Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Stop the press - a stimulating contribution to NZ media debate

A story, “Locked Up Warriors”, about the New Zealand jail culture on Al Jazeera’s East 101 series. See Tom Carnegie's story below on New Zealand journalists working at Al Jazeera. Image: Al Jazeera – Watch video.

SCOOP  has been hosting a lively series entitled The State of NZ News Media that is providing some rare insights into an industry under siege (not that you would know much about this from local publications). The short-term objective is identifying possible ways of reinventing Scoop and ensuring its future as the vital independent news service that it is.

A longer-term goal is giving New Zealand journalism an energy boost and new directions.

The State of NZ News Media
As part of the debate, some interesting pieces are coming to light on the wider issues of freeing New Zealand from the shackles of an insular and short-sighted industry. Niche media such as Scoop are essential for the country.

We need independent and vigorous media with an international outlook prepared to challenge the neo-liberal orthodoxies and prejudices, such as Australia has with the Antipodean edition of The Guardian, The Conversation, New Matilda, Crikey and others.

Alison McCulloch's provocative piece is a particularly good read: Stop the Press - is corporate media a flawed product? It is, of course. But Alison's argument concludes with her own personal response and suggestions about what to do:
I appreciate absenting myself from daily corporate churnalism isn’t going to bring about a media revolution. But the structural problems run so deep, this profit-making media monster simply can’t be fixed with a little tweaking about the edges.
From a journalism educator's point of view, the article reflects reasons why so many of our young, talented - but frustrated - graduates head overseas for greater challenges than available locally. Al Jazeera is among such targets for adventurous Kiwis.

One AUT recent graduate, Tom Carnegie, recently filed a piece on the so-called "Kiwi mafia" for Pacific Scoop. As it might have been overlooked in the Silly Season, Café Pacific regards it as worth running here.


By Thomas Carnegie of Pacific Scoop

A still from the  story, “Locked Up Warriors”, about
the New Zealand jail culture on Al Jazeera’s
East 101 series.

Al Jazeera English only launched in New Zealand on Freeview in 2013. But several Kiwis have been working for the Doha-based international news network since it began in 2006.

And now more than three score expat New Zealanders work at the 24/7 global news channel and are affectionately referred to by other staffers as “the Kiwi mafia”.

Pacific Scoop spoke to Wayne Hay, a former reporter for the channel turned freelance journalist, and Kamahl Santamaria, one of the network’s original news anchors, about the channel’s large New Zealand contingent and the challenges of working for an international news agency.

Both reporters were born and raised in New Zealand; Hay worked for TVNZ for five years before moving to Al Jazeera English in 2006, while Santamaria worked for TV3 for four years before he moved to the global channel in 2005, a year before it officially launched.

Kiwi work ethic
Santamaria says at least 35 New Zealanders work at the agency and he says the channel highly values the strong Kiwi work ethic.

“We are affectionately known as the Kiwi mafia. I think the no-nonsense working attitude of New Zealanders is appreciated here, be it editorially or technically,” he says.

Elizabeth Puranam, who originally worked for 3 News,
is now a news anchor with Al Jazeera.
Notable expats who work at the network include Elizabeth Puranam, who originally worked for 3 News and is now a news anchor for the channel.

Istanbul-based Anita McNaught is another well-known New Zealand journalist. She has worked for both TVNZ and Radio New Zealand in the past.

Tarek Bazley is another former Radio New Zealand employee. He is now Doha based and is a senior producer and reporter focused on science, technology and the environment.

‘Wildly different’
Santamaria says working for the network is “wildly different” from New Zealand for a number of reasons.

“Scale is the obvious one, the places where we go to are far and wide, and we deploy very quickly,” he says.

“The other thing is that, I feel, international news still struggles in New Zealand.

“I’d love to see a proper outlet for international news in New Zealand, where people can learn about the enormous stories going on round the other side of the world.”

Hay says working at the channel has put him in situations he never could have imagined while working for a New Zealand network.

He has been detained in Egypt for six days, he sneaked into Myanmar on a tourist visa to interview Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, days after she was released from her 15-year house arrest, and he was one of the first on the ground to cover both the Japanese tsunami and typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

With the network having immense resources for stories, Hay says funding is another major difference between New Zealand and international media.

“If the network likes an idea you pitch and they think there is value, then they will very rarely say no. So you do see stories from parts of the world you will not see anywhere else,” says Hay.

Gaining respect
Both journalists agree that the perception of the network has changed significantly since its launch.

“People treated us with suspicion to start with – an English version of ‘Terror TV’ was basically what they thought,“ says  Santamaria.

Hay adds that when he first started doing interviews for the network, people would often be reluctant to speak to him.

“They certainly knew of Al Jazeera but weren’t really sure what it was. It had gained a certain reputation after the events of 9/11," he says.

But Hay says as each year goes by, the channel gains more and more respect, and many people now see it as a conventional international news agency that tells stories from a different point of view.

Santamaria agrees, and says “in an age where TV news is becoming more sensationalist and tabloid, we’ve stuck to strong honest journalism, and I think people recognise that.”

Hostile environments
Hay says despite being in some adverse situations, the channel invests heavily in preparing and protecting its staffers travelling to hostile environments.

“Every few years you go through hostile environment training. This is usually run by former top soldiers, and they run you through the things you will encounter in hostile environments like natural disasters and war zones.

He says this training is invaluable, as it teaches staff how to give first aid treatment for injuries, how to act and interact in different situations, and how to identify different guns and weaponry.

Hay says New Zealand media should consider following this hostile environment training due to it being natural disaster prone.

“While your average story in New Zealand does not call for the training, when I think back to the Christchurch earthquake I wonder how many reporters on the ground there were adequately prepared for what they might see? Probably not many.”

The Al Jazeera newsroom in Doha.
Al Jazeera is the world’s first English-language news channel to be headquartered in the Middle East. Instead of being under one central command, news management rotates between broadcasting centres in Doha and London.

Journalist Thomas Carnegie recently graduated with a Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies (Journalism) from AUT University.

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