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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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NatRad gives up on real news

13 November 2018

As I'm sure all regular readers of this column are aware, I am not particularly impressed with the objectivity or performance of today's mainstream media.

So much of their work is poorly researched, funded by advertisers and often little more than a press-release that has been "storified" by adding an intern's by-line to it.

I don't know that we suffer so much from "fake news" as just plain "lazy news" these days.

Of course commercial pressures are a powerful force for change and it does seem that this lazy "journalism" has arisen mainly since the Net effectively dismantled the old news-publishing models such as newspapers and "the evening news" on TV.

However, at least we have National Radio... right? That fine bastion of commercial-free reporting that enjoys the rare luxury of not having to generate advertising revenues and the benefit of receiving a stipend from the taxpayer.

Well I'm starting to think that even NatRad has gone down the gurgler.

In order to evaluate the performance of a news source, it is essential that you judge it on a subject with which you have a good knowledge, understanding and awareness of.

So yes, I'm sorry... we're talking drones again.

Yesterday the mainstream commercial (ie: tabloid) media was awash with reports that Wellington Airport had been closed down for half an our because a pilot saw a drone.

Okay, that's a fact worth reporting... but what followed was the usual "storification" of a press release.

NZALPA (the NZ Airline Pilots' Association) did their usual trick of rolling out a hysterical press release claiming that people were going to die... and most media outlets lapped it up. Some updated their earlier stories to include the rantings of Mr Tim Robinson (from NZALPA) and others took the opportunity to publish a whole new story... well that press release with an intern's by-line on it.

Ah... just think of the ad revenues... and profits are even higher when you let someone else (Mr Robinson) write your stories for you eh?

Now I had expected that RadioNZ would be a little more objective and do a little more research when they published their stories... but I was a tad disappointed.

Here is the story they published in the wake of the NZALPA press release.

For a start, it seems that RadioNZ don't use English. Let's look at the very first sentence of that "story":

"Pilots want the laws around drone use beefed up by the government as they wait for new technology to make the aircrafts safer."

"Aircrafts"???

I think that anyone with a primary school education in *real* English will understand that, like "sheep", "aircraft" is a collective noun and references a single or multiple units.

Want proof? Look here.

Now surely a journalist would need to have a reasonable grasp of the English language -- right?

So did Ben Strang, whose byline appears on the story, really write that?

Well I've noticed that NZALPA's Mr Robinson has been quoted as using the word "aircrafts" before -- so draw your own conclusions.

It is the job of any good journalist to challenge (or at least check) the assertions made by those being interviewed. If Mr Strang is so swayed by Mr Robinson's claims that it has even over-ridden the use of proper English on the part of the former... how an we trust any of the "facts" in this story?

And where were the really *big* questions from the RadioNZ journalist?

"Exactly how will tougher regulation affect the actions of those who are already breaking the regulations we do have by flying their drones near airports?"

"Given that the registration of drones and pilots has not resulted in a single prevention or apprehension anywhere in the world where this is done, what would be the purpose of introducing such a scheme here in New Zealand and who would pay for the not-insignificant cost?"

"Mr Robinson, you make a lot of noise about the danger of these recreational multirotor drones so can you please tell us how many lives they have claimed over the past decade?"

Nope... no sign of any questions that would effectively challenge the assertions made by NZAPLA, questions that a *real* old-school journalist would have been asking -- so as to ensure that the story had a modicum of balance.

I have emailed Mr Strang, suggesting that perhaps NatRad should be more balanced in its reporting and offering myself as an alternative (balancing) source of comment. It will be interesting to see if anything comes of it -- but I'm not going to hold my breath.

It would appear (although Mr Strang could yet prove me wrong) that NatRad has joined the collective of lazy, unprofessional mainstream media that shapes the minds of the public each and every day.

Beware... trust nobody... not even me! :-)

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