and Hansford are professional writers. They know the rules. Hot Topic is part funded by AUT Media, a professional publishing company, just like APN. Sounds like a contest of equals to me.

    Were AUT Media’s lawyers involved in the decision? Perhaps they could see the wood and were not blinded by the trees of righteousness?

    The correction and apology itself is pretty damning. You can often tell how wrong someone has got it by the level of the correction. Note it wasn’t just a clarification but an all out correction and apology. If you have ever tried to get one from the media, you know how hard that can be.

    The word ‘apology’ tells you why there is wording about something that didn’t appear in the story – it was covering any inferences that may have been drawn not just correcting the wording. I think Stephen Price is wrong in making a point of that and in his characterisation that the original piece was “largely a model of fairness”. He seems to ignore the headline “climate cranks claim another scalp” which leaves no doubt in my view as to what the conclusions of the story were. As it turns out they were just the imaginings of a couple of people, and if anything was ham fisted it was their conclusions.

    nz • Since May 2007 • 142 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    The correction and apology itself is pretty damning. You can often tell how wrong someone has got it by the level of the correction.

    Note it wasn’t just a clarification but an all out correction and apology. If you have ever tried to get one from the media, you know how hard that can be.

    Are you really that naive? The correction was dictated. It was run, and the original post deleted, as a consequence of a legal threat that arrived late on a Friday afternoon, allowing no time for advice. Steven is right. If you're happy to see this become commonplace you're crazy.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22747 posts Report Reply

  • insider outsider,

    I have no doubt that the correction was offered by the offended party - that is standard practice. There is nothing dictating that Hot Topic had to accept it or that it run it without advice.

    They could have taken down the post temporarily until they got that advice.

    Seems odd they caved in to pressure when their whole post was about that subject and people not having the strength to withstand it. Perhaps they realised they had got it wrong, perhaps they did not feel it worth fighting, perhaps they were intimidated. If so, that's a shame but we should remember that lawyers are as often wrong as they are right, and they don't make the law nor do they enforce it, so their letters can be hollow.

    nz • Since May 2007 • 142 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Hot Topic is part funded by AUT Media, a professional publishing company, just like APN. Sounds like a contest of equals to me.

    Um, not quite... I had to seriously self-censor last week's PA Radio commentary, because I came to the conclusion that my (shall we say) unfiltered opinion of Bridget Saunders and the organ she write for would have clearly broken broadcasting standards, and arguably defamed both Saunders & SST editor Cate Brett.

    It might have been defensible as 'honest opinion' -- and I don't think Radio Live is short of a bob or two --, but I sure don't have the money or the energy to take that kind of risk without a damn good reason. Nor do I think Russell or the production company that makes PAR would thank me for taking them along for the ride.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Dave Hansford,

    Certain individuals have put a great deal of time and effort here and elsewhere into trying to draw attention away from the Climate Science Coalition, which is where the spotlight should remain firmly focused.

    It’s important to remember the fundamental issue that provoked this saga, which has given us an opportunity to critically appraise the issue of the media’s handling of the climate denial industry.

    If there’s to be a positive outcome, let’s hope it will be that the media finally (if belatedly) steps back from this counterproductive modus operandi and conducts instead a lucid re-analysis of its relationship with the denial industry (and by extension, US conservative front groups).

    We need to replace the denial industry in its correct position and appropriate status in climate change reporting.

    That is to say; we recognise them for what they are, and duly attribute them so; political lobbyists pushing a free-market agenda. With the exception of Chris deFreitas THEY ARE NOT CLIMATE SCIENTISTS (and my understanding of Chris’ work is that it does not focus on global climate modelling).

    Given that they are in fact a political entity, instead of a scientific one, let’s by all means consider and report their comments on mitigation policy, pricing instruments, even energy options (that’s something Bryan Leyland can at least claim some experience in). That is their rightful place in climate change coverage.

    Let’s hope the media can – as did the BBC and the New York Times – come up with an editorial policy that does not deny readers the critical information they need to evaluate the claims by the Climate Science Coalition.

    That information is;
    * that these people are not qualified (again, with the possible exception of deFreitas) to call the IPCC’s findings into question,

    *that they are paid by industry to stall progress on climate change policy,

    *and that they shown repeatedly that they will attempt to have critical reporters silenced.

    The Listener’s “right of reply” piece this week denied its readers even that basic background – as does virtually all mainstream media treatment. (Incidentally, its piece – also this week – on evolution, did not go to any creationists for their comments. It seems “balance” is being employed selectively)

    That firmly established, we then need to decide precisely what weight, in terms of percentage coverage, we give them. They represent a minority position, and a still smaller one at that. I think that would be an excellent place to begin.

    Finally, the media must apply the same standards of accuracy, balance and credibility to these sources as they expect of their own reporters. There has been a signal failure to do this.

    The media is complicit in this. We helped create this monster; we gave it oxygen, energy and exposure. We lent it a credibility it has not earned. Now it’s turned around and bitten us. It’s out of control, and we have to decide what to do about it.

    CSC is not only attempting to subvert media process; it's intensively lobbying local and central government in an attempt to stall climate policy.

    Given their backing from the likes of the US front groups Heartland Institute and the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, we may want to examine whether we have a sovereignty issue on our hands as well.

    Climate change is the single biggest, most important environmental threat New Zealanders face, and the media, by pandering to the denial industry, has manifestly failed to give them the quality of information they need to respond to it. Meanwhile, we squander our most precious resource; time.

    Nelson • Since Apr 2008 • 28 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Climate change is the single biggest, most important environmental threat New Zealanders face, and the media, by pandering to the denial industry, has manifestly failed to give them the quality of information they need to respond to it. Meanwhile, we squander our most precious resource; time.

    Hey, you write pretty well and sound like you have a strong opinion on this, but backed up by real information.

    You should have a column in some sort of nationally distributed magazine. People should hear about what's going on, after all.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Did somebody mention Gordon Campbell?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22747 posts Report Reply

  • Kim Griggs,

    I was part of a group of four writers who wrote a science column for the Listener for a couple of years. Our idea, promoted to Pamela in the first instance by Marilyn Head, was to provide stories about the abundance of interesting science that is being done in New Zealand. Our hope was that the stories would show the array of different aspects of New Zealand's science community - there are some great stories out there - but also build up an appreciation of science so that there is an understanding, and critical thought about what science can and can't do. So that when we debate climate change or nanotechnology or GE or xenotransplantation or the Large Hadron Collider, there can be more light and less heat in our discussions. We eventually quit - spat the dummy truth to be told - when we were told our stories had an endorsing (of science) tone. This, from a magazine that had run a story about laughter yoga (well written though it was) under the science and health banner.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 19 posts Report Reply

  • Shep Cheyenne,

    The NZCSC had diner with Don Brash, but some others were left out in the cold.

    http://flatearthersnz.blogspot.com/

    Since Oct 2007 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    The NZCSC had diner with Don Brash, but some others were left out in the cold.

    That's choice.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22747 posts Report Reply

  • rodgerd,

    when we were told our stories had an endorsing (of science) tone.

    *blinks*

    That's it. I really do live in a post-Enlightenment epoch. Guess I better start stockpiling ammo for the next Dark Ages.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 512 posts Report Reply

  • Kim Griggs,

    when we were told our stories had an endorsing (of science) tone.

    I think part of the problem with this whole debate is that there is not one person - to my knowledge - employed as a science reporter by the daily mainstream media in New Zealand. Not one.

    I imagine we're the only 'developed' country in that position.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 19 posts Report Reply

  • Gareth,

    I think part of the problem with this whole debate is that there is not one person - to my knowledge - employed as a science reporter by the daily mainstream media in New Zealand. Not one.

    Precisely. The sceptics get away with publishing nonsense because there's no-one on staff to point out the errors.

    I can only hope that as the real seriousness of the climate issue becomes more apparent, and climate policy becomes mainstream, then most media will be able to spot the whoppers before they hit the press.

    Bucolic in the backblocks… • Since Jan 2008 • 269 posts Report Reply

  • Kim Griggs,

    It's probably not quite the right analogy but isn't the insistence on including sceptics 'for balance' in the climate debate akin to telling Guyon Espiner or Duncan Garner to include anarchists in every report about New Zealand's politics?

    And furthermore, harking back to the endorsing science comment, we don't ask our press gallery reporters to debate whether or not we should actually have a parliamentary democracy - we discuss the issues going on within that system.

    Do they 'endorse' parliamentary democracy by reporting on what's going on within it?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 19 posts Report Reply

  • Shep Cheyenne,

    Kim I'ld like a bit more involvement from all cnrs of society. I think Chomsky is an Anachist - they claim him as one of theirs (Pharlap phenomenon) - so I wouldn't dismiss a political belief out of hand.

    Just be aware of who they are and how many they represent.

    I would far prefer a more particapatory democracy rather than our representative democracy. A constitution to tie the hands of power would be a good start too.

    Since Oct 2007 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • Kim Griggs,

    I knew anarchists was the wrong choice for the analogy as soon as I posted it. How about the Spartacus League then? I think they are obscure enough to make my point.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 19 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Hosking,

    Couple of points:

    One is that like many posters here I'd like to see greater scientific literacy, if thats the word, among journalists. There's an inbuilt bias away from the sciences in journalism, because most of us (myself included) are artsy types.

    Its of particular concern, I guess, because our economy depends pretty much exclusively on 'life sciences'.

    I don't agree though that only qualified climate scientists are entitled to be reported on the subject of climate change, (although one good side effect would be it would shut Al Gore up).

    To quote somebody or other, we didn't abolish the divine right of kings in order to fall down before the divine right of experts. This is a public policy debate.

    South Roseneath • Since Nov 2006 • 830 posts Report Reply

  • James Green,

    I think part of the problem with this whole debate is that there is not one person - to my knowledge - employed as a science reporter by the daily mainstream media in New Zealand.

    Something that makes me gloomy is that TV3 trot out DOCTOR Lillian Ng (their emphasis) on health issues. I think this adds a certain richness to some issues, but I lament her interpretation of health research. I know that we do train our doctors to a certain level of epidemiological knowledge, but mostly they're learning how to make us well, not understanding the nuances of the clinical research in the background.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 703 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    "we didn't abolish the divine right of kings in order to fall down before the divine right of experts. This is a public policy debate."

    Right, but expertise informs that debate.

    Climate scientists surely don't get to weigh policy outcomes, goals, etc, but their assessment of the state of affairs surely counts for more than some other random party? On what other grounds should anyone's opinion be privileged for broadcast? Big breasts and a lost dog, perhaps?

    I would regard it as an advance if the news media consistently identified who was actively working and publishing in their field, who was a think tank member (whether funded by Exxon or Greenpeace) and who had business interests at stake (whether in carbon generating industries or in mitigation).

    Finally, yes self-identified climate change skeptics may well have come by their opinions honestly and without financial incentives. Unfortunately, the history of things like the lung cancer-tobacco connection, with its front groups and industry-funded jiggered research, tends to make me skeptical of those skeptics, and wonder whether they aren't useful idiots.

    It amazes me that journalists' cherished skepticism isn't automatically aroused after the long history of corporate bamboozlement in other fields where science is disputed.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Finally, yes self-identified climate change skeptics may well have come by their opinions honestly and without financial incentives. Unfortunately, the history of things like the lung cancer-tobacco connection, with its front groups and industry-funded jiggered research, tends to make me skeptical of those skeptics, and wonder whether they aren't useful idiots.

    In some cases, it's the same people who were Big Tobacco people.

    And you're not the only one to draw parallels between the respective lobbies' tactics.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22747 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Something that makes me gloomy is that TV3 trot out DOCTOR Lillian Ng (their emphasis) on health issues. I think this adds a certain richness to some issues, but I lament her interpretation of health research. I know that we do train our doctors to a certain level of epidemiological knowledge, but mostly they're learning how to make us well, not understanding the nuances of the clinical research in the background.

    I think of it as something should work but really just doesn't.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22747 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    I know that we do train our doctors to a certain level of epidemiological knowledge, but mostly they're learning how to make us well, not understanding the nuances of the clinical research in the background.

    Sure, but I'd like to think professional communicators would display some level of literacy and numeracy (or basic research skills) that wouldn't lead to utter bullshit like the rash of 'anti-depressants don't work - studies show' stories that were doing the rounds a few weeks back. No insult to our host intended, but it's pretty depressing when Russell time and again seems to have put more effort into getting a fact-based grip on health stories than MSM hacks who supposedly have the resources of major media outlets at their beck and call. It's not unreasonable to expect a little effort to get it right, rather than right now when you're running a health scare story that could (literally) affect life and death decisions made by viewers.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

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