PM rips into journalists after 'attacks'

Last updated 00:00 01/01/2009

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Prime Minister Helen Clark has criticised the media, accusing journalists of lacking general knowledge and being too young to remember seminal events in New Zealand's history.

Speaking at the opening of a two-day journalism conference at Wellington's Massey University yesterday, Miss Clark also criticised a newspaper campaign against the Electoral Finance Act. She said the Government had put up with weeks and months of full-blooded attacks from the New Zealand Herald.

Journalism was a profession that carried with it a duty to act professionally and to adhere to an ethical base. The rights of the press carried responsibilities - truth, fairness and balance.

"Fairness and balance is in the eye of the beholder and ... we put up with quite a lot, especially when newspapers are in full campaign mode as the New Zealand Herald is at the moment.

"There have been weeks, if not months, with full-blooded attacks, front-page headlines, editorials, attack stories, cartoons, you name it."

Miss Clark said that, in her experience, complaining to the Press Council "just doesn't get you anywhere ... but that's life".

She also criticised New Zealand journalists for their lack of general knowledge and TV3 political editor Duncan Garner for a recent comment that politicians always lie.

"It's important that scrutiny not be confused with cynicism because in the end that grossly undermines the political process. If the public is encouraged to think everybody in public life is a dishonest person, where does it leave us?"

Very few journalists had studied history, sociology and economics and that left large gaps in general knowledge, she said. The political editors on the two main television channels were too young to remember seminal events like the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam, the 1981 Springbok tour and the sending of frigates to protest against nuclear tests at Mururoa.

"[Prime ministers Rob] Muldoon and David Lange are basically ancient history too and World War I and II are antediluvian."

Miss Clark also touched on The Dominion Post's publication last year of the Mohammed cartoons. "I was quite critical of the decision to publish ... but I never saw it as a freedom of speech issue. It's a question of editorial judgment and taste and what purpose was served."

The international guest speaker at the conference is Bethany McLean, the Fortune magazine journalist who helped expose the Enron scandal and co-wrote the book The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron.

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- The Dominion Post

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