Saturday, November 3, 2012

Media happy to be manipulated

There was an interesting instance of the way in which the media and politicos operate to meet their respective purposes yesterday.

The Dominion Post ran a full page story profiling Secretary of Education Lesley Longstone, and her views on the state of education in New Zealand.

After a lengthy traverse of various issues (Finland or Singapore?) and re-treading of well-worn paths of some of the shambolic handling of sensitive issues (close Christchurch schools, anyone?), we get to the final paragraphs.

"But just as things start getting comfortable, you note Ms Longstone is also the past master of the casually provocative statement."

You can almost hear the journalist (one Philip Matthews) salivating at the prospect of the print equivalent of TV's 'sound-bite' - a juicy headline!

"This one might get New Zealand's teachers incensed all over again: 'There's no doubt that there is world-class practice in schools but it's not widespread,' she says.

'The best practice is not common practice.'"

End of article.

End of story.

And there you have the mutual back-scratching.

Matthews has his headline. And the chance to "get New Zealand's teachers incensed all over again". Which of course, will increase the readership of his article. And generate more column inches, and more Dominion Post readers. And so meet the needs of his paymasters, who expect him to generate eyeballs looking at Stuff pages, so they can sell those viewers to advertisers. Which, after all, is how Fairfax media makes it's money.

Longstone has her claim in the public domain, and the justification for future policies declaimed. Without challenge. Repeat the claim often enough, without justifying or supporting it, and the public will begin to see it as true, whether it is or not. Keep it simple and the stupid will believe it.

And the mutual back-scratching? Longstone doesn't have to justify her claim, because the journalist isn't interested in the substance, only the headline-making "provocative statement". So there is no effort to ask Longstone anything like: "And what's the evidence for this claim? How did you arrive at this view?" And Longstone doesn't therefore have to defend her stance. Just roll-on with her ideological agenda.

Longstone's next step, of course, is to get her Minister, Parata, to follow the same path, and use the same claim to justify government policy.

Watch this space.