The media

We know we can't trust what the media says in places like China and Russia. But can we trust Western media? Conspiracy theories abound - and I'm not prone to believe them. Generally I put things down to incompetence.

I was assigned to a project team in a government department in the early days of computers (before PC's). A short time later I asked to be taken off, and when this was denied, I resigned. A brief stint as a trainee programmer taught me that, unlike my wife, I'm no programmer - but it did (unlike my computer paper at university) give me a broad understanding of this new field. Later I was introduced to systems analysis, which was more my area, but that was after I returned a year later to help my colleagues implement this system.

The computer team had spent the year playing with boxes - but there was no software. It seems incredible today, but that was the essence of my sad conclusion. When I told my boss, he asked me to write a report. I knew this had to be written carefully, so held back on my criticism (not very successfully) - but made it clear this was a disaster. He then toned it down, as did his four superiors - the last being the General Manager.

Another major government computer project had gone wrong, so the government was keen to promote a positive picture of them and computers. The next thing I knew the associate finance minister made a speech in which our system was held up as a shining example. Was he lying? What he described was a far cry from what I knew - but the information he was relying on had been filtered each stage of the way - a bit like Chinese whispers.

The BBC has for years been seen as a standard of independence (albeit gently left wing) - yet even it has lost some of that aura. As for most Western media, on most issues we need to read both a "left" and a "right" perspective, and the truth is probably some combination between them. The really scary thing is when both sides portray the same picture of an issue.

One example always in the news is the Israeli situation. There are things there that just don't make sense. I came across an article which filled in some (by no means all) missing parts of the picture - not about the Israeli situation - but about the media coverage of it. Similarly we see much information on Al-Jazeera which is simply not made available in Western media - partly because it focuses on the West. When my son was in Europe, I searched on population centres of Europe. London is twice as big as any other - and it isn't as big as the small Chinese city where my daughter has spent nearly two years.

All mainstream media has preconceived ideas that influence what issues they cover, and how they cover them.

An alternative is to use the internet. The internet has helped me understand things I've long assumed were true and which have different perspectives. Of course so much garbage floods the internet it's dangerous to rely on things we learn there. We can find things on there that support any view we want. As I see it, the big danger is not the obvious scams or even biased presentations. It's those that present 10% lies with 90% truth.

A RNZ article gave an interesting summary of the decline of fact checking in the media. Several factors contribute, such as reduced budgets and pressure to get reports out. They point to several stand-alone services that do nothing but check facts, such as FactCheck and PolitiFact, which rates claims as either true, mostly true, mostly false or “pants on fire”.

So stay informed - but always question the facts - even from our once trusted local news sources.

Last Modified

Last modified: 05 December 2020.