Monday, January 28, 2013

The Demise of Objective Journalism?

In his blog post this week, Kiwi journalist Karl du Fresne laments the loss of an objective viewpoint in the mainstream media.  In particular, he comments on the obvious bias of New Zealand television current affairs presenter John Campbell. Personally, I don't watch John Campbell and haven't done so since the 2005 election campaign in which he was so one-sided in his coverage (in favour of the left-of-centre Labour Party and its leader, Prime Minister Helen Clark, and against the right-of-centre National Party) that his broadcasts resembled the party political advertisements that were being run between the programme segments rather than a current affairs show.  However, I commented on du Fresne's blog that I did not agree with him that journalists had some sort of moral obligation to be unbiased.  If someone like John Campbell wants to push his personal political views, then those like myself who don't agree with him can turn his programme off. Fortunately, in most Western countries at least, we are not yet in the position where we are forced to watch such biased opinion masquerading as informed commentary.  Don't get me wrong, I think Campbell abuses the trust that the viewing public and the channels owners are placing in him and should be sacked, but the reason it doesn't bother me is that I know he and his kind are doomed.

The mainstream media in most Western countries is becoming increasingly fragmented and traditional newspaper, television and radio outlets are becoming uncompetitive and unprofitable.  The reason for this is, of course, the huge growth of online media such as news websites, blogs, and instant message feeds.  I get most of my news from online sources. I no longer subscribe to a major daily print newspaper and rarely watch or listen to television and radio news. On my iPad I have the dozens of feeds from media outlets all over the world, all funneled through some very smart software applications that know what I am interested in and enjoy reading and watching.  Many of my sources of news and commentary are individuals or very small businesses rather the traditional large corporate and government media outlets that dominate the mainstream media.  I often get the news unfiltered, in real-time from people on the ground in New York, Moscow, Benghazi or Harare and I get a much broader and better informed range of opinions than I ever got from New Zealand's television networks, radio channels and daily newspapers.  I know that I am immensely better informed and have access to a much broader range of editorial comment than I ever was when I relied on traditional print and broadcast media.

The new on-line media allow me to be far more selective and far more precise about my sources of news.  They allow me to pick and choose from a broad smorgasbord of information rather than having to take the set menu that the likes of TV3 (the New Zealand television channel that employs John Campbell) serves up each night. I am not alone – every other informed consumer of news I know has made the transition (but perhaps not as completely as I have) to online sources.

The only reason the likes of John Campbell survive is because they are part of the set fare that New Zealand network television viewers are forced to consume each night.  But it is only a matter of time before almost all video, including news and current affairs, is watched on the Internet rather than on broadcast TV.  Viewers and advertisers will be much more selective about the content they consume and pay for.  I cannot imagine that anyone in this new world will want to pay to hear the ill-informed, petty and highly-biased comments of a silly New Zealand current affairs presenter.  Can you?