Policing political scrutiny; TVNZ talks New Zealand’s trusted newsrooms

In a time where the newsroom is becoming increasingly dictated by politics internationally, we talk to TVNZ’s acting head of news and current affairs, Graeme Muir on why New Zealand’s newsrooms are widely more trusted that our global counter parts.

All you have to do is compare our newsrooms to the likes of Fox and CNN to see the difference between those under strenuous political pressure and those who have a more direct approach. According to Muir, it helps that our newsrooms have transparent ownership and management.

“It’s no secret that TVNZ is government owned and commercially operated. Our mandate is stipulated by the Government, everything is publicly available. We pride ourselves on presenting balanced news and reserving opinion for other appropriate timeslots.”

Graeme Muir

That balance between opinion and fact is another highlightable difference between local vs global stages, which often give their presenters opportunities to share opinions between news segments.

For Muir, trust varies between outlets, and highlights the recent pandemic as an example.

“In times of crisis we tend to turn more to those we trust. We’ve built this with our viewers over many years, it’s at the heart of why they chose TVNZ to play a bigger role in their daily lives this year with the onset of Covid-19. We push to be first with a story, but we value getting it right more. We try to avoid breathless, overheated coverage.”

He says the balance does not have to be skewered by remaining profitable, and that you can have great journalism alongside being financially supported.

“TVNZ is commercially/self-funded and does achieve integrity. It’s something we balance all the time. The arrival of Covid-19 saw us take our public service role incredibly seriously. That was reflected in what and how we broadcast, for example; the special live 1pm Covid-19 updates daily and a massive focus on COVID-19 focus across all our news and current affairs shows.

“We strive for longevity. If we want that we must have integrity.You can risk legitimacy by chasing clicks and we don’t want to be a part of that. That race can be a race to the bottom where you just can’t win.”

A big part of securing that longevity is remaining a source of trusted news, which now days thanks in large part to social media, is becoming harder. Muir says even TVNZ isn’t immune to the threat of fake news.

“We need to continuously keep our guard up and not get complacent. Training and mentoring play very important roles in our newsroom. We teach reporters to check the veracity of everything, to determine the origin of any footage not shot by us, to check claims can be backed up with evidence.”

He says social media is one of TVNZ’s biggest challenges, yet acknowledges finding the balance between utilising platforms and knowing when to pull back.

“Social media certainly has benefits but it can also group a wide range of companies and services, local and international under one giant umbrella called ‘media’.

“It can easily be tainted by the actions of others – we work to just rise above it and keep doing what we do well. It always comes back to consistency.”

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