Lack of balance and conflicting agendas in discussion around Messara report


In the real world, which I inhabit when not despairing of and writing about the New Zealand racing industry, the discussion topic du jour has been the dire state of journalism in this country.

As a poacher-turned-gamekeeper I am now looking at my former career through a different lens and not liking what I am seeing.  There are, of course, the odd exceptions, the senior journalists remaining in harness and, being totally biased, some of the wonderful young talent I have worked with at community papers.

All too often, though, I am reading news stories which provide no balance; which editorialise; and which clearly promote an agenda.  The dilemma, when said stories relate to my area of work, is whether to contact the “journalist” responsible with the relevant facts to enable them to portray the whole story. The problem here is, if they have an agenda to push a particular angle, you are usually telling them, “well, actually that isn’t what is happening here, this is the whole story….”  Things can rapidly escalate and suddenly what would have been deemed a non-story back when we had senior journalists and crusty old editors becomes – what we in the industry term – a media shit-storm.

Thankfully, there are still some who take their craft seriously, recognise they are still learning, accept that they have made an error and correct it.

Over the past couple of years more layers of protection (senior staff, predominantly sub-editors who have saved many a young reporter in the past) have been sliced away as media organisations sought to remain financially viable.

I recall being told when we lost our first layer of subs that the savings in salaries would outweigh any potential future legal fees – bizarre logic!

So, the young journos are now sent out into a world where they are pretty much able to write or say whatever they want.  If you doubt this then you aren’t watching, listening to or reading news in New Zealand!

The more observant of my readers will recall I mentioned recently that I had laid two official complaints against a local media outlet following their misrepresentation of the recommendations of the Messara report.

This week I received their response and – unsurprisingly, their Standards Committee upheld my complaints, agreeing that the stories were “inaccurate’.

Links were included to the revised stories online, apparently this was done immediately.  They also apologised that their reporting was” not as precise as it should have been” and advised that senior legal counsel had discussed the issues I raised with the wider sports department.

They were satisfied that no further action was required.

However, I am not sure that I am.

The genie of their creation is already out of the bottle and that sucker is not going back in there without a fight.  People who saw the stories broadcast or read them online at the time they appeared, and who assumed this media outlet was giving them the facts, are not going to revisit those stories any time soon.

Given the above, I make no apology for banging on about the need for those within the racing industry to be totally au fait with every aspect of the Messara report. You have not, and are not, getting a complete and balanced story if you are relying on the media.

I know it is human nature when faced with a document of this size and depth to head immediately to the areas which are most likely to impact on you and your future.  In this case it has been the area of track closures.

Unfortunately, some have become bogged down in this area to the extent that they are sitting there, wheels spinning, unable to grasp the fact that we are living beyond our means and can’t go on this way. As they continue to rev, getting themselves more agitated by the second, they are disregarding the fact that 20 tracks need to close if we are to implement the full complement of 17 recommendations.

Trackside’s Weigh In programme has attempted to provide some conversation around the Messara report, but their agenda could be questioned.  There was an element of panicked self-preservation last week when the issue of the future of racing coverage in this country was mentioned.

The framing of some questions and comments also sent a strong message.  Note: if someone starts a question with the words “I don’t want to be negative” you can pretty much guarantee the next words out of their mouth will be negative.  Likewise claiming to play devil’s advocate and qualifying that remark with “but it’s true” isn’t really playing devil’s advocate!

While it is a nice touch to have questions coming from those at the coal face it would be useful if they determined that those asking the questions first understood the current structure of the industry.

The question around six-figure salaries would have been better saved for John Allen when he appears – supposedly this weekend.

That in itself would appear problematic.  The saying is that turkeys don’t vote for Christmas so why would you ask the CE of an organisation which, when the recommendations are implemented, would cease to exist in its current form?

It is a sure bet too that there will not be any tough questions asked and that they quite possibly will have been presented prior in writing.

Don’t expect the issue of the bloated size of the organisation – a further 14 roles advertised via the Seek website in the past 10 days – to be questioned.  Obviously, these guys are more ostrich than turkey.

Based on those numbers it would appear that the NZRB is not really that concerned about the possibility of recommendation #4 becoming a reality:

Request that a Performance and Efficiency Audit of the NZRB be initiated under Section 14 of the Racing Act 2003, with particular emphasis on the operating costs of the NZRB.

I will probably watch the programme at some stage, but I will be taking a sceptical view remembering just who pays the salaries and that there will be an agenda.

The messaging will be interesting – I imagine something along the lines of: business as usual; a robust submission process; and a lot of detail to be worked through.  Depending on the time of day you are viewing you could lighten up proceedings by creating your own drinking game around which phrases are delivered and how often.

My recommendation is to view these sorts of interviews with the attitude that there will be little, if any, balance and plenty of editorialising as the narrative is structured to fit the NZRB agenda.

And a final reminder when it comes to the Messara report and making submissions – please, before you do anything, please (yes, two pleases) read the report!