[From the Editor: As published in July/August BayBuzz magazine.]

The core mission of the ‘Fourth Estate’ is to hold power accountable.

Yes, journalism across its various print and digital platforms should keep you on top of rubbish pick-up rules, community events, new eateries, closed roads, deaths, achievements of local individuals, sport teams and businesses, etc.

All of that is useful, necessary information conveyed in the public interest. Moreover, beyond informing, it connects people to each other and their community. It depends upon good radar, sensitive antennae, proper grammar.

A step up from there, more demanding, is clarification and education around important community issues. This requires research and analysis, insightful weighing of facts and arguments, and an understanding of how issues have evolved over time and any broader context in which they sit.

But most demanding is the real challenge of journalism – ensuring accountability from the institutions, organisations and people (public and private) who hold the kind of power that affects public wellbeing, including trust.

This requires probing behind the curtain, under the covers, investigating how decisions are being made (or not made), by whom or what interests, for what reasons, with what integrity and competence (or not), and how those decisions are playing out – for better or worse. And especially, for worse or where motivations seem not in the public interest.

Institutions (like councils and businesses) and public figures tend to react – on a scale – nervously, or defensively, or deceptively or with outright hostility to such media scrutiny. When faced with it, rarely do they see transparency as a positive … or opportunity.

So, they employ ‘Comms’ teams to man the barricades and manage their ‘messaging’.

If they have a good story to tell, they’re all over it. But if they’re being challenged as to a possible problem to overcome, questionable performance, dubious motive or striking loss of common sense, they clam up. This doesn’t make ‘Comms’ people evil; they’re simply providing the protection they understand their bosses to want.

Stonewalling

One of the articles in this edition illustrates the problem – Tess Redgrave’s story, A nursing crisis in Hawke’s Bay.

Tess addresses an issue adversely affecting health care delivery throughout New Zealand, not just Hawke’s Bay. Our well-read, well-informed reporter is quite aware of that as she tries to examine the situation here in the region, particularly at the hospital. So, she’s not investigating why only our hospital is uniquely failing when every other hospital in NZ is bursting at the seams with heaps of relaxed nurses working in luxurious circumstances.

What she is (or was) trying to investigate, for the benefit of everyone n the community that might soon depend on hospital care (i.e., every one of us) is: What is the actual situation in our own back yard … what steps are being taken today to cope, given resources available … and what further measures are needed?

Those don’t seem like unfair questions in the public interest. And even if ‘fixing’ the problem is beyond the capacity of our local team (perhaps thwarted by too little money, too few nurses NZ-wide, dastardly recruiters from Australia, a decrepit hospital), this is an election year and voters aroused by such an article might rally to demand more investment and action as opposed to posturing by the contending parties.

‘Using’ our reporter to get their needs and story across to you, our readers, would be an intelligent response from hospital voices.

Instead, their Comms team, backed by the hospital’s top administrator (who, as it turns out, resigned a few days before this mag went to bed), refused to allow any interviews on this subject. After insisting on advance written questions (itself an affront to journalism when used as a device to censor inquiry), which Tess provided and were focused on our local situation , BayBuzz was denied interviews and told to take our questions to the Health Ministry.

We have other stories like this we could relate. But we are undeterred. I believe our readers expect BayBuzz to get behind the curtain, even when our findings might be embarrassing or uncomfortable to the powers that be. So, as long as we have subscribers, that’s what we’ll try to do. Can we count on your support? 

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