Tuesday, January 11, 2011

NZ journalists: Homophobic or lazy?

A recent controversy in New Zealand suggests New Zealand’s journalists are lazy, homophobic or both.

The controversy arose because McDonald’s restaurants in New Zealand blocked from its free WiFi service many New Zealand websites that it, in its sole opinion, deemed to be not “family friendly”. Predictably, that includes GLBT sites: GayNZ.com, New Zealand’s leading site for news and information for the GLBT communities, is blocked. Also blocked is Rainbow Youth, for GLBTQ youth, and Agender, the leading transgender information website, among others. GayNZ.com issued an open letter to McDonald’s and reported all of this on its website.

The New Zealand Herald, with the NZPA (basically, New Zealand’s wire service), and TV One News all reported this on their websites and included quotes from a press release from Bob McCoskrie, head of the rightwing extremist “Christian” organisation “Family” First. New Zealand journalists often turn to McCoskrie for comment on GLBT-related news, despite the fact that his group is rabidly anti-gay and pushing a fundamentalist “Christian” political agenda.

These facts are precisely why McCoskrie was unfit to turn to for reaction: His group will always have a position against gay people. Had the journalists covering this story provided this information to the reader, had readers been aware of the extreme religious bias of McCoskrie’s group, they could’ve put his comments in the proper context (well, put them in the rubbish bin, where they belong).

But New Zealand journalists never tell their readers/viewers about the nature of McCoskrie’s political group, so news consumers are left to assume his group’s just some sort of legitimate “family” organisation rather than the anti-gay, extremist religious political group that it really is.

McCoskrie, of course, was allowed to present his views entirely unchallenged, because apparently NZ journalists think that no one can possibly disagree with a fundamentalist Christian’s viewpoint. In fact, McCoskrie was dishonest: He claimed “The issue is not about the type of group,” when he knows damn well that’s exactly what it was about. He said “material which is adult-rated should be blocked in a public setting” without bothering to mention that to him and his group anything dealing positively with GLBT people or issues is automatically “adult-rated”, even if it's entirely non-sexual.

McCoskrie was also allowed to push his rightwing political agenda, specifically, calling for censorship “in schools and libraries”. He knows that in the US, internet filters used by such institutions have blocked legitimate informational websites, including those with information that could save the lives of GLBT youth.

What journalists should have done is approach experts in civil liberties: Do private businesses that provide a free and open internet connection still have a right to censor what sites users see? Or, they could’ve talked to experts in tech censorship issues, asking about the sorts of broad-brush filtering McDonald’s uses and what might be more appropriate for them. They could also have approached the children’s commissioner for comment. They should have contacted the office of the Chief Censor to find out what’s really “adult-rated” web content, not just accept what some religious extremist thinks it is.

I don’t believe that New Zealand journalists are necessarily homophobic, if by that one means deliberately anti-gay. However, I also believe that sometimes an anti-gay slant slips in, even unintentionally, because of personal assumptions, personal prejudices, etc., and that may lead journalists to, as in this case, pick inappropriate persons for comment on issues affecting GLBT people.

I think this incident shows that more often than not, they’re just being lazy—turning to opponents who show up at their door (or email inbox) rather than them doing real journalism and actually exploring an issue. What they did is quicker and easier in a newsroom with declining resources and falling numbers of journalists.

However, journalists must remember that balance doesn’t mean turning only to the opposite viewpoint (that’s lazy), nor does fairness mean giving “both sides” equal time (that’s sloppy as well as lazy), especially when one "side" is irrelevant to the story being discussed.

Lazy journalists turn to bigots to provide “balance” to gay stories because they seem to think we can’t have an intelligent discussion of issues affecting GLBT people without letting religious extremists have their say, too. I’ll keep harping on this unless and until journalists either stop this lazy and homophobic practice, or if they start turning to white supremacists when discussing issues of race.

Fair and balanced means always using bigots or never using them. It’s that simple.


Nik said...

I think lazy, underpaid, overworked, staff cuts, et cetera are the answer here, that and the all hyperbole all the time mentality that seems to have taken over lately.

d said...

I really really wish the NZ Herald read your blog. I want to send them this post and say: yeah! What he said! Stop being lazy assholes!

Anonymous said...

So they're lazy if they print an opinion that disagrees with yours? Wow! Now that's open minded tolerance. Let's just blame the media and label them lazy.

Arthur Schenck said...

Nik: That's a very good point. It's not just if it bleeds it leads, but also if there's some sort of sensationalism.

D: Thanks! Actually, it was the Herald article that prompted me to look a little deeper!

Anonymous: Not at all; my opinion is irrelevant, and so, for that matter, is McCoskrie's. It is lazy for journalists to use a press release from a known and predictable politico-religious opponent of gay people to provide some imaginary "balance" to a story affecting GLBT people.

Had journalists done any of the things I suggested, it wouldn't have been lazy. This clearly didn't occur to you, but there's no reason to think that I would necessarily have agreed with any of those credible sources, but their opinions would at least be relevant.

By the way, I never mentioned my opinion on the underlying story anywhere in my post, so you're just assuming what my opinion is. If a journalist did that, it, too, would be lazy.

The larger point here is that journalists using bigots as the default way to "balance" any story relating to GLBT people is lazy. I've talked about that a lot on my blog and will continue to do so.

I demand that journalists do a better job because democracy cannot function without an informed citizenry, and news coverage like I mention in this post does a disservice to that goal.

And finally, I take all comments on this blog seriously, whether I agree or not.

Unknown said...

It is a good point that they always seem to go for the extreme view whenever LGBT issues are discussed.

As for Anonymous it is lazy when they don't bother to seek out opinion and just present the extreme "hatred" from family first because it is there.

McCoskrie is free to have his opinion but the really interesting angle here is has McDonalds breached NZ human rights laws which doesn't allow for discrimination.

Too often anything LGBT is blocked simply because it is deemed as adult. I would be interested if McCroskrie site and in particular if the evil and hatred site of godhatesfags website is blocked.

These are the sort of things the reporters could have investigated.

But no they didn't bother.

Roger Owen Green said...

I say lazy, which US journalists tend to do too.

And, BTW, Anon, you're lazy too, for slopping your opinion out there without the guts to identify yourself, even pseudonymously.

Anonymous said...

You're labelling McCoskrie a bigot now. Wow! More intolerance from those demanding tolerance.

Arthur Schenck said...

Mark: That's an interesting point about the Human Rights Act, one I hadn't thought of, and you're right: A non-lazy journalist could've asked about all that!

Roger: There's a bit of a campaign in the US to get the news media to stop using bigots as "go to" sources for "balance" on all issues related to GLBT people.

Anonymous: Assuming you're the same Anonymous as before, and that's both a logical and an understandable assumption, you really didn't read my post very carefully, did you? First you accused me of "blaming the media" because you imagined that my never-stated opinion doesn't coincide with someone else's, and then in this comment you say "You're labelling McCoskrie a bigot now." Um, no, I actually did that in the post itself (last full paragraph: "Lazy journalists turn to bigots…").

I also notice that you use the favourite rightwing tactic of accusing liberals like me of being "intolerant" when we have the temerity to call things by their proper names. Rightwingers think that we liberals—who do, in fact, value tolerance—will be shamed into backing off and remaining silent. I don't fall for that cynical ploy.

Tolerance means accepting that people (right or left) are entitled to hold whatever opinion they want, no matter how boneheaded others (right or left) may think it is. At no time have I ever said that McCoskrie isn't entitled to his opinions, as everyone else is, too, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum.

However, McCoskrie has a long history of advancing a rightwing religious agenda, including constant denigration and smearing of gay and lesbian people and arguing against our full participation in society. To this day, he and his group oppose legal recognition of GLBT relationships solely because they don't fit his religious views.

The fact that he seeks to force his religious views on others, preventing them from having rights—or perhaps taking away rights they already have—while using distortions or falsehoods to advance that agenda, makes him a bigot.

You want to talk about tolerance? Fine, let's do that: McCoskrie doesn't have any. I'm supposed to be "tolerant" of McCoskrie's view that my 15-year relationship isn't real or legitimate and mustn't be recognised by the state, but he doesn't have to be tolerant of the fact that the state does recognise it. I have to be tolerant of his right to preach against GLBT people at every opportunity, but he doesn't have to be tolerant of GLBT people, even when it means just using the Internet in a public place to access non-adult sites.

That's why I won't play your cynical game: Rightwingers frame it as a scenario in which only the right is ever correct. To rightwingers, tolerance is a one-way street in which liberals must be tolerant of everything the right says and does, never saying or doing anything in opposition, but the right never has to be tolerant of anything the centre or left does or says—they're free to defame us with giddy abandon (and they do).

The thing you don't seem to get, Anonymous, is that launching bizarre and baseless ad hominem attacks on me contributes nothing to this debate but serves only to harden the battle lines. If you had a serious interest in discussion and the free exchange of ideas, you'd present reasons as to why you think I'm wrong, why you think it isn't lazy for journalists to turn to rightwing politico-religious folks every time they discuss issues affecting GLBT people (because that was what my post was about). Or, you could even refute my charge that McCoskrie is a bigot. Attacking me does none of that.

Maupassant said...

Amerinz. I agree with your original point, criticising the quick shortcut of seeking the opinion of a well-known extremist to achieve "balance" (can that word mean the same any more since Fox twisted it beyond recognition?)

I further admire your patient, polite, and clear replies to 'Anonymous', which is more than I could have managed.