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Mediawatch looks critically at the New Zealand media - television, radio, newspapers and magazines as well as the 'new' electronic media.

Cancer campaign coverage puts heat on Pharmac:

The pressure’s on for consistent cancer care around the country. Experts say that will take more than just more money for medicines but that’s become the focus of much of the coverage and comment in the media.

Even before the first episode screened, TVNZ’s new show How Not to Get Cancer annoyed Troy Elliott, whose wife Tracey has stage four breast cancer. 
He told RNZ’s First Up many people had boycotted it because the show's title was "offensive" to cancer sufferers.
Episode one - which was all about diet - made it clear anyone can get the disease and no-one should be blamed, but TVNZ apologised for “unintentional upset” caused. 
Upcoming episodes will examine lifestyle and our environment - and just one will be about medicine and treatment.
But that’s been the firm focus of much of the news coverage of cancer in the news lately - along with those who have to live with it. 
The family of terminally-ill Southland man Blair Vining has been paying a fortune for cancer medication not funded by national drug-buying agency Pharmac or his own private health insurance. 
He's spending the last weeks of life running a widely-reported campaign for consistent cancer care across the country and started a petition to parliament calling for a national cancer agency. 
He's not the only one calling for change.
This week ZB's Mike Hosking claimed the government "lacks the gonads to actually pull the trigger" and take cancer care funding out of the hands of DHBs. The same morning on the AM show Duncan Garner was equally scathing of the status quo.  
“Southern DHB oncologist Chris Jackson has been advocating for a national cancer agency, funded by the Government but acting independently - like Pharmac does - to improve the system.” said the New Zealand Herald in a recent special series called Cancer:Why Can’t We Get it Right? 
Pharmac feels the heat

But in a lot of media coverage lately the government’s drug-buying agency has been cited as part of the problem, not the solution.
Last month RNZ ran a four-part investigation into how Pharmac works and whether its model is costing lives.
Guyon Espiner looked at Pharmac ranking medicines it might fund but - frustratingly for patients - keeps secret to try and cut better deals with drug makers. And the waiting can take years. 
The limited availability of the latest life-extending but costly cancer drugs was also a focus of the series. 
“Treatment for cancer isn’t all about medicines, it’s about screening, it’s about diagnosis. The most effective things to manage cancer are screening, diagnosis, radiotherapy, and surgery. Medicines are about eight to ten percent of cancer control," Pharmac's chief executive Sarah Fitt told Guyon Espiner.
"Yeah, but they can buy you years though, can’t they?" he asked. 
"Some can, some can’t. And that’s what we have to work out. We funded other medicines in the meantime," Sarah Fitt replied. 

The personal stories of sufferers denied drugs that are funded by the state in comparable countries were also to the fore in that series - and again two weeks later in another RNZ series: Life or Death under Pharmac.
Troy Elliot kicked off a series of a dozen on-camera monologues by people who want to see life extending drugs funded by Pharmac, describing the care here as "third world". Rae Collins - who has advanced lung cancer -  aired her grievances for First Up in a poem.
The distress of these people and their feelings about Pharmac and funding were pretty clear but while some were specific about the cost of their treatments, only a few were forthcoming about how much time and quality of life the treatments might offer. 
Last Tuesday, Guyon Espiner returned to the story on RNZ’s Checkpoint interviewing the CEO of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the agency which decides which cancer drugs are available for the UK. 
Sir Andrew was visiting as a guest of Medicines New Zealand, which represents drug companies and lobbies the government here to spend more on their products. (MNZ also sponsors content on major news websites often through the stories of individuals including SMA sufferer Fiona Tolic who also told her story to RNZ’s Life or Death under Pharmac). 
“We like to say yes,” RNZ said in the headline of its web story about NICE, while Pharmac by contrast has been portrayed across the media as unwilling to say yes to the same treatments.
But NICE can afford to say yes thanks to the UK’s Cancer Drugs Fund established in 2011.
This allows for speedy funding of expensive cancer drugs before clinical data confirms their full effectiveness. The fund was promised by the UK's Conservative Party during an election campaign in 2010 and tweaked two years ago to fast-track promising new drugs. 
"That model – before first getting right the delivery of early screening and detection programmes and acknowledging surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy as still the first line of defence – would be to thoroughly ignore the issue of cancer inequity in New Zealand," Stuff political reporter Stacey Kirk wrote this weekend.
There has been criticism in the media and medical journals.
In December 2014 The Financial Times called the fund "a populist gesture that gives the impression of benefiting patients, but in fact rewards poor quality drugs while benefiting a handful of pharmaceutical companies at the expense of the taxpayer and the full range of patients."
In 2017 the Annals of Oncology journal concluded only 18 of the drugs approved for 47 treatments prolonged the patient’s life, and then only by an average of three months.
But when the UK’s Royal Society of Medicine analysed five years of national news reports last year it found they were overwhelmingly approving of the Cancer Drugs Fund. 
"Access at any cost was a clear totem around which the pro-Fund media based its coverage. The views of experts who pointed out the intrinsic unfairness of the Fund  - or the lack of efficacy of many of the drugs - seem to have counted for little against the human interest stories of individual patients," the report said. 
If concluded that “mostly positive media stories are likely to have contributed to the CDF's continuation despite mounting evidence of its ineffectiveness”.
Critics of the fund were "lone voices in the wilderness”, it said
That study was commissioned by Richard Sullivan, Professor of cancer and global health at Kings College London, who advises other countries in cancer care regimes. 
In 2017 he said the UK's CDF had been a "huge waste of money" and a "major policy error" before NICE took over responsibility for it in 2016.

He was in New Zealand at a major cancer conference in February, which was addressed by Blair Vining. 
"You have to put in place really strong mechanisms in your country to control prices and negotiate good prices," Professor Sullivan told Kim Hill on RNZ National.
"Countries and people are being asked to pay a great deal of money for the unknown and a lot of that unknown doesn't pan out. When we look backwards over sort of two or three years we discover the drugs actually don't work," he said.
Buying time 
"if you have cancer, prepare to die because New Zealand sucks," Duncan Garner said in his Stuff newspaper column this weekend, calling for a "nuclear reaction" from the public.
But while critics claim access to advanced drugs here is “third world,” our cancer survival rates are not. 
The major international CONCORD-3 study found New Zealand was in the top five countries in the world last year for survival rates from common cancers - unlike the UK.

Chart from the CONCORD-3 study showing five-year survival rates in 71 countries of three types on common cancers. New Zealand on the bottom Photo: supplied / CONCORD-3 study
The way Pharmac withholds information on its decision-making is a legitimate topic for investigation. Likewise, whether Pharmac is incentivised to create surpluses it can use down the track rather than meet the needs of people suffering now.
And New Zealanders should know more than 500 people are fundraising online to cover costs of non-funded treatment right now, as RNZ's Guyon Espiner discovered, when many of them are available from the state in comparable countries which spend more on new medicines. 
Our government has acknowledged a consistent standard of care around the country is urgent, and a national agency is part of the plan. 
The media have amplified patients' and advocates' calls for reform of Pharmac and for more money for the drugs on its list and new treatments in the pipeline.
But a national cancer agency that’s independent and free from political influence - as Blair Vining and oncologists alike demand - could still come to the conclusion more money for new drugs isn’t necessarily the way to go.

Giving Austria's far right a platform:

This week Newshub and RNZ ran interviews with far-right Austrian activist Martin Sellner. Mediawatch's Jeremy Rose argues neither provided the background required for their audiences to appreciate just how extreme his views are.

On Tuesday Duncan Garner, the host of Three's AM show, described Martin Sellner as "deeply conservative, with deeply conservative views that many people will find acceptable."
It was an odd description of the far right Austrian activist who as a teenager was convicted of plastering a swastika on a synagogue, and as an adult leads a movement that disrupted a play performed by refugees in Vienna by spraying blood over audience members and chartered a ship in an attempt to stop NGOs from rescuing asylum seekers from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea.

So where did Duncan Garner get the idea that this radical right-winger - who received a donation from the alleged Christchurch gunman - was a deeply conservative activist whose views would be considered acceptable by many people?
Most likely from his appearance on Newshub at 6 the night before. Garner was interviewing Newhub's national correspondent Patrick Gower about the latest installment of his Because it Matters series when he made the comment.
Martin Sellner figured prominently in the report which revealed right-wing protesters had called for the death of deputy prime minister Winston Peters at a protest against the UN Migration Pact held in Christchurch earlier this year.
Patrick Gower told Duncan Garner he had come in for some flak for interviewing Martin Sellner. 
"There are people out there who are concerned we're giving this guy a platform. Look at the end of the day he's got a platform. It's called Youtube, it's called Facebook, it's called Twitter. He's got a massive platform. What I am doing is highlighting the influence he has on New Zealand politics going all the way to the National Party."
Patrick Gower said Sellner was a hipster with an acceptable face that came across well but was "quite frankly evil."
Strong words. But with Duncan Garner repeatedly saying how reasonably Martin Sellner came across, Patrick Gower’s two-part investigation clearly failed to convey, to some at least, just how toxic the far-right activist’s views are.
Writing in the Washington Post last May Anne Applebaum said: "Sellner represents a curious phenomenon in European politics: the far-right middleman. Unlike the neo-Nazis of old, the Identitarians don’t wear jackboots, don’t shave their heads, don’t lurk in the shadows. They have slick websites, professional videos and formal organizations."
And that slickness and professional approach requires journalists to provide context and background if their reports are to be anything more than a megaphone for carefully crafted far right talking points.
Patrick Gower’s reports barely delved into or challenged Sellner’s views – providing just the briefest of background explanation. 
"Sellner is the leader of Austria's identitarian movement - Generation Identity. They believe in 'the great replacement'; European culture disappearing under a wave of Muslim immigration," he said.
Gower seemed to assume that his viewers would be aware of just how racist and ridiculous 'the great replacement' theory is; that they would know - for example - that Austria’s Muslim community, many of whom are native born, makes up less than 8 percent of the population. In Vienna it’s around 10 percent – the same percentage as the Jewish population before the Nazi genocide which saw the population slashed to just 800.
Patrick Gower is keenly aware of the need to take right wing extremists seriously. Back in May he went on Three’s The Project and made a public apology for having treated them as a joke in the past.
He took himself to task for his own lack of preparation when he did tackle the topic in an interview with Canadian far-right provocateurs Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux.
"I underestimated them on the day. I was underprepared on the day. And they steamrolled me on the day. I should have known the stuff that I've learnt over the past few weeks. I should have known terms like identitarian or 'replacement theory' or accelerationism but I didn't know," he said.

It seems a safe bet that most of his viewers are still in the dark when it comes to what those terms mean. And once again a far-right provocateur will be feeling pleased with the added exposure they’ve received on a national news outlet in New Zealand.
On Tuesday RNZ’s Morning Report also ran an interview with Martin Sellner-and again the far-right leader grabbed the opportunity to paint himself as a peace-loving activist.
"You always say with an Islamic attack: 'We now need to give a voice and platform to peaceful Muslims'. So now you should give a voice to peaceful patriots who are fighting the great replacement in a peaceful and political way," Sellner said.
And comments like this one went largely unchallenged: "What we don't want is to become a minority in our own lands. We don't want an Islamisation of Europe and we want to achieve this with peaceful methods."
The idea that Austrians will become a minority in their own land is absurd. But with no figures or facts listeners could be forgiven for thinking Austria is being over-run by hordes of foreigners.
For the record about 16 percent of Austrians were born outside its borders compared to more than 25 percent of New Zealanders.
The Morning Report interview isn’t available on RNZ’s website and Mediawatch was told that’s because of legal concerns about how the alleged gunman was referred to during the interview.
On Tuesday Newshub journalist Sophie Bateman wrote a web article under the title: Martin Sellner: A history of ‘non-violent’ violence in which she outlined some of Sellner’s objectionable behaviour and explained why he had been permanently banned from entering the UK.
But only a fraction of those who heard Martin Sellner on Newshub at 6 or RNZ’s Morning Report interview will have read her excellent piece of work. And that’s a pity because without that sort of background anyone listening to those two interviews could be left thinking the far-right activist is just a very "conservative" man with a commitment to peaceful activism.
So why was Martin Sellner interviewed by Newshub and RNZ now when news of him receiving a donation from the alleged gunman was first reported internationally way back in March?
RNZ’s news peg was that he had returned the donation to Victim Support in New Zealand and a charity in Syria and Newshub introduced its two-part investigation like this:
"Tonight we can reveal police are investigating death threats made by a notorious white supremacist against Winston Peters. And the deputy prime minister is blaming it on a fake news campaign be neo-Nazis in Europe."
Newshub went on to screen some disturbing video from a rally protesting the UN Migration Pact held in Christchurch prior to the mosque massacre.
Deputy prime minister Winston Peters was then quoted as saying it was not just far right groups in New Zealand who should be held accountable for ramping up the rhetoric and anger against the UN Migration Pact, but the National Party as well.
The report then featured a piece of historical footage of National Party leader Simon Bridges saying the UN Pact would cede New Zealand sovereignty to the UN on migration followed by a clip of Martin Sellner saying Bridges is on the right track and the 'silent majority is on his side."
And Patrick Gower concluded: "Martin Sellner having quite the impact." 
There are legitimate questions to be asked about National’s stance on the UN Migration Pact but to suggest that Martin Sellner has played puppet master and is responsible for that stance is a stretch.
The next day, Patrick Gower went even further. "Now my question is this: Why has the National Party adopted the same policy as what was written on the alleged Christchurch gunman's gun?"
Asking the National Party to justify its stance on the pact is fair enough – framing it like that isn’t.
On Wednesday the Stuff newspapers ran an editorial under the title Drop the hate, not the debate in which they explored the minefield National finds itself in as a result of joining Australia, the USA – and the alleged gunman and alt-right conspiracists – in opposing the UN Migration Pact.
It concluded: "Our politicians can show a great deal of leadership in helping us plot our own path through the minefield, by continuing to honour the democracy of debate, and applying just enough weight to inform, rather than inflate.
Good advice not just for politicians but journalists and news editors too.

All Black jersey blitz pulls the wool over fans' eyes:

The latest All Blacks World Cup jersey was launched with a comprehensive PR blitz this week - and a premium price tag. The media marveled at its cutting edge design, but it wasn’t clear whether paying punters would get the garment ‘as seen on TV’.


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Year 2019

Reference number A291270

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection


Series Mediawatch

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